Washington, D.C., satirist Mark Russell came to Cody, Wyo., for a fund raiser recently and found so much to poke fun at, he had 700 people in tears from laughing so hard, says Buzzy Hassrick in the Cody Enterprise. All of his material, Russell swore, came from reading the weekly Enterprise, an effort that took a "most riveting minute and a half."
Seeing a headline on the front page about the "passing of No. 104," Russell said he was surprised to find that grizzlies were named with numbers. He wanted to know if Bear 104 was the father of 105. In the capital, he added, the predator's role in the food chain has been taken up by lobbyists.
Russell said he'd been prepared to talk about the thrill of being greeted by Cody Mayor Ken Stockwell when his plane landed, "but it didn't happen." Still, he was impressed by Yellowstone Regional Airport, since the air traffic controller "was a guy on the roof with a flashlight." Russell also gently jabbed former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, who titled his memoir, Right in the Old Gazoo. "It's in its sixth printing," Russell quipped. "The first five were blurred." And a gazoo, he explained for anyone mystified, is "the Wyoming end of a horse facing Montana."
North Dakotans are seriously debating the notion of changing the state's name to Dakota, thereby eliminating that icy connotation conjured up by the word "North." South Dakota state Rep. Mel Olson dismissed the move, saying, "You can put a pig in a dress, but it wouldn't change the fact that it's a pig."
The governor of New Mexico is known for his outspoken views about marijuana - legalize and tax it already, he's said - but how many knew that he could withstand a flush through a toilet - and survive? He even made it look easy. Gov. Gary Johnson had hoped to kayak the Rio Grande near Taos, N.M., with friends, but when they failed to show, he set off alone on a section of the river called Pilar Run. Not long after, says a kayak instructor who was also on the river, Johnson and his kayak parted company on a rapid called the Toilet Bowl.
"He didn't even know where the Toilet Bowl was or what he swam through," says Ben Goodin, who adds that the governor, a beginning boater, "was pretty much in the dark about the whole thing." Headline writers could have had a field day, congratulating the river for "flushing" the governor; the Albuquerque Tribune settled for "Rafters rescue governor from rapids."
Reagan on Rushmore? Not out of the question, say dedicated friends of the 90-year-old former president. Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot is a member of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which has committees across the country scouring their areas for Reagan-naming opportunities. Some have already gotten the Gipper's name on an aircraft carrier, a California courthouse and a Washington airport. And they want the $10 bill to oust Alexander Hamilton's mug and replace it with Reagan's, says the Great Falls Tribune.
"Do I think in 20 years Reagan could be on Rushmore?" muses Grover Norquist, leader of the Legacy Project. "Maybe. Or we could have our own mountain."
A few detractors have surfaced. Arizona state Sen. Mary Hartley says, "I know I'm a Democrat here, but I don't think his legacy is that wonderful." When a legacy group in Arizona suggested renaming a highway after Reagan, Hartley suggested instead that Squaw Peak Parkway change its name to honor Sandra Day O'Connor, Supreme Court justice. Both measures failed.
Postscript: In Oregon, both houses of the state Legislature approved a bill eliminating the word "squaw" from more than 100 official place names. The new law would go into effect after Jan. 2, 2005, reports the Idaho Statesman. The English use of the word is offensive to some Native Americans and is gradually being eliminated from geographic sites in the West.
Wacky ideas seem to blossom along with weeds during the summer; could it be the heat? Some examples:
- After a coyote snacked on Jake the cat in Marana, Ariz., owner Wallace Burford demanded that the state Game and Fish Department reimburse him $328.21 for the cost of the feline's cremation. Burford had just moved from Virginia and said that Arizona was "responsible for all the wild game," reports Associated Press. The state denied the claim.
- Tiny La Verkin, Utah, has walked onto the international stage with a far-reaching political stand. By a 3-2 vote, the city council declared the town a "United Nations-free zone." Afterward, Mayor Dan Howard announced that the U.N. had already forged a link to a statewide group, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "They're trying to tell us how we can develop our own land," warned the mayor.
- A computer factory in Eugene, Ore., mistakenly sent extra severance money to dozens of workers it had laid off, reports Associated Press. Now, the factory wants the windfall recipients to "kindly return" the money: "The whole reason we've had to let people go and shut down the operation is because of the company's finances."
- On June 21, conservationists ballyhooed the first day of summer as a chance to "Roll your own Blackout" to protest the Bush administration's energy policy. Organizers urged people to unplug, light a candle, make love, tell ghost stories or just have fun in the dark. That evening the main Interior Department building also went dark, but the agency's blackout was caused by a "critical problem in the high-voltage lines."
Two bears out on the town near Los Angeles, Calif., ambled through the suburb of Bradbury until one of the 300-pounders jumped into a backyard pool. Refreshed, he clambered out and rejoined his companion for the walk back to Angeles National Forest. For black bears, commented a woman in the sheriff's department, a pool splash is a fun thing to do.
Last but not least, President Bush had a change of heart, or something. Not so long ago, one of his spokesmen said tax credits were needed to develop solar, wind and biomass energy sources. Now, said his budget director, the president is "not in the mood" for these subsidies.
Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.