Heard Around the West



To the question, “What would Jesus drive?” originally asked by the Evangelical Environmental Network, one group has an easy answer: a large SUV, of course. “Most people think it’s a ridiculous question, and that’s the approach we’ve taken toward our own ads,” says a spokesman for the Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America, in the Washington Times. One of the group’s ads shows a middle-aged man — named Jesús Rivera — standing proudly next to his ’95 SUV. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club has joined the attack on gas-guzzling cars, with a spokesman saying, “We think Jesus would like to save money at the gas station.”


Or maybe Jesus would like to drive a “Tango.” The two-person vehicle is only 39 inches wide and 8 feet 5 inches long, which makes it “shorter than many a living-room couch,” and though it runs on lead-free batteries, it can go as fast as 130 mph. Rick Woodbury, a self-taught engineer, and his son, Bryan, built the prototype in Seattle for $80,000, but they hope it can be mass-produced and sold at a reasonable price. The Seattle Times reports that with its droopy-looking headlights and ultra-narrow body, the Tango looks a lot like “a race car’s impish kid brother. Yet if you stomp on the accelerator, it takes off like a rocket roadster, leaving a puff of rubber smoke — and conventional Corvettes and Porsches in the dust.”


Go back 100 years or so in Western newspapers, and what pops out are the many accounts of women cross-dressing as men, says San Francisco-based writer Rebecca Solnit. She found this out while researching her biography of the inventive photographer Eadweard Muybridge. One example came from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1878, headlined: “A Nevada bride marries one of her own sex.” The “groom” explained that her cross-dressing stemmed from desperation: “She had trouble with her relatives in the East: she had lost her property, and she assumed the disguise of a man for the reason that avenues for making money would be open to her in that character which would be closed to her as a woman.” And in the Sacramento Bee, Solnit found an 1872 account of a laborer thrown into the snow by pack animals and then trampled — which was when rescuers discovered that the workman was a actually a workwoman. The woman would say only “that she had once lived at Folsom, Calif., and had run off from home in consequence of brutal treatment from her stepfather.”


If you bathe in one of Yellowstone National Park’s hot pools, don’t dunk your head. A recent study for the Park Service found that some thermal waters, including the popular Boiling River, contain a nasty amoeba that can cause a rare but fatal disease. “The disease can occur when water containing the organism gets into the nose and then moves up the nasal passages to the brain,” reports Lander’s Yellowstone Journal.


The boom-bust economy of the Old West lives on in ski country. Just three years ago, in the ski-resort high country that includes Vail, only six people applied for the job of aide at the Summit County Library. But recently, when the library posted an opening for a job paying $11.49 an hour, 69 people applied, reports the Denver Post, revealing just “how desperate people are to get work up here.” High unemployment has been caused by the country’s economic slump, which slowed both tourism and home-building. That makes it tough for people who are already juggling two or even three jobs to make ends meet. “It’s been a struggle, lifestyle vs. career,” says a 31-year-old waitress. “It comes to the point where you’re sick of living on a shoestring.”


The corollary in humans is perhaps a tummy or bottom tuck; in lambs prettied up for the state fair in Cheyenne, it’s tail removal. But how much is too much? The Wyoming Wool Growers Association says exhibitors don’t know when to stop: “Removing part of a lamb’s tail is fine … but docking the tail too short can be bad for the animal,” pulling what’s supposed to be inside, outside, reports the Billings Gazette. Last year, 11 lambs were disqualified for the violation; this year, the number grew to 41. State fair honchos say they’ll meet this fall to decide how short a tail is too short.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column.