Heard around the West

 

CALIFORNIA AND CONNECTICUT

A Squaw Valley ski instructor with mechanical moxie and a $950 rope tow has created a backyard ski area. The Vail Daily says Ken Wittel’s rope tow is powered by a 5 horsepower gas engine that can pull skiers up Wittel’s 300-foot-high hill at 11 to 18 mph. If your backyard lacks the white stuff, don’t despair: The Connecticut company Snow at Home sells mini-snowmaking machines for less than $500, reports Hemispheres, the magazine of United Airlines.

CALIFORNIA

A new breed of young singles is evolving in big cities, and they’re sniffily demanding about things environmental. That’s because they’re “ecosexuals,” reports San Francisco magazine, with green standards for everything from clothes and cars to potential mates. “I won’t date a guy who doesn’t recycle,” insists San Francisco designer Rachel Pearson, 33. Another woman says: “I can tell instantly if he’s my type by the deodorant he uses.” Food preferences quickly separate the greens from the ones who don’t get it. “I shopped at Rainbow; she shopped at Safeway,” recalls Monte Gores, a Berkeley acupuncturist who was once a stock trader. After his girlfriend told him she’d eaten half a chocolate cake for dinner, he was on the way to ditching her: “If you’re thinking about a long-term relationship,” he concluded, “that’s a red flag.” Passion may still triumph over ideology, writer Stefanie Olsen observed. A landscape construction worker had been scrupulously green and even celibate for a year and a half, until he met a woman “who corrupted me with her wonderful ways,” which included wine, sex and the occasional burger.

THE WEST

Thanks to a cell phone, a 75-year-old Oregon veteran was reunited with his “prescription dog” after the man’s car — with the dog inside — was stolen from a gas station in Nebraska. Bliss Green had been given a written prescription for a dog by a nurse practitioner, who hoped a pet might ease his suicidal depression. The remedy was unorthodox, but it worked. Green said, “If (the dog) was with me and knew I was upset about something, her head would come on my lap. I haven’t been depressed since I got her.” Because the car thief used Green’s cell phone, police were able to track his vehicle through Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and, finally, Oregon, where a suspect was arrested. Meanwhile, the dog, Melody, had been abandoned in Wyoming, where a couple found her huddled under their pickup. After a week with the couple, the dog’s next home was an animal shelter, where authorities were able to connect Melody to the stolen car. Green was thrilled to hear Melody was safe, saying of their upcoming reunion: “I’m worried, but I have no reason to believe it won’t be perfect. This is just like a person-to-person relationship. I’ll handle it gently.”

UTAH

Since 1991, Salt Lake City’s basketball arena has been called the Delta Center, named for the now-bankrupt Delta Air Lines. But in November, Delta lost a naming battle for the arena to EnergySolutions, an amalgam of companies that includes Envirocare of Utah. Envirocare runs a nuclear waste dump on public land and is probably looking to clean up its image, reports the New York Times, especially since its founder, Khosrow Semnani, pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion. Image-polishing won’t happen overnight. One Utah Jazz basketball fan said she’d already heard the arena called everything from the “Tox Box” and “Radium Stadium” to “Half-Life Arena” and “HazMat Center.” Another disgusted basketball fan said, “Utah’s always been the ‘stick-it’ state; whatever you don’t want in your state, stick it here. We’re not tree-huggers, but these guys lend credence to bringing all this stuff to Utah.”

CALIFORNIA AND MEXICO

It sounds like a joke, but it’s not: The company hired to build a huge fence to block illegal immigrants from crossing into America from Mexico has agreed to pay nearly $5 million in fines for hiring illegal immigrants to do the job, reports The Week magazine. A recent investigation found that of Golden State Fence Co.’s 750 employees, about a third were in this country illegally.

THE WEST

What a difference a letter makes. A 21-year-old German booked a ticket for Sydney, Australia. Or so he thought, until his plane landed in Billings on the way to Sidney, Mont., population 5,000 and considerably colder than the antipodean port city. Tobi Gutt, wearing clothes fit for an Australian summer, was routed from Portland, Ore., to the oil town of Sidney, only learning of his error when his plane landed in Billings. “I did wonder, but I didn’t want to say anything,” he told the German paper Bild. “I thought to myself, you can fly to Australia via the United States.” Gutt hung around the Billings airport for three days before his family and friends sent him the money for a new ticket for Sydney, Australia.


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