Heard around the West

by Betsy Marston

THE NATION

Pity Gail Kimbell, the first woman appointed chief of the U.S. Forest Service. On Feb. 5 — her first day of work — President Bush proposed cutting her budget by 2 percent and eliminating more than 2,100 Forest Service jobs. A week later, Kimbell’s job got even more uncomfortable when she had to defend the president’s $4.1 billion budget before Congress. “Rough treatment” is how The Associated Press characterized her reception, though Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., felt her pain: “I feel sorry for you, having to support this ‘let’s pretend’ budget.” After the hearing, Kimbell acknowledged that living within the budget would be “difficult.” It might also prove impossible, unless Congress risks a veto and authorizes more money. Several representatives pointed out that a proposal to sell off more than 200,000 acres of national forest was similar to a proposal last year that was roundly defeated. Others pointed out that the Bush budget seemed quixotic: It increases funding for fighting wildfires, but decreases spending on measures such as forest thinning that might prevent disastrous fires in the first place.



ARIZONA

Mesa, Ariz., councilman Tom Rawles refused to stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag at a city council meeting Feb. 5, announcing that he’ll keep on doing that until American troops leave Iraq or until his term ends in 2008. Reaction was swift, reports the Arizona Republic, starting with “polite rebukes” from other council members. Six people at the meeting chastised Rawles, with one calling him a “spoiled child who did not receive what he wanted from his parents.” But three others supported Rawles, who summed up his protest this way: “If I don’t have the freedom not to stand for the Pledge, standing for the Pledge means absolutely nothing.”



CALIFORNIA

A new sport for motor vehicle aficionados has begun in Northern California at the Altamont Motorsports Park, and all you need is a clunker costing $500 or less. That, and the whimsy or boldness to race that rust-bucket for 24 hours in the “24 Hours of LeMons,” which attracted 32 participants, reports the Los Angeles Times. “Every little boy fantasizes about racing, even if it’s just in a piece of crap,” says Virgil Watson, who raced an ’83 Golf. Since most of the old beaters are potential deathtraps, organizer Jay Lamm insists on roll cages and requires test runs through what he calls “the old lady mannequin slalom” and the “baby-carriage braking test.” Three judges wearing black robes and curly white wigs also check each car for hidden improvements, penalizing any that fail to exemplify “the detritus of the Industrial Revolution.” The inspection helps to ensure that the winning wreck is so wracked, it’s liable to end up being pushed over the finish line by the runner-up. What did the last wacky race reveal? Writer Preston Lerner, who took his turn behind the wheel of an unreliable ’89 Toyota Corolla, found that “really crappy cars run really badly for a really long time.” Yet he wondered why nobody bothers to keep these obsolescent cars going, since 30-year-old vehicles share one trait worth boasting about: You can open the hood and understand what’s inside. Beaters have character, the writer concluded, and “by taking an old car out and pushing it, we’re giving it some honor.”



NEW MEXICO

Five hundred bars and restaurants around the state are creating talky men’s bathrooms, thanks to the New Mexico Department of Transportation. Doug Lowance, 28, reports that when he entered the men’s room at a bar in Albuquerque, he heard a woman’s voice asking, “Hey, big guy. Having a few drinks?” Lowance, who had just downed a Jägermeister, kept listening: “Think you’ve had too many? Then maybe it’s time to call a cab or a sober friend… Remember, the future is in your hands.” The Albuquerque Journal says the “potty-mouth message” begins as soon as a deodorizing cake, created by Wizmark Co., senses a person’s presence. “There’s a time delay,” says Wizmark founder Richard Deutsch, “that gives you time to get unzipped.”



COLORADO

Valentine’s Day was not sweet for 24 sex offenders, traffic scofflaws and petty criminals, reports the Denver Post. Instead, it turned into a sting. As soon as a fugitive answered the doorbell, a “florist,” bearing a box of roses or balloons, presented the gift — followed by other cops quickly applying handcuffs. The ruse, which was carried out by the Denver-area Northglenn Police Department, was designed to make arrests safer. But it didn’t fool one man, who growled: “Nobody would send me flowers.”

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