Would you stop your car at a clearly marked crosswalk if Santa Claus were strolling across the street? Would you even slow down or get off your cell phone to gawk at a walking gorilla? The University of New Mexico wanted to investigate pedestrian safety at crosswalks in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Gallup and Las Cruces, and got federal funding to test drivers with scenarios just like these. Well, abysmal doesn’t begin to describe the driving habits of folks in those four cities, reports the Denver Post. “People drove right by Santa Claus,” said Las Cruces police officer Chris Miller. “We had people say they saw the gorilla trying to cross the street, but they didn’t think they had to stop for him.” In Santa Fe, police tried to be explicit, placing orange cones well ahead of crosswalks and posting signs that warned of a safety crackdown. Nobody stopped. “The first few times they went right by me, I couldn’t believe it,” said police officer Anthony Rivera, who was dressed in plainclothes as he tried to cross the street. Las Cruces officer Kiri Daines found that even when she dressed up as Spider-Man, “I literally had to tap on the hoods of cars as they stopped an inch away from me. I’m in the intersection, and they’re almost running over me.” Hundreds of scofflaws were nailed with $51 tickets, but it’s an open question whether fines have any impact on drivers determined to keep moving.
Some residents of one of the more expensive ZIP codes in Phoenix have alarmed homeowners with their “brazen” behavior, reports the Arizona Republic. Coyotes are the interlopers, and one was so ill-mannered it grabbed a leashed bichon frise by the neck and tried to run off with it. Luckily, Lexy, short for Lexus, was saved by its owner, who yanked the little dog free. But the shameless coyote held its ground, said the owner. “He would not budge. It was like I was infringing on his territory.” That’s actually the truth, since the Biltmore area of Phoenix has expanded onto turf that was once the exclusive domain of wildlife. Darren Julian, an urban wildlife specialist with the state Game and Fish Department, considers coyotes invading Biltmore the “ultimate opportunists.” His advice: Feed pets indoors. Keep garbage in cans. “Don’t allow these animals to become comfortable in the human arena,” he says. “Be rude to them. Yell. Throw rocks.”
SEATTLE AND SAUDI ARABIA
We stopped reading comments posted to the online “Slog” of Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Stranger, after 56 people weighed in. The red-hot story that got people going was a first-person account of a woman thrilled at finding a rare Starbucks in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Once the burka-clad American writer spotted the coffee mecca, she boldly entered, though no woman had ever been admitted before. A stunned barrista gave her a coffee, but then he ordered her out — immediately. Females were admitted only to a small espresso bar out back, labeled “family.” Comments ranged widely, with some readers saying no surprise here — all women are second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia. Others fulminated against the country’s barbarism and the discriminatory role that Starbucks had played. A blogger named Roflamo took a humorous tack: “As someone who has picked up a lot of girls at Starbucks, I just want to say these Saudi guys are not getting their money’s worth on that coffee.”
Timothy Egan pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed that the two creators of every American’s birthright — our 565 million acres of public lands — were privileged men with democratic convictions: They wanted everyone in the country to share in its wealth of natural beauty. The two men, who were friends, were also manly to the max: Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, had his valet wake him up each day with a splash of cold water to the face; President Theodore Roosevelt, who created the federal agency, considered it bracing to swim naked in the Potomac River. We may still own our birth- right, Egan said, but the public-lands legacy of George W. Bush has been a tawdry “cash-out” that leaves wildlife refuges without staff and national forests like slums: “Roosevelt had his place on Oyster Bay. Pinchot had a family estate in Pennsylvania. Bush has the ranch in Crawford. Only one of them has never been able to see beyond the front porch.”
The resort town of Vail used to require “bear-resistant” Dumpsters, but since black bears are both smart and powerful, it just took the animals a little longer to get to the delicious garbage. Recently, the town council mandated “bear-proof” Dumpsters, reports the Vail Daily, but now there’s a new problem: The lids are too heavy. “We put a man on the moon,” said councilman Farrow Hitt; what’s needed is “a Dumpster lid that doesn’t chop people’s hands off.”
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.