Heard around the West

  • Boomer Badger: He used to love gold


Maybe it had to happen. The "green glow" emanating from cool corporations in the laid-back Northwest has faded, reports the Los Angeles Times, with just the merest hint of gloating. There's gigantic Microsoft, targeted by the Justice Department for monopolizing computer software, and Starbucks, assailed for cruelty to songbirds for removing shade trees from coffee plantations abroad. Then there's swoosh-saturated Nike, hammered by revelations that its sneaker-makers toil for pennies. "If you sell yourself as something special, you have a problem when you act like everybody else," says John Eastham, a Seattle marketer.

Only a decade ago, the Northwest promised to produce a new breed of capitalist. "We just wanted some good coffee," says Gordon Bowker, a founder of Starbucks. Now that the bosses of upstart corporations look more like bottom-line obsessers, "a dissonance is created," Bowker admits. Locals, though, tend to blame the media for hyping the region in the first place: "The Northwest was the flavor of the month," some residents conclude. "The month has ended."

What if you added a street to your city but couldn't get around to naming it? Booming Las Vegas faces that problem as it scrambles to keep up with explosive growth, reports the Las Vegas Sun. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of new streets expand the city each month. Some towns resort to numbers and letters; but the gambling mecca has borrowed everything from liquor brands to songs since it long ago ran out of dead presidents and trees. Sometimes street names warn newcomers of neighbors, as in "Bombastic Court'; others are geographically challenged - -Surf's Up Drive' - while attempts at humor pop up in "Dirt Road" and "My Way." Then there's "Dancing Daffodil Avenue," "Blushing Bride Street," "Havoc Way," "Better Way" and the spell-check challenged: "Carabbean Court." One street had to be named twice. First named "The Omen" after a movie about a boy possessed by the devil, that street found no one willing to live on it.

Las Vegas has no problem creating theme-park opportunities for spending money. At the new 250,000 square-foot Forum Shops mall, the lost island of Atlantis sinks once an hour before popping up for another descent. In the planning stage is another mall called Desert Passage, which aims to recreate colonial North Africa, while a Venetian-style casino that includes canals and real-life gondoliers is under way. In what the Wall Street Journal calls a "pinnacle of excess," an entire "Roman hill-town" is becoming a mall with chariots and horses zooming around a track five times a day. One broker cautions, "I think they might be overbuilding."

Journalists sometimes say, and not entirely in jest: "If something happens once, it's a story. If it happens twice, it's a trend." So the newest trend in the West must be the containment of cows. Existing laws allow cows to wander where they want. Landowners who object to bovine trespass must fence them out. That annoys some residents of Lakeside, Mont. "Every summer, usually about August, here come the cows and there go the flowers," says Muffie Thomson, a bank manager. Art Thompson, who operates a car wash, told AP another reason for cow-control was safety: "Some think they're quaint and cute, but if you hit one on the highway, it's a different matter." So some Lakeside landowners are attempting to form a local herd district, which would have the power to require ranchers to fence in cows.

A second cow-revolt has emerged in Condon, Ore., where voters in one part of rural Wheeler County recently formed a livestock district that makes it "unlawful for cows to run loose," reports the Blue Mountain Eagle. The March 10 vote was close at 122 in favor, 110 opposed, but arguments against trampled yards and unsafe roads carried the day. Some in Oregon now predict a cow-control measure on the statewide ballot.

Boom! Cartoon animals hold their ears when a gold mine in the West sets off a dynamite charge. Ouch! yelps a talky raccoon named Ranger Rick, as he sails up in the air along with the gold-chain-wearing Boomer Badger and sidekick Zelda Possum. All discover the water-polluting downside to cyanide heap-leach gold mining in a story published this March in Ranger Rick, the kids' magazine of the National Wildlife Federation. "Diatribe" and "biased" is what Mining Week, a publication of the Washington, D.C.-based National Mining Association, called the adventure story.

Lake Mead, the country's largest man-made lake, is beginning to resemble an out-of-control freeway. The biggest hazards are "recklessness and cluelessness," says ranger Bob McKeever, whose words were borne out this spring when a flashy "cigarette boat" plowed into shore at 50 miles per hour. Four people were killed and three others were injured. The manager of the Lake Mead Marina says many people resent the jet- and speedboaters. "It's like wanting to commune with the desert and having 15 off-road vehicles roaring by," says Beverly Chandler in the Arizona Daily Star.

When you're homeless, you may have less to lose - but that could be all you have in the world. That's what a man in Salt Lake City, Utah, said who wants restitution or return of his backpack. It was thrown out by police who arrested him for public drunkenness. In pursuit of all his worldly goods, Tracy Zimmerman paid attorney Loren M. Lambert $150 to sue police in U.S. District Court. Lambert told the Salt Lake Tribune that what piqued his interest in the case was hearing about thousands of homeless people losing their belongings to the South Salt Lake Police Department. While jail policy is to return personal effects such as watches and wallets, Lambert says, "some of these homeless people carry their whole life on their backs."

In a drama playing out in suburbia, a great blue heron near Tucson, Ariz., struggled several weeks to survive wounds from an arrow of the type used in children's bow and arrow sets. Concerned neighbors saw the heron flying onto their rooftops and around golf courses, "the feather-topped arrow making him look like a valiant soldier, still fighting even with a "sword" transecting his midsection." Why would anyone shoot the four-foot tall heron? One theory targets the bird's fondness for koi fish, an expensive Japanese carp favored by homeowners with backyard fish ponds. Perhaps a landowner was defending his turf, speculates the Arizona Daily Star. The heron eluded would-be rescuers and finally died when it flew into power lines and was electrocuted.

On a lighter note of human frailty, a man walked into a Topeka, Kan., Kwik Shop and demanded "all the money in the cash drawer," AP reports. Apparently the take was too small, so he tied up the store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours until police showed up and nabbed him.

And in Los Angeles, police had good luck with a robbery suspect who couldn't control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words, "Give me the money or I'll shoot," the guilty man shouted, "That's not what I said!"

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 [email protected]