Heard around the West


As far as anyone knows, the dead explorer William Clark did not use a ouija board, or e-mail, or teleport a petition to the White House in the final flurry of Bill Clinton's presidency. Still, after a couple of centuries, Clark found the president receptive, as did guide Sacajawea and slave York, the first black man ever seen by Native Americans in 1804.

All were crucial to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Northwest, yet all were denied military recognition 200 years ago.

Now, Clinton has made things right, reports the Billings Gazette. In a ceremony attended by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and historian Stephen Ambrose, Clinton upgraded Clark from lieutenant to captain, the commission President Thomas Jefferson promised, but failed to deliver. Clinton also granted honorary promotions to Sacajawea, who was still in her teens and pregnant when she scouted for the expeditionary force, and to York, who held no rank, and was never paid or given his freedom, although he told Clark he thought he deserved it after helping make the perilous trip through the Western wilderness.

Who would have believed it? A mere half-century or so ago, nuclear bombs were exploding over and under the desert of Nevada. Now, reports Associated Press, the state's first wind farm is going up on the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles from Las Vegas. These days, though, it's called an "environmental research park." Instead of mushroom clouds and deadly fallout, the desert will host 175-foot steel towers and some 500 turbines. Given enough wind, the facility can supply a community of 85,000.

After stealing electricity for some 60 years, it's perhaps understandable that 91-year-old Clarence Stucki came to believe he had a right to it. That might explain the behavior of the nonagenarian, who called from Logan, Utah, to give bureaucrats hell when the lights to his apartment building went off. Crews from Logan Light and Power were quick to check on the outage, and that's when they discovered Stucki's illegal tap. Back in the 1940s, he hooked on to the company's power line from the roof of his building, and no meter-reader had ever figured that out. Stucki was charged with theft, reported CNN, though a statute of limitations allows the utility to collect projected bills amounting to only $81,000.

There are only two topics of conversation in Northern California. Wrong, if you guessed power blackouts and the rising cost of natural gas. It's housing prices ("unbelievable, astronomical") and traffic ("horrendous, dangerous").

Both topics raise people's blood pressure. Fifties-style bungalows with one bathroom continue to sell for as much - or as little - as $400,000, and suburban development turns commutes into more stops than goes.

The ordeal of the 99-year-old town of Cordelia, pop. 9,000, is one of the latest horror stories, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Cordelia, northeast of San Francisco, has the bad luck to lie between two interstates over which 218,000 cars now travel daily.

Fifteen years ago, says former Wyomingite Jim Peek, it took him 40 minutes to drive from the Cordelia area to San Francisco. On a Friday night these days, he says, it can take three hours. And if locals try to do some local shopping, they're held hostage: "When I come home on a Friday night," says resident Judie Burtenshaw, "I can't go out again. There's so much traffic on the back roads, I just can't get out." Other residents say commuters speeding down country streets kill dogs and scare parents, who no longer allow their children to walk to nearby schools. Residents admit they knew their town's plan allowed rapid growth; they just didn't know how tough it would be to live with.

But, you say, housing is wackily overpriced in the rural West, too! Too true, as the title of a local college course in Jackson, Wyo., reveals. It's "How to marry a millionaire," with the joke being that that's the only way to afford a house. But next year the course might have to change its name, warns Jackson Hole economist Jonathan Schechter. He told the Christian Science Monitor, "Even the millionaires are finding themselves priced out of prime real estate."

Wyoming state Sen. Bill Barton is lamenting the loss of Wyoming's freedoms after Gov. Jim Geringer signed into law a bill that makes it illegal for drivers to have an open container of alcoholic drink in their vehicles. Passengers can still drink, but that probably didn't comfort Barton, who, says AP, had asked the dire question: "Are we going to pass a law that will drive young people to meth and cocaine?"

It's heaven being a scofflaw in Denver. Tickets for illegal parking are as low as $15, and after five years the city writes off any tickets as uncollectible, reports The Denver Post. What's more, you can license a vehicle, renew a driver's license or transfer titles and plates, even if you have zillions of outstanding tickets - a bit of forbearance that has lost the city about $27 million since 1974.

Atheists are on the warpath in Utah, targeting Salt Lake County Council, which recently voted 6-3 to open its meetings with prayers representing "a cross-section of beliefs," reports the Deseret News. That led Brian Barnard, an attorney for the group Utah Atheists, to crow: "You want diversity, we'll give you diversity!" His examples: satanists, polygamists, goths, skinheads, crystal healers, pagan students and druids. Faced with so many radical choices for prayer, said the atheists, Salt Lake County might just realize there's no unanimity when it comes to appealing to a "higher power."

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].

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