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Know the West

Heard Around the West


"Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if he recycled the newspapers," deadpans the San Jose Mercury News. But Tom Bates, candidate for mayor of Berkeley, Calif., was so angry when the Daily Californian endorsed his opponent that he threw 1,000 copies of the free newspaper into the trash. Almost as embarrassing as being caught in an act of vandalism was the fact that Bates handily won the election with 55 percent of the vote. Bates apologized without mentioning those First Amendment guarantees of free press and free speech; then, he had to pony up. This January, he reimbursed $500 to the daily paper, which is published by the University California, Berkeley, and paid a $100 fine for committing petty theft. "He’s working to make amends and be the best mayor he can be," said his chief of staff.

The way a lawyer told it to a federal judge in Boise, Idaho, the small town of Hailey is practicing discrimination because it won’t let his client land his private jet. But the jet owned by California millionaire Ronald N. Tutor is no ordinary plane. The Associated Press says it carries more than 120 passengers with ease, weighs as much as 170,000 pounds and is really a customized version of a Boeing 737 jetliner. Nonetheless, the lawyer says Hailey’s stubbornness violates his constitutional right to travel freely, and he wants the town, which is close to Sun Valley, to pay $75,000 in damages.

A soupcon of sadness crept into Dick Kreck’s column in the Denver Post about the annual get-together of ranchers and wannabes at the National Western Stock Show. Sure, there was the guy selling bull semen from Great Falls, Mont., and his company’s slogan was unchanged: "We stand behind every cow we service." But conversations overheard in crowded hallways focused on drought and selling off cattle. What was worse, said Kreck, was seeing more visitors hover around kitchen gear than farm equipment. The paper also shared some cowboy jargon you don’t hear every day: "Roach killers" are extra-pointy cowboy boots and "realizers" are cattle so played out that "ranchers realize it is better just to put them down." The words also work to describe a relationship that’s doomed: "That girl or guy is a realizer."

Hats off to Helen Klein, an 80-year-old great-grandmother from Sacramento, Calif., who ran a marathon last December in 4:31:32. And it wasn’t her only major race: Klein ran five marathons in 2002. "Not bad for someone who never played sports, smoked for 25 years and didn’t start running until age 55," says Ed Mayhew, author of Fitter After 50.

Keep your hat on for a Yacolt, Wash., man who ended last year by kissing a rattlesnake not once but twice. A doubtful friend tried to stop him the second time, saying, "OK, man, you’re being stupid, put it away." But Matt George, 21, replied, "It’s OK, I do it all the time." That’s when the so-called pet bit George under his moustache. Though hospitalized at first in critical condition, George survived, reports the AP. The rattler did not, after George’s friend stomped it to death with his cowboy boot.

Portland, Ore., is becoming known for turning roofs into backyards in what is called the "ecoroof" movement. Roofs that function as gardens are said to delay runoff for hours after a big storm, prevent flooding, and filter pollution and heavy metals from rainwater, reports the AP. "Once a person sees all the things that an ecoroof can do," says an environmentalist in Portland, "I expect we’ll see a lot more." Two years ago, Portland approved a regulation that allows developers to expand their buildings if they include an ecoroof, making it the only city in North America to offer the incentive. Living roofs, common in Germany, Holland and Switzerland, have their drawbacks: They cost about twice as much as hard coverings and require a steady interest in gardening.

There’s more than camouflage in Cabela’s, the catalog for outdoors fanatics. You can also purchase toys, such as the foot-high action figures "Big Game Hunter" and his buddy, "Hunter Dan." If you match up these buff boys with the tiny Trophy Whitetail Buck and then add an equally tiny all-terrain vehicle, possibilities for backcountry fun abound. Debra McKinney, writing in the Anchorage Daily News, was so enthralled she ordered the full complement but was taken aback by the blank gaze of her hero. Big Game Hunter’s face had a "diminished-capacity quality about it, as if he’d just come from the dentist," she said. As colleague Zaz Hollander discovered, the action heroes are also anatomically vacant. Yet the newsroom quickly found ways to play well with the figures, impaling one on the deer’s antlers and putting the other’s clothes onto a giant praying mantis.

An advertising agency in New York must have thought its commercial for Metamucil, an over-the-counter laxative, was a laugh riot: Just show a park ranger pouring a glass of it into Old Faithful, and then take credit for the geyser’s amazing ability to stay "regular." After she saw the ad, the word "dismay" probably doesn’t adequately describe the reaction of Suzanne Lewis, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. "My eyes got bigger, and my jaw dropped," she told the New York Times. She wrote to the ad agency, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, as well as Metamucil maker Proctor & Gamble, to complain about the commercial, even though it wasn’t actually filmed inside the park. Lewis said it encouraged vandalism of thermal features and implied that Old Faithful couldn’t possibly keep erupting without an over-the-counter medication. The ad, however, continues to run in several cities.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ([email protected]). She appreciates tips and photos of quirky Western doings.