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Know the West

Heard around the West



California’s Highway Patrol sees a lot of silly stuff, like the guy crouched down in an open trunk, gamely trying to hang on to lawn chairs, or the driver in the carpool lane pretending that a life-size doll of "SpongeBob SquarePants" was a passenger. Officer Rob Rusconi says he watched a driver struggle to put on his seat belt, hoping to avoid a ticket, but when pulled over, the driver insisted that his seat belt had been on all along. "Being a trained observer," Officer Rusconi told the San Jose Mercury News, "I asked the driver if he always looped his seat belt through the steering wheel as he drove." Officer Ralph Peirotti once followed two rude bicyclists who refused to budge from the middle of the lane even when honked at, giving him the finger without looking behind to see who was complaining. Officer Peirotti turned on his public address system to comment: "I don’t think you should have done that." He gave the bikers a lesson in road manners — and a ticket.


Tom Kilmer, a consumer of what he calls "Foo Foo Coffee," has been comparing the cost of coffee to gasoline, and he’s puzzled. With fancy lattés and cappuccinos going for $3.50 for a 16-ounce cup at places like Starbucks in Helena, Mont., he figures a gallon of coffee costs a whopping $14. But no one makes a peep. So, "Why does everybody start complaining?" he asks, as the price of gas creeps toward $3 a gallon.


If anything represents the arid West, it’s the peripatetic tumbleweed, even though it piggy-backed its way here on flaxseed from the Ukraine. Orion magazine says this "nondescript, prickly weed has worked its way into the hearts of people," and now, an enterprising Kansan, Linda Katz, sells tumbleweeds all over the world. Katz started her Prairie Tumbleweed Farm Web site in 1994, as a joke, but to her surprise, people started placing orders. A museum in Sweden told her it plans to drop tumbleweeds into a "a boiling caldron of bronze, and thereby secure the free-ranging shrubs to the premises." This belies Katz’s motto: "If they don’t tumble, we don’t sell them."


The Mexican government recently published a 31-page Guide for the Mexican Migrant, to help illegal workers enter this country safely. But when The New York Times sent reporters to Los Angeles to ask if the booklet was useful, Mexicans waiting for work on the street responded with a resounding "No." One worker summed up the book’s advice as "trash." But others offered their own hard-won advice, starting with "Never hire a coyote smuggler on the border." They urged hiring a guide from the migrant’s hometown, so if anything happens, "your family knows his family." Others advised never to rat on a coyote, since he could implicate you to police as a partner; not to wear heavy clothing while crossing the river; and before wading in, "spend the $5 for an inner tube."


Two university students from England plan to cheerfully break as many American laws as possible this summer, beginning in California, where they will illegally ride bikes in a swimming pool. The Guardian Unlimited says the men will also attempt to flout the law by whale hunting in Utah and napping in a South Dakota cheese factory. Inspiration for their upcoming crime spree comes from an Internet site, dumblaws.com.


When Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, wants to make a point, he’s apt to spout a pithy Westernism, such as, "If they don’t know where you tie your goat, they can’t get your goat," reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The seventh of eight children, Freudenthal grew up on a farm near Thermopolis, Wyo., and went on to become a U.S. attorney. These days, Freudenthal has become as well known for his smart politics as for his folksy expressions, which helps explain how he won election in a predominantly Republican state. Freudenthal is considered a maverick, rather than a party man, says Republican state legislator Monte Olsen: "He’s probably offended just about everybody, (and) if you do that, people know who you are and where you stand, and that’s acceptable." The governor says Democrats everywhere tend to do best when they pay attention to "kitchen-table issues," which he defines as jobs, child care, recreation and wildlife. His aphorisms help, too, and they’ve become so numerous that reporters and staff are compiling a list. It includes "He is the north end of a southbound horse" and "You don’t buy a dog and do your own barking."

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips are often shared in the column, Heard around the West.