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Know the West

Earthquake struck; the anti-baby boom; blowtorching spiders

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Tomasz Sulczynski’s behavior after the recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake shattered the highway and sent his vehicle into an instantly created 10-foot sinkhole says a lot about the intestinal fortitude of Alaskans. The 46-year-old and his girlfriend, Rebecca Taylor, were making the four-hour drive from Homer to the airport in Anchorage when the earthquake struck. He held the wheel as everything rocked and rolled around them and gaping holes opened up. Sulczynski’s reaction? “It was all so surreal and happened so fast,” he told The New York Times, “there was no time to get scared.” The couple abandoned their car, climbed out of the hole, picked their way across the highway, which had been reduced to a tumble of slanting concrete slabs, and calmly hitched a ride to the airport. They even made their flight. “Many in the state reacted gleefully to the story: That is so Alaskan.” Sulczynski’s description on Facebook was matter-of-fact: “Driving to Anchorage didn’t quite go as planned!” The earthquake was the biggest to shake the state in 50 years.

ARIZONA: ...para todos.
Greg Woodall

Sometimes elected officials say the strangest things. Now, thanks to the Phoenix New Times, we’ve learned that state Republican Rep. David Stringer dislikes anybody whose skin is not only dark to begin with but stubbornly stays that way. In a talk to university students recorded six months ago, the Prescott lawmaker complained that “African-Americans and other racial groups don’t … blend in” after coming to the United States and that, unlike immigrants of European descent, they “always look different.” The Arizona Republic noted that Stringer has also been known to complain that “there weren’t enough white kids to go around in the state’s public schools.” Stringer, who recently won re-election to the Arizona House, has called immigration “an existential threat.”

A recent obituary in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel tells the story of a kind, patriotic and pie-loving immigrant and her family. Nancy C. Walter, whose parents came to the U.S. from Italy, died recently in western Colorado, aged 95. She was the first in her family to be born in America. The oldest of eight, she had to leave  high school before graduating to help support the family. Her obituary describes how she worked in an ammunition plant during World War II as a “Rosie the Riveter” and later became a beloved hostess at several restaurants, who always “made people feel important.” “Nonna,” as her grand-, great-grand- and great-great-grandchildren called her, finally earned her GED at age 67, though she didn’t retire until she was 79. She made pies for her family and many friends, and loved “Jesus, dancing” and serving people “with love.”

More than a dozen teachers and staff at Middleton Heights elementary school, 30 miles from Boise, Idaho, thought it would be hilarious if they donned stereotypical sombreros, mustaches, maracas and ponchos for Halloween, while others held up a cardboard wall that read: “Make America Great Again.” Once pictures of the stunt appeared on social media, district Superintendent Josh Middleton apologized publicly and placed the revelers on paid administrative leave, reports the Washington Post. “I want to say we are better than this,” he said. Staffers were later reinstated, no longer in costume.

An anti-baby boom is stalking Colorado, or so says the Denver Post. Eschewing parenthood is a national trend, but Colorado’s downturn happened faster than elsewhere, and the state now ranks eighth for the largest fertility rate decline. The paper queried 350 millennials to learn their reasons for remaining childless. By far the biggest concern was financial, followed by yearning for independence, worry about climate change, and the desire to reach personal goals such as career advancement and more education. Yet the apparent dip might just be delay, said demographer Jean Stevenson, who teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As one woman put it, “Maybe I’ll hit 35 and think this is the biggest meaning in life, and I don’t want to miss out on that.”

In the “Don’t try this at home” category, a man housesitting for his parents in Fresno, California, made news last fall when he used a blowtorch to kill a nest of black widow spiders. The blowtorch ignited a fire that extensively damaged the 4,000-square-foot home, reports KSFN-TV. The blowtorch-wielder did not know that breeding spiders — a niche market, to be sure — can be surprisingly lucrative. In Washington state, the Kitsap Daily News reports that when Lauren Weiss posted on Facebook that she was selling young tarantulas, 15 people responded, a couple of them fellow tarantula hobbyists. Weiss said the fuzzy creatures — the arachnids, not the hobbyists — need little to be happy, just a misty environment and a crunchy “roach or a cricket once a week.” In two years, she added, no tarantula had ever tried to bite her.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.