Heard around the West

 

"Hello" seems like such an innocent word. It's not Western and boisterous like howdy! stuck up like How-do-you-do? or ethnic like hola, but it does the job; it gets the gab going. But not in Kingsville, Texas. There, hello smacks of Satan. So county employees now answer their phone with a cheery "HEAVEN-O," avoiding all those negative connotations that stem from the word "hell." County commissioners adopted the change at the urging of a flea-market store owner who told the Associated Press it was time "to tell our kids that we are positive adults."

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Religion has come even closer in the Wyoming town of Green River. When school bus driver Vicki Gardea arrives home at 4 p.m., she finds her neighborhood crowded with cars filled with hopeful or curious people. The visitors are waiting for an apparition of the Virgin Mary to appear on the door of her detached garage, a phenomenon Gardea says she first spotted with her son two days after Christmas. Sometimes 100 people show up, and they have done so since Dec. 30, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. The luminous shape of a veiled head some 4 feet high apparently appears when a particular streetlight goes on and Gardea has parked her car in the garage. Lately the police have been called to control the throngs, which remain undeterred by Wyoming's Catholic bishop, who says he does "not believe that God normally works in this way." It's become a contentious issue; there have been fights over parking spots, and at the local Embassy Tavern the bartender was forced to eject two people who were arguing over whether the sighting was "real."

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Up in frigid Nome, Alaska, one aspect of the Christmas holiday has lingered way past the holiday itself. Residents of the windswept, tree-challenged town "planted" dozens of Christmas trees in holes bored into the ice on the Bering Sea, reports the Associated Press. "It's the only forest that goes out with the tide," says resident Arnie Ashenfelter.

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Another post-Christmas story emerged from San Francisco, where the In-jean-ious store on Castro Street discovered it had a hit on its hands with renovated Barbie dolls such as nose-pierced Big Dyke Barbie. Surprisingly, AP reports that Sean Mattell, company vice president for the doll with the impossible measurements, isn't threatening a suit over trademark infringement. He says Barbie has become an adaptable cultural icon: "We're a very diverse society - Barbie respects that."

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Maybe too diverse. In Cloudcroft, N.M., amateur astronomer Alan Hale is collecting some of the out-there stories about the comet he co-discovered last year with Thomas Bopp of Stanfield, Ariz. Thanks to their last names, what looks like a fuzzy star through a telescope now has the bouncy name of Hale-Bopp. Hale says he's heard from various Westerners that the comet is an angel from God, an alien mother ship or even a nonexistent object meant to fool people. "I personally have been called a traitor to Earth for hiding information," he told AP. An hour after sunset anyone should be able to see the comet, he says, by looking in the southwest sky about 10 degrees above the horizon.

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Over in Hagerman, Idaho, bird watchers couldn't believe their eyes when a duck with a bad hair day came into binocular view. Its head was purple and tufted, its sides white and gleaming, and it stood out among the thousands of other ring-necked ducks in the wildlife area, AP reports. For Idaho it was a first: The duck with a mohawk was a male tufted duck, a species from Asia.

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While ducks try their best to return to the same lakes season after season, Lycra-clad mountain bikers may be, well, fickle. Utah's Canyon Country Zephyr says attendance at the Moab Fat Tire Festival last fall was down a whopping 75 percent from a year ago. The wrong dates published in two national magazines and a local weekly didn't help, but there's ominous news for Moabites from the Wall Street Journal as well. It reports bike sales have declined steadily since 1993, when 13 million bikes were sold nationwide. And the dip continues. A manager for Diamondback mountain bikes says he hates to use the word fad, "but it's not as dramatic a sport as it was three years ago."


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 bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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