Gentlemen, start your lizards (and don’t forget to put on the Meatloaf)

Small town America is always being urged “Think big!”

Sometimes this works.

Other times, however, this chamber-of-commerce-friendly mantra leaves local residents wondering if thinking really, really big can be more trouble than it’s worth.

Take the Dixon Downs proposal. For a little town like Dixon, building a gigantic, 21st-century horse racing center is thinking about as big as you can without blowing lots of perfectly good synapses.

On the surface, Dixon Downs looks like a win-win proposition, bringing jobs, revenue, entertainment and horses to Dixon.

But, as was previously noted, it’s big. Really big. Bigger than, like, Wal-Mart. And that bigness has many residents of the bucolic wool-growing community worried about increased traffic, pollution, crime and the possibility of attracting terrorists from Citrus Heights.

The community’s become divided, animosities are growing and there are some damned suspicious-looking characters from Citrus Heights hanging around.

Before this goes any farther, it’s time for Dixonites to step back, take a deep breath and consider viable but less intensive alternatives.

Fortunately, just such an alternative has been waiting in the wings for nearly a decade, a popular activity that once drew hundreds of enthusiasts from throughout the Bay Area and Sacramento regions to the shores of Lake Berryessa and could once again become a major regional event for the right community.

I can imagine a few of you out there are already grinning in remembrance.

Yes, if Dixon needs a scaled-down event to bring the town back together, it need only look back to a happier time when the Lake Berryessa Lizard Races brought joy to young and old.

For the thousands of lizard-racing aficionados who attended the colorful event at the internationally known Turtle Rock Motel, the competition was unforgettable: Pennants snapping in the wind, hungover bass fishermen snapping at everybody and sleek racing lizards sunning their blue bellies in the summertime sunshine.

Add copious quantities of beer and the sounds of Meatloaf’s Greatest Hits on the stereo and the fun just wouldn’t stop.

The reptilian revels may be gone from Berryessa, but that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t pick up a warm rock or two and bring championship lizard racing to its own little corner of S’lano County.

Think about it. You only need about a twentieth of the space for a lizard track than you do for a horse track. Runoff from lizard waste is negligible. You don’t need to build jockeys’ quarters because you don’t have any jockeys and, to the best of my knowledge, organized crime has never put a finger on lizard racing, not even in Sicily.

Best of all, lizard racing is an everyman’s sport. Purchasing a thoroughbred race horse can set you back tens of thousands of dollars. Getting a thoroughbred racing lizard into your stable is simply a matter of looking under the right rock.

You won’t need a trainer. You won’t need a trailer. You won’t need a ton of hay. You may, however, need a ready supply of fresh flies, ants and grubs.

Lizard racing and Dixon? A winning combination, amigos.

Originally published March 25, 2007

Smells like victory…

Staggering back into the newsroom after reluctantly covering a particularly pungent summer grass fire south of Dixon, I was surprised when a comely young news editor approached me and purred, “New after-shave?”I was tempted to dismiss her with a perfunctory dummy slap to the back of the head, but then I realized that I might be on the cutting edge of a men’s fragrance breakthrough that could sweep the nation like wildfire and make me a cool chunk of change in the bargain.

What the copy editor was smelling was not, of course, after-shave. It was a heady mixture of burned wheat stubble, melted tires and roasted rodent, with just a hint of manly perspiration.

Doesn’t sound too appetizing but, then, neither were 90 percent of the so-called “musk” colognes that somehow leaked out of America’s post-disco era to assail the nation’s nostrils for a decade or so.

Although I was somewhat punchy from stumbling around in dense smoke for nearly an hour, my smitten colleague’s apparent attraction to my unique aroma launched an entrepreneurial train of thought that’s still rolling down the track.

If I could bottle this elusive scent, real men everywhere would shell out fistfuls of cash to get it.

Let’s face it, amigos, most of today’s after-shaves – with the possible exception of gin – are pretty sissified. They say, ‘I’m a caring, sensitive guy who loves kittens and flower arranging when I’m not hard at work sewing tea cozies.’

It’s time for a change, guys.When my new after-shave, “Smoke Eater!”, hits the discount drugstore shelves, things are going to be different. A whole lot different. No hint of lime or frangipani. No cherries and roses or moss. No, sir. When you splash on “Smoke Eater!”, you’ll be a four-alarm man, not a walking cloud of olfactory silliness.

Lesser men will want to extinguish you, but the ladies will be sure to flock around murmuring, “Burn, baby, burn…”

“Smoke Eater!’ after-shave is, of course, still in the design stages, but I envision a smoky (what else?) glass aerosol container filled with the essence of burning weeds, charred chicken coop and a hint of the aforementioned perspiration – with, perhaps, a splash of Jack Daniels to get the message across.The ladies won’t be able to resist. And, with a little luck, “Smoke Eater!” will soon expand to a full line of manly products – shaving cream, ‘Smoke Eater!” soap on a rope, deodorant, shampoo and car deodorizer.

After that, the sky will be the limit for our manly new fragrance. “Smoke Eater!” may even be offered in a variety of flavors – barbecue, habanero, hickory, bourbon or prawn – along with a line of slightly-charred sportswear and gentlemens’ accessories.

“Smoke Eater!” boxer shorts? Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Originally published July 16, 2006

Truth, justice and Christmas lights

Creeping municipal fascism – don’t ya just love it?

Over the past decade or so I’ve observed with growing alarm a national trend whereby local governments step boldly onto private property and try to tell residents what their homes should look like and what they may – or may not – be allowed to do in their own yards and driveways.

I’m not talking about methamphetamine labs, toxic waste storage or sexual gymnastics in public view. I’m talking about cities dictating what one’s home should look like, what kind of vehicle one can park in one’s own driveway and, perhaps, how one’s prize hydrangeas are trimmed.

Davis police once went so far as to arrest a resident for snoring too loudly in the privacy of her own bedroom. More recently, the Dixon City Council was embroiled in months of debate over whether a local man could leave his own pickup truck parked in his own driveway based upon how mechanically sound it might be at any given moment.


A recent wire service report from Arizona, however, almost makes the folks in Dixon and Davis seem like sapient human beings.

According to Associated Press, Tony and Angelica Flores were arrested, handcuffed and tossed into jail for failing to remove Christmas lights from their Peoria, Ariz., home.

Trouble started about a year ago when the couple was notified that they were in violation of a city ordinance requiring holiday decorations be removed from Peoria homes no later than 19 days after Christmas. Tony Flores, however, had been injured at work and was unable to remove the lights in a timely manner.

Hey, no excuses, pal. Peoria apparently has adopted a zero tolerance policy for Christmas light desperadoes. Definitive action had to be taken to “maintain the integrity of neighborhoods,” city officials told Associated Press.

Unfortunately, nobody’s talking about maintaining the integrity of individual homeowners’ property rights or freedom from intrusive municipal meddling.

No city should have the power to enact or enforce subjective lifestyle ordinances unless the public health and safety is threatened.

If the Flores’ Christmas bulbs were blinding oncoming motorists, interfering with air traffic control or in danger of bursting into flame and threatening neighboring structures, the lights, of course, should have been abated.

If, however, those lights were simply unseasonal or in remarkably bad taste, the city should mind its own business.

The same goes for the vehicle you park in your driveway, what color you paint your house and how often you mow your lawn.

If small children aren’t going to get hopelessly lost in your fescue, if your pickup truck isn’t inhabited by 12-pound rats gnawing on discarded dynamite, if you aren’t storing radioactive waste along your driveway, it’s nobody’s business but your own.

Health and safety issues must be addressed by municipal authorities in a prompt and reasonable manner. When and where you hang your Christmas lights, though, is between you and Santa’s elves.

Originally published March 3, 2002