Time to round up the whole county

As the threat of possible terrorist activity in America increased recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged citizens to be aware of what’s going on around them, watch out for potential threats and report suspicious activities.

He warned of a broad range of troublemakers who might threaten public safety – from groups of radical religious extremists to “disgruntled individuals.”

This is obviously well thought-out advice during these troubled times, but that last part has me a little worried.

Watching out for disgruntled individuals in someplace like Happy Jack, Ariz., might be a perfectly reasonable course of action. But keeping an eye on even half the disgruntled individuals in S’lano County – where men are men and women are mad as hell – would severely tax the combined resources of the FBI, CIA and Future Farmers of America.

Take a moment and just glance out the window, fellow Solanoan. Chances are you’ll see a half-dozen disgruntled people before breakfast.

(And if you don’t see any at all, then you’ll have something to be disgruntled about, right?)

Let’s face it, disgruntlement is an honorable and long-established way of life around here. The last happy-go-lucky idiot left S’lano County in 1951 after discovering there was no miniature golf course in Elmira. He’s currently working as a clown at a retirement village near Gilroy.

(Hey, this is righteous – I checked out the Gilroy Clown Registry…)

Disgruntlement in S’lano County may, in fact, have hit an all-time high during March thanks to the county’s ambitious new government center construction project in downtown Fairfield. Overnight it wiped out something like 30,000 convenient parking places around the courthouse and left a whole mess of already disgruntled people even more disgruntled.

Not that the county actually began doing anything with the old parking lots. No, they just fenced them off for two months in the event that sometime in the future they might actually start construction of something in the same general area.

Incoming lawyers, jurors and felons were vaguely directed to an empty lot somewhere near Union Avenue and Ohio Street. Unfortunately, many of them inadvertently turned into an empty lot at Union Avenue and Broadway where a precipitous driveway ripped the transaxles from their cars, which subsequently were towed away by an irascible property owner.

So, after being summoned to court, having their cars eviscerated and towed to an impound yard just west of Correctionville, Iowa, these already quite disgruntled Solanoans eventually got back on the road only to find that the price of regular gasoline had jumped to more than two bucks a gallon while they were paying off their towing fees.

Disgruntled? Hey, amigos, at this rate we’re going to have to round up the whole county just so the rest of the nation can feel relatively safe…

Originally published April 6, 2003

Oh, sure, this’ll be just swell…

Cellular phone technology is about to take a giant leap forward and make life considerably more interesting for all of us.

According to a recent Associated Press story, the latest generation of cell phones will offer optional video games which will allow cellular subscribers to play alone or join battle with like-minded gamers across the country.

No longer need you simply chat on your ever-present cell phone. Soon you’ll be able to fry space invaders and vaporize zombies with it.

Wheeeeee!

Sounds like fun, but I’ve got to admit that the thought of pop-eyed, cellular phone game players swarming over the landscape with giddy abandon gives me some cause for concern.

Think about it – when was the last time you were confronted by a wandering, 7,000-pound SUV whose grinning driver was happily chatting into a cell phone? Last week? Yesterday? Five minutes ago? Or perhaps it was shortly before you regained consciousness in the emergency room?

Unfortunately, people who try to operate motor vehicles and yammer away on their cell phones at the same time are not the most focused folks in the world. Give them some video games to play – and a crafty opponent to play against – and you’ve got a lively recipe for vehicular chaos.

Of course, the cellular phone companies are going to come out with some wishy-washy warnings to make it all right, telling customers not to play cell phone video games on the freeway if such activities prove detrimental to the operation of their motor vehicles. You know, something like: “Driving while distracted can be hazardous and possibly even illegal if you drive through the front window of a convenience store or flatten the postman…”

I’m sure that hardcore cell phone motorists are going to pay at least as much attention to such warnings in the future as they have in the past – blink, shrug, blink…

Once the video game cellular phones have caught on, you can bet it’s only going to be a matter of time until some genius adds a jack for an electric toothbrush or mascara applicator.

What could be better? Take care of important dental hygiene, customize those eyelashes and engage in a spirited game of Frogger while you’re rolling down life’s highway.

Don’t laugh. There are people who’ll do this. There are people already doing this. And they all drive bigger cars than yours.

Worse, this kind of mobility isn’t limited to crowded freeways or curvy mountain roads.

The same chatty folks drifting into your lane on Interstate 80 are just as likely to inadvertently make your acquaintance on a suburban sidewalk or in the aisle of a neighborhood grocery outlet.

There’s no escape, amigos.

One minute you’re happily picking up a bag of English muffins at your favorite supermarket and the next you’re swept off your feet and mounted on the front of a careening shopping cart piloted by an oblivious lunatic who’s cell phone-bonding with his golfing buddies in Gilroy.

Yeah, a good cell phone video game could really make this a win-win situation…

Originally published May 27, 2001