Troubled bridge over waters …

Here in S’lano County, where men are men and women can bench press Honda Civics, we tend to revere our bridges, whether it be the sparkling span that straddles the Carquinez Strait in Vallejo or the quaint, whitewashed Thurber Bridge along strategically ambiguous Pleasants Valley Road north of Vacaville.We partied on the Carquinez Bridge when the new span opened a few years ago, and last month a select group of Solanoans gleefully gathered in a pasture near the recently renamed Thurber span to celebrate the 100th birthday of that two-lane bridge.

Sad as it seems, not all of California’s counties love bridges the way we do here in S’lano County.

Take Butte County, for instance.

Located just a hop, skip and a jump up Highway 99 from Yuba City, Butte County is currently experiencing an orphaned bridge problem. Near the aptly named community of Paradise – home of the renowned Hootch Hut liquor store – there are at least two historic bridges which are neither celebrated, nor even claimed, by any municipality, government agency, private business or citizens’ bridge booster committee.

According to a recent article by Nicole Pothier of the Paradise Post, two old bridges near Magalia, north of Paradise, have fallen on hard times and nobody can figure out who’s supposed to fix them.

The bridges are along old Ponderosa Way, part of a thoroughfare that was built in the 1930s, stretching 700 miles from the Kern River in the south to the Pitt River in the north.

I’m told an eight-lane interstate freeway had been envisioned, but since freeways hadn’t been invented yet, the engineers most likely just wandered off to Oroville to celebrate the end of Prohibition.

The truck route eventually fell out of use, probably due to the aforementioned freeways of the future which became the freeways of the present.

Several government agencies apparently had jurisdiction over the old route as the years passed, but once the bridges were sufficiently deteriorated, it seemed nobody wanted to claim responsibility for them.

(“My bridge? Whaddaya mean MY bridge? That’s your bridge, pal, and you’re welcome to it. I wouldn’t try to walk a butterfly across that thing …”)

Instead of celebrating their historic bridges with bands, donkey races and a judicious amount of alcohol, Butte County wrings its collective hands and looks the other way while wary rural residents cautiously inch over the dilapidated structures and pray that they’ll be able to reach Pitt River before the next big snow.

This is a pretty sorry state of affairs.

I know Butte County. My kids grew up in Paradise, and I can’t begin to count the number of time they’ve phoned me to lament, “Daaaaaad, the bridges up here all suck.”

I think it’s way past time for S’lano County leaders to extend the hand of friendship to their rustic counterparts in the north and offer to show them how to have fun with bridges before all the folks around Magalia are swallowed up by bottomless potholes and rushing waters.

Let’s bridge this gap, amigos. It’s just the right thing to do …

Originally published May 13, 2007

Inner city crime vs. outer limits crime

Over the years I’ve found that newspaper readers are fiercely loyal to their hometown paper’s daily (or weekly) chronicles of crime as published in the traditional “Police Reports” column.

People in Marin County will tell you that the Point Reyes Light has the best police reports in the whole world and will back up their claim with tales of cursing, topless women on horseback and rowdy landscape painters run amok.

Residents of rustic Magalia will disagree, arguing that the Paradise Post carries not only reports of tree-climbing gunmen in dog suits but of unlawful goat gatherings.

And readers of the Arcata Eye, citing the newspaper’s police report column, will proudly point out that there are no drunks in town, just the beverage-challenged.

Former Fairfield traffic safety consultant Marjorie King, who now resides about eight miles northeast of everywhere, recently nominated the Siskiyou Daily News in Yreka for outstanding police reporting in its “Public Records” column.

She sent along a copy of the paper’s April 16 issue to back up her claim and, I have to admit, the Siskiyou Daily News has it all.

For example:

“Officer made contact with subjects about report last week of possible turkey poachers. Subjects say they are making a movie. Reporting party notified.”

This is, unfortunately, a common problem. Ever since Hollywood producers began shooting movies on location in isolated rural communities, filmmakers have been mistaken for turkey poachers. The late Alfred Hitchcock had a particularly difficult time shooting “The Birds” in Bodega because of this misconception, despite the fact that he was working primarily with seagulls and crows. Oldtimers recall that every time the famed director was about to finish a crucial shot for the 1963 thriller, the county turkey wardens would show up shouting, “Reach for the skies, mis-cre-ants!”

And suspected turkey poachers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Yreka-area crime news. The paper also chronicled “Mules reported to be in the city yard on North Main Street. Animals secured in parking lot and owner notified.”

Sounds fairly routine, but unescorted mules can be a significant problem wherever they turn up. Give ’em an inch and they’ll take Main Street. And with all that braying, kicking and spitting they’re almost as bad as Oakland Raiders’ fans.

Besides mule control, Yreka police are called upon to provide emergency dental advice, as evidenced by:

“Eighteen-year-old male reports being struck in the face and suffering a chipped tooth. Wants to know what he can do to repair the tooth.”

Gold crown? Porcelain cap? Knock the whole damned thing out and start over? Decisions, decisions…

Amid all the suspected turkey poachers, misguided mules and wayward dental patients, though, is the one malefactor that strikes fear into the hearts of law enforcement officials everywhere: juvenile female.

As encountered in Yreka:

“Juvenile female reported to be in restroom at Rite Aid. Subject opened a bottle of hair dye and poured it in her hair and wrote graffiti in the restroom with lipstick. Last seen running from business…”

Thanks, Marjorie – community police reporting doesn’t get much better than this.

Originally published June 8, 2002