Getting belted at the courthouse

Newspaper reporters who cover the courts are constantly bombarded with hundreds of felony cases – robberies, assaults, drug deals and a profusion of sex offenses that would make the Marquis de Sade blush – and that’s just in the parking lot…

It’s tough to decide which cases to cover immediately and which cases to put on the back burner for awhile.

The toughest decision courthouse reporters have to make on a daily basis, though, is which belt to wear.

You see, these days almost all courthouses in California are equipped with some type of electronic security system to scan visitors for knives, guns and the occasional Stinger missile.

They also warn of car keys, steel-toed boots, wristwatches and, more often than not, metal belt buckles. Not all metal belt buckles, mind you, just some of them.

And you never know which belt buckle is going to set off alarms until you’re halfway through the metal detector.

Let’s face it, there are few things more bothersome that becoming the center of attention because your belt buckle has triggered a terrorist alert.

Depending upon which courthouse you were foolish enough to enter, setting off the alarm usually necessitates a quick about-face for removal of the offending item of clothing as you desperately try to keep your trousers from falling to the floor.

And since everybody’s already staring at you, the last thing you need to do is step into the spotlight with your pants at half mast.

This entire procedure, of course, slows down the line for the metal detector and can seriously annoy your fellow courthouse visitors (particularly the big guy named Sledge who’s standing behind you in line with what appears to be a machete strapped to his waist).

Thus it stands to reason that we courthouse reporters – who may have to enter the building five or six times a day – spend a lot of our free time shopping for just the right belt to wear when we enter the hallowed halls of justice.

It’s a quest of sorts.

A newspaper colleague of mine from the strategically unimportant beer-brewing community of Fairfield recently told me he’s found one belt that never sets off the metal detector, but that he’s always looking for just one more for a little variety. Since he can’t take the courthouse metal detector to the mall with him, though, he’s found himself repeatedly purchasing belts that trigger security systems from Vallejo to Venice.

Being the understanding kind of guy I am, I initially wrote the poor fellow off as a hopeless nitwit.

No longer. I now own a dozen belts myself, of which only two have proven to be non-metallic enough to get past courthouse security. The rest of them I wear with giddy abandon on weekends, holidays and while visiting regional department stores to purchase more belts.

There is, of course, an upside to our dilemma. Eventually, all of the reporters who cover the courthouse on a daily basis will be able to band together and open their own “World O’ Belts” discount store in Cordelia. We should have an outstanding selection for discriminating Solano County belt buyers – as long as they’re not going to court anytime soon…

Originally published February 2, 2003

We coulda been contenders…

Every time I think the Solano County Board of Supervisors has finally stepped out of the primordial ooze of the Suisun Marsh and somehow managed to slog into the 21st century, they stagger back into a collective lethargy and turn a win-win situation into flat beer.

Take last month for example. Supervisors rolled out of their hammocks at the old county dormitory bright and early one morning, trotted over to the county courthouse and decided that it was time for S’lano County to have a public relations officer to, er, relate to the public. They needed an answer man, a hard-charging character who knew the score and wouldn’t pull punches about one of the most misunderstood counties on the West Coast.

They needed a guy – or gal – who could effortlessly pronounce “Suisun” and “Budweiser.”

But then they got all fuzzy-headed and decided to table the idea until at least June when they’d be able to review their 2002 budget.

Yeah, that’s taking the bull by the horns…

This quaint, rural beer-brewing county has been crying for a good public relations manager for decades, but the county’s droopy-eyed leaders have repeatedly failed to grasp the importance of putting S’lano (pronounced “S’lah-nah”) County in the spotlight.

C’mon – wake up and smell the slough. The time has come to let the rest of California know that we’re here and we’re more than a rest stop on the way to Red Bluff.

One need only listen to Bay Area broadcast outlets to realize just how poorly this county is understood by the rest of the region. Traffic reporters frequently confuse the city of Dixon with far away Dixon Landing. If something of interest occurs in Vacaville, you can bet at least one San Francisco radio or TV ace will identify the location as Victorville.

As for Vacaville itself, it’s not really perceived as being within Solano County. Outsiders see it as an entity unto itself that lives on only in fond memories – you know, the place where the Nut Tree used to be. The place Charlie Manson used to live. The place where the Wooz was…

Vallejo, on the other hand, is that hard-to-find community kind of north of Richmond where they used to have submarines and dolphins. Nobody really knows why…

One good public relations officer could have turned all that around. People would know that Solano County isn’t spelled “S-o-n-o-m-a.” They’d marvel at our sugar beet production, line up to visit the Nut Tree Airport manager’s high tech command post and buy Budweiser ball caps from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield.

With a little discretionary cash, the county’s public relations office could manufacture and distribute tasteful “S’lano County – Loud & Proud!” lapel pins, publish county movie maps revealing where such Hollywood hits as “Howard the Duck” and “Witchboard” were filmed and generally show visitors where to have a good time without wrecking their cars.

Alas, we could have been contenders. We could have been bigger and brighter than Modoc County. We could have had much, much more – but somebody fell asleep.

Don’t let it happen again. When June rolls around, remind the S’lano County Board of Supervisors that we needed a public relations office yesterday. Call, write or bang a couple of garbage can lids together until they get the message. You’ll be glad you did…

Originally published April 8, 2001