Apr 30

What else do hot girls have? Immortality

San Luis Obispo High School students Drew Garrett and Lauren Willey have received a torrent of online ridicule for their brilliantly shallow song, “Hot Problems.”

But if I had to wager, I’d bet the vast majority of their critics would trade places with them faster than you can say, “Hot girls we have problems too. We’re just like you, except we’re hot.”

As of Friday, the video had tallied a tidy 9,170,143 hits — probably 9,170,000 more than the vast majority of the postings on YouTube, which tend to be narrowly targeted, poorly produced and entirely un-entertaining.

It was almost immediately declared the worst song of all time and sparked comparisons to Rebecca Black, whose catchy little ditty “Friday” was the gold standard for supposedly awful, self-produced music up until now.

To put the girls’ accomplishment into perspective, they are already a third of the way to matching the total number of hits for the “Friday” video, which is now at more than 29 million views and has been out since September.

Also almost immediately, the SLO High duo’s song began to inspire covers, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, these two should be blushing.

Do a search for the title on YouTube now, and you can find an animated parody, an homage by a fat, middle-aged guy dancing in his underwear and more than a few renditions from aspiring singers and musicians who actually have skills.

Yes, it’s pretty clear Drew and Lauren aren’t exactly a couple of songbirds. They aren’t wordsmiths either.

But who said they were trying to be? Who said they should be?

Maybe, they’re a couple of budding comedians, in which case, their creation can be judged no less than a smash success.

Or maybe, they’re just two teen girls goofing off, being ridiculous for the sake of it.

What better time — and what tougher audience — for such silliness than high school, where your slate is still blank but nastiness breeds like malaria and most attempts to isolate your face from the crowd result in a figurative punch in the nose?

Either way, hopefully, they’re seeing some return on their modest creative investment.

After all, those YouTube eyeballs are worth something. I can go to iTunes right now and buy that song along with my Men Without Hats downloads. (Those dudes only had but a single notable tune also.)

And even if they only scrape out a few bucks (or no bucks), they were on national TV.

If nothing else, Drew and Lauren can say, for one week, millions of people were talking about us.

They weren’t talking about you, Mr. Bitter Secretly Jealous Anonymous Commenter.

Which brings us to the most significant achievement these girls can now boast: Internet immortality.

How many everyday teens can claim that? How many teens wish they could?

This is not your mere 15 minutes of fame from days of old.

This kind of one-hit wonder will live on in all its glory or infamy for years to come, lurking and searchable, a click away.

One day, when they’re old and gray, they’ll be able to pour a few cups of hot chocolate, gather their grandkids around them, and do a little Web search, pulling up that funny video they made way back in 2012, when they were in high school, when they were the “hot girls.”

And that’s a pretty cool thing.

Cool enough, dare I say, for an encore?

What do you think of “Hot Problems”? Share your thoughts here.

Apr 20

Look out, here come the irrationally fit

For the past few weeks, I’ve been driving by highway signs warning any Sunday drivers who may think of straying off 101 and into town to think again.

The inaugural San Luis Obispo Marathon is here, and 2,800 people have shelled out good money for the privilege of dragging their sweaty carcasses around 13 or 26 miles of Central Coast pavement, the distance depending on whether they are partially or completely insane, respectively.

To accommodate them, many roads must be closed to normal traffic, and just think how many thousands of important car trips to 7-Eleven will be displaced.

Such gall these runners have.

Don’t they know it’s my birthright as an American to get where I want when I want while expending as little energy possible?

Not that I want to drive around San Luis Obispo at 5 on a Sunday morning, because that would require me to get out of bed when it’s dark, and darkness is for sleeping. But you never know.

It’s the principle.

On that note, I suppose we should thank the organizers for keeping the impact as nominal as it is.

The race actually starts at 6 a.m., and many of the downtown roads will be reopened by 7:30, still an ungodly hour to be awake on the weekend, much less out jogging with 2,799 of your closest friends.

By that time, the hordes of abnormally motivated adrenaline junkies will be roaming through the vineyards of the Edna Valley, and I can’t think of a more unpleasant way to tour wine country than running from one tasting room to another alongside an overzealous sprinter from La Jolla.

We have perfectly good tour companies with cozy limousines for just this reason.

But that is the difference between you, me and the irrationally fit.

They actually derive some sort of perverted joy from submitting their bodies to this kind of punishment, and punishment it is.

For example, I just learned the elite athletes in these kinds of events don’t even stop for bathroom breaks.

They just go on the go, so it makes sense that one of the first major turns on the route is south and straight out of town.

But at least those guys are trying to win. At least they know it’s a race, not just some 45,760-yard stroll through the countryside.

A lot of these marathoners — the non-elite athletes who would stop for a pit stop … they aren’t in it for the competition at all, and why pay $110 if you aren’t going to make a run for the tape?

You could do that any day for free.

At that price, I say either go all in or go to the beach.

Meanwhile, supporters of the event will talk all day — in between checking their mile times — about how great the thing is, how it promotes a healthy lifestyle and boosts the local economy, putting heads in the beds and all that.

But my thinking is, if you want to throw a huge shindig that attracts thousands of out-of-towners, requires a bunch of extra security and ties up the city for hours, just bring back the Mardi Gras Parade!

Let’s see, you can dress up in skimpy outfits, walk 10 blocks and throw up on the sidewalk or you can dress up in skimpy outfits, run 26 miles and throw up on the side of the road.

I know which one I’d rather attend, but don’t let that stop you.

I’ll tell you what. I’ll let you have the roads for the day. You promise not to run yourself into a coma and die.

Deal?

What do you think about the SLO Marathon? Share your thoughts here.

Apr 09

Bring your A game to this fundraiser

When you’re in the business of writing and editing 20 or so newspaper pages a day, you’re bound to make a few typos now and then.

And when we do, believe me, we hear about it.

That’s not to say we don’t know our way around the English language. We do. Really. Quit laughing.

We have some real sharp spellers who work behind the scenes. We can spell till the cows come home or it’s time to start the press, whichever comes first. Usually it’s the press.

Anyhow, so last year, we assembled a team of four to compete in the Literacy Council’s annual spelling bee fundraiser.

It was me, one of our copy editors, our online editor (who’s a former copy editor) and the publisher, who’s actually almost as good with letters as he is with numbers.

He’s also the best public speaker and he holds the company checkbook, both of which are important assets if you’re going to get up on stage and take on a bunch of other crack word nerds.

Our team name was “Whoever Spelt it, Dealt it,” and we did reasonably well in our first appearance at this esteemed event.

By reasonably well, I mean we didn’t face-plant on the first word. That would have been embarrassing. E-M-B-A-R-R-A-S-S-I-N-G.

But we didn’t take home the trophy, so there is room for improvement this year.

We actually made it to what amounts to the Final Four, powering through words like “kookaburra.”

But in the end, we lost to a group of young male doctors going by the moniker “Boy Band,” who triumphed in part thanks to softball words like “cartilage.”

Yes, the doctors got “cartilage.”

They were decent spellers, but in the end, it was their wallets that did the heavy linguistic lifting, providing the cash to finance sanctioned cheats like using a dictionary or asking a smartphone-equipped mole in the audience for help.

We eventually got bounced by “byssinosis,” which is a disease of the lungs brought on by breathing cotton dust, and if there was a word that should have been dropped on a bunch of med school know-it-alls, that was it.

So our first foray into this fundraiser was a learning experience. And you can bet this year we’ll be back older, sneakier and hopefully better funded.

If you think this is a good cause like we do, there’s an easy way you can help: by renewing your Tribune subscriptions, which will raise our revenue, which will give us more disposable income for good local causes like the Literacy Council.

See how it all goes round and round?

Or you can attend the event on May 4 and either compete against us or cheer from the safe anonymity of the audience, where you can sip wine and munch on tasty appetizers. That works too.

Either way, more dough goes toward making our community smarter.

OK, Boy Band, start sharpening your spelling chops.

We’ll be honing ours every day for the next month.

Want to attend the event? Wine, Wit & Words is Friday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at the Veterans Hall in San Luis Obispo. Tickets to attend, watch and enjoy the wine and food are $40/person, or form a team of four for $100/person ($400 per team). Need more information, visit www.sloliteracy.org or call 541-4219.

Mar 30

Court’s handling of health care makes me queasy

This week’s Supreme Court hearings on the Affordable Care Act have made two things crystal clear:

First, most of the discussion actually propels the argument toward broader — not narrower — health care reform.

And second, the conservative members of the court apparently can act like partisan fearmongers with the best of them.

On the first point, the court paid its most pointed attention to the question of the individual insurance mandate and whether the federal government can compel U.S. residents to buy health coverage or pay a penalty.

The reasoning all along here has been that in order for such a system to be financially viable, all residents — regardless of age, desire or medical condition — must participate so that younger, healthier people can balance out the costs of older, sicker folks.

Because we will all proceed through the same stages in life and face medical needs at some time or another, this is a fair-minded, sensible approach.

It’s an approach whose most logical conclusion, really, is not an “insurance mandate” but public health care, in the mode of Social Security and Medicare.

The fact that we are trying to define health care differently for the general population than we do for our older citizens is a bit of unnecessary gymnastics that spawns the kind of debate we saw this week, in which the highest judges in the land wring their hands over the specter of the federal government overstepping its bounds.

If the justices and the majority of the country constitutionally support the concepts of Social Security and Medicare, so should they also support a national health care system.

But because some people see that as the devil incarnate — in other words, socialism — the Affordable Care Act evolved into the law we have now, including the “mandate” language that is giving some people fits.

And that led to lots of silly speculation at Tuesday’s hearing, which saw some of the allegedly most acute and esteemed legal minds in the country making all kinds of stupid leaps of logic, barging into obvious fallacies like a bunch of blind donkeys.

If the federal government can force you to buy health insurance, what else can it force you to do?

Can it require you to buy a cellphone to call emergency services, asked Chief Justice John Roberts?

Can it require you to buy mandatory burial insurance, asked Justice Samuel Alito?

And the most inane of them all, can it require you to eat broccoli, asked Justice Antonin Scalia?

Scalia also compared health care to cars, and I’m starting to find this a little hard to believe.

Is it not patently obvious that fundamental differences exist between health care and things like cellphones, cars and broccoli?

The fact is, nearly every American — hundreds of millions of people — will need some form of health care at some point.

A fraction of Americans will ever have to call for emergency services. Nobody has to buy a car, and no dealer is compelled to sell you one. Same for broccoli.

But when you keel over from a stroke and need that treatment, a doctor must provide it, whether you have insurance or not, whether you can pay one dime or not.

For those reasons, health care is not any random commodity. And it is not a luxury that should only be afforded by the rich or fortunate.

It is a basic right, one that any of us could require at zero notice, when we are incapacitated and without even the simple ability to choose.

Even in that state, we will get care.

And yet here we are, where instead of listening to justices compare it to the things it’s like, all we hear are analogies to the things it’s not like.

When you think about it, it’s so ridiculous that you begin to wonder if these justices were not acting simply crazy, but crazy like a fox — as in they have some broader motive for the litany of dumb comparisons.

Perhaps they were offering these examples to precisely show that unique distinction.

I can only hope that is the case, but we’ll have to wait and see.

June — and a decision — can’t come too soon.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.

Mar 26

Wal-Mart, Rottman should pay for Atascadero road improvements

Why should the city of Atascadero pick up half the tab for road improvements around the proposed Walmart and Annex projects because the developers can’t reach an agreement on how to split the cost?

The answer is, it shouldn’t.

For seven years, Wal-Mart Inc. and the Rottman Group (developer of The Annex) have been working to build two projects across from each other at Del Rio Road and El Camino Real.

As part of the permitting studies, it was determined the area would need some $4.5 million in road upgrades to accommodate the new traffic that would be generated by these substantial developments.

Appropriately so, the initial environmental impact report assigned responsibility for that cost to “the project” or “the applicant.”

At some point, however, a dispute arose about whether “the project” referred to Wal-Mart alone or Wal-Mart and Rottman together.

Now the two are squabbling and pointing fingers and have been unable to come up with some kind of agreement that pays the full $4.5 million tab.

In order to move things along, the city’s latest plan has it stepping in to fund the difference, which it would then recoup from other unknown future developments.

OK, what? No.

Obviously, the deal from the beginning here was that this money comes from the currently proposed new impacts, whether they are considered one project or two.

Now, it’s like Wal-Mart and Rottman invited the city to dinner, ran up a big tab and are trying to walk out of the restaurant, leaving their guest to foot a hefty chunk of the bill.

Atascadero then gets the pleasure of running around for years after looking for other people who can help pay for the meal.

Atascadero never was and shouldn’t be the host at this party. The taxpayers are the ones that need to be wined and dined, not the other way around.

I don’t know what happened between Wal-Mart and Rottman, whether there was a miscommunication with the city or whether one is now just trying to weasel out of their fair share.

But it sounds like from the size of their projects that consultants see them nearly equally responsible, as the new plan assigns Wal-Mart 29 percent of the cost and The Annex 24 percent.

That leaves 47 percent — or $2.1 million — for the city, which is now acting like some needy, insecure teenager who was just happy to be invited to dinner at all.

Grow up, Atascadero, and get a backbone.

You have no guarantee of future development or what others might be willing to pay.

The deal on whether these costs would be funded publicly or privately was clear from the get-go.

Both Wal-Mart and the Rottman Group have deeper pockets than you. They can afford it.

They’re the ones who want to build. They’re the ones who want to increase the demands on city infrastructure. They’re the ones who get to pay, however they figure it out.

If they can’t, tough luck.

Either way, now’s the time for you to stand up and walk away from the table.

What do you think about this deal? Share your thoughts here.

Mar 19

The kid’s a real ballplayer now

On Tuesday, Mr. Big Third-Grader entered baseball’s big leagues, and we’ve been giggling about it all week.

By big leagues, I don’t mean he can suddenly hit a fastball, but rather he can now get hit by one, and emerge intact.

The boy is playing AAA Little League this year, and you can’t take the field at the AAA level unless you’re wearing the proper athletic protection, and by “proper athletic protection,” I mean a cup.

This bit of news Mrs. Joetopia learned about a half-hour before his first scrimmage, which prompted her to call me asking what she should do.

In a perfect world, I imagine this moment might be a bit like teaching a boy to shave, in which father passes to son the techniques of a particular male milestone.

Because I wasn’t there, however, mom and sister took on the task, with no lack of amusement but utter lack of bona fide commiseration, you can be sure.

First off, let me say, I played rec baseball for seven or eight years and never once needed a cup.

Back in those days, cups were for catchers, whose position was uniquely prone to errant balls hitting you in the … well, you know.

So a part of me is a bit dismayed that such equipment is now required for 8-year-olds.

I kind of think that up until a certain age, every kid should experience the risk of taking an unobstructed shot to the jock — or else, how will they know what it feels like?

It’s kind of a rite of passage, learning to protect the family jewels.

Best to get hit when the toss is light from another youngster so you know to get the heck out of the way when it’s legitimate heat from a high school pitcher.

But anyhow, back to the story.

So I get the emergency call at work, but the only advice I could provide over the phone was this: “Well, go to Big 5 and get one.”

With no help from Dad, off they ran, Mom with son and daughter in tow, in search of a piece of plastic the size of a small gravy boat and maybe some bungee cords to keep it in place, because what good is a cup if it slides down your leg?

After finding the equipment in question and a pair of shorts to hold it, they hurried out the door for a quick change in the car.

First came the question of which way’s up, followed by, gee, it’s kind of tough to zip up a pair of tight baseball pants with the equivalent of a baseball inside them.

Eventually, they got everything in place, and Little Miss Sixth-Grader did the honors of testing it out, offering a few quick raps along with “does this hurt?” — to which the boy confirmed with satisfaction, “nope, nope, nope.”

Later, she compared it to the equipment check they do in soccer: lift your foot to show your cleats, knock your lower leg to show your shin guards.

Obviously, this was a little different, and much snickering ensued.

At the field, the entertainment continued, because now it wasn’t one boy juggling with his shorts but a whole team, and just imagine what that looked like.

Finally, one of the male coaches was enlisted to provide the kind of expert guidance required all along, and wouldn’t you know it, the family had installed the thing upside down, which of course is not only extra uncomfortable but also makes it really difficult to leg out an infield single.

At one point in the game, the boy confirmed that an wayward bounce from one pitch did indeed find the cup, and lo and behold, it did its job.

Back at home that night, they shared the day’s adventures with much excitement, in addition to showing off the piece itself, and I can already tell we’re not even close to exhausting the humor potential.

Just this morning, the thing went suddenly missing, and the boy accused his sister of absconding with his gear.

Where did it turn up?

Under his pillow of all places, and picture that sight, an athletic cup tucked safely beneath his head as he slept, like some weird gift from the Tooth Fairy.

Yes, we are still laughing about that.

Got any funny sports stories? Share them here.

Mar 09

Three cheers for the geezers

I’ve got a soft spot for unabashed oldsters.

They’ve been the subject of some debate lately, sparked by the observations of one of our guest writers, Suzanne Davis, who periodically drops in to offer her “greetings from old people camp.”

Her last column a few a weeks ago was about the joy she now finds in watching the comings and goings of birds in her yard, and how the pastime is an apparent requirement for anyone approaching AARP age.

Unfortunately, her musings ruffled some feathers among those who find her light-hearted “bird brain”-type observations offensive.

For my part, I like Suzanne’s style. Her cheery, self-deprecating outlook makes me smile. We would all be so lucky to reach our gilded years with such a carefree attitude intact.

In this business, I’ve had the good fortune of working with several aspiring geezers, many of whom attack the breach of older age like a band of merry jokesters tumbling out of a clown car.

Take the intrepid Bill Morem, whose Grandpa Simpson impression rivals anything you’ll hear on the actual show.

He may be in his 60s, but the twinkle in his eye hasn’t dimmed a whit in the two decades I’ve known him.

Most days, you can find him driving about in his Jeep, preferably with the top down, so he can feel the wind in his closely cropped hair and pick bugs out of his teeth with his Bowie knife.

At least that’s how I imagine it, Bill being the manliest of men and all.

He fancies himself a geezer, but he hardly fits the profile, at least not in any derogatory sense. He just plays one in the newspaper.

Bill likes to hang out with Bob Cuddy, with whom he shares cubicle space and membership in The Tribune’s Gray-Beard Club.

Bob’s been in the business more years than I’ve been alive, but he can still spit vinegar with the best of them.

Whenever I get a particularly amusing bit of hate mail, I like to share it with Bob, who keeps his all-time favorite reader letter tacked on his wall.

It’s the one that excoriates him for “the crock of bullshit” he once wrote for the Tri-Valley Herald in Pleasanton and concludes with the line, “GET YOUR ROTTEN ATHEISTIC ASS OUT OF THIS GREAT COUNTRY AND NEVER RETURN!!!”

Fortunately, Bob is not taking that advice to heart.

Finally, there’s my favorite Tribune copy editor, who shall remain nameless because he’s a copy editor and copy editors always remain nameless. It’s in their DNA.

He’s a soft-spoken Southern gentleman who I’m pretty sure grew up on a plantation and drove my Native American ancestors out of their Georgia homeland.

He celebrated the big 6-0 a couple years ago by throwing himself a giant bash in San Francisco.

Just last week, he went out and bought himself a self-declared “midlife crisis car,” a spiffy maroon convertible Mercedes Benz.

He has spent the last eight days looking for excuses to leave the building on unnecessary errands, taking with him whomever on the staff hasn’t yet had the opportunity to ride shotgun.

This little German automobile has put a grin on his face the likes I haven’t seen since his beloved Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995.

If you catch him rolling around town with the top down, silver locks flowing in the breeze, give him a thumbs up.

Or better yet, ask for a ride. He’ll probably offer you a lift to L.A. — if you buy him a burger on the way.

Got any favorite geezers you want to celebrate? Share your stories here.

Mar 04

This chicken coop could be a granny unit

We are in the midst of a rather ambitious home construction project.

Ostensibly, it’s just a chicken coop, but I’m beginning to think “detached avian guest quarters” might be a more suitable description.

With a little flooring and insulation, we could move the kids’ bunk beds out there.

Groundbreaking officially occurred last weekend, which is a little bit late when you consider the chickens have already arrived. Fortunately, they’re small and don’t seem to mind living in a cage in the garage for the time being.

The current two girl birds eventually will be joined by another pair, because when you raise 4H chickens for the Mid-State Fair, it’s always good to have backups.

We already know this to be true, because two weeks ago we had three chickens, before Little Miss Sixth-Grader’s Dutch light-cream blue long-legged something-or-other up and died on the third night.

So she lost her first-stringer even before her second-stringer arrived. Now she needs two.

Both of Mr. Big Third-Grader’s chickens have so far survived, even the one who keeps trying to fly across the room, as if it could actually fly. Apparently it doesn’t know it’s a chicken, not a bird.

Anyhow, in between domesticating these flightless fowl, we’ve been building this coop in the back yard, a project that has involved exhaustive Internet searches, trips to Home Depot, a request to Mrs. Joetopia’s dad for help, more trips to Home Depot and repeated late nights of sawing and hammering by the light of a nonexistent moon and two halogen work lamps.

So far, it’s actually gone pretty well, which is surprising, because usually construction jobs don’t proceed that successfully when you have two foremen and a forewoman constantly debating which way to turn the 2-by-4, preceded by discussions about just how long to cut it, followed by chats about whether to use screws or nails to secure it.

Now multiply that negotiation times 1,000.

OK, it wasn’t that bad. We actually got along quite well, my father-in-law’s daughter only threatening to walk off the work site three or four times.

The most frustrating thing about the effort was trying to convey relevant information about the architecture of the coop when you really don’t know much about architecture … or even simple carpentry.

It leads to conversations like this:

Mrs. Joetopia: “How should we attach the thing on the side to the other thing?”

Me: “What thing on which side to what other thing?”

Or when her dad, who actually works in construction, sent her to the Depot to get some “8-penny nails,” and she stood in the aisle scanning shelves of boxes, none of which offered any such “penny” labeling.

(She eventually did find them after a clerk translated carpenter-ese to English and pointed her in the right direction.)

Or when we took our coop plans to the lumber area and went looking for panels of “OSB.”

Lo and behold, right at the end of the aisle, there they were: 15/32-inch sheets of pressed woodlike material.

We bought four, but we still don’t know what “OSB” means.

After the initial weekend, father and daughter took over when I had to head off to spend eight hours a day typing on a computer, writing stuff like this.

I returned each night to survey their progress, offering encouraging words like “those joists look really good” and “we should put a fascia board up there” — that being the extent of my contractor vocabulary.

Midway through the week, the most senior member of our crew headed home, so Mom recruited her two young chicken owners to assist.

Turns out they’re decent hammerers and quite handy with a paintbrush. Early on, they put the used nesting box we acquired on the grass and washed it clean. Then they picked out a bright red color and got to work.

The repainted box turned out dandy, but it looks like someone sacrificed a small cow on our lawn.

So it’s been a team effort, and we’re making progress, slowly but surely.

Next up, we have to figure out how to mount this French door we scavenged out of our neighbor’s Dumpster and what to do about waterproofing the roof.

After all, every smart builder knows OSB will suck up the rain and turn to mush. Or so we’ve heard.

Maybe we’ll get some shingles or corrugated metal.

Now where did all those 8-penny nails go?

Do you have any funny home improvement stories? Share them here.

Feb 24

What Emma should know about San Luis Obispo

On Valentine’s Day, we published a letter from one Emma Miller of Mishawaka, Ind., who is working on a school report about California and requested that readers share with her what they love most about life in the Golden State.

I imagine Emma got lots of responses, because if there’s one thing we love to do out here it’s brag about how good we’ve got it.

You don’t even need to ask, really.

Carly Head purchases a basket of strawberries from Willy V's fruit and vegetable stand. A busy farmers market fills the streets of downtown SLO on a warm summer evening. Tribune Photo by Nick Lucero

Just pause in a conversation with a Californian for more than three seconds and you’re liable to end up hearing a travelogue of all the state’s spectacular destinations followed by a treatise on why In-N-Out makes the best hamburgers followed by an epic poem about the perpetually sunny, 72-degree weather.

At this newspaper, we are so surprised to see gray clouds releasing water on our heads that we immediately send the entire photo staff dashing out the door to document the occasion.

Hurry, you must go now. It’s heavily misting outside, and it could stop at any moment!

If those Midwesterners saw how we react to these minor meteorological events, they would laugh and laugh.

Those are hardy folk out there, raised on sweet corn and 110 percent humidity, White Castle and auto racing.

I know — I have relatives in Indiana, and I visit them once every 10 or 20 years. This makes me an expert.

When I was young, I thought the only thing that ever happened in the Hoosier State was the Indianapolis 500, because every year one relative or another would send me a T-shirt.

Last time I flew back there was for my grandmother’s funeral one February a few winters back.

It was about 12 degrees, not counting wind chill, with skies the color of a battleship’s hull.

I spent the time running from one car or building to another to avoid the cold, taking heavy jackets on and off, eating at Applebee’s, trying not to shop at Walmart and incessantly mocking my uncle and cousin about their wardrobes, which consisted of seven days worth of slightly varying Colts jerseys.

I also had a terrible time getting my bearings, what with there being no mountains or ocean to provide orientation.

One night, I circled out of Indy’s downtown roundabout convinced I was pointing north toward our hotel. Not until I’d driven past a dreary industrial complex through a neighborhood of abandoned shacks and into a corn field did I realize I was headed not to the Hampton Inn, but Kentucky.

Eek.

But enough about Joetopia’s adventures in Indiana.

Emma wants to know what’s great about California, so here’s what I would tell her:

It’s really two states in one, divided into Northern and Southern, Northern being the supremely more desirable portion.

San Francisco has more character than all the characters in Los Angeles. Lake Tahoe’s majestic mountains make Big Bear look like a snow globe. And if you’re going to live a lifestyle of luxury and riches, earn it in Silicon Valley, don’t inherit it in Orange County.

The only thing better about SoCal than NorCal? The Dodgers, of course!

Here in San Luis Obispo, located on the Central Coast nearly smack-dab between those two competing metropolises, we often get the best of both worlds.

Shaun Cooper of San Luis Obispo enjoys the view from the top of Bishop Peak. Tribune photo by Jayson Mellom

We have both palm trees and oak trees, sweeping beaches and rocky shorelines, miles of wine grape vines and acres of cattle ranches.

We have virtually no traffic, and the only real air pollution is too much sand and dust churned up by ATV tires at the Oceano Dunes.

We grow fresh vegetables all year round, and we buy and sell them at weekly farmers markets, which we reach by way of mountain bike, Prius or Ford pickup, depending on which area of the county you’re in.

We have Hearst Castle, the Madonna Inn and two of California’s 21 missions.

Our university is the crown jewel of the California State University system.

We wear flip-flops all year round, our kids can walk to school safely and you hardly ever hear a car horn honk. When you do, it’s usually to say hi.

Last year, SLO was named the happiest city America, and it absolutely lives up to that billing.

Emma, these are the things I love about our slice of California.

Come visit us some time. I’m sure you’d love them too.

What do you love about living in California? Share your thoughts here.







Feb 17

Seeing red over orange sparks

Who do you think you are?

That’s the question I’d ask the thoughtless driver of the red sedan, driving north on Highway 101 last week.

It was during the evening commute home, and I was cruising through the darkness, trailing the taillights ahead of me as the radio chattered quietly in the background.

Suddenly, a tiny orange glow flips through air and bounces off the pavement, erupting in a shower of sparks.

What was it?

A cigarette butt, tossed cavalierly out the window by someone who apparently doesn’t know the difference between a public highway and their backyard patio.

I’ll ask again: Who do you think you are?

King of the castle, lord of the manor and czar of the land, privileged to abuse the countryside however you see fit?

I already have a short tolerance for smokers.

If it was up to me, smoking would be banned in every indoor and outdoor place that presents even the most remote chance for public use.

But this kind of behavior only makes a loathsome activity 10 times worse.

It’s one thing for you to make a personal choice to engage in a habit that will damage your health.

And it’s certainly isn’t good that the habit also pollutes our air and can damage the health of others nearby.

But what kind of gall does it take for you to chuck your burning litter out the window at 65 mph where at best it only adds to the highway trash and at worst sparks a wildfire?

This level of carelessness for the common good is simply staggering, and it’s not limited to smoker drivers.

We’ve also got smoker walkers who flick their butts on the sidewalk and smoker beach-goers to whom lying on the sand must be some sort of cigarette-disposing nirvana.

It may feel like you’re ensconced in the middle of a giant ashtray, but guess what? You’re not.

So to anyone who would casually discard the remains of their cigarettes anywhere they like, please stop.

If it means you need to Velcro an ash bag to your belt, do it.

If it means you need to — gasp! — not smoke until you get somewhere with a proper trash can, do it.

If it means you need to build pyramids of butts on your dashboard, do that.

We all need a sense of responsibility and stewardship for this land we share.

If you want to spoil property, make sure it’s yours, not ours.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.

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