Friday, August 28, 2009


I got blamed/credited in the Letters to the Editor yesterday for coming up with the term "Prunetucky" in reference to the bucolic North County community I call home. Truth is, and if I'm not mistaken, I likely purloined the name after I heard it about 30 years ago during a friendly neighborhood pallet fire following a drunken Prunedale Outlaws bash out behind the house that used to have Christmas lights strung out to spell "Hells Angels" on the roof so that everyone speeding down Highway 101 could see it. Again, I could be mistaken.

The writer of the letter suggested that Prunetuscany might be a more appropriate name, inasmuch as Prunedale more closely resembles a bucolic over-promoted region of Italy.

Someone, another Prunedale resident named CMarie, responded in the letters' online comments section:

"I laughed out loud when I read Jim Hommes letter suggesting that Prunedale should be referred to as "Prunetuscany" rather than the local favored "Prunetucky". He said that he and his wife had traveled to Tuscany numerous times and likened it to visiting a friends terrace in Prunedale. Well, I do not know where his friends "Terrace" is. I didn't think we had any terraces in Prunetucky. From my home, I can see my neighbor's lifted white truck parked on what used to be grass. From my front window, I can see a mobile home with old and faded Pink Flamingos. Next to the home is a beat up trailer with "Roy and Erlene" and their one toothed dog who fight like hell. When they do, it makes for a great summertime nights entertainment especially if the police show up. Now granted Prunetucky has improved it's reputation over the years. We have two shopping centers, two Starbucks, and all of the conveniences without having to go into Salinas. We have million dollar homes next to shacks. We call it Prunetucky because we can laugh at ourselves for living in such a quirky place. Look, how many of you can say that you went to your car after grocery shopping and found a flier on your car advertising for "hot girls services". That brilliant guy didn't get far in life. I don't think this kind of stuff happens in Tuscany. "

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gadflies and Kooks

Those of us who cover municipal government always struggle with what to do with the gadflies and kooks who haunt city halls.

For the most part, they are as aggravating to reporters as they are to the civic leaders who must indulge them as they are forced to allow the gadflies and kooks spew inanities during the public hearing portions of council or board meetings. We are aggravated because we are on deadline and the gadflies and kooks waste our time.

Several weeks ago a video of a gadfly at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting went viral after The Huffington Post and others posted her rambling rant on the Web. Her blathering was surreal, but it was no worse than what elected officials and reporters are forced to endure at any given council meeting everywhere in Monterey County.

Unfortunately, there exists a subculture of weirdos with nothing better to do with their time than to show up at each and every public meeting to whine, complain, moan and holler about the stupid things the civic leaders are trying to do. Healthy criticism and effective activism are great democratic tools, but the kooks and gadflies generally have nothing credible to say and they certainly have no valid solution to anything. They simply show up and let their jaws flap for three minutes.

Several years ago, the California legislature enacted what can best be described as the Equal Opportunity for Kooks and Gadflies Act, which mandates that all bodies of elected officials must allow time for random people to speak at public meetings. The idea is that the average citizen with valid issues can approach a board or a council to apprise the elected body of the issue.

Because of this legislation, a parade of gadflies and kooks are allowed to waste a whole lot of time during meetings to vent their spleens.

Unfortunately, the inhuman nature of the gadflies and kooks serves to undermine the intentions of the valid and well-meaning citizens who come to elected bodies with valid issues.

Here's how it typically works:

The valid citizen arrives at a city council meeting with an issue he or she believes the council needs to address. The valid citizen works hard to present the issue, to condense the problem in an effective three-minute presentation that will impress the council and force a resolution. The valid citizen is credible and articulate.

But when the valid citizen completes the presentation, the kooks and gadflies descend. They tell the valid citizen that he or she has a great issue. They tell the valid citizen that they can help resolve the problem because they have been coming to council meetings for years and they know their way around city hall.

The valid citizen, who is well intentioned but rather naive in the workings of kooks and gadflies, will be grateful that other people care about his or her issue. So the valid citizen will allow the kooks and gadflies to get involved -- until he or she starts working with these people and recognizes that he or she has thrown in with the nutty fringe, at which point the valid citizen backs away from the issue altogether. And the problem never gets resolved.

I've watched this unfortunate dynamic play out countless times in the decades I've covered local government.

But I've never seen it undo a mayor, until now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reflections on The Carmel Follies

It’s uncomfortable to be cast as the talentless doofus at a musical review meant to showcase local artistry. Even more so when wearing a hula skirt and a coconut bra.

But testing my discomfort level appears to have become a midlife challenge, which is why I found myself on the Pacific Repertory Theatre stage in Carmel over the weekend, plodding along, like a dancing bear on mescaline, in a hula skirt and a tutu.

I suppose my appearance in the Carmel Follies is somebody’s notion of low comedy, but it was my idea of public humiliation. I was teamed with three other “good sports” – Sam Linder, Thompson Lange and Bob Mulford – to be the comic foils/horrors for a couple of numbers at the Follies. I call us the “Ick Girls.”

The show seems to have been a big success during its two-day run. The gala opening, which included an auction, was a successful fundraiser for PacRep. What’s more, I’m told that the Ick Girls were greatly entertaining, that we amused the crowd as we stumbled our way across the stage in a wretched display of choreography. It helped that much of the audience was appropriately inebriated.

I just hope that seeing doofuses stumbling about is not the lingering memory for the Carmel Follies audience; so much other unique and real talent was on display.

For instance, the multi-talented Gracie Moore Poletti was the host of the show. She is real talent. At the Follies, she showed she can dance, she can sing, she can make you laugh, she can memorize her lines and her dance steps, and she can hold a show together. I’m troubled that all the audience might remember of her is that a quartet of lumpish middle-aged louts in hula skirts managed to lift her without dropping her at the end of “Honey Bun.”

And then there’s Allyson Spiegelman, the captivating ballerina who appeared onstage early in the second act. She is beauty, elegance, grace – and perhaps a better “good sport” than the Ick Girls after allowing herself to share the stage with a bunch of old guys in tutus.

Fortunately, our presence on stage was limited to a few slapstick minutes. That meant we didn’t have to destroy the tender “Beauty and the Beast” mood set featuring the splendid Reed Scott and the, uh, homely Steve Woods. That meant our antics didn’t interrupt a fun original Wizard of Oz number featuring Lydia Lyons and Otis Goodwin.

And there was so much more we did NOT ruin, including great solo work by Thelma Howard, Steve Guerra and Daniel Simpson. And we sure as hell did not want to upstage true talent like Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey, baritone Peter Tuff and Layne Littlepage. Director Walt de Faria was appropriately patient with the Ick Girls; in fact, he coached the terrible-ness into us.

All in all, The Carmel Follies proved a terrific introductory sampler of the real talent that blesses Monterey County. Producer Stephen Moore said he expects the Follies will be an annual event, and I do urge him to continue to scout for and feature the community’s hidden gems for future shows.

Meanwhile, the Ick Girls – Sam, Thompson, Bob and I – are already planning rehearsals for Can-Can, our act for next year. In our case, of course, it will be the Can't-Can't.