Like most whiny, entitled residents of San Luis Obispo, I’ve spent the better part of the last week holed up in my plagues of Egypt shelter with all nine seasons of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Small-minded realists are inclined to insist there were only six, but I contend if you mix in just the right ratio of The Real Housewives of Yuma (circa 1848), Tombstone, and City Slickers, you won’t know the difference.
All was right with the world. Jane Seymour was lecturing some bumpkins about how women can do all the stuff a man can do (conveniently overlooking that whole peeing standing up advantage), and I’m pretty sure they were all about to raid the general store and dump the town’s supply of disposable razors in a dry riverbed nearby. That’s when all hell broke loose.
A nag galloped through town—trampling my azaleas in the process—crying, “The students are coming! The students are coming!” and imploring us to rush to the nearest enhanced safety zone. The nag later turned out to be Mayor Jan Marx on horseback. They herded us into pens made out of billboards with phrases like “Students Go Home,” “Not In My Backyard,” “The Party’s Over,” and “I Heart Your Money but I Hate You.” The pens reeked of Icy Hot and fear, but we were well stocked with wine so I figured I might as well ride out the student invasion in a state of classy inebriation.
There were a lot of arbitrary rules, and Marx and her police officer goons decided that the punishment for breaking these rules would vary depending on when and where you were when you broke them.
Meanwhile, days passed. The college students pretty much ignored our enhanced safety zones while they went about living their college student lives, doing the things college students do: studying, socializing, drinking, working minimum wage jobs at local stores, accruing a mountain of student debt. I missed Michaela. I missed cheap booze (all we had was wine which, they insisted, was not actually alcoholic).
I decided to flee north. Me and this guy Snoopy, who later turned out to be a hallucination resulting from the fact that I had gone six hours without processed sugar. While the 17 committees dedicated to improving the quality of local neighborhoods convened around the bear statue in the Mission, I hitchhiked to Paso Robles, where I arrived parched and loopy.
It was just like a scene from Dr. Quinn! Parched land as far as the eye could see! Lawlessness! Desperation! Water barons pumping the ground for all it was worth while unwashed peasants pleaded for droplets!
A vigilante posse surrounded me and demanded my affiliation. I stared blankly at them. I’ve perfected the blank stares over many decades of not understanding what’s going on.
“Which are you? A PRAAG or a PWE?”
I opted for the safe answer and played dead the way I’d seen countless dates do when they saw my hovel for the first time. The crowd took me to their bunker, which was really just a pile of tumbleweeds stacked together, and tossed a bucket of cabernet on me to revive me. Then they let me shower in a 2006 pinot noir and brush my teeth with zinfandel. The only thing they couldn’t give me, they said, was water.
They were refugees—neither PRAAG (Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions) nor PWE (PRO Water Equity)—dealing with the fallout from the fact that they were living in one of only two states that don’t regulate groundwater usage. Even I knew they were going to say that Texas was the other one. Because when you think of a Wild West free for all, everyone claiming as many resources as possible with no regard for future consequences or the well-being of their neighbors, well, there’s a reason they call it the Lone Star State.
PWE is pro the formation of a special legislative management district. And PRAAG is pro the formation of a Paso Robles Basin Water District, and already filed a petition to form said district. The problem, as I understand it—which is probably not well—is that the pro-wine industry PRAAG wants a water district that allocates votes by how much land you own.
One vote per acre. And nags—not like Mayor Marx, but the one she rode in on—get two-fifths of a vote, but we’re gonna need a separate committee to represent their interests. I’m thinking—but I don’t own land so I don’t formally get a vote—it should be called HOOVES (Helpers of Obtaining Validating Equine Sustainability). Oh, and if you don’t own land, you not only don’t receive a vote, but you’ll be pressed into indentured servitude stomping grapes for the local landowners (aka wineries).
I realized, during my morning syrah steam, that there’s no place for a so-and-so like me in a Western frontier like this. I don’t much care for wine, and they’ve got little else. They think they’re Jesus, miraculously transmuting one liquid into another, but they’ve got no idea how to change it back. And the really scary thing is that realization doesn’t seem to be slowing them down.
I hit the road and rollerbladed along the shoulder of the highway for an hour or so before realizing I’ve got nowhere to go. So here I sit. Between a nag and a dry place. Maybe I’ll just mosey on over to Bakersfield. Between a drunk 10 (Paso) and a town that’s drunk on its own feeble power (SLO), I’ll take a sober 0 any day.
Shredder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.