I heard a story the other day, a legend really, or maybe a fable, about two hikers who decided to exercise their independent, can-do, ’Merican spirit and leave the trail they were on. What’s more U.S.A! U.SA.! than that? Than spitting in the face of the known and turning right all of a sudden, juking The Man’s expectations and rigid conformity so you can forge your own path, burning your own trail across the vast unknown?
The only thing I can think of that’s more American is realizing that maybe straying from the established way isn’t such a great idea after all and then calling for help from taxpayer-funded public safety forces once the sun goes down and Bishop Peak’s north face starts to vanish into shadows, erasing the official trail—the way back to home, sweet home—from view.
According to the wrinkled, wizened old storyteller—with the mystical name of Fire Department Press Release—who relayed this tale to me, the wayward hikers had miscalculated the time it would take them to get back down the mountain with all of their bones unbroken.
Through teeth blackened with age and with breath that smelled like peach Schnapps, an In-n-Out double-double, and liquid smoke, Fire Department Press Release told me that the happy ending to this parable was that it took only 15 firefighters, three engines, two battalion chiefs, and one helicopter teaming up to find the two true heroes of this tale: happy, healthy, whole, and unharmed in the “very high position they were currently stuck in.” Their rescuers noted that light from their cell phones helped in locating them, so remember to keep playing Candy Crush if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
One of my fellow listeners asked Fire Department Press Release about how much money this whole get-the-freedom-lovers-down-off-of-Death-Mountain operation cost, but the storyteller just shrugged and pointed to the city fire chief, who sort of aw-shucks toed the dirt and said it’s all in a day’s work, and really they had help from the CHP and Cal Fire, who—if they have time to spare, which they apparently did—all pitch in to such efforts at no extra cost.
I turned away from Fire Department Press Release’s hacking finale mired in brooding thoughts: Aren’t we all currently stuck in a very high position of our own? This story about stranded hikers is my story, is your story, because we’ve all grossly, embarrassingly, frighteningly lost track of time, and now we face having to grope our way forward in the dark, risking a twisted ankle or a devouring by a pack of coyotes or a vertebrae-crunching plunge off of an unseen cliff face.
Metaphorically, of course.
Unfortunately, I don’t think help is coming, no matter how high we hold our glowing smartphones up against the backdrop of cold, unfeeling stars. There’s just too much confusion, too much chatter blocking out our calls for help.
Since I just heard a story about the intersection of open space and public safety, let me tell you a tale of my own. It involves not so much those subjects as where the money comes from to pay for those subjects.
Long ago, SLO city voters approved a sales tax that would bring in money that leaders promised would go toward police and fire protection, the preservation of green areas full of life, and other stuff, like street paving. In the days and years since, people have come to disagree as to how effective that spending has been—but their debates would be somewhat moot, since the tax is set to expire early in 2015.
They would be moot, expect that the city is now asking for voters to renew what used to be known as Measure Y, but would be coming back to life as Measure G.
Former SLO City Councilman Keith Gurnee doesn’t like Measure G one bit. He wants you to turn it down when you go to the polls in November, and he’s been using a warning letter from a CPA to the City Council sent earlier this year as ammunition in the big gun he’s aiming at the pro-G camp.
“I hope you will indulge me and see how I came to vote ‘no,’” the letter reads, laying out the big negative takeaway from one member of the city-appointed advisory committee who crunched numbers like they were vertebrae and came away with a sick feeling.
The CPA’s letter condemns staffers and leaders for breaking public trust, not planning ahead, and all-around money-spending issues tied to 2006’s Measure Y. The CPA’s letter is a damning document of how the funds from Measure Y have been handled, and it casts into doubt the city’s ability to effectively handle similar funds that would come from Measure G’s success.
I can understand Keith wanting to trot that letter out every chance he gets. But while the CPA, the letter’s author, still feels like there are problems with the city and its relationship to money, he’s on board with Measure G. He’s going to vote yes. And yet his words continue to haunt him—as do all our words, amirite? And he still believes a lot of them, but he also hopes that things will get better this time around. That position takes faith and trust, and it tells me that there are some people who defy all the stereotypes: Who take the road less traveled—or the nonexistent road not traveled at all—and find themselves stuck after sundown, armed only with the information they can gather with their own tiny light. And faced with that reality, they shrug off the idea of help coming for them and go on forging their own path into the darkness.
The Shredder was just bit by a rattlesnake and needs you to suck the poison out. Send wilderness survival tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.