Opinion » Street Talk

The heat is on

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Some like it hot. Not me, though. No siree, I'm one cool cucumber and I like my surroundings to chill as much as I do.

The SLO County Public Health Department is right there with me. The mercury is pushing its way up into the triple digits, boiling away common sense and comfort and everything else that thrives in a chilled environment, and the folks with their fingers on the local racing pulse are worried that muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fainting will ensue all symptoms that some of our readers say they get from perusing my column week to week.

Bracing for the heat like it's a blast from a fiery furnace, the Public Healthers emphasized that the No. 1, tip-top, keep-it-foremost-in-your-mind way to combat heatstroke, heat-related illness, and heat-related death is to sit under some air conditioning. That's great advice, but who has an air conditioner here in SLO? I'm sure that there are a couple of coolers out there, but having AC in SLO is like packing some M&Ms on your trip to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Chances are good that you're not going to need them.

I'm not knocking Public Health. I'm glad my life matters to them. It's just that, yeah, it gets hot here sometimes, but there's a reason people come here for summer vacations from Bakersfield, Fresno, and other places that are just a few steps away from the gates to Hell. It's cool here. Or, at least it's cooler here. Most of the time. People come here to get away from the heat, and people who live here tend to just assume that heat is something for Modesto residents to worry about.

Although, now that I think about it, Atascadero and its neighbors tend to get pretty hot. I bet there's a lot of air conditioning there.

Anyway, I'll be spending more time in the office over the next few days. Not my office, mind you. I'm going to stick my head in a few doorways around town until I find the perfect temperature, and then I'm going to camp out until this heat wave cools it heels.

And speaking of heat, when I spotted flames in the hills above Cal Poly a week or so ago, my first instinct was to tune in to local radio for news. How bad is it? What started it? Which way is it heading? Around here, that means KVEC, 920 on the AM dial. They're a good local news source, but don't tell anyone I said that.

What I heard when I tuned in was an infomercial about herbal supplements. I checked back in a few times and didn't get the information I wanted. I'm actually not interested in bashing KVEC for this just the opposite. I trust that if it had gotten bad enough, the station would have broken in and started the reports, as they have in the past. The fire got under control and didn't prove a threat to the community. Whew! Man triumphs over nature again.

But my instinct got me thinking about local news media. If you were only interested in getting your news from locally owned companies, you wouldn't have many choices. The Tribune has had a number of owners now it's owned by McClatchy, which is actually probably an improvement over Knight Ridder. Clear Channel isn't exactly local, and, if my memory serves me right, there's been talk of sales on that end. And don't even get me started on TV.

Out-of-town corporate control of local media can water down coverage. Or bigwig CEOs can squeeze newsroom operations so tightly they can't do the sort of reporting that's valuable to a community. After all, vanilla is palatable to a wide audience. It may not sizzle your taste buds, but it gets the job done.

New Times isn't vanilla. I've worked here for years, and I'm still not quite sure what it is. Rocky road? Sometimes. Rainbow sherbet? Yeah, I can see that. And at least one or two staffers around here has a Neapolitan complex. He was the French guy with his hand in his shirt all the time, right?

Anyhoo, whatever the flavor, this paper has to keep its fingers on the local racing pulse of the community, to check for muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fainting all symptoms that the Public Health folks would ascribe to overheating, remember?

True, sex and violence sometimes leak and bleed into these pages, like with last week's 55 Fiction, but there should always be a cause, a reason for it, because that's what this community deserves. Hey, I live here and I know what I deserve. And living here, I've heard that a few people have pointed out that this year's 55 Fiction always a magnet for criticism, mind you wasn't exactly the best ever, mainly because the sex and violence and what have you didn't seem to have a cause behind them. My entry didn't get in, so I'm inclined to agree, but my overall point is one for all local media, no matter who owns them or how often they broadcast or publish.

From the littlest community publication to the beleaguered Charter Cable Channel 2 to the household-name outlets, remember: Next time there's a flare-up whether in the hills around Cal Poly or in the dialogues at the coffee shops think about the value and the inherent responsibilities of being a local news source.

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