The city of Rolling Hills Estates had a city council meeting on Tuesday night regarding their proposed “bike path” project. Uncle Sam kicked in a mil and some change. The state kicked in another half-mil or so. RHE emptied a couple of jars filled with loose change to come up with the “matching” 200k. Voila–2.6 miles of bike path along PV North, running from Crenshaw over to the border with Palos Verdes Estates.
This is a meeting I wouldn’t have been caught dead at, except that someone sent out an email saying that the horse people at Rolling Hills Estates were opposed to the bike lane. If you’re like me, you were probably wondering “What’s with all these fucking cities on the Hill named ‘Estates’?” And then, if you were like me, you were probably wondering, “Who could possibly oppose a bike lane? And why?” Then, if you were really like me, you figured, “I gotta go see this in person. There’s going to be some funny shit going down.”
The horse people didn’t disappoint.
We’re a rural, equestrian community
The city of Rolling Hills Estates became a municipality in 1957. As their web site says, “…its new citizens were united in their concern over maintaining the community’s rural atmosphere and equestrian lifestyle, characterized by rolling hills, white fences, bridle trails, and vast open spaces.” In other words, even back then they were worried about having blacks, Jews, trailer trash, Mexicans, Asians and other non-horse people infiltrate their community.
The fiction that RHE is a rural community could, of course, only be propagated by people who’ve never actually lived in one. Rural communities are shitholes. The people are poor. They don’t have health insurance or full sets of teeth. They smoke a lot. They drink a lot. They fuck a lot, a positive mitigating factor, but they do it mostly with each other, cf. Hapsburgs and congenital birth defects.
Rural communities are also narrow-minded, stupid places where people who don’t read books make decisions about things that require you to have read lots of books. Rural communities think that contraception is “funny” and that if a “gal” doesn’t want to get pregnant she should hold an aspirin between her legs. Rural communities don’t think it’s funny if you tell them that you can also achieve contraception by ramming aspirin up the man’s penis.
Rural communities hate government and welfare, which is why they are the nation’s largest recipients of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlements as a percentage of their population. They call themselves “conservative.” Other people call them “minimum wage employees” and “hypocrites.”
Rural Californians have less access to healthcare, less access to the Internet (so they can’t watch as much porn), and are more likely to have heart attacks, cancer, and/or to be drunks. I learned all this on the Internet, which never lies. Also, rural communities are mean. They hate outsiders, which are generally defined as anyone who doesn’t have grandparents in the cemetery. Most of all, rural communities are defined as thinly populated places stuck out far from civilization that no one in his right mind would live if he didn’t have to.
Is RHE really a rural community? Many of its residents are certainly mean enough. But the fact is that PV North gets over 22,000 cars per day. RHE is butt-up against Torrance and Harbor City, and five minutes from a minor, back country road called Interstate 110, which got 286,000 cars per day…in 1993. Sound rural? Uh, no.
So that leaves us with the horses.
What the fuck is an equestrian community?
Even Google was stumped with this one, so I had to actually sleuth around, make up some stuff, and rely on my background as a Texan and former denizen of the Panhandle, where I never rode any horses. However, my great-grandfather Edward was a real Texas rancher and owned a small spread between Alpine and Fort Davis, and my granddad Frank cowboyed as a young man. Plus, I once did the photography for a guy’s web site that offered surrogate mare embryo implant services. So I figured that standing around for several days watching a guy with his entire arm up a horse’s uterus made me pretty much a horse expert.
Combining these various sources, here is what an “equestrian community” means as it relates to RHE:
–You own several horses but hardly ever ride them.
–You are fat and out of shape.
–You drive everywhere.
–Your daughters ride horses as little girls and ditch the habit once they get a boyfriend.
–Your house smells like horseshit because it’s next to the barn.
–You own a $130,000 horse trailer that you use to trailer your horse instead of riding it.
–Your husband is into “roping,” which is where he sits on a rail fence in Wranglers and boots and gets drunk on beer while you screw the pool guy.
–You don’t want anyone new on the Hill.
–You absolutely hate spandex-wearing cyclists.
Democracy is won by those who show up
The city council and mayor called the meeting to order. The council chambers were packed with about seventy or eighty people. Half were cyclists, many of whom lived on the Hill. The other half were mad: Mad horse people, mad senior citizens, mad taxpayers, mad insane people.
The city manager gave a presentation on the project. It was intelligent. It was clear. It addressed the concerns of pedestrians, hobby cyclists, fast cyclists, horse people, motorists, and tree lovers. Best of all, the project was paid for. We learned that the city had been working on the project for years and years, and that painstaking study had gone into its development. We saw from the their demeanor that the mayor and council members took their jobs with extraordinary seriousness.
And then the freak show began.
The first speaker was Crotchety Bill Snuffins, who had lived in RHE since the invention of dirt, and he remembered how it used to be pretty and quiet and peaceful and bucolic and horsey before cars and airplanes and telephones and radios. His gripe about the project? “At this grave time of financial peril, it is irresponsible to be taking money from the federal government.”
Of course! A patriot! I waited for him to follow up with the statement that he was going to quit cashing his Social Security checks, quit paying for his Depends with Medicare, quit accepting prescription drug Part D discounts, and quit accepting senior citizen discounts at all his favorite shops. But he never said any of that.
Next up came Molly Broadwaddle, who had lived in RHE since the invention of igneous rock, and she remembered how it used to be pretty and quiet and peaceful and bucolic and horsey, back in the days of eohippus and the early Eocene. Her gripe about the project? “I’m VERY concerned about the trees. What will happen to the trees? That’s what I want to know.”
I thought about telling her that the trees would still be able to cycle in the bike lane same as they always had, but kept my mouth shut.
Then we had a run of bike advocates. They were pitifully boring. One of them talked about how this plan balanced competing needs. Another discussed the demographics of cycling on the Hill. A third thanked the council for taking on this great project. A fourth reviewed statistics on bike commuting, weight loss, and property values. A fifth talked about how cycling decreases vehicular traffic and increases air quality. Ted Ernst stood up looking like he was forty, reminded everyone that he was a few months shy of eighty, and talked about the importance of balancing competing needs.
Would the lady in the red plastic garbage bag please shut up?
Finally a horse woman came storming up. She was pissed. She was wearing a giant red outfit that looked like it was made by Hefty. “I came here in 1972,” she proudly proclaimed. “And these bikers are ruining our rural equestrian community! They terrorize us! They swarm by us in big packs! They run stop signs! And you know what else they do? They snarl traffic! Because of them my maid was two and a half hours late! Two and a half hours! Late! This project is terrible!
“And let me tell you something else. Any parent who would let their child ride in one of these bike lanes with all these cars around is crazy. I wouldn’t. It’s dangerous.”
She said a lot of more things with the same inverse relationship of passion to facts, but I couldn’t focus because I was trying to find out where the little bag-ties on her trashbag outfit were. Then I got to wondering who in her household was strong enough to haul her out to the curb, and then what kind of hydraulic arms would it take on the trash truck to get her up over the sides without tipping over…and and as I was wondering, the master of ceremonies said, “Er, next speaker is, um…Mr. Wankmeister?”
I bounded to the podium. “Howdy, folks,” I said in by best Texas twang, knowing how much the country folks in RHE love their rural Texas brethren. “I’m the Wankmeister. My friends call me ‘Wanky,’ or just ‘Fuckhead’ for short. I live up in the apartments on top of the Hill with all the other poor folks and smart Asians and just wanted to come give my blessing to this great project.
“Now I understand that you horse people have done gone and got your Wranglers wedged up too high between your cheeks, but that’s okay. My family was horse people and I know what a hard-headed bunch of bastards you are. I remember when they tried to get my old great-granddaddy to get on the electrical grid back in the 30’s.
“‘What in tarnation’d I want THAT for?’ is what he said. And then they tried to get him to install indoor plumbing so’s he wouldn’t have to shit outdoors in a shed and wipe his ass with a Sears catalog and so that he could maybe bathe more than twice a year. ‘What in tarnation’d I want THAT for?’ is what said then, too.
“Pretty soon they come along and told him that if he’d re-route one of his cattle tracks they’d seal the highway out by the ranch so that every time it rained the damn thing wouldn’t turn into a deathly raging torrent and then a bog that swallowed cars, trucks, and horses whole. ‘What in tarnation’d I want THAT for?’ is how he turned them folks away.
“Thing is, his wife, who wasn’t a horse woman, hated the damned idiot critters, and in fact thought electricity and being able to see after sundown and before sunup was a great idea. So they got it. And she thought that a regular bath without having to haul water 500 yards from the well and heat it over a wood fire was an even better idea. So they got indoor plumbing, too. And you know what? She didn’t give a damn about horses getting swallowed in the bog, but she sure cared about her car. So she gave the okay for the paving project.
“Sooner or later the horse idiots always lose out. And they will on this one, too, thank Dog.”
She who snarls last snarls best
What with the council laughing, and the bikers guffawing, and even a couple of the RHE people who had a sense of humor chuckling a bit, the horse folks were routed. I went out of the chambers to go home and up runs ol’ Pigfarmer lady in the red trashbag. “I’ll tell you why you’re so poor and why we have so much money! Because we SAVE our money!”
Before I could observe that she clearly wasn’t pinching pennies at the all-you-can-wear dessert bar, she dashed back in. So there I was, poor as I’d been when I first showed up, but for all that, maybe a little bit richer than that lady knew, after all.