Category Archives: The NY Times Spins Another Cliche About The West

In an Enclave of Serious Wine Lovers, a Mesmerizing Theft

Link: In an Enclave of Serious Wine Lovers, a Mesmerizing Theft

It was perhaps the most Californian of crimes. Behind the electronic gates and freshly clipped hedges of an exclusive cul-de-sac, the thieves worked in the dead of night, ignoring watches, laptops and other ho-hum booty to cart away the ultimate prize: 450 bottles of wine, including a rare $11,000 1959 magnum from the Château Pétrus in Bordeaux, France.

Isn’t that cute? Those Californians love their wine so much they actually steal it from each other!

A Precious View of Public Transit in Portland

From our the museum of condescending, cliched NY Times stories about the West comes another gem, this one about an aerial tramway in Portland.

Let’s imagine that you just arrived in the United States from some other country for the first time, and somebody handed you this story about the Oregonians and their crazy sky-subway to you as you stepped off the plane. The story would not even make sense to you unless you understood the following unspoken cliches:

  • The "those people in Oregon sure are liberal" cliche, exemplified by the fact that they went out of their way to name the tram cars after a woman and a black guy when they could have just, you know, named it after some dead governor or a war hero or something
  • People from Oregon are basically rubes who generally ride horses and buggies and flip out and act like bonobos whenever they find themselves in a motorized conveyance
  • The free-spending lefties in government out in Oregon have no idea how to build public transit in a fiscally responsible manner, paying nearly $60 million for this monstrosity (even though this is just a fraction of the $300+ million per mile that subways cost)

It’s particularly weird that this story treats the strange, expensive exotic yet completely provincial Portland tramway in such a precious way, since New York has its own tramway (which wasn’t mentioned in the story). I guess if you’re writing an otherwise boring story like this, you have to choose your angle to make it interesting, but if you’re going for something spicy, you could just as well have gone for the horrific angle instead.

San Franciscans Hurl Their Rage at Parking Patrol

Link: San Franciscans Hurl Their Rage at Parking Patrol

"They think they can take out their frustration on government in general" by abusing the [parking control] officers, who work 40-hour weeks for about $40,000 a year," she said, adding, "They say, ‘I’m tired of the city taking my money.’ "

There certainly is money in parking tickets. San Francisco issues 1.9 million parking citations and brings in more than $40 million a year from violators, according to the transportation agency.

There’s obviously no excuse for beating up a meter maid, but it’s also not the case that the assaults on parking enforcement officers in San Francisco are some sort of random happenstance. This NY Times piece (in which only union officials and "parking experts" are quoted) seems to imply that it’s Californians’ crazed affinity for cars that’s to blame. (This, by the way, is probably the millionth NY Times piece that uses some lazy, pointless and ultimately inaccurate cliche about the culture of the West as its launchpad.)

Anyway, if the "car crazy culture" bit were true, parking enforcement would be as manic and dangerous in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara as it is here. But it’s not. It’s a fact that our city does some very aggressive parking enforcement and consequently demands a lot from its meter maids/tax collectors. Anecdotal example #1: I’ve received at least five tickets parked in my own driveway in the past year. Example #2: Last year we got a ticket while we were repairing a flat tire. The meter maid didn’t even stop to see if we were OK, he just whizzed by and took down our license plate. If we’d been murdered in a drive-by shooting in front of a fire hydrant, would the meter maid have pinned the ticket to our corpses?

San Francisco is not a car-crazy city, at any rate. We love our public transit here (one of the reasons why we moved to our neighborhood is because it’s near a BART station). As the Times piece points out, the only thing wrong with public transit in San Francisco is that there isn’t enough of it, but on the other hand, no duh, that’s the problem with public transit in every city on the globe.

I’ve always wondered how parking enforcement might change if there weren’t a profit motive in it for the city, but I suppose that’s a pointless fantasy, since parking fines represent such a gigantic chunk of the city’s annual budget. (To put it in perspective, the $40 million in parking fines plus the $33 million in parking taxes pay for about 25% of the budget of the entire SF Police Department.) I realize that the money’s gotta come from somewhere, but taking it out of the pockets of people who happen to roll to a stop in front of a red curb after getting a flat tire seems sort of wrong to me.

End of embittered municipal rant. I thank you for permitting me to indulge myself.