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Photo by James BunoanDespite cheap property, not to mention a rich array of trailer parks, white supremacists, cows and cold medicine, the Inland Empire—"909" to the kids—has somehow managed to become a punchline on everything from The O.C. to countless blogs and bumper stickers.
Still, the people love their trailers and 'tussin, which is why people keep moving to the 909, which is why there aren't enough phone numbers to go around in the 909, which is why, on Oct. 30, western Riverside officially ceased being the 909 and became the 951, a change residents no doubt hope will have a transformative effect on their image.
But can a new area code do that? Not if valleyofthedirtpeople.com has anything to do with it—and the Stevens brothers sincerely hope it does.
"The change from the '909' to the '951' represents a typical human response to a difficult problem: just change the name, and people will automatically think you've fixed everything," says Bill Stevens, who along with brother Mark, launched what apparently is the first website devoted to bashing the 909 andthe 951.
The Stevenses say they were inspired to create the site to spread awareness about the 909's shortcomings—that and have a laugh. Launched in July, it receives an estimated 20,000 hits every 24 hours. And although revenue from the site hasn't allowed either brother to quit his day job—Bill's an IT director, Mark a lawyer—it has paid for itself for at least another year. Which means site regulars will have 12 more months to purchase "Anti-909" T-shirts for their dogs, "I love the 909" beer steins and thong underwear for themselves and, perhaps, join the estimated 600 registered users in a raging war of words between Orange County and the so-called Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties). They can also view an array of 909-centric photos of trailer parks, trucks, dirt roads and Port-a-Potties.
While the area-code change has more to do with urban sprawl than image rehabilitation, the 909's rap sheet is well-known: in April, the Road Information Project, a nonprofit transportation watchdog group, reported that Riverside-San Bernardino motorists drive on some of the worst freeways and roads in the country. In June, the EPA reported that both Riverside and San Bernardino counties are among the smoggiest in the nation. And in contrast to a nationwide decrease in hate crimes since Sept. 11, the Inland Empire in 2003 reported a 15 percent increase from the previous year.
As might be expected, the website has attracted a range of responses from the ire of Inland Empire loyalists to the accolades of 909 residents who hate where they live. The only rule is that users must agree not to "harass, abuse or threaten" each other.
One pro-909 visitor to the site posted the e-mail addresses of various 909 city officials, with instructions to e-mail them and "get this site shut down!" Other 909 defenders believe the website's tirades are illegal under the Hate Crime Act—one writer went so far as to invoke Hitler.
Valleyofthedirtpeople.com has now gone multimedia with songs from GreenBriar Lane, an "awesome punk band from the 562." Their latest "hits" include "Salute to the Trailers" and "Christmas Time in the 909" with its catchy chorus: "Tell your children Santa's not a jerk/We gunned him down in the valley of the dirt."
But beyond the website's incessant jabs and running jokes, Stevens insists that he has created a forum for intelligent dialogue.
"There are a surprising amount of thought-provoking posts and clever pictures. The site is very profitable from an intellectual standpoint."
And despite calling Corona "a beer, not a place to live," Stevens hopes his efforts can lead to a better tomorrow for 909 residents.
"We're not so cynical to think that a web page can't influence people to take pride in their communities and make them better," he said.
He's even included a discussion forum titled "Solutions," but responses usually fall short of his quixotic expectations. "Dump all the 909ers in Canada!" suggests one user, while others support "building a wall."
However, one writer did admit learning something from his visit to the site:
"Found your site . . . did not realize that people actually lived in the 909. Then I remembered that's where many episodes of Cops are filmed. Thanks for the laugh!"