Diary of a Mad County

MONDAY, April 22 When ground was broken for the private 91 Express Lanesin July 1993, then-Governor Pete Wilson said the tollway was a historic project that would help California's economy by creating jobs and relieving congestion and wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime. Now, less than 11 years and more than $207 million worth of taxpayer dimes later, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) agrees to buy the Express Lanes from the tollway's owners. The agency was tired of dishing out a million bucks here and a million bucks there to the Express Lanes owners every time improvements were made to the 91 freeway, an unfathomable proviso courtesy of a no-compete clause in the tollway's operating agreement with Wilson's Caltrans. County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, the OCTA chairman, calls the situation "bad public policy" and says "the whole model is flawed." That means the model is also flawed when it comes to the Eastern, Foothilland San Joaquin tollways, which subject the 5and 405 freeways to identical no-compete clauses. Unfortunately for commuters, the OCTA shot its wad on the 91 and can't afford to buy the other tollways.

TUESDAY, April 23A mile-long freight train plows into a Metrolink commuter train during the morning rush hour in Placentia, killing three people and injuring almost all of the 300 passengers. The most surprising part of the story is that 300 people ride the Metrolink. Who knew? WEDNESDAY, April 24 Governor Gray Davis' office e-mails and twice faxes us his prepared statement that honors the fire, police, medical and lay people who helped Placentia train collision victims and sends his (and first lady Sharon Davis') thoughts and prayers to the injured and family and friends of those who died. Having grown immune to such political pandering amid disasters, we think nothing of round-filing the statements. But we're unprepared for what comes next: overpaid, underworked Weeklyreceptionist Steve McLoughlin announcing over the inter-office page that Davis' office is on the phone. A perky young woman whom we assume is a press-office intern wants to know if we received the faxes and e-mail. Yep. She then asks, "Are you going to be doing something with them?" An image involving a men's room stall, an empty toilet paper holder and those faxes suddenly flashes in our mind. We resist the urge to share and simply note that since it's past deadline, we wouldn't be able to use the statement until more than a week after the train wreck, at which time Da Gov's statement would likely be moldy. But we do vow to hold on to it. "Thank you for your consideration," she cheerfully signs off. The funny thing is they got their goddamn statement in our paper! THURSDAY, April 25 Seven current and former black Del Taco employees are suing the Laguna Hills-based chain for allegedly passing them over for promotions in favor of Hispanic workers, various news sources report. "In this day and age, it's shocking to see black employees treated worse than Hispanic ones," says the plaintiffs' lead attorney, James Urbanic. It's shocking to see black employees treated worse than Hispanic ones.So it wouldn't be shocking to see Hispanic employees treated worse than black ones? But we digress; please continue, Mr. Urbanic: "Del Taco ignored complaints and then retaliated when people came forward." The discrimination suit alleges that the black workers were verbally harassed by Hispanic workers and, in some cases, fired and replaced by illegal immigrants. The plaintiffs are seeking lost wages, punitive damages and reinstatement. Del Taco officials refuse comment, directing all calls to Dan the Product Guy, last seen wearing a big afro wig.

One "bad public policy" deserves another: the board for the financially fucked-up San Joaquin tollway agrees to merge with the slightly less-boned board for the Easternand Foothill tollways, creating a single entity with $4 billion in debt that we taxpayers will eventually have to cough up. Was Lil' Petey Wilsona visionary or what?

Today is the final "Take Our Daughters to Work Day." The Ms. Foundation for Women, the feminist organizers of the annual event, announced that starting in 2003, it will be known as the all-inclusive "Take Our Daughters & Sons to Work Day"—which means they flatly rejected our nomination of "Take Our Daughters to Work and Have Them Bring You Coffee Day."

We duck into the Block at Orangefor a thirst quencher and run smack-dab into a mob scene. Think of the most crowded Saturday on which you've visited the teen magnet, triple that and you've got the size of the pimpled humanity huddled around Vans Skatepark during the Dogtown and Z-Boys premiere party. But it's not the stars of the Sean Penn-narrated skateboarding documentary that has brought the kids out; it's live sets by Slayerand Suicidal Tendencies, who can be heard but not seen through the black draping over the Vans fence. Damn, all we wanted was a Pepsi.

FRIDAY, April 26 Don't think your favorite stopwatch can't see right through UCLA hiring away UC Irvine athletic director Dan Guerrero, who is introduced as new athletic director on the Westwood campus. The Bruin publicity machine spins misinformation about Guerrero getting the gig because he played baseball at UCLA; he'll now be the most prominent Latino in collegiate athletic administration; he's dedicated to community service and the student athlete; blah-buh-blah-blah-blah—BULLSHIT! UCLA obviously took Guerrero to hold back our surging Anteatersbasketball team, who came a buzzer-beater away from defeating the storied Bruins last December.
Illustration by Bob Aul
SATURDAY, April 27 A shocking . . . well, not shocking but surprising . . . okay, not surprising but alarming story spreads on the Internet that KFC is trying to spike profits by developing genetically engineered chickens that have more meat, are cheaper to raise and are faster to process. These creatures are variously described as having no heads, no beaks, no legs, no feathers and being the Green Party's most recent presidential nominee. Okay, we made up the last part. And it turns out some scammer made up the rest. Their elaborate tale had Kentucky Fried Chicken changing its name to KFC not because it wanted to drop "fried" from its name but because it was no longer hawking real chickens. The first tip-off that this was fiction . . . well, not the first but the second, right after the ridiculousness of the whole thing . . . is the warning ending with "Please forward this message to as many people as you can." That's a sure-fire sign this was sent either by a hoaxster or the National Red Meat Council. Of course, the story about Colonel Sanders having emerged from reassignment surgery as Rue McClanahanremains absolutely true.

Shoot! FRIDAY, April 26: How to drive the indecisive crazy.
Photo by Christian Walsh

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