Friday, April 11, 2003


Morning strolls around Saratoga Lake with My Own Dear Personal Mom and the Collie of Folly are much noisier than a few weeks ago, as our teeming populations of migratory birds begin to return. The herons are back, with their deep, bullfrog grunts, the blackbirds have taken up residence again amongst the reeds, chirruping in their sing-song-y way.

And back at Kate's Landing, the air is thick with an early trico hatch, after which the trout have started to leap. It must be April...

Ah, spring. That time when a young woman's fancy turns to thoughts of... water rates.

Wednesday night we, your Saratoga/Carbon County Impact Joint Powers Board, a.k.a. the Sewer King and all his court (which includes Your Humble Blogger, Tad the Grocer, the Fat Cat Republican Bastard, and a few stray others who have not, thus far, done anything interesting enough to be included in these chronicles, but we can just for fun call them the Lady of the Lagoon and the Heart Surgeon*), performed a sadly necessary evil.

We voted to recommend that the town council (which also includes Your Humble Blogger, of course) approve the first increase in water rates in something like four years.

Now, really, it's not much of an increase. The base rate will stay at $14 a month for residential users and $20 a month for commercial users. It is the "step rate" – the additional charges paid by those who use more than 7001 gallons monthly – that we are adjusting, by 30¢ for each "step"**. This is more or less the same strategy proposed two years ago, when this board last visited its rate structure; the philosophy behind adjusting the step rate rather than the base being that it is wiser to impose more of the higher costs for water (and bear in mind, your bill is not just for the fluid coming through your faucets; we have to pay for and maintain the delivery, storage and treatment systems, too) on those who use more of it – the users of, e.g., 20,000 - 60,000 gallons.

Two years ago, however, you did not see this rate increase, because your mayor and council (of which number I could not yet be counted; I was still but a humble newspaper reporter. OK, not very humble, but I was still just a chronicler and not a maker of these big and weighty water decisions) didn't want to institute the rate increase at that time, choosing instead to make up the shortfall with money from the Town's general fund.

This ain't happening this time around, though, because A) It's a foolish maneuver; water and sewer services are among the only programs in which your municipal government engages that have any chance at all of paying for themselves and the way instituted by state law to make them pay for themselves is, yes, rate adjustment – while the town's general fund does not enjoy that kind of flexibility, depending as it does on property taxes (which rates we do not set), population-based shares of sales and gasoline and other taxes (over which we have no control), etc. In other words, the town is on a fixed income and the water and sewer departments are not, and B) We ain't got money slushing around in the general fund to bestow willy nilly like that this time around, either. Were the general fund to be tapped to protect high water users from a small rate increase this time around, something else would have to give. And since we're already looking at a pretty bare bones budget (the fun begins April 17! Woo hoo!) this time around, whatever had to give would probably make you guys howl even more than would a rate increase.

Such is the reasoning behind my decisions, anyway.

And really, let's have a look at the big picture for a moment.

What this does to Saratoga's average water bill is raise it from $36.10 to $40 even (and bear in mind, we were below the statewide average of $38.67 last year, and this statewide figure is bound to increase, too, so I'd be willing to bet we'll still be below the state average).

That $3.90 difference will allow us to plunk an additional $19,110 annually into the water fund, which is used to cover operating expenses for the water treatment plant (and that includes utilities – gas and electric price increases affect that plant, too, oh yes!) (oh yes, and salaries for the people who keep the plant running, come in the middle of the night when your water main breaks, etc.) and is also used to build up a reserve fund that we use for the big maintenance projects. Since time immemorial, our target amount for the reserves is $100,000, as that is a good number to conjure with when doing things like building water towers, replacing ancient water mains, or buying new ozonators like we had to do in 2001.

As it stands now, with our current water rates, we're not going to hit that magic figure, hence our proposed increase in the step rate.

Let me stress again that this is at this stage a proposed increase. It's the Town Council's decision, and we will vote on it this coming Tuesday, and there is still the possibility that I will be overruled by my colleagues on that august body.

But I'm going to vote for it, poor starving writer though I am, child of seriously yard-proud, lawn-watering parents though I be.

Nothing ever gets cheaper, does it?

*The Lady of the Lagoon being the lovely lady lawyer who owns the property adjacent to our ammonia factory-cum-sewer lagoon about which I have discoursed so eloquently elsewhere in this here blog. The Heart Surgeon gave himself the name, after regaling us (with some prompting from YHB, natch) with his recent tale of woe: he was cutting a doorway in a cinderblock wall and his masonry blade struck something unexpected, kicked back, and sliced very, very cleanly into his chest. He is very, very lucky it was a smooth masonry blade instead of something more serrated and wicked and has the pulse, optimal body temperature and rows of stitches to prove it.

**The steps being 7001 to 20,000 gallons (current rate, $1.70; proposed new rate, $2.00); 20,001 to 60,000 gallons (current $1.80, proposed $2.10); and 60,001 or more (current $1.90, proposed $2.20).

Tuesday, April 08, 2003


I've seen a peanut stand,
Heard a rubber band,
I've even seen a needle wink its eye

...But I think I've seen 'bout everything, when I seen the Oracle sing.

It was a very weird weekend in LIANTland, dear readers, and not just because of the temporary stretching of LIANTland's borders.

First of all, thank you all for your condolences on the poor performance I turned in with My Own Dear Personal Dad at Saturday's cribbage tournament. I'm as baffled as you are, and can only attribute our dead-last finish to the verity of the old saw about where pride goeth.

In our defense, do you know the fates of the two teams we did manage to beat? That's right. They placed first and second.

But that, despite the startling unlikeliness of the number of completely worthless hands dealt to the pair of us, despite the stunningly bad timing with which those 20-point hands appeared just when our opponents pegged out, despite the surrealism of getting whipped by people whom I taught to play the game (and also by Famous Bill and the latest contender for the always coveted title of Town Drunk), was not, as my epigram might suggest, the strangest thing that happened this weekend.

I also went on a road trip, my first since my error-riddled trip to my best buddy's wedding in Chicago last summer.

And that, dear readers, was some strange stuff, that ol' Platte Valley Community Center Roadshow and Wet Bar...

We piled into the Oracle's Suburban early of a Sunday afternoon, the five of us: the Oracle, Napaman (distinguishable from Superman only by his lack of a cape and his dashing little red mustache), my Worthy Successor, my Rawlins Counterpart, and Your Humble Blogger, to head out on what was doubtless only the first of many fact finding missions.

Destination: Hot Springs, South Dakota and the Mueller Civic Center (no apparent relation to the current FBI director of the same name).

Purpose: See what a 27,000 square foot civic center looks like and interrogate those responsible for its erection and perpetuation.

Other purpose: Blatantly violate the Sunshine Laws by talking shop all the way there and back again. At which we failed miserably because, well, a lot of other stuff was more fun to talk about.

See, the Oracle and Napaman are both old running buddies of my dad's, and have colorfully checkered histories in their own rights besides, and love to shock and delight bright eyed young things like my Worthy Successor, my Rawlins Counterpart and myself with tales thereof.

Also, the Oracle likes to drive really fast, and Napaman likes to tease him about it.

Also, the Oracle can't stand driving on anything more elaborate than a two-lane highway, and Napaman likes to tease him about it.

Also, Your Humble Blogger made the mistake of remarking that she pretty much knows at least one person in every incorporated town in Wyoming, but left out those two important modifying terms, "pretty" and "much" and quite forgot that not every incorporated town in Wyoming is a member of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, meaning it's unlikely that I've met the mayors of some towns I keep forgetting exist – and through which we drove.

The scene there being something like this: We zip through a little eyeblink town between Wheatland and the state line at a moderately ungodly speed. As its two or three businesses blur by, Napaman chimes in:

"Hey, Kate, who do you know in (insert name of one-horse here)."

Me: "..."

Oracle: "Haw haw, see what you get for bragging, Kate?"

Me: "Tphttht!"

WS and RC" "Tee hee!"

Repeat as necessary.

(By the way, yes, these are the same two guys who routinely commemorate major holidays by turning ugly, plague-ridden poultry and other livestock loose in each other's yards, just to put this all in perspective)

In between towns, the boys regaled us with great old chestnuts like the time Napaman, MODPD and several other members of the august body known as the Saratoga Volunteer Fire Department crammed themselves into my grandmother's pristine, single-owner, vintage Volkswagen Beetle and drove up the sidewalk on Bridge Street to the entrance of the Rustic, bought a case of beer and drove the rest of the block on said sidewalk (obviously this was back in the days before those big silly New England-style lightposts were installed when the town put in geothermally heated sidewalks).

We arrived at our destination, Hot Springs, S.D., only about two hours earlier than our ETA (for some reason the Oracle confined himself to a modest 85 m.p.h. for the duration of the trip), peckish and curious. We tooled up and down the streets of a town that looks like the bastard child of the University of Wyoming (home to lots of big handsome sandstone buildings), Saugerties, N.Y. (home to wildly zigzagging streets that veer left and right and up and down almost by the block) and one of Mad King Ludwig's more modest castles, while gawking somewhat at the 65 degree waters of the Fall River.

Dinner was at a Chinese restaurant (yummy!) next door to a public house known only as "The Bar." With a name like that, we couldn't possibly stay away, even though the only drinkable beer on tap was some Amber Bock. The Bar apparently caters to bikers during Sturgis Season and to biker wannabes the rest of the time.

Oracle: "Hey Kate, who plays this song we're listening to?"

YHB & WS (pausing to listen): "Steppenwolf."

Oracle: "Oh."

Napaman: "Who're they?"

Oracle: "Pardon my companion. He listens to both kinds of music."

Napaman: "Yup, country AND western."

YHB: "..."

Oracle: "So, who plays this song we're hearing now?"

YHB & WS (pausing to listen): "Steppenwolf."

Repeat as necessary.

Cut to the next morning, as the crew straggles one at a time into the continental breakfast room at the Hot Springs Comfort Inn. Among the usual rolls and cereals and single-serving packages of coffee creamer (in case the watered down decaf is too strongly coffee-flavored for one's tastes) is... a waffle iron. And lots of little cups of waffle batter. And a spray can labled "Waffle Off" which the Oracle immediately begins to refer to as Waffle Offal when the lot of us offer our unsolicited advice to any breakfast room patron who dares try to make a waffle.

The scene:

Enter Unknown Hippie Girl Breakfast Room Patron, who fumbles around looking for a teabag and discovers the waffle iron.

UHGBRP: "Cool, a waffle iron!"

YHB (excitedly egging her on): "There's batter there, too."

UHGBRP: "Cool!"

UHGBRP begins to make the waffle. YHB starts nudging the Oracle and giggling while muttering "This one's going to be good!"

We have invented a new sport: waffle watching. Were we more inclined to gamble, we might have been placing bets on how badly each BRP's waffle would stick to the iron. Were we inclined to gamble. But instead, the Oracle being a killjoy spoil-sport, or possibly just really getting off on getting to say "Waffle Offal" as often as possible, chimes in with:

"Hey. You'd better spray some of that Waffle Offal on so it doesn't stick."

UHGBRP: "Oh. Good idea." (sprays. All over. While we cough and wave the haze of petroleum distillates and artificial flavors away from our faces).

YHB: "Aww, you told her."

Napaman: "Why do you care?"

YHB: "Well, duh!" (pointing out the spectacle of waffle parts and bits and corpses strewn about the Breakfast Room).

Napaman: "You're pretty easily entertained, aren't you?"

YHB: "You should be glad I am, so that I can easily entertain you!"

Napaman: "Good point."

Oracle (catching the spirit after all): "Shh! There she goes!"

We all watch breathlessly as UHGBRP opens the waffle iron. We watch as she lifts the warped and previously melted plastic fork. We watch as she slides the fork effortlessly under the first Waffle Quadrant. We sigh as the Waffle Offal works its magic and the WQ comes free. We watch as she tackles Quadrant Two. We sigh. But then, but then, but then... Quadrant Three is stuck!!!! And Quadrant Four is also recalcitrant!

But UHGBRP is obviously a pro, and gingerly, gently coaxes the waffle from the iron with the kind of patience YHB can only muster when, well, writing one of these here blog entries. To each her own, as it were.

In any case:

YHB: "Ohhh! She's got it! Judges?"

UHGBRP scored a 10 for dexterity, a ten for style, and a 9.9 for skill. Not bad at 7:30 a.m. in Hot Springs, S.D.

And yes, the tour of the Mueller Center was delightful and illuminating and encouraging. They built the whole thing, a theater, gym, kitchen and conference rooms, for only $1.5 million!

...In 1987.

Oh, but...


How much diff–


Oh. Well.

Cut to the homeward journey, once again at impressive but not ludicrous speed, and I'm beginning to think the Oracle's brother and other frequent passengers have maybe exaggerated the weight of the Oracular Foot. We hit a few white-out blizzards, drive past a few lots filled with disgusting green tractors (we all in the car know that tractors are meant to come in only one color, the color god and McCormick intended: bright red), through a few more nameless and absurdly pretty little towns (mercifully without comment on whether or not I had acquaintances there. Napaman, unlike, say, Sketch or the Great Gay Banker, knows when a joke stops being funny) and on and on until we decide that it is vitally important for all concerned except for our Designated Oracle (who used up all of his drink tickets years ago) to have a beer in Rock River.

Our fate is of course sealed when we notice that we have, in fact, reached the exact counterpart of the tavern of the previous eve, minus a definite article. The sign at the establishment we entered said, simply, "BAR."

That was it, really, until the truly miraculous happened, something so strange that I'm glad indeed to have four witnesses.

As we round the bend around Arlington, Wyo. and see a truck sort of run off the road, the Oracle starts softly chuckling to himself, and then, inexplicably, to sing.

"I've seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band..."

Clearly it is time for me to go see Mrs. Sketch and get my bi-annual earrigation again. Sounds awfully like the lyrics to that old song from Walt Disney's "Dumbo," doesn't it?

The lyrics to which are now playing on an endless loop in Your Humble Blogger's Humble Head. Round and round and round. I've even seen a needle wink it's eye.

Confirmation! For as we finally pull, about an hour later, into the Oracular Driveway in Saratoga, there he goes again. "I think I've seen 'bout everything/When I see an elephant fly."

I can only conclude from this that the Oracle is very happy indeed to be a grandfather, and has thrown himself into the role with gusto.

Meanwhile, rains of crabs and periwinkles can't be far behind, and I hear they've discovered oil on the moon.

And I've heard the Oracle singing each to each. I do not think he sang for me.