The Year We Wish Had Happened
It was one for the record books, this 2009. Oh, sure, there were bright points: the inauguration, some entertaining scandals, the inauguration, Giants slugger Pablo 'Kung-Fu Panda' Sandoval, the inauguration. But for the most part, when we look back at this annus horribilis of bankruptcies and bailouts, we prefer to contemplate what might have happened rather than what actually did.
By Curtis Cartier, Traci Hukill and Jessica Lussenhop
Looking to Clean Up Downtown, City Bans Bad Musicians
During polling to consider new rules on panhandling, Santa Cruz city leaders found that the only thing residents hate more than beggars with a sense of entitlement are terrible musicians. Talented artists and performers abound in downtown Santa Cruz, it seems, but according to shoppers and locals, there is also a rotating cast of people who ought to be kept no less than 300 feet from any object capable of making a sound—as in not even allowed to have change that might jingle in their pockets.
Responding to the outcry, city leaders formed a three-judge talent board to force potential street musicians to obtain a license through an American Idol–style audition.
"We believe that performing in front of a nitpicking trio of judges will produce better quality street musicians," said Downtown Association executive director, talent judge and Simon Cowell look-alike Chip. "Plus, the humiliating entertainment it will produce will have much more community value than any instrument these morons might try to play."
Santa Cruz Gives Federal Stimulus Money Back to Residents
Having received $11.3 million from the Obama administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Santa Cruz city leaders decided that instead of repaving roads or widening highways, they would send each of the city's 54,778 residents a check for $206.28.
"I'm spending my Obama money on beer," said a grinning 16-year-old standing outside of Longs on Front Street. "So, um, will you buy me some beer?"
Other residents were more responsible, like Robert Steffen, also known as the "Pink Umbrella Man," who said he'll use his stimulus cash to upgrade the pink daisies on his sneakers to orchids and roses.
"Time to stimulate my feet with some fly new kicks," whispered the slow-moving man on his way to the flower shop. "Thanks, Obama!"
Furlough Days Accompanied by Adjusted Workload
Throughout California, in both the public and private sectors, employers recalibrated their expectations of workers to reflect the combination of shortened work weeks resulting from regular furlough days and reduced resources resulting from massive layoffs. Many municipalities, Santa Cruz included, went a step further by making it a misdemeanor to tell employees to "do more with less."
Widespread Improvement in Service
In shops, coffeehouses, restaurants, dry cleaners and government agencies across Santa Cruz County, surly Millennials actually gave a shit, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and obstructionist old-timers inexplicably became helpful. City and county officials refused to comment publicly, saying they didn't want to "jinx it." "I went into my neighborhood coffee shop this morning and got my latte in like five minutes," said one. "I didn't even have to wait for the baristas to finish their conversation! I'm not jeopardizing that. No comment, amigo."
City Saves Money With Afternoon Siesta
Deep in a $7 million budget deficit, the city of Santa Cruz announced it would bring back the afternoon siesta in order to cut costs and improve morale. From 1 to 3pm Monday through Friday, city offices will close while hammocks are strung up and futons folded down for what Councilmember Tony Madrigal called "something I've been doing at council meetings for years!"
Several local businesses are taking the city's lead in scheduling a customary naptime, and restaurants citywide revamped their menus with siesta-friendly lunches like sliced turkey, barbecue ribs and white wine. No one was happier than Santa Cruz City Manager Richard Wilson, who took a moment from his Councilmember Story Time session to talk about the move.
"Just look at how happy little Mikey is," said Wilson, looking up from his Aesop's Fables book and pointing to a teddy bear–clutching Mayor Mike Rotkin curled up on orange air mat. "The Spanish had it right all along!"
First Lady Censured
Instead of turning a blind eye to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver's repeated traffic violations—talking on her cell phone while driving, parking her Escalade in a red zone, not paying a parking meter while getting a coffee and muffin—traffic police wrote her a $50 million DWI (driving while irritating) ticket. The money was sent straight to a special "Insaney Day Fund" created in case the state government is hijacked by lunatics, and is being used to shore up the state's safety net services.
Santa Cruz Council Backs Down From Smoking Ban
After considering the findings of a task force on a proposed downtown smoking ban, the Santa Cruz City Council opted not to outlaw smoking tobacco on Pacific Avenue and Main Beach, saying that bourgeois moralizing disguised as concern for the environment and public health would just be annoying. "Live and let live," the councilmembers said in a prepared statement explaining the imminent appearance of concrete ashtrays on city streets and beaches. "Addicts are people, too."
Bankrupt House-Flippers Shamed
Across the United States, ordinary citizens who behaved like high-rolling real estate speculators during the housing boom—flipping houses, overleveraging their personal assets and dominating dinner parties with talk of their financial successes—were made to explain their actions to panels of frugal grandmothers. Teams of therapists were on hand to assist in case any of the subjects went into shock from the full understanding of just what colossal assholes they'd been.
Derelict Spouses Program Launched
The Obama administration introduced its new "Cash for Cuckolders" program to encourage spouses of political figures to trade in their old marriages at the first evidence of unfaithfulness, rather than playing along to preserve an outdated notion of "family values." In June 2009, Jenny Sanford became the first beneficiary of the program, collecting a $3,000 rebate for her husband, Gov. Mark Sanford, after discovering a paper trail that pointed to his Argentine mistress, long before the moronic "Appalachian trail" incident. She spent it on a tropical vacation to decompress. "These are outdated and unrealistic models of married life," said President Obama. "We have to retire them."
Reason Prevails at Town Hall Meetings
An anonymous donor gave millions to cover the cost of getting reasonable people across the country to health-care town hall meetings, providing education on the issues in several languages, buses, day-care money and wage compensation. Millions of the uninsured working poor flooded town hall meetings to voice their support for a public option, drowning out gadflies and waving drawings of Betsy McCaughey with a Hitler mustache. Lawmakers grew a pair and passed the public option lightning quick.
California Legislature Exhibits Competence, Decency
Representatives in Sacramento averted catastrophe in the form of $15 billion in cuts to education and services by raising taxes on the wealthiest Californians and increasing fees, despite the unpopularity of these methods. The break in the months-long stalemate reportedly came after California Democrats took a seminar titled "Don't Take No Guff" from the ladies at the El Palomar taco bar and subsequently opened up a can of whoop-ass on their Republican counterparts.
Mountain Man Successfully Stubs Out Cigarette on Sole of Shoe
An unidentified Santa Cruz Mountain resident living somewhere near the old Lockheed facility finished his cigarette, considered tossing it into the bone-dry underbrush near his shack and decided instead to stub it out on the bottom of his boots, preventing a 7,800-acre wildfire and saving the state $29 million. The man then went inside and ate his dinner.
Longs Drug Store Remains in Business
A $2.9 billion deal to sell all existing Longs Drug Stores to the Rhode Island–based pharmacy chain CVS fell through at the last minute, preventing the loss of 800 jobs in California and sparing consumers throughout the West Coast the shock of shopping in a store with too many fluorescent lights and weird gray carpeting that conceals way too much dirt.
Best and Brightest Students Liberated From Financial Burden of Tuition
A computer hacker classified all underprivileged UC students as veterans and enrolled them under the new GI Bill. Before the error was spotted, all the students' tuition was paid. With their worries about making ends meet wiped out, the students threw themselves into their studies and remarkable work came pouring out of the UCs. An econ student solved the California budget crisis, a graduate student perfected carbon sequestration and a philosophy student permanently disabled Twitter.
Tax Reform Advocate Loses It
After the Commission on the 21st Century Economy authored an extremely regressive set of recommendations, commissioner Fred Keeley took his former fellow panelists hostage, barricading them inside a room at the Capitol building in Sacramento. When Gov. Schwarzenegger demanded he come out, Keeley appeared briefly with his necktie tied around his forehead, screaming, "No way, man! Not until we fix this fucking tax system, man!" The Commission came down with a severe case of Stockholm syndrome and decided instead to get behind Keeley's blue plan, recommending a pollution tax and a rainy day fund. When they finally emerged, Schwarzenegger got in Keeley's face and said, "I don't approve of your methods! But, dammit, they get the job done." He signed the reforms into law on the spot.
Santa Cruz County Goes Gotti on Gangs
Taking a page out of the FBI playbook, the Santa Cruz Police Department and Santa Cruz County sheriffs office unleashed a Sopranos-style shakedown on local street gangs this year, using the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (better known as RICO) to indict more than 300 Sureņo and Norteņo gangsters, making the county the safest in California. Using wire taps, undercover agents and turncoat witnesses, local cops were able to charge gang members with conspiracy for connections—no matter how tenuous—to crimes ranging from murder to minors in possession of alcohol. Gangsters left off the indictments quickly realized they would no longer be tolerated and went back to San Benito County whence they'd come, leaving residents free to walk down the street shank-free once again.
"If RICO laws can take down the mafia, we thought, why can't it work with a bunch of street punks?" said police spokesman Zach Friend. "It was one of those 'duh' moments in law enforcement."
StabSantaCruz.com Goes Dark
Helbard Alkhassadeh, the concerned citizen behind the website StabSantaCruz.com, let his domain name license expire after local thugs and gangsters took their score-settling methods to the virtual world of Super Mario Bros, causing a cartoon hammer to the head to replace knives as the weapon of choice in Santa Cruz County.
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