The town of Yountville lays in the famous Napa Valley wine-producing region, halfway between St. Helena and the city of Napa. It’s home to many upscale eating places, including uber-celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s uber-expensive French Laundry, where the price of a meal is north of $300. (Don’t worry, you can’t get a reservation anyway.) Common folks still miss The Diner, a breakfast-lunch-dinner place with service at the counter or in booths. (The only place I’ve eaten – or even seen on a menu – spicy tapioca pudding.) The Diner closed in the early 2000s; another of Keller’s restaurants now occupies the building. Long before Yountville became a destination for disposing of disposable income, it was known for its Veterans Home.
The Red Dog Saloon is a genuine Old West, Gold Rush drinking establishment that opened up a century-or-so ago, in Juneau Alaska, to serve miners, explorers, travelers and assorted ne’er-do-wells. That’s its story, anyway. The Red Dog’s clientele today are passengers from cruise ships that regularly stop in Juneau. The Saloon sells them beer, sandwiches and Red Dog memorabilia. Proudly displayed on the back bar is Wyatt Earp’s revolver, left behind by the famous gunfighter, saloonkeeper, pimp and lawman.
The current occupant of the White House says that the fires burning in the West are simply the result of bad environmental laws and water wasted by letting rivers flow into the ocean. (Scientists disagree; they say it’s the changing climate.) But maybe the folks in Malibu want to agree with him. They might want less water in the ocean. Melting icebergs have already covered beaches and sand, and now the water is working on coastal cliffs. The U.S. Geological Survey projects are that by the end of this century, cliffs will have eroded as much as 130 feet inland. Much of the California coastline is already protected by sea walls, which have the unintended consequence of speeding up the loss of sand on the beaches.
The state of Alaska, as residents and tour guides are eager to point out, encompasses eleventy-jillion square miles of pristine wilderness inhabited by moose and caribou and salmon and eagles. The centerpiece of this natural beauty is Denali National Park, featuring – when cloud cover allows it to be seen – the mountain peak formerly known as McKinley. (The original namesake was a former U.S. president. “Denali” is not to honor oversized, fuel-slurping S.U.V.s and pickup trucks. The name comes from the First-Nation word for the “High One.”)
The National Park Service has stringent rules for the contractor operating tours along the one road through the park, including specifications for buses and their emissions. At the end of the tour, before passengers exit the bus, the driver/guide passes several bags down the aisle and explains the “Zero Landfill” project. One bag is for “krinklies,” the wrappers from nuts and trail mix and cookies and other items in box lunches. (They have found a way to recycle and repurpose what would other wise be garbage.) Another bag collects beverage containers. There is a sack to deposit any food scraps before folding the box-lunch boxes and dropping them in their own bag.
Collection receptacles for recyclable materials are at the rest areas along the Denali highway and scattered throughout the Visitor Center. Everywhere else in the state, not so much. In fact, not at all. (In Canada’s Yukon Territory, one can hardly turn around without bumping into a recycle bin.) In a week of wandering around Alaska, the only recycle collection I saw was a single bin – for paper only – at the Anchorage airport.
With only seven-hundred thousand people scattered about the eleventy-jillion square miles, why recycle? It will be centuries before there is no more room to dump their trash.
Alaskans like to talk about hunting and fishing and how one must be hardy and self-sufficient to live with the cold and dark winters. They don’t volunteer that every one of them is on welfare. Each Alaska citizen receives an annual payment from the Alaska Permanent Fund. The fund began with the opening of the Alaska pipeline and distributes oil revenue among the population. The oil flow has declined significantly the past few years and so has the income. Each Alaskan received $1,600 this year, down from an estimated $2,700. If things get any worse in the oil business, Alaska may need to consider an income tax or a sales tax.
The Portland Police Department reported that in 2017 more the half the arrests they made were of homeless people, many arrested multiple times. The homeless are also frequent users of ambulance and hospital emergency-room services. The state of Utah estimated a homeless person costs taxpayers more than $20,000 a year. Colorado calculated its cost at $43,000.
Politically-conservative Utah has received a lot of positive press the past couple years for its surprisingly successful approach to their homeless population. In 2005, the state initiated its “Housing First.” The program targeted “chronically homeless” who numbered about 2,000, mostly in Salt Lake City. Although a relatively small part of its total homeless population of 14,000, the chronic cases absorbed 60% of the resources expended on the problem. The non-chronic, usually temporarily, homeless are mostly in shelters or couch surfing with friends and relatives. Assistance to them continued with transition services, helping stabilize families’ lives whether searching for employment or providing health care to children. Housing First made its priority people living on the streets, often mentally ill or debilitated by drugs and unlikely to be candidates for jobs any time soon.