Straight – as the fruitfly flies – to California
July 23, 2003
Nowhere is California’s financial crisis more striking than the Bug Station in Truckee. In recent weeks, motorists driving through that insect-detection toll gate have been getting away with murder. Or, at the very least, violations of Penal Code 946.198.7, the illegal transportation of creepy-crawling insects across state lines.
It seems the Bug Station is a victim of California’s money problems, which will soon become a victim to the governor’s political problems, which will soon become a victim to the taxpayers’ need to eat.
It’s the Golden State’s version of the Circle of Life.
Anyway … the Bug Station in Truckee hasn’t been fully staffed of late. Motorists hoping to be searched for bugs on their way home, or to Disneyland, or to Wal-Mart have often been greeted by an empty booth and a sign encouraging them to pass on through. According to reports, the Bug Station budget has been trimmed closer than a fruit fly’s wings.
You could argue that trimming the fat from a Bug Station is far better than cutting education, or Medi-Cal, or day care, except … well … they’ve been cut, too.
Unfortunately, we need Bug Stations. Can you imagine coming home from the ski hills on a winter afternoon without the Bug Station?
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“Where are you coming from?” the Bug Station guard won’t be able to ask.
“Northstar,” you won’t be able to answer.
“Got any fruit in the car?” the guard won’t be able to ask.
“I ate it this morning,” you won’t be able to answer.
Meanwhile, there will no longer be 10,000 skiers waiting behind you to answer the same questions while the snow piles on Donner Summit, bringing out the plow drivers and the chain installers who will hold you ransom for the next six or seven hours with no fruit or vegetables to eat because the Bug Station guard took them.
Perhaps there is an opportunity to be had from all of this fiscal foolery. Just maybe we can use that toll-gated, Bug Station structure to California’s advantage.
What would happen – just for sake of spit-balling – if we staffed the Bug Station with bouncers? You know … like the hot nightclubs in New York.
“Where are you going?” the bouncers could ask, since it doesn’t really matter where they are coming from anyway.
“Auburn,” the motorist would respond, looking up at the black-clad bouncer with a shaved head.
“You’re not on the list,” the bouncer could answer. “Please get out of the line.”
“Wait!” the panicked motorist would respond, dreading the possibility of driving all the way down to Bakersfield just to get to Auburn. “Here’s $100!”
The bouncer would check the list again and suddenly say, “There you are! Welcome to California.”
Even with the 10-percent kickback to the bouncers, the state could collect millions. Maybe even enough to reduce the deficit from $38 billion to $37.9 billion.
We could put another toll gate across the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80, charging a modest fee to leave the state, as well.
“Got any fruit or vegetables?” the bouncers could ask.
“No,” the motorist would likely respond.
“Here. Take some bananas and a few apples,” the bouncer would say. “And give me 25 bucks.”
I know what you’re thinking: “That is the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”
But just remember where we are. We’ve got a governor who thinks if he can raise enough campaign money people will like and respect him, and a Legislature that’s been about as effective as a Bug Station in a fruit fly war.
I’ve probably made 2,000 trips through the Truckee Bug Station, and it’s a real possibility that I’ve unknowingly smuggled at least a million fruit flies into California from Reno and Tahoe, where fruit flies from Mexico, China and the Mediterranean wait for a chance to sneak across the border.
For all I know, my entire trunk has been filled with fruit fly refugees as a bored Bug Station patrolman waved me through without a second glance.
Approaching the gate, I always roll my window down in anticipation of at least a brief interrogation, but all I ever get is a wave.
“Please!” I often wanted to shout. “I hear some buzzing coming from my trunk and it sounds Chinese!”
One day I dropped a note as I drove through. “HELP!” it read. “THE FRUIT FLIES HAVE KIDNAPPED ME!”
In my rear view mirror, I saw the Bug Station guard pick up the note and wad it up with his chewing gum.
Opportunity awaits. We have some perfectly good Bug Stations going to waste, and if we can’t stop the fruit flies, we may as well capture a few suckers.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union in Grass Valley.