From the Bitch and Moan Dept.: Santa Rosa

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(Gabe took this picture, found on an area lamp post when the diagonal downtown crossing was first instituted.)Just returned from a sun-drenched stroll in downtown Santa Rosa. Had a hot dog at Ralph's rolling stand and sat in the Square on an ArtStart-decorated bench, licking mustard from my fingers. The Square was temporarily empty of meth freaks, homeless folks and that lady I've seen deal drugs from her baby's carriage. (Turns out the bike cops were gathered just a half a block away in front of the newly closed bagel store that never got around to taking the Wolf's Coffee awning down. They were talking pastries.) Had a can of soda. Had nowhere to put the damned can when it was empty, so stuffed it in my purse to bring back to work in order to recycle. This brings up one Santa Rosa-borne irritation and it immediately harkens others.

Why is there no street recycling in downtown Santa Rosa? It's as though there are public toilets but no paper. Drinking fountains but no water. Trash receptacles but no recycling. Gnashing over that and imagining sticky drips of Diet Coke lining the inside of my purse as I walked, I came to the corner where the diagonal crossing was instituted and last week thankfully de-instituted. City officials mused publicly that perhaps area pedestrians just weren't imaginative enough, not filled with enough joie de vivre, to embrace the perky fun of the diagonal crossing.

They should have saved their $4,000-and-counting and just asked me: First, the recording. Its initial incarnation was a cranky man's voice, so basso as to be entirely undecipherable, booming instructions as though we peds were disobedient children with slight hearing disabilities. No one liked that, so it was changed to a woman's voice. A chiding, angry, scolding woman's voice. "Dohn't Wahlk!" she screeched, an odd Jersey accent flavoring her screed. And so we didn't walk. While the car traffic got two go-throughs, peds got one go-through. We waited angrily on the sidewalk, obedient to a recording and the city's parochial attempt at control. And once again, cars hurrying through town—north to Healdsburg, east to Sonoma, south to Petaluma—to park for free and drop huge big bucketloads of cash on the merchants of those towns, were the winners.

Because why would anyone purposefully come to downtown Santa Rosa if a private vehicle were the only way to go? The town evidently has no revenue stream beyond parking fines and now aims  to institute a multi-step method for meters that is far more difficult than simply slipping a coin into the slot. No dipping absently into one's pocket for a couple of quarters now. Uh huh. The new and improved parking system will require one to haul out one's wallet (consider mine drenched in Diet Coke), slip an ATM card out of it, swipe it through the meter, get a receipt, open the car, place the receipt on the dash, lock up, wipe the sweat from one's brow and then venture past the many empty storefronts that constitute the downtown in search of whatever it was that could possibly have compelled one to come here in the first place. Hey, where in that litany was replace the ATM card in the wallet? It's a recipe for the more absent-minded types to litter the gutters with lost cards. And, less elegantly, it's a bitch—plain and simple.

Recently relocated to Oakmont from San Francisco, my father offered Santa Rosa a slogan after it had spent $80,000 with that firm in Tennessee that threw an artichoke into the city's new official design. "Santa Rosa: Uncompromising Mediocrity." Thing is, Dad's slogan has stopped being funny.

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