When you think about it, transit buses and public restrooms have a lot in common. Both are uncomfortable and both are stalwart offenders of one's olfactory glands. Utilized — as such public accommodations tend to be — by complete strangers of dubious hygiene, both the wheeled and non-wheeled varieties of smell-o-seats are presumed to host a full Noah's Ark of the bacteria kingdom. While in the reptilian recesses of each of our minds we are aware that tragic circumstances may one day force us to plant our rear-ends on one or the other of them, we hope dearly that day never arrives.
So why are officials endeavoring to make the local bus system even more "dirty?"
The Humboldt Transit Authority would like you to know that untold gigabytes of raw, illicit data now await your eager fingertips, right on the other side of those smudged accordion doors.
I know, right? Eeeww!
Seriously though, HTA's bid to entice millennials now includes all-you-can-eat wi-fi on local buses. That should move a few day-passes. Begun in 2012, the HTA's data-bus gambit was heralded by the transit operator itself as a way for people to "surf the Internet to download email, work, shop and read the latest news from their seat on the bus."
Orwellian, yes — but that's what we pay our public officials for. Some studies show that smut accounts for a full third of Web traffic, so a great deal of it has to be piping into those buses. So, we all get the translation: "Come ride the shame train! Now featuring all-you-can-stream raunch!"
The problem is, lately the HTA isn't delivering on all that working and e-mailing and reading news. At its February meeting, the county's transportation oversight board — HCAOG — got blown-up during public comment by one disgruntled, 30-something hipster dude whose hilarious Napoleon Dynamite take down made up in sheer awesomeness for whatever it lacked in subtlety: "The wi-fi on the bus always goes out all the time, and they're stealing... your money," the glassy-eyed youngster pleaded. "They're throttling the Internet... and it's upsetting me." (Check out @BuhneTribune on Twitter for the full clip.)
Which, to us, raises a philosophical issue: Is modern bus ridership even a going concern without the prospect of researching human mating rituals from the privacy of one's smartphone?
We do know this much: For those who, like us, bemoan the lack of engagement of young voters in the halls of local democracy, take heed from HCAOG — throttle the wi-fi and they will come.
"We moved very quickly."
That was the somewhat self-satisfied, but reality-challenged, conclusion dished out by Trash Boss Jill Duffy while addressing a bombshell revelation that patrons of Eureka's Hawthorne Street transfer station have unwittingly been disposing of more than just old tires and tree limbs.
An as-of-yet unnamed employee staffing the weigh-station, it seems, was also assisting customers in the disposal of filthy lucre.
How long has this swindle been afoot, you ask?
As near as Duffy can tell, the cash-grab potentially dates back to a certain software vulnerability in place at Humboldt Waste Management Authority since the year 2000.
We sorta remember that far back. Something about Y2K? And wasn't Chelsea Clinton's dad in the Whitehouse? Anyone who owns a single piece of technology that old, please raise your hand. No? Didn't think so.
But don't worry: Duffy assured the board the problem was rectified "quickly" after a fellow employee spied the suspect in the act and blew the whistle.
But anachronistic computer programs aside, how did this happen?
As anyone who's ever been to the dump knows, the weigh-station consists of a large metal scale built into the ground, over which exiting vehicles must pass. Depending on the amount of weight lost in dumping refuse, the exiting customer is billed by the pound.
If you're like us, you expediently hand over to the attendant the amount of cash requested, no questions asked. Far from being the kind of place one would leisurely haggle over the bill, you just want to bail before the next seagull-assault on your windshield. One enterprising employee apparently was wise to the human desire to peel rubber out of that place.
Informed that nobody knows how bad the dump got looted, Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace asked incredulously, "The alleged theft can't be quantified?"
"That is correct," Duffy replied, explaining the reason for the authority's "qualified" audit.
Several board members' jaws seemed to hang open in disbelief. Another pleaded: "Any idea of the range of possible fraud — or just no idea whatsoever?"
The Eureka Police Department has opened an investigation into the Dump Caper. An insurance claim also has been submitted, Duffy said.
Like many politicos, the North Coast's newly installed State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) claimed during his 2014 campaign to be committed to the creation of middle-class jobs. But did he really mean it?
Survey says, "Yes." But we thought he was referring to the private sector!
Representing a sprawling and largely rural district, McGuire holds the unusual distinction among members of the Golden State's upper chamber of staffing no fewer than a half dozen official senatorial offices.
All state senators, it seems, are provided with an office in the Capitol Building in Sacramento. Commonly, senators also establish one — or at most two or three — other office closer to their home-base constituents.
Then there's our own senator-cum-real-estate-magnate with shingles hanging in Crescent City, Eureka, Ukiah, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and San Rafael, crowning him the Golden State's King Office Bloat.
We all know unemployment on the North Coast remains stubbornly high. But are more public-trough bureaucrats really the answer? While we applaud Sen. McGuire's apparent commitment to self-aggrandizement job creation, when it comes to his own offices he might want to look into phone and email.
—– Ryan Hurley
Ryan Hurley is a Eureka-based attorney. Follow him if you dare: @BuhneTribune.