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Begging for weed & Manteca bird watching
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Am I losing my mind?! While driving through town recently, I saw a couple sitting in front of a local business. They appeared to be of the free love generation – though I think they missed the memo by roughly 50 years. What I found curious was the rather large sign they held in front of them, that many panhandlers have. No, not “Will work for food” or even the once funny “Who am I kidding?! - I need beer money”...These folk decided to forego those somewhat acceptable begger’s billboards, and take a stab into a social narrative that myself, and I assume most, aren’t ready for.

“Need Weed”
 Are you friggin’ kidding me?!! C’mon people! I assume I’m not the only one that has seen them. I have to assume I’m not the only one that thinks this is ridiculous on all levels. And I don’t need the emails stating “They aren’t hurting anybody” and “Weed is almost legal in CA”, or my personal favorite “Don’t we have bigger issues to worry about?” Well, let’s address them individually.

“They aren’t hurting anybody”: I’m fairly certain the business owner they are impeding traffic from would have a much different tune. I’m no prude (and am sure those that know me just spit coffee) and while I’m sure 20 years from now, marijuana will be as acceptable as booze and cigarettes – it doesn’t mean we need to dive head first into it. I can care less what you want to do behind closed doors, but there is a social contract we have all signed when in the public eye, one that doesn’t involve a large sign that says “Need Weed” out front of a local restaurant that kids hang out at. 

“Live your life...just don’t shove it down my throat when I’m taking my 6 year old out for a pepperoni pizza.” — Lloyd Barbasol

“Weed is almost legal in CA”: But it isn’t. If this couple wants to smoke up, then they can legally obtain their Medical Marijuana card, and purchase it legally like the rest of my friends do. I wonder what this couple does when they actually do get a little weed tossed their way? Does the other side of the sign say “Need and Have Munchies”? Please limit yourself to the “essentials” when begging is my opinion. And if weed is an “essential” in your life, then get a job and provide for yourself  because it isn’t the people of Manteca’s job to keep you high.
“Don’t we have bigger issues to deal with?”: Well no s**t, of course we do. But I like to treat my town like a forest. When I see a tiny campfire that someone hasn’t extinguished, I don’t just let it go because there is a wildfire on top of the hill – extinguishing as you go is the rule in my Forestry Handbook. This is your forest. If you aren’t willing to involve yourself in the small individual problems that arise from time to time in this valley town – the ones that can be easily dealt with then save your breath with wanting to point out the bigger ones.

The Bottom Line: Panhandling is not illegal. But openly soliciting for drugs is I’m pretty sure. Whether this couple is having a little go at some tongue-in-cheek humor or not, they appear to have a request that doesn’t fall within the guidelines of the law. It looks ridiculous – because it is! Save your “they aren’t hurting anybody” rhetoric for another time and place. Because until marijuana is an off the shelf commodity that can be purchased by every Joe Citizen – then panhandling for it in front of local businesses is a blight on the community in my humble opinion.

For the Birds I say...
I recently did a little bird-watching in Manteca. Not at Caswell Park or some country field, but right in the middle of town. The Chevron at the corner of Yosemite and Spreckels is my preferred watching habitat. It was 6 a.m. and the coffee lineup was full. That’s when I spotted one.
“Lots of bad stuff in the paper lately. Manteca sure isn’t how it used to be.” he squawked.
I instantly recognized it as the call of the “Manteca Parrot.” This breed is known for squawking out useless and unoriginal thoughts. Parrots are limited by the fact they have no cognitive thoughts on any subject matter. Having lived in a cage most of their lives, they are relegated to squawking things they’ve heard others say. It only took a few seconds for another parrot within earshot to squawk back, “It’s all that meth. They gotta get it out.” There’s another telltale sign of the parrot. Living in a cage has forced them to see life through colored glasses.
 Parrots are great at pointing out the obvious, but rarely formulate anything to help their own cause. Unable to put any actual ideas together to rectify the problems they squawked of, I watched as the two parrots headed to the counter in their brightly colored flannels. I was pouring in my creamer when I heard someone respond to the parrots under their breath. “There’s no meth problem in this town.” Ah, the lovely “Manteca Ostrich.” This town breed generally runs in the 50 and up age group. The Manteca Ostrich is a respected and majestic animal that unfortunately keeps its head in the sand. I moved in closer and politely said. “It’s pretty hard to miss the meth problem. Try driving the streets after 11 p.m.” The ostrich froze in its tracks. You have to be careful with these old temperamental birds. There are usually just two reactions in the ostrich’s arsenal. Head back in the sand, or full frontal assault! Luckily, this old bird recognized me from this column. “Well, I hope young fellas like yourself  keep off that junk. You do a good job with that column.” He gave me the obligatory ostrich nod and was off to Perkos – or wherever the local ostrich spot is these days
 I was startled back to reality by a HONK! HONK! No, a car wasn’t driving into the Chevron; it was the sound of two young “Manteca Geese.” They had heard the banter between me and the ostrich. “Manteca sucks. I can’t wait to get out of here,” one honked. Always the gamesman, I asked him where he planned to fly. “Anywhere but here; this place sucks”
That is unfortunately the response most Manteca Geese give – and they range in all shapes and sizes. I responded “That’s a great plan. I hear ‘Anywhere’ is lovely this time of year.” This goose hadn’t developed his sarcasm senses yet and honked back, “Yeah, somewhere cool like LA.”
That let me know immediately that his grasp of the word “sucks” also hadn’t developed, so I moved on.
  In truth, I respect most Manteca Geese. Spreading your wings and heading out into the world is an admirable trait, but when done under the guise of “this town sucks” it almost guarantees their return. Head off into the world because you want to better yourself – not because you are running from a climate. It’s because like most geese, when the weather changes at your new place that “doesn’t suck,” you’ll spend your life migrating without ever planting your little webbed feet in a home.
 My bird-watching done, I headed to my Jeep at the gas pump and there they were – a couple of Manteca Crows. The crow is hands-down my favorite Manteca bird: Resilient, thrifty, hard working. Crows also tend to work in groups. A group of crows is called a Murder. (I actually wrote this entire column just to convey that fact; it does sound pretty cool.) And when one crow is injured, guess what? The other crows rally around and pick up the slack.
Google it if you don’t believe me. 
This crow was my friend and lifelong Mantecan Derek Stocker. He spotted me and yelled across the pumps, “Hey stupid, do you live in those coveralls?!” Crows are never inhibited by their surroundings and often lack tact, which happens to be what makes them awesome! I headed over and saw that he and his buddy Hank had a truckload of junk. “My mom’s neighbor is old. We saw she had a bunch of junk in her backyard – fire hazard – so we’re hauling it to the trash for her.” Hank held a pie out the window and laughed, “We’re getting paid in apples and pecans.”
Chalk one up for the crows! They rarely ask and never take. They just get out and do what needs to be done.
Times can get rough here in Manteca, but squawking at it, sticking our heads in the sand, and flying away aren’t going to fix the problems with this great town. We need more crows like Derek and Hank – people that see an opportunity to help and just do it. There is nothing more unoriginal or sad than a person that constantly beats up on their hometown, and it has reached epidemic levels in Manteca. Tossing around phrases like “this town sucks” and “Mantweeka” are completely pervasive in nature and do nothing to fix our problems. If a town is unable to find its pride, then it is doomed. And I know way too many crows that call Manteca home, people that are willing to get out and do – not just squawk. So the next time you hear someone running down your hometown, just give them a little “Caw!” I guarantee the other crows will hear and come to help you out.

Saturday Night Comedy: If you’d like to get out and “Caw!” The Pub and Lounge will be full of laughs Saturday night. Chris Storin of Oakland (2015’s Top Bay Talent Winner, SF Punchline) will make his Manteca debut. Show starts at 9, $10 tickets available at the door.
 “It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do”