Revitalization Fever: Catch It!

Those of you who have recently driven from one end of Main Street to the other may have noticed that you can’t drive from one end of Main Street to the other because of the rampant renovation going on between Peck and Graham Streets.

This has apparently been happening for a few months, but I never paid much attention to it until my editor told me to get off my lazy behind and go investigate. So when the next commercial came on, I did just that.

A lot of people (or maybe it was just me) thought that downtown business had been falling off lately, and that this renovation project had been thrown together to attract customers. I learned, however, that you’d have to search far and wide, perhaps even as far as “The National Enquirer,” to find something further from the truth. Downtown business, in general, has been doing just swell and this project is expected to boost sales, if anything.

I was informed of this in no uncertain terms by one of about 400 receptionists lurking in city hall. “This is a re-vi-tal-i-za-tion project,” she said over the telephone, enunciating so that I could perhaps look up “revitalization” before she was actually through saying it. That word is apparently the Official Adjective for the project, because three different people said it, though none of them quite as clearly as that secretary.

So if it’s not being done to resuscitate business, why is it being done? According to Gary Washburn, alleged mayor of Lake Elsinore and Phone Book Critic, it’s “being done [for] the image and the character of the city.” Attracting customers will be a side-benefit, he said.

(By the way — if you’re 16 years old, and you walk into city hall declaring that you have an appointment with the mayor, they will not believe you.)I have heard a couple of people say that no matter how nice things look on Main Street, the image of downtown will still be one of vagrants, transients, and undesirables, or whatever you want to call them. So I asked several prominent downtown persons what they thought.

Mayor Washburn said that by improving the appearance of Main Street, more people will shop downtown, thus raising the economic level, and “those people” will have to leave in search of some place more affordable, perhaps to Temecula, which, according to GTE, is the hub of the universe. (His Honor didn’t actually mention that last part in the interview; I mentioned it in a flagrant attempt to start trouble.)

Fred Dominguez, city councilman and owner of Elsinore Barber Shop and Beauty Supply, which is on the re-vi-tal-ized block, said that the “vagrants” probably will not hamper the “new image.” Dolores Mayhall, owner of Mayhall Print Shop, was of basically the same opinion, though she seemed rather bitter toward what she described as “the trash that walks the street.” “There is a definite problem with that,” she said. “People…resent being approached by panhandlers and prostitutes. But [the customers] are not going to stop coming downtown.”

On the other hand, John Merrifield, owner of John’s Service Center and, technically, my grandfather, was less than optimistic about the whole affair, although he may just have been annoyed because his grandson had just stuck a tape recorder in his face. “I think the [vagrants] are going to keep the image from being the…image that we want. The buildings may look better, but the ‘downtown people’ are still going to be here. I’m optimistic enough to say we can attract business, but it’s going to be a rough road. Rough, rough, rough.” (Grandpa tends to repeat himself.)

The only person who didn’t acknowledge any problem with the aforementioned “downtown people” was Donna Barlass, president of the Downtown Business Association and owner of Hodge-Podge. When I asked her if she had had any problems with the people, she said, “What people are we talking about?” I gave some examples and she replied, “Well, I’m here seven days a week, ten hours a day….We haven’t had any problems….I am totally unaware of [them].”

Just as a point of information, John’s Service Center is just north of the block being re-vi-tal-ized, on the west side of the street. Mayhall Printing is three doors south, in the infected block, on the east side. Hodge-Podge is three doors south of that, and Elsinore Barber Shop is across from Hodge-Podge. Only Merrifield, Dominguez, and Mayhall have noticed any so-called “vagrants,” however.

I can just hear you saying to yourselves, “Well, this is all well and good, and Eric D. Snider is obviously a talented columnist/journalist, and I was just about to write a letter to The News saying so, but what will be the end product of the re-vi-tal-i-za-tion?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. According to Russ Tourville, General Contractor and Official Big Guy Who Rides around on a Tractor, big trucks will be re-routed away from the new Main Street, and traffic will generally be slower, since the lanes will be narrower. This will make it easier for pedestrians to pedestriate across the street without being permanently injured by people driving at a maniacal speed while searching for K-FROG on the radio.The amount of parking will not be changed, said Tourville.

So maybe downtown Lake Elsinore will have a new, cleaner image. And maybe everyone will feel perfectly safe and comfortable as they walk along Main Street. And maybe more customers will be attracted to the area than ever before.

And maybe Elsie will come out of the lake and run for city council.You never know.

The Lake Elsinore News underwent a major facelift, beginning with this issue. One of the results was that my column was now on the editorial page, with a photo of my face and everything (though that didn't appear until the next week).

See column #9.5 for background information on this column. I learned my lesson about trying to do a fact-based humor column when my editor took out several funny, opinion-oriented parts in order to make the column more news-like and unbiased. I maintain that this is contrary to the purpose of "On the Light Side," but it's a little too late for arguments now.

Donna Barlass was an absolute moron, and probably still is. She sat around Main Street all day long and never saw these people? Please. I'm delighted to mention that she had, at one point, pieces of wood decorated to look like cow parts, which she had attached to her mailbox, making the mailbox look like a cow. My friend Aaron (mentioned numerous times in later columns) and I felt the cow was a menace to the neighborhood, so we removed the cow parts, leaving the mailbox intact. Proud of this, am I? Not exactly. I am also not terribly proud of what we eventually did with the cow parts, although it was rather funny.

But I have gotten off the subject. If Russ Tourville really thought that the amount of parking was not going to be reduced, he was also insane. The amount of parking was DRASTICALLY reduced. Fortunately, no one ever really wants to go to Main Street anyway.

OK, OK, I'll tell you what I did with the wooden cow parts. There was this really obnoxious girl we knew in high school who made it her business, it seemed, to make sure no one liked her. She was bossy and opinionated and thought she was better than everyone. She had brought one of her old yearbooks to school for some reason, and then forgotten it in the drama classroom. So Aaron and I got a hold of it and glued the cow parts to it, using the book itself as the cow's body. We now had an all-too-appropriate bovine representation of this girl we so dreadfully disliked, and who disliked us. We didn't show it to her or anything; we just kept it for ourselves.

Oh, and Elsie is the name of the fictitious monster that supposedly lives in the lake (called Lake Elsinore, of all things). I don't think anyone actually believes in it anymore, but they used to tell stories about it. It was even in Reader's Digest once.

And if you STILL think Lake Elsinore is a nothing town, despite having been mentioned in Reader's Digest, I should point out that Lake Elsinore also used to have a serial killer, who murdered a dozen or so prostitutes (doing more, I think for Main Street's image than any of the re-vi-tal-i-za-tion did).