A tale of two cities 

A few months ago when she was the city administrator at Huntington Beach, Calif., Penny Culbreth-Graft faced a huge task.

A whale carcass had washed up on a city beach. It was 50 feet long and smelled like Osama bin Laden's boxer shorts the same pair the al-Qaeda commander has worn since 2002, while celebrating his great victory inside a cave in Afghanistan, his inner ring of religious advisers trying every once in a while to scrape some of the bat shit out of their leader's beard.

Sorry. Let's get back to Culbreth-Graft, who organized city and state workers to toil for eight hours with bulldozers to dig a mammoth hole in the beach. By nightfall they had buried the whale.

(Footnote: In her report last October, she called the operation a "job "whale' done." That made me laugh so hard I blew a mouthful of coffee out through the hole on the top of my head.)

Today, Culbreth-Graft is the new city manager in our village and would not, obviously, have that problem. Nope, around here we'd handle a rotting whale the same way we always have: We'd stuff it into the city utilities' storm drain system, flush it into Fountain Creek along with millions of gallons of untreated sewage, and let the poor bastards downstream in Pueblo deal with it.

But this is not about whale carcasses. It's about Culbreth-Graft. About the city she left behind and the place she now calls home Colorado Springs, which greeted her and hubby Bill three weeks ago by having the Welcome Wagon run him over. (Actually, Bill was shoveling their driveway when he fell and sustained a broken arm.)

"We traded sand for snow," says Culbreth-Graft, unaware of the double-meaning of her words in a town where there's more sand in your eyes after a good night's sleep than there is on our roads after a blizzard.

Culbreth-Graft held the Huntington Beach job for a little more than three years. She had similar jobs in the California towns of Chino and Riverside and with San Diego County. She took the job here and a $16,000 pay cut because her work in Huntington Beach was done, she said.

"I've really been able to accomplish the things I wanted to," she told reporter Michael Anderson at the Huntington Beach Independent newspaper.

Note: The Huntington Beach Independent is just like the Colorado Springs Independent. For example, it competes with a great newspaper that has a huge circulation (Los Angeles Times), like we do (Thrifty Nickel).

"You won't find anyone in Huntington Beach saying anything negative about Penny," says reporter Anderson. "There didn't seem to be a minute she wasn't doing something for Huntington Beach."

She will, however, have some adjustments to make.

"Huntington Beach doesn't have seasons," she says. "It seemed like it was between 65 and 70 degrees every day. Things are different here."

She was referring, of course, to our four seasons: camping, elk, duck and tourist.

The cultures are different, too. Huntington Beach hosted the first U.S. Surfing Championships in 1963 and is still known as Surf City USA. Not to be outdone, we proudly boast one of America's largest collections of abandoned tuberculosis huts. (Let's not forget our old Chamber of Commerce motto: "100,000 Wet, Hacking Coughs Music to Our Ears.")

The housing market is also different.

Huntington Beach has a snooty attitude about this, pointing out its unique waterfront homes with private boat slips where beautiful people gather with glasses of California wine and gaze upon the shimmering sunsets.

Not that we're, like, losers or anything in the housing arena. Thanks to hard-working developers who can build a home in about two hours unless you have money to throw around and are getting fancy add-ons such as windows or plumbing we can now start at Powers Boulevard and jump from one rooftop to the next identical rooftop, never touching the ground, all the way to Kansas.

So, pretty California beach people, who's laughing now?

Listen to Rich Tosches on Thursdays at 8 a.m. on MY99.9. Reach him at rangerrich@csindy.com.


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