Menifee 24/7 Enters Its Ninth Year

It was a year ago this month I wrote about Menifee 24/7 entering its eighth year.

And what a great eighth year it was!

Doug Spoon, who was just recently hired to help with the writing and reporting, took on the task of covering city hall, and went on to do such a valiant effort that we chose to promote him as editor.

Shelli Stovall, who was brought on to help with sales and marketing, is now in charge of sales and marketing.

Last September, we hosted what appears to be the largest candidate forum of the campaign season, at Paloma Valley High School.

We redesigned the website last August.

The Menifee 24/7 Facebook page has grown to over 6,600 fans.

In fact, when you consider all of our channels, website, Facebook, Twitter, and E-mail, we're reaching an average of 49,875 people per month. That's nearly 50,000 people!

And who are these people?

Well looking at our website visitors, 55% are reading from inside the City of Menifee. Another 30% are viewing from other parts of Southern California, from Los Angeles down to San Diego. This 30% is split between Menifee residents viewing us while at work, or other residents doing research on Menifee (perhaps looking to relocate).

The other 15% of viewers are people in other states and other countries. Most of these people are former Menifee residents, or military personnel abroad, trying to stay in touch with their old hometown. There's also a small fraction of readers who are current residents travelling.

One-third (33%) of our readers are viewing the website of Menifee 24/7 via mobile device (smartphone or tablet).  Mobile device usage hits even higher numbers when viewing Menifee 24/7's Facebook, Twitter, and E-mail editions.

Isn't it cool that people thousands of miles away can still keep in touch with their old hometown through electronic media?

Here's another look at Menifee 24/7's demographic, based on samples gathered by Quantcast...

Female: 58%
Male: 42%

Kids living in household: 51%
No kids living in household: 49%

College graduate: 50%
No college: 35%
Grad school: 15%

Age 0-17: 12%
Age 18-24: 11%
Age 25-34: 17%
Age 35-44: 22%
Age 45-54: 21%
Age 55-64: 11%
Age 65+: 5%

Looking at this data, 71% of our readers are within the working class (ages 25-54).  Half of our readers are college graduates.  We have many more women readers than male, and half of them have kids at home.  This pretty much identifies the family communities, where moms stay at home to raise the kids, while dads commute out of town holding down skilled jobs.

If your company or organization is looking to get its message out this kind of demographic, Menifee 24/7 is your answer.

So here's to the ninth year!  Thanks for reading us, and we hope you'll continue.

A Doug's Life: Menifee, Will You Ever Grow Up?

Happy fourth birthday, Menifee!

Hard to believe, but you're the same age as my granddaughter Riley, who lives with us. She's cuter, but you're just as much appreciated.

Oh I know, you've had some growing pains. You were actually trying to bust out of the womb for about 125 years, ever since folks first named this area after an old miner, Luther Menifee Wilson. The birth finally happened in 2008 with incorporation. Since then, childhood has been difficult at times.

It's unfortunate that not everyone likes you the way you are. For the record, I think you're pretty cool. Not perfect, of course, but more of what I want in a town than a lot of other places.

Yes, we all have our own ideas about what kind of 4-year-old you should be -- as well as what kind of 25-year-old and 50-year-old you should be. We're all looking to the future -- just with varying visions of what your "growth" should be.

Little Riley says she's going to grow up to be taller than me. Maybe so, but she will also learn that bigger isn't always better. I think I would rather see her stop at 5-foot-9 or so and continue to grow in other ways.

Perhaps this will be the case with you, Menifee.

In some ways, I think you want to grow up to be bigger than Temecula. Maybe it's a jealousy thing. You have a mall? I can build a mall. You've got restaurants? Look at my restaurants.

Maybe that's it, as some people seem to believe. Or maybe it's just that you're doing what you have to do to survive among the big kids. A city without sufficient tax revenue is like the little kid who comes to the arcade without any coins. You don't get to play, and all your friends gravitate to the kids with the pocket full of change.

So yes, Menifee, you have a choice to make. Do you grow up to play with the big boys, building out from Interstate 215 and paving over more of your open land? Or do you remain content to be a slightly modern version of what you always were? Which is the path to happiness?

Probably somewhere in the middle. Yes, there has to be a path down the middle.

Go ahead and bring in a movie theater, Menifee. Maybe a bowling alley or miniature golf course, too. A couple more restaurants can't hurt. Just don't get carried away.

Don't go getting a big head, thinking you can stick a high rise here and there. I trust that you won't, but be aware that others are watching. So behave yourself. Don't try to be something you aren't. But at the same time, realize the potential you have to be a real nice place to live.

All around you, the grown-ups are trying to tell you what kind of city to be. Eventually, you'll figure that out yourself. Things will fall into place and you will listen to the influences you trust. And whatever happens, we'll all just have to adjust.

If it's worth it to us to stay here, we'll adjust.

A Doug's Life: He's Still Somewhere Out There, Watching Me

About five months ago, I wrote a column in this space titled "I'll Get You, You Rascal," about my efforts to track down the raccoon, or gopher, or whatever the heck was tunneling through my back yard.

Never did find the little guy, and the tunnels are still out there. But as you can see from the photo above, we had a new type of visitor the other night.

It started with a scream from our daughter Jill, who had wandered onto the front driveway in her bare feet about 9 p.m. "Tarantula!" she shrieked.

"Now there's a new one," I thought, racing out into the front yard. "Finally! The desert produces a real critter."

In my 11 months as a resident of Menifee, I have not seen one snake. Not that I would know what to do if I found one, but this is the edge of the desert -- if you ask me -- so I sort of expected it. I've seen a few rabbits, one coyote, a frog, zero scorpions and zero prairie dogs. Lots of sheep (see a previous column) and zillions of horses, but how exotic are those creatures? C'mon, at least give me a roadrunner or two!

So when the "tarantula" call went out the other night, I was curious to see one in person for the only time other than during visits to those dark little rooms at the zoo.

By the time I got outside, Jill was pointing to the other side of the pickup truck. Sure enough, there he was. OK, so I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but it's a he in my book. I wasn't about to try and figure that one out.

The first thing I noticed -- he moves pretty slow. About five inches across, from the end of one hairy leg to the end of another, he was headed for the garage door. Run for the hills, Jill! If he can scale that door, your bedroom window is next.

But alas, the ugly little thing couldn't negotiate the slippery surface, so he was content to crawl along the base of the garage door, seemingly not irritated by the cell phone camera light I was now shining in his face.

Later, I got various bits of advice from folks about what I should've done -- everything from shooting him to dousing him with bug spray to picking him up with a shovel and transporting him the heck out of there. Instead, I walked off and let him alone -- after checking all the doors and windows, of course.

Yes, he's out there somewhere, perhaps waiting for his chance. But I don't think I'm the prey. Maybe my dog will get him. Maybe he'll get my dog.

Or maybe he'll take out the gopher. If so, he's a hero in my book.

A Doug's Life: All I Ask is a Little Respect -- and Not for Me

Pardon my ignorance, but will someone please tell me when respect and common courtesy went out of style? Apparently, I never got the memo.

I think I can remember the last time I heard someone express respect for another's opinion, but the memory is fading. Anyone else notice that people these days are far more likely to tell you why you're wrong than why they're right? Even worse, they're downright nasty about it.

The most extreme examples are in the political arena or anything involved with government. I mean, there are no two sides to an issue anymore. Either you see it my way or you're an idiot, right?

Yeah, that's a real adult attitude.

Take the current presidential race, for example. I refused to watch any of the Republican or Democratic national conventions, simply because character assassination isn't tremendously appealing to me. Just seeing the many rants on Facebook is more than enough for me. If a candidate spends half his time telling me how bad the other guy is, I'm thinking he's pretty darn insecure himself. Whatever happened to stating your beliefs clearly and letting me decide whether you're better suited for the job than your opponent?

But as bad as this whole Romney-Obama showdown is, it pales in comparison to what goes on every other Tuesday in the Menifee City Council Chambers. You want to see and hear bitterness and hatred? Stop by City Hall just after 7 p.m. on Sept. 18. Sadly, it's guaranteed.

And this time, the politicians aren't the main culprits. It's people who live and work right alongside us here in Menifee. I call them the Haters -- that small group of residents who show up at every meeting, determined to use their three minutes of fame to denigrate, humiliate and castigate council members.

City policy allows residents three minutes each to speak during the "public comments" portion of city council meetings. At various points of the meeting, they are allowed to address issues not on the agenda and to speak during public hearings on a specific subject. The last line of Menifee's "decorum policy notes" at the end of each printed agenda states that "while we encourage participation, we ask there be a mutual respect for the proceedings."

Good luck with that.

From what I can determine, the Haters have made it their mission to disrupt city council meetings ever since Menifee voters approved cityhood in 2008. Most of these folks are residents of Sun City, and it's obvious they wanted to stay that way and not be placed under the umbrella of a Menifee government with which they don't agree.

I can understand where they're coming from. Sun City was a relatively quiet, rural community of mostly senior citizens for decades. But in the last 10 years, new housing has cropped up all over the place. Without meaning to, young families are starting to surround the old folks. The resulting demand for growth has led to the arrival of new businesses and traffic that is at times unbearable.

Fine. I get that.

If I were in their position, I'd be frustrated, too. I might even share their belief that the "pro development" faction of the city council outnumbers the "traditionalists" 3-2 in most votes. Yeah, that would probably stick in my craw.

But I darn sure wouldn't embarrass myself the way many of these folks do during their three minutes of "fame." I mean, what does it prove, other than you can't control your emotions?

There's a whole list of these people who speak at every city council meeting, whether they have a legitimate gripe or not. After a while, it becomes clear that their purpose is not so much to address specific issues as it is to attack certain council members out of frustration and hatred. You hear these people often enough and their credibility goes right out the window.

No one is claiming that Menifee city council members are perfect, or that they always make the right decisions. But no one deserves the kind of treatment these politicians are given on a regular basis. It's cruel, unprofessional and childlike, and it's an embarrassment to others who have to sit through it week after week.

You don't agree with something the council does? Fine. State your case. If you absolutely disagree with something a council member has said or done, express your feelings in a respectful manner -- being respectful not just because the council member is a public official, but because he or she is a human being. Believe it or not, it can be done.

Because of public meeting protocol, council members do not respond to public comments. They have to sit there and take it while the locals take pot shots at them. To a degree, that's part of the job. But when someone calls you out, attacks your political party beliefs or uses sarcasm in an attempt to humiliate you, it's time to clear the room.

If you ask me -- and I know the Haters didn't -- a little respect would go a lot further than personal attacks against these public servants. Don't like what they're doing? Don't vote for them in the upcoming election. That's your right.

But while they're still in office -- and if they remain in office come November -- try some constructive criticism for a change. Really, it should not be about the Haters and their personal issues. It should be about what's best for all of Menifee. And that will only come about if common decency is observed.

A Doug's Life: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night...

Call me naive, but I didn't think this sort of thing happened around here anymore.

Driving down Haun Road near the intersection of Garbani Road the other morning, I noticed people getting out of their cars, taking photos of something in the large wheat field there. Come to find out it was a flock of sheep -- hundreds of the critters -- grazing on what was left of the recent wheat harvest.

Pulling over and getting out of the car, I noticed a shepherd -- crook and all -- standing watch over the flock with his sheepdog nearby. Where was I -- Greece? Where were the three wise men? Even in good old Menifee -- Mayberry west, as I sometimes call it -- I had never seen this before.

Approaching the shepherd from behind, I was reassured this is the 21st Century when he turned around with a cell phone pressed to his cheek.

"Hello," I said.

The response: A smile.

"Where did all these sheep come from?"

Another smile.

"What's your name?"


"How do you spell that?"


OK, so we've established where this guy is from and the fact we have a language barrier. So I went to the universal language, pulling out my camera. He nodded and posed.

The sheep? Well, they were starting to notice me. After taking some long-range shots, I wanted to move in a bit closer. First, I got the evil eye. Do sheep charge? Doesn't matter. I have Saul and his sheepdog to protect me. But instead of rushing me, they started to wander off toward a bush that had more vegetation on it than the stubble of a recently harvested wheat field.

I learned later from local historian and longtime Menifee resident Betty Bouris that the wheat fields in that area are farmed by David Zeiders, descendant of a pioneer Menifee family. A couple times a year, after harvest time, he brings in a huge flock of sheep to act as lawnmowers. After they much on the remains the wheat thresher missed, Saul and his dog move them along to the next open field.

Saul stays on a trailer on the property and keeps watch on the animals by day and by night. The sheep -- usually brought in from Nuevo or Lakeside, said Bouris -- are carted off when the land is sufficiently cleared and ready to be plowed under for the next crop of wheat. Today, they're still out there, this time on the west side of Haun road. Stop by and say hello.

So now I know. After I've been a Menifee resident for a while, I guess this will become a familiar sight. For now, I feel a bit like I've been dropped in the middle of a travelogue somewhere in Europe or the Middle East.

And hey, no travel costs. Thanks, Saul.

A Doug's Life: Are You Ready for Some Football?

In case I never mentioned it before, I used to be a sports writer.

"Wow," people would say to me. "They pay you to go to games?"

Well, that's pretty much how it worked. Teams would give me a media credential, a seat in the press box and access to the athletes. Unfortunately, my editor also gave me a deadline that often arrived minutes after the game ended.

Oh yeah, that's loads of fun. Just as you're sending your first lead saying the Dodgers beat the Giants 5-4, some jerk hits a two-out home run in the top of the ninth for the Giants, who now lead 6-5, and just two minutes before your deadline. You're darn right I got paid to go to games. Just not enough.

OK, so maybe it wasn't such a bad career. I got to travel across the country, see a lot of exciting games and meet many interesting people. Although I started by covering baseball, which remains my favorite sport, I finished by covering football, which in many ways was the most fun of all.

For one thing, football usually is played during the day, which sure eases the deadline pressure. Besides that, there's nothing else in sports quite like game day at a football stadium.

If you're talking pro football, you've got the tailgate parties, traditional rivalries and unparalleled displays of skill. In college football, you've got the pep rallies, school bands and unpredictability of bowl matchups.

And at the high school level, you've got hometown pride at stake. After all, who doesn't want their local prep football team to do well?

So here we are again -- already into the NFL exhibition season, less than two weeks from the college football season and just five days away from the return of high school football to Menifee. Whether you're heading down the road to watch the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, cheering on your favorite college team on the big screen at The Beer Hunter, following Mt. San Jacinto College's Eagles or cheering for Heritage High and Paloma Valley, it's football time here in Menifee.

Now that I'm back in the business of writing for publication every day, I think we'll throw some football at you here at Menifee 24/7.

In our ongoing efforts to look for things the good folks of Menifee are interested in, it certainly seems that high school football qualifies. How many of you agree? I would expect every proud parent to add their supporting comment below, but what about the rest of you? Who wants to see a writeup and photos of Heritage and Paloma Valley football games on this site each Saturday morning? Speak up now.

If you're a fan of the Heritage High Patriots, you surely remember last season, when the team won the Sunbelt League title, finished 12-2 and advanced all the way to the CIF championship game. If your team is the Paloma Valley Warriors, you're probably looking forward to the chance to improve upon last year's 2-9 record. Either way, it all starts Friday night.

Paloma Valley opens its season at home against San Bernardino at 7 p.m. Heritage opens on the road, vs. San Jacinto at Hemet High School, also at 7 p.m.

As they say in the big leagues, good seats are available. But whether you're there in the stands or not, Menifee 24/7 can provide you with highlights -- if you want them.

You tell us. Are you ready for some football?

A Doug's Life: You Can Kick and Scream All You Want, but Please Don't Do It When There Are Kids in the Crosswalk

OK, everyone, just calm down.

Take a deep breath. Grab a cool cloth. Sip on a cold beverage.

It's hot outside -- darn near unbearably hot. It's mid-August -- the dog days of summer -- but for the students of Menifee, it's back to school, like it or not. And that means many parents are on edge these days, too.

People are hot, tired and irritable. Parents whose children used to take the bus to school must now search for neighborhood carpools or adjust their already hectic work schedules to drive their kids to school. This adds to traffic congestion that was already bad in a town that continues to struggle with growing pains.

Cars jammed the streets surrounding every school in town Thursday, obviously worse than last year. Students walking and on bikes darted in and out of traffic. Regardless of who you blame, it's a fact that the elimination of many school bus routes because of budget issues is having an impact on Menifee.

And this was only day one.

Yes, I know -- it's no fun out there right now. Picking up some kids from school Thursday afternoon, I sat in traffic without moving for several minutes, around the corner and several hundred yards from the school parking lot. Finally, traffic started crawling in both directions as students tried either to find their ride or weave their way past the mess on the long walk home.

On the Menifee 24/7 Facebook page, there are dozens of comments from parents angry about the lack of busing, the increased traffic and the inconvenience for everyone involved. It seems everybody has a solution to our problems. Well, as long as everyone else is spouting off, let me throw in my two cents' worth. Actually, make it six cents' worth:

Stay calm. Stay focused. Look at the big picture.

If we do these three things, we just might survive this situation with our sanity intact. No guarantees, but it's better than some of the ideas I've heard.

First, if you stay calm and think before you speak, you'll present a better argument to those who can make a difference. Many of you have threatened to voice your concerns at school board or city council meetings, and some of you already have. True, that's your right.

Just remember, council and board members don't respond directly to your comments, simply because of public meeting protocol. You won't get instant feedback. If they got into a discussion with every person who stepped up to the podium, the whole meeting would be public comments. But that doesn't mean they aren't listening.

I've talked to these people. They're as frustrated as you are. They'd like to tell the state legislators in Sacramento the same things you're telling them. In fact, they often do.

So far, that hasn't given us our state funding back. But they keep trying, keep stating their case as your elected representatives. Just as you should keep stating your case -- but through proper channels. You can gripe to the local politicians, but you can also complain to those at the top of this trickle-down mess. Write letters and emails. Be constructive, not destructive, with your comments.

Second, if you stay focused on the task at hand, you will help us all avoid making matters even worse. There's plenty of time to vent your frustration when you get home. Don't do it when you're behind the wheel, holding the lives of your children and others in your hands.

Leave early on your drive to school, take your time and accept the situation for what it is -- unfortunate, but unavoidable for the time being. Drive defensively. Be patient. If you're stuck in the car an extra few minutes with your kids, what's the worst thing that can happen? You have a conversation with them?

Third, remember the overall scheme of things. Look at the big picture. To the person who is shortsighted, it sucks being late to work because you had to drive your kid through a traffic jam. But to the person with a little bit of foresight, the money you're saving by living out here takes away some of the sting.

And to the person who really looks at the big picture ... well, every one of those aggravating drives through the school zone brings your child one step closer to a college diploma. Isn't that the ultimate goal?

They don't call me Mr. Positive for nothing.

A Doug's Life: Do Area Seniors Know How to Have Fun? Bingo!

G 52! That's G-FIVE-TWO!

Robert Heflin picks up the ping pong ball, randomly selected by the electronic contraption in front of him, and places it in front of a mini camera. Instantly, the G 52 symbol is magnified on a large TV screen at both ends of the room. If aging ears miss his loud call over the microphone, aging eyes are able to make out that image.

If somehow they are not, there always is help.

Dora Unger will be 100 years old on Oct. 1. She was born six months after the sinking of the Titanic. Dora plays Bingo every Wednesday afternoon with more than 50 friends and neighbors in the recreation room of Menifee/Sun City Concern, a nonprofit corporation that has served area residents for nearly 40 years.

Dora takes pretty good care of herself. She enjoys chatting with friends around the Bingo table and she's never had to wear glasses. But hey, she's darn near 100 and the game can move fast. Carol Culhane, her caretaker, makes sure she knows when to mark the numbers with her large colored marker.

What's your secret to long life, Dora?

"Just live every day," she says with a smile.

Yeah, I guess that would help.

You won't get deep philosophical theories from the people here. They've been there, done that. Senior citizens who have lived in the Sun City core for years, they gather each week at this time simply to stretch their legs, exercise their vocal chords and have some fun.

Across the room, Norrene Levine is celebrating a birthday. She and her friend Barbara Truncale wear matching Bingo Queen T-shirts. Each is working on several Bingo cards at once -- with time left over to chat.

Barbara, 82, always shows up for Bingo even though she is in a wheelchair because of a leg amputation. Dial a Ride gets here there and she does the rest.

"I'm still going strong," says Barbara, smiling under her Yankees cap.

Norrene, the birthday girl, is asked how old she is today.

"Eighteen," she replies with a wink. "Old enough to drink."

OK, so she's really 81, but who's counting? Norrene, who lives in Nuevo, has been playing Bingo in Sun City since 1998, when the games were played at the Sun City Civic Association Center. Every week, she and Barbara go next door to Boston Billie's for the Bingo Special lunch, then head over to the room marked "Cooling Center" during the summer.

Although the air conditioning in the old building does provide relief from the heat, the room isn't exactly cool after being packed to capacity for a while. Diane Jerrold, office manager for Menifee/Sun City Concern, admits the AC unit can't keep up with a crowd any bigger than this.

She wishes they could accommodate more -- but in many ways, the organization does.

Each day, staff members call on shut-ins in the community to make sure they are OK. On this day, Pat Hamilton checked on a woman whose AC was out. Pat made sure she had water and a fan and convinced an AC technician to volunteer his time to fix the problem.

"So many of these seniors just stay in the area because they don't want to drive," Diane Jerrold says. "They get lonely. This organization was formed 38 years ago because seniors were dying in their homes and nobody knew until someone found the body."

Menifee/Sun City Concern offers assistance to seniors in finding caregivers. Its employees are in contact with 2,500 seniors every month. And those who work for Jerrold do it out of the goodness of their heart.

Last Christmas, because of a loss of funding, the entire office staff was laid off. Every one of them agreed to stay on as volunteers -- and are still doing so nearly eight months later.

Recently, the center added a Friday night Bingo session to its weekly calendar. Seniors pay $10 for their Bingo card and can win up to $100.

Wanda Bower and her husband Lee are regular Wednesday Bingo players, along with their daughter, Debbie. They moved to Sun City years ago after visiting Debbie, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton at the time. They fell in love with the area -- and with Bingo.

"It's good for your eyes and your mind," Wanda says. "It helps keep us going. And it's good to see old friends."

It doesn't hurt if G 52's a winner, either.

Menifee/Sun City Concern
26814 Cherry Hills Blvd., Sun City
Bingo Wednesdays at 12:45 p.m., Fridays at 5 p.m.

Time to Get Serious About Menifee Rides Program

We may be small in number, but we're mighty in purpose.

The Menifee Rides program was first introduced in this space several weeks ago, when it became apparent that school bus service in the Menifee Union School District would be drastically reduced for the coming school year. Since then, we've created a website and a Facebook page as message boards for parents whose children face transportation challenges this school year.

So far, the response has been less than overwhelming. But that's OK. Maybe most of the parents have already arranged a carpool for their children or have other arrangements to replace the school bus. If so, that's great. We're here only to give folks another option.

If only five or 10 of us work together to transport a few children to school, we're still doing a great service.

I understand that this is not the perfect solution. I get it. Yes, it would be nice to have more money in the school district budget for buses. It would also be nice to have more money for more teachers, and school supplies, and extracurricular activities. But right now, it ain't happening. So you take what you can get.

What we're offering is a program in which parents trust each other enough to help each other by driving children to school. In many cases, these arrangements could involve friends and neighbors who already know each other. If not, let's get everyone together so no one is a "stranger" going into this.

If you're worried about the liability of driving other children or of the potential danger in letting your child ride with someone else, remember that no one is forcing you to participate. We have no funds for a million-dollar insurance policy. We have no funds for expensive background checks.

What we do have is a bunch of people with good hearts -- people who believe we can make this work. We have people who will make safety the top priority before anyone gets into anyone else's car.

To begin building that sense of trust, it's time for those involved to meet face to face. I'm proposing a meeting next Monday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. for all those who are truly interested in participating. Where? Depends on the response. I'm hoping my living room is too small for the crowd. If someone wants to donate a meeting room, great. If not, we'll meet in a park somewhere.

We just need to get it done.

So let me know if you're in. Time is short, with school starting next week. There are several ways to contact me:


Leave a comment on our website:

Leave a comment on our Facebook page:

Those who have previously contacted me will receive an updated reply by tomorrow. If you still need help or can volunteer to drive, please let me know, including whether you can attend a meeting Monday night.

We can do this.

A Doug's Life: There's Always Time for a Roadside Treat

I drive by there every day, glancing over at the little shack in the field as I fly past on Newport Road.

This time, something made me stop. I guess I didn't really need what they were selling, but why not? If nothing else, I could pull out of heavy traffic for a minute and check out some fresh produce.

It's a strawberry stand. You know, the kind of thing you used to see a lot more of around Southern California. We even had some in the San Gabriel Valley back in the day. Now, of course, the strawberry fields there are gone, and you'd have to sell a boatload of berries to afford to lease a piece of land the size of a postage stamp.

But here in Menifee, where there's still considerable open space -- no matter what the critics say -- the strawberry stand in the open grass field didn't really seem out of place.

"How enterprising," was my first thought. One has to have ambition and a bit of patience to make money selling fruit by the side of the road. My second thought: I needed fresh ingredients for my morning protein shake.

Pulling onto the patch of dirt that serves as a parking lot, I got out of my car and walked over to the stand. The only one there was a woman sitting inside in the shade, surrounded by sweet-smelling strawberries.

Her name is Mary Kimball. She sits in that stand every day of the week, from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., or "when we're out of strawberries." She runs the stand for her brother's company, "Bob and Gary's Field Fresh Berries." They have stands in Menifee, Murrieta, Temecula and Hemet.

No strawberry fields, however. The berries are trucked in from Northern California, fresh and juicy.

"Try one," Mary said, gesturing to the row of flats spread out in front of her, overflowing with ripe red berries.

One bite and I was sold. There's something about fresh fruit picked up out in the fresh air, rather than out of a bin in aisle 5. OK, so maybe these berries weren't grown anywhere near here, but for some reason I felt like a kid again, holding my mom's hand as she got personal service from the butcher and the grocer at the corner market.

Oh sure, I can chat with the cashier at the supermarket checkout stand. But how personable is that exchange? I'm busy sliding my debit card and punching buttons while the checker is fumbling with the can of green beans that won't scan. Now that's personal service.

Mary Kimball said she used to work in the escrow business, where she was forced to use a computer at least part of the time. Out there in the strawberry stand, the only electronic gadget she has is a smart phone she barely knows how to use.

"Every day is different out here," she said. "I can sit here for an hour with nobody coming, then four cars will pull in at once. The other day, somebody came along and bought a whole bunch of boxes to make strawberry jam. I have people who've been coming here 15 years."

Bob and Gary's does not use coupons. Their only advertising is a sign at the side of the road. It's business in its simplest form -- something they've been doing in Menifee for 18 years.

"We used to be down the road, where the IHOP is now," Mary said. "When they sold that land, we moved over here. Been here about nine years.

"I like the atmosphere around here. Coming to work here is like coming to something different. We've been here so long, it's like we're part of the town."

You are, Mary. And here's hoping you stay for a long time to come.

The New Look of Menifee 24/7

If you're reading this from a laptop or desktop, congratulations, you're seeing our new website design.

The new look, which is only viewable on desktops and laptops, went live this morning after spending several months evaluating new design ideas and ironing out all the bugs. Here are the advantages to the new design...

  • Loads faster - being only two columns, instead of the previous three, it loads faster. We also upgraded the ad banners by using asynchronous coding, which means the rest of the website can load while the ads are still loading. Before, the ads had to completely load before the rest of the website could finish.

  • Threaded commenting - you can now comment on other peoples comments. You'll see a little "Reply" link below each comment, formatting and placing your comment directly below someone else's. No longer must you specify who you're talking to.

  • Wider content column - the articles are physically wider, allowing for larger images. Before the articles maxed out at 500 pixels width, we now have up to 615 pixels of width.

  • Popular posts - there's now a feature below the ad banners for "Popular Posts", which shows you to top five most read articles over the past 30 days.

  • New ad units - we now offer a horizontal ad next to our logo. We're also featuring flyer ads, where we take your flyer and display it on the side of the page. We can also display coupons on the side of the page too. Contact us about advertising.
It seems every 18 to 24 months we go through a redesign. That's about what all websites have to do just to stay up with the latest trends and technology in online publishing.

But it seems the demographic is changing over to mobile.

Nearly 1/3 of our readers (32.54% over the last 30 days) are accessing our content from a mobile device. It was only a few months ago that figure was at 25%. It's growing so quickly, I wouldn't be surprised if it reached 50% by the end of this year.

Mobile users won't see this new redesign. What they'll see instead is a more simplified version of Menifee 24/7 designed for easier reading in small dimensions. Redesigning our mobile platform is perhaps our next step.

And for those of you reading us from our e-mail subscription, you've noticed a new redesign as well.

BTW, our rise in mobile readers is not just a global thing, it's also a reflection on Menifee as a community. It shows that residents here are quickly settling into the mobile revolution.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, are all investing heavily into their mobile platforms and developing new technology to track consumers using cellphone GPS. The idea is that they will know precisely where you are and be able to deliver you coupons for nearby establishments.

I'm not sure yet that's where we're going to go with Menifee 24/7. Our focus has been to bring you the latest news and announcements, and I'd rather stay with that.

But the publishing business goes hand-in-hand with the advertising business, we can't stop being marketers too.

Meanwhile, since we still have another 2/3 of our readers on laptops and desktops, it's an 800-pound gorilla we can't ignore. But I can't help wondering if this new redesign will be the last for Menifee 24/7. I wonder from this point forward all of our efforts will be focused on mobile publishing. It's almost like that gorilla is quickly turning into a dinosaur.

A Doug's Life: Annie's Restaurant Satisfies One's Search for the Perfect Little Diner

I drove right past the place once, turned around and almost missed it again.

You won't find Annie's Restaurant on Highway 74 in Romoland unless you look real close. It's tucked between small businesses on the north side of the street, just a few blocks east of Interstate 215. The sign is low to the ground, has no neon nor bright colors.

Only the locals really know about the place.

Acting on a tip from a friend who knows I love old-style diners like this, I walked into Annie's one weekday morning. "Mexican breakfast," the place advertised. I don't know about that, but I was ready for some small town atmosphere and decent grub.

Seating was not a problem. The seven booths were empty and only one gentleman sat at the counter. I chose a stool near him and plopped my appetite down.

"Is this a normal crowd?" I asked, explaining that I was a starving columnist, looking for a hot meal and a good story.

"Come back on Saturday," he suggested.

As long as I was there, why not order? The stranger had summoned "Mike," the waiter. Who also turned out to be the cook. Who also turned out to be the owner, Miguel Villavicencio.

I ordered a ham and cheese omelette, handed him a business card and tried to explain what I wanted. Free publicity, I told him. I write about you and your place on our website. How can you not agree?

"No," Miguel said. "No money. No customers. No money."

"He doesn't understand," the other guy said. "He thinks you want to sell him an ad."

OK, I decided, back on Saturday. So a few days later, there I was on a Saturday morning, excited to see about 10 people in the place, enjoying breakfast.

Again, I sat next to the only guy at the counter, a rather crusty old man we'll call Earl. He doesn't want me to use his real name because he's been cheating on another diner down the road with Annie's and he doesn't want word to get out.

"You'll have to move over one," he grumbled, looking up to greet another regular who had just walked through the door.

No problem. But hey, I know that guy. Didn't you used to sing at The Beer Hunter? Sure enough, it was Jerome Robinson, former singer with The Platters, about whom I wrote in my first article for Menifee 24/7 last fall. Apparently, he lives in the area and stops in almost every morning for breakfast.

This time, because of the "larger" crowd, Mike was joined by his wife, Sidronia, who was taking orders. Everyone calls her Annie, but she doesn't mind. She didn't have much to say either, but seemed to enjoy the attention and allowed me to talk to customers and take photos.

Meanwhile, Earl ordered huevos a la Mexicana and Jerome asked for a large bowl of menudo. I played it safe once again with the ham and cheese omelette.

"This is a real breakfast," Earl mumbled to Jerome, then nodding toward me. "He eats like a gringo."

Sorry, guys. Don't kick me out. I like the place.

"Mike" and "Annie," with help from son Miguel Jr., have operated Annie's Restaurant since 1981. It got a nice facelift, the locals say, a while back when a City of Menifee beautification project renovated the front of the building, making it more attractive to visitors.

Fortunately, the inside still looks old style. One keeps expecting a juke box to kick in with some oldies but goodies. The area in front of the counter is lined in wood paneling and ceiling fans twirl slowly overhead. Counter stools and booth seats, made of brown naugahyde, have a clean, retro look.

Miguel Jr. was 10 when his father, a longtime cook in the Los Angeles area, decided to take a chance, move his family east and buy what was once called Annie's Truck Stop.

"The place has been around since the '60s," Miguel Jr. said. "We used to get calls from truckers, so we took off the 'truck stop' part of the name. My mom and dad couldn't speak English when we first came here, so they took classes.

"The thing that gets me ... did you see the prices? I keep telling my dad to increase the prices. He's afraid he'll scare the customers away."

That's doubtful. He could double the prices with no problem, as Jerome Robinson pointed out as he sipped from his bowlful of menudo.

"You can't beat the food, and the prices! Where else can you go to have bacon and eggs, hash browns and coffee, and with the tip it comes to six bucks?" Jerome said.

With that, I walked to the head of the counter, where "Annie" collected the $4.67 I owed her. She politely thanked me, filed away the handwritten ticket and stuck the money in an old cash register. At Miguel's insistence, there is no computerized order system or ATM machine.

Just a lot of good food and friendly atmosphere.

Annie's Restaurant
Mexican and American Food
27666 Highway 74
Romoland, CA 92585

A Doug's Life: From One Generation to the Next, Nothing Beats a Good Book

Ethan Rutherford is 8 years old. He could've been on the living room couch, remote in hand, playing video games like most other kids his age on a Saturday morning, right?

Or maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe I've misjudged the younger generation. Is it possible they actually read books once in a while? I mean, real books, where you turn the pages and put them on the shelf when you're done?

All I know is, Ethan walked out of the Sun City Library with a shopping bag full of books Saturday during the library's quarterly "Bag of Books for a Buck" sale. So did his brother, Cody, who's 11. And they weren't the only kids there.

In fact, there were a lot of people there -- people of all ages and reading interests. The community room was full of books, crammed onto long tables and spilling out of boxes on the floor -- and there were people everywhere. And somehow, I don't think they were all there just because of the bargain price.

True, the deal was you could fill a big shopping bag with books and pay just a dollar. Any used book you could find, just throw it in the bag and you walk out with a bunch of books -- and you're just one buck poorer.

I can see the appeal of that deal to someone who grew up reading books that don't require a battery and an Internet connection. There were a lot of us there. But to see the kids in there, jockeying for position around the book stacks, well ... it was enough to make me want to go home and dig out my Hardy Boys books.

But first, a peek into that bag Ethan was clutching as he headed toward the door with 11-year-old Cody, brother, and mom Lauren.

Let's see ... hmm, some heavy reading. Really, Ethan? Lord of the Rings? At age 8?

"They have Legos for Lord of the Rings, so I wanted the book," he said. "It might take me a month or so to read it."

At least. OK, next book. Kareem, the biography of former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired 15 years before Ethan was born. So Ethan, how do you even know who Kareem is?

"The skyhook," he replied, referring to Jabbar's signature hook shot. "My dad and brother taught me about it."

Now we're getting somewhere. So the parents are passing on to their children a love for history, which can best be found in old books? Sounds nice. But couldn't Ethan find the same thing in a web search?

"We have quiet time every day when they have to sit down and read," Lauren Rutherford said. "They have a choice between books, comic books or a newspaper. They do have a Kindle and they use that sometimes, but most of the time this is a 'no electronics' time."

Wow. And the kids actually seem to like it.

"My dad started telling me about Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan," Cody said about two other retired NBA greats. "After that, I read books about them. I even made a bobblehead of Magic Johnson."

Maybe that's the secret: Caring enough about current (and past) events and the education of our children to share knowledge that will send them to the book stacks, searching for more.

The Internet is great for looking up statistics, mapping a location and reading a short bio. To get the whole story, crack open a book.

"We have a Kindle, but I still read more of the printed books," said Len Keeler, another Menifee resident at the book sale. "My wife is into foreign languages and wanted a book on learning another language. She found one. She's still in there, filling bags."

Inspired, I headed back inside to grab a shopping bag. Now where are the Western novels?

A Doug's Life: All for One, One for All

Ever since I first introduced the idea of a volunteer "Menifee Rides" carpool program to help get Menifee students to school this fall, I have been faced with questions. So before we move any further along in the process, here are the answers:

Why didn't someone do this before?

Having lived here only since October, I can't say for sure. My guess is that most residents of Menifee would rather have a root canal than get involved with a project so widespread with so many challenges. I'd say that's a pretty natural reaction. What I hope is NOT the reason is that people may have become disillusioned about the whole concept of volunteering.

Don't you know this idea will fail?

"Failure is not an option," as someone once said. This project might not be as successful as we'd like it to be, but it won't fail. Its degree of success depends on the number and attitude of the folks on the Menifee Rides bandwagon.

Do you have the support of the school district or City Hall?

Officially, they can't give it and I don't expect it. For liability reasons, organizations such as these can't give formal endorsement or get involved in the operations of the project. The rest of us, we're private citizens offering to help each other out. They can't stop us from doing that.

How will you protect our children when they get into someone else's car?

I can't protect all our children. WE can protect all our children -- by partnering with friends and neighbors, not strangers; by checking the backgrounds of those we don't know through the Megan's Law website and by other means; by STICKING TOGETHER and finding the best way to provide safe transportation for each other to and from school.

How do you know my child won't be getting into a car with a child molester?

How do you know a child molester won't snatch your kid up on the sidewalk? You don't, but you take every available precaution, you pray, and you make smart choices. If you don't believe in this program, you don't have to participate. Just don't criticize those who do.

How many people have volunteered to help?

Not enough. I have received several emails to the address set up for this project,, but we need lots more to address the need at each individual school.

What's the next step?

We need to:

-- Start pairing up people who live in the same neighborhood and identifying who needs rides, who can drive, who can trade days, etc.

-- Get some volunteers who can help me recruit and organize transportation in each area.

-- Consider a planning committee (I can't do it alone!)


As the headline says, we must have a "All for One, One for All" mentality. With this, we can get it done.

Please email me at

Until then, have a nice day. :)

A Doug's Life: Thanks for the Lemonade

There's a new corner sign twirler in town, but he's not hawking housing developments or pizza joints.

He's 8 years old, has a sister for a co-worker, and carries a bright green sign advertising lemonade for 50 cents a glass.

Take you back to your childhood? Carefree summer days in a safer place and a kinder, gentler time?

That's what I like about Menifee.

OK, it's one of the reasons I like Menifee. But this one pretty much sums it up. I'm not saying it's Mayberry, but Menifee is a place where you can stretch out, take a deep breath and enjoy the little things again. We just fail to recognize this sometimes.

There I was, heading southbound on Menifee Road Tuesday afternoon, making a quick stop at the intersection at La Piedra Road before heading on my way. Halfway through the intersection, a dancing green sign caught my eye. A young boy was waving it and hollering, while a girl sat at a card table behind an inviting pitcher of lemonade.

I smiled to myself and started to head down the road. Then it hit me. Am I really in such a hurry that I'm going to let this Norman Rockwell moment pass me by?

Besides, it was 100 in the shade and I was darn thirsty.

Turning around and pulling over in front of Wheatfield Park, I introduced myself to Tanner Nelson and his sister Hailey, age 13. Handing them my 50 cents, I had a choice between regular lemonade and pink lemonade. Pink turned out to be a great choice.

"Are you selling a lot of lemonade?" I asked Tanner.

"You're our first customer," he said. "We just got here."

A few feet away, parents Erik and Allison Nelson explained that after several days of listening to their children beg for this grass-roots sales opportunity, they agreed to help them set up, sit in the shade for a couple hours and see what happened.

"A couple weeks ago, I was telling them how when I was little, we used to sell lemonade in front of my grandmother's house," Allison said. "They wanted to do the same thing. We've been putting them off, but today they finally nailed us. We decided to do it at this corner where there was more traffic."

It didn't take long before the customers started to show up. First a couple who pulled over in their car after noticing the waving sign. Then a young boy on a bicycle. The little lemonade stand was doing all right.

"It's a lot different atmosphere out here," said Erik, who works in Los Angeles as a firefighter. "You really have that hometown attitude."

You have that hometown attitude, and you have that gleam in a young boy's eye as customers approaches with a smile on their face and two quarters in their outstretched hand. At least for this old boy, it was 1960 again for a few minutes. No one was complaining about the traffic, arguing about school bus routes or belittling local politicians.

It really was kind of nice.

"At least they're not inside the house, playing video games," Allison Nelson said.

No, they're not -- thanks to the kids' ambition, the parents' support and a few nice gestures from people passing by.

Yeah, I like Menifee.

A Doug's Life: Want a Solution to the School Busing Problem? Take Me Up On This Offer

Here we are again, the residents of Menifee, facing what appears to be a serious problem.

No, we're not talking about the traffic jams. Nor the debate over the impending arrival of a Wal-Mart store. Nope, not candidates for the November city election, either.

This is an important administrative action that could impact thousands of school children in the Menifee area: A drastic reduction in busing for the coming school year.

In short, the announcement earlier this week of a reduced bus schedule was really an admission by the Menifee Union School District Board that a huge number of students will no longer have bus service -- even from some remote locations that require long walks over hills and dirt roads on the way to school.

Only three of the district's nine elementary schools will be served by bus routes in the new academic year, which begins in mid-August. Even for those who remain eligible for busing, bus pass rates increased dramatically. A report of this announcement on Menifee 24/7 on Tuesday has generated nearly 50 comments on our Facebook page -- virtually all in strong opposition to the move.

I don't blame these people a bit. While I believe district officials when they say the cost of providing the bus service far exceeds available funding received for it, I agree with the masses that there must be something that can be done about this.

There is.

I'm not talking about marching in protest or writing one's elected officials, as some parents have suggested. Those are good ideas and are certainly worthy of consideration by any concerned parent. Attending future school board meetings to voice your opposition remains your right as well.

But because barring a miracle, nothing will change for this school year, there is only one reasonable solution. We must help each other get through this.

I propose that the residents of Menifee unite in an organized effort to provide transportation for those students who need it. We have stay at home moms who have an extra seat in the SUV and a few extra minutes each morning and afternoon. We have senior citizens looking for ways to stay involved in the community. There are residents who could make enough time to drop a neighbor's child off at school on the way to work. Churches seek service opportunities.

There even are part-time journalism professors and Menifee 24/7 writers who often work from home and have the capacity to help out.

That's right. You parents need help getting your kids to school? I'll be the first to volunteer. My car has four seats available almost every morning and afternoon. I am at your service.

In fact, I'll do more than that. I volunteer to coordinate an effort to identify those in need, find volunteer drivers, and provide transportation to as many students as possible.

I know what you're thinking: "Nice gesture, but he's crazy. He'll never find enough volunteers. Besides, I'm not letting my kid climb into a car with a stranger."

First, I assure you I am not crazy, although I have my moments. Second, I may not find enough volunteers, but I bet I can find a lot. Third, they won't be strangers by the time your children take their first ride to school.

Here's my offer:

If you have a need for transportation for your children to a Menifee Union School District school that does not provide bus service, write me at the following email address:

Put "rides needed" in the subject line. You don't have to give me your name, exact address or any personal information at this time. All I need is your email address in order to respond to you. Include the following in your email:

-- How many children need rides and which school(s) they attend
-- The approximate area in which you live (nearest major cross streets)
-- Exact time you need the students to be picked up each morning and any information about dropping them off after school
-- State whether you are willing to reimburse a volunteer driver for gas expenses
-- Add any additional details you believe are important

If you are willing to be a volunteer driver, write me at the same email address. Put "rides offered" in the subject line. Include the following in your email:

-- Type of vehicle you drive and its condition
-- The approximate area in which you live (nearest major cross streets)
-- How many passengers you can safely take
-- Any restrictions on days/times you are available
-- Indicate if you are willing to provide this volunteer service without asking for gas money
-- State whether you personally know any families for which you could provide this service
-- Add any additional details you believe are important

Once the responses come in, I will evaluate the responses and find the best matches of drivers and students. I am willing to do this by myself, but of course I would welcome volunteer assistance with this -- including city officials and members of law enforcement.

Rest assured, no parent would EVER be asked to send his or her child into a car with someone they have not met with more than once and whose background has not been checked out first. This process would constantly be monitored and adjustments made as needed. Contact information for all those involved would be verified in advance.

Of course, any parent has every right to reject a volunteer who is proposed as the driver for their children. Drivers won't be given any personal information about those in need -- including home address -- unless the parent first agrees to the meeting after correspondence through our common email address. Liability issues would be addressed and covered in the agreement between the parties involved.

Also, to make it clear, I am not making this offer as a representative of Menifee 24/7. This is strictly my personal proposal and has not been endorsed by Menifee 24/7, although I would welcome its support.

This is a huge project, you say? It might be. That depends on you. If only one parent emails me a request for help, my job is easy. Unfortunately, the rest of you lose out. What I'm counting on is the honesty and compassion of the people of Menifee. If that makes it a huge project because of the sheer numbers, I have faith there will be enough volunteers in the group who will help me with the organizational aspects.

So who's in? Parents, are you just going to complain about the lack of busing, or are you willing to explore an alternative in getting your kids to school? As for the rest of you, how many are willing to add the word service to the word community?

The ball is in your court. The email address is now active. I await your response.

A Doug's Life: Menifee Throws a Party

Everyone loves a parade -- and apparently, everyone in Menifee also loves a carnival.

Call it a carnival, festival, fair, celebration ... it doesn't matter. What took place at Wheatfield Park on Saturday was the best example of the word community.

The weather was great, spirits were high, and smiles were everywhere during the city's annual celebration of Independence Day. So what if it took place on June 30? We had hot dogs, fireworks and constant reminders of the freedoms we enjoy. I'll celebrate that stuff any day.

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to expect as Kristen and I headed to the event with daughter Courtney, daughter Megan, son-in-law Jeff and grandkids Kaylee (6) and Cameron (almost 3). My previous experiences with city parades and carnivals included an excessive amount of marching youth clubs, a few primitive "floats" and commercial carnival rides that cost you an arm and a leg.

The parades usually are OK, but trying to include everyone often leads to chaos. Depending on whether you're a participant or spectator, sending a thousand kids down Main Street on a hot day can be tiring, noisy and -- dare I say it? -- kind of boring.

As for the carnival, it can be fun, but expensive. When the Ferris Wheel or the mini roller coaster costs four tickets at 75 cents a ticket, grandpa's wallet takes a beating. As for the games ... well, it's fun to watch the little ones try to pop balloons with a dart, but not so fun when they miss badly and are handed a plastic spider as a prize.

That's why Menifee's Independence Day celebration was so refreshing. They didn't try to cram everyone and his brother into the parade. They let most of those folks line the curbs. As 25 or so vehicles, youth organizations, kids on bikes and walking adults headed down that short stretch of La Piedra Road, most families were united as spectators, enjoying the scene together as the kids scooped up candy thrown or handed to them.

As a representative of Menifee 24/7, I walked in front of our company's parade entry, a float carrying Chamber of Commerce queens, including our own Tina Walker. Kaylee and Cameron joined the children of Menifee 24/7 sales and marketing superstar Shelli Stovall in passing out candy to spectators while cruising the parade route on bikes and scooters.

There were no commercial carnival rides, a fact that didn't seem to bother any of the thousands who attended. There was, however, a "bounce house" for the kids, along with several giant inflated slides and play areas. There was a dunk tank. And guess what? All were FREE. (Pop is happy).

Instead of costly game booths, kids enjoyed FREE craft making under the big tent. Cameron was very proud of himself for coloring a styrofoam airplane. Kaylee designed a thank you card to our troops, colored her own plane and decorated a beach ball. Kids and smiles were everywhere.

Then came the fireworks -- a colorful display overhead that could be seen for miles.

How does the city fund this, you ask? They charge local groups and businesses a fee for setting up vendor booths, where said vendors can make a few bucks selling food, clothing and other things a bit more appealing than a plastic spider. This helps to cover the cost of the craft items and other attractions that are the City of Menifee's gift to the people. So the local groups raise some money and the customers save some money. Everyone wins.

At the city's booth, a large roll of butcher paper on a long table invited residents to write suggestions about future developments in the city. As expected, there were lots of comments about a Trader Joe's, a movie theater and a bowling alley. But I'll settle for something else.

How about another festival?

You Can Lay Blame and Point Fingers, but What We All Need is a Lot of Patience


You may have heard the phrase "the patience of Job," which refers to the Biblical story of a man whose patience and faith was tested when Satan took all his worldly possessions and left him in poverty and disease. According to the scriptures, Job remained faithful despite his horrible predicament and was rewarded when God restored all that he had.

Thus we have today this popular phrase: Patience, faith, reward.

The question is, does anyone really believe it?

In a lot of ways, the patience of Menifee residents is being tested. We aren't sitting on a pile of rubble, penniless and covered from head to toe in sore boils, as Job was. Even so, many of us are downright irritated about one thing or another concerning our fair city.

More development. Less development. It's too hot. It's too crowded. We need more parks. We need better roads. Look what Temecula has. Who wants to be Temecula? When are we getting a bowling alley? A movie theater?

As I tell my grandkids, "I want a million dollars, too, but I don't think it's happening this week."

The thing is, Menifee is in that awkward growth stage, kind of like the gangly teenager whose emotions and coordination can't keep up with his body. We're growing, whether some like it or not. How much? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the focal point of all this frustration has become the debate over the best solution to our city's traffic problems. What's the quick fix, you ask?

The answer: There is none. That's where the patience comes in.

Are you invested in the future of this community? Then you might as well make the best of what we have now, and realize it will take a while to get what we all want -- or the portion of that we can agree on.

Yes, we need more ways to get across Interstate 215. Yes, pretty much everyone agrees that the proposed Holland Road overpass is the best plan. Believe it or not, the city council members realize that, too.

In light of all the discussion of proposed road improvements recently, this was a hot topic at Tuesday night's city council meeting.

"I think it's important to at least start the Holland overpass planning," said council member Sue Kristjansson. "Not to jeopardize the Newport and Scott projects, but on a parallel path, we need to start making that funding available."

Council member Wallace Edgerton agreed.

"This would be a vital link in our city," he said. "I can't imagine anything in this city having more impact than the Holland overpass."

So don't assume the council members are putting the Holland project on the back burner, behind the Newport and Scott Road interchanges. They get stuck in the same traffic jams you do. You can blame them, city staff or anyone else, but it won't make any difference. Newport gets done first because it's the furthest along in the design and funding stages. But at least council and staff members made it clear Tuesday night they know they must get the ball rolling on the Holland overpass project.

Funding can't be taken away from the Newport project to devote to Holland. It doesn't work that way. Various state and county funds supplement city funds in various ways. Each project must be treated on its own.

"The three projects are not competing with each other," said City Manager Bill Rawlings. "To say they're 1-2-3 ... you could just easily say they are 1-1-1. They are all that important.

"Reallocating resources from Newport to Holland doesn't get the Holland overpass built any quicker. It just delays the Newport project. Newport is furthest along in the process, so it's listed No. 1. We are concurrently pursuing funding for Scott Road. On Holland, we first need to allocate design funds."

That will happen as quickly as those funds can be generated. Which brings us to the vicious circle we're all facing.

The best way to bring in additional funds is to increase the money generated from property tax and sales tax within the city. The city's general fund already relies on property tax for 42 percent of its revenue. In this economy, how much more can one expect that to increase?

According to city documents, sales tax will account for 21 percent of revenue for the general fund in the next year. To fund all these road improvements, you need more businesses selling more products. Yet when you build more businesses in town, the traffic gets even worse while you're waiting to fund the road construction.

See the problem? It's frustrating -- and there really is only one solution.


City officials need patience as they work to attract more businesses to the city. Businesses need patience as they negotiate a deal that will work well for both themselves and the city. And residents need patience enough to sit in those traffic jams when necessary during the years it will take to get all this done.

Rome wasn't built in a day. Los Angeles wasn't built in a week. Temecula wasn't built in a month. And Menifee won't be built in a year -- or even two. It's a work in progress. Measuring the rate of that progress will only lead to unnecessary headaches.

Sure, you can take your business to Murrieta, Temecula or elsewhere. Granted, there are times that is necessary. But remember, the more you shift sales tax revenue outside Menifee, the slower the process will be.

Patience, faith, reward. If you truly believe your community is worth the wait, give it a try.

Whether You're in Menifee or Montreal, L.A. or Louisville, Hockey's a Winner; Go Kings!

When you're a Los Angeles Kings hockey fan, you learn to suffer in solitude.

Over the course of 45 seasons in a city as unfamiliar with ice hockey as it is with cricket or jai alai, the Kings rarely had more than a small following from a rabid core group of fans. Some were transplanted Canadians, others fans who had learned about the game in cold weather cities such as New York, Boston or Detroit.

Then there were those of us who simply became fascinated by a sport where you must not only be a skillful skater, but a strong athlete with lightning-quick reflexes and no problems flashing a toothless grin.

We have been joined by thousands over the years, especially since the Wayne Gretzky era and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1993. Even more jumped on the bandwagon during this year's improbable playoff run. But it was the diehard Kings fans I was most happy for -- and most identified with -- as the Kings won their first Stanley Cup Monday night at Staples Center in downtown L.A.

I had a hard enough time finding other Kings fans in the San Gabriel Valley, so I wasn't real confident about seeing any recognition of the team here in Menifee. I mean, the Phoenix Coyotes have proven that hockey can be a hit in the desert, but what about in a rural outpost a two-hour drive from the arena?

Fortunately, I learned that even out here, among the horses and rattlesnakes and in near 100-degree weather, one can find more than a few fellow Kings fans with whom to celebrate the team's first championship.

The excitement has been building for weeks, as the eighth- (thus lowest) seeded Kings dominated Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix in getting to the finals. By the time they got to last Wednesday's Game 4 with a 3-0 series lead, reality began to sink in: This might actually happen.

And so, seeking some companionship in watching what I thought would be the clincher, I accepted an invitation from my boss, Steve Johnson, to watch the game at The Beer Hunter. Who knew he was also a long-time Kings fan?

Well, guess what? The place was full of them. Probably about 40 or 50 Kings fans -- many clad in the team's purple and black jerseys -- watched the action as enthusiastically as if they had front-row seats at Staples. When the Kings scored, one guy stood on a table and waved a Kings flag. They must've had the game on 15 TV screens, and every one had many sets of eyes glued to it.

Unfortunately, the Kings lost that game. A bit depressed, I watched the Game 5 loss in New Jersey from my family room couch, telling myself I really wouldn't mind if they lost, because that would give them another chance to wrap it up at home.

When that actually happened Monday night in a 6-1 victory over the Devils, I was once again on my couch at home, having decided to share the moment via Facebook with others who had stuck with the team as long as I have.

I still remember vividly the night in November of 1971 when my dad took me to my first Kings game. I really had no idea what to expect. But before the game was over, the fast action and unique skating aspect of the game won me over. There was a bench-clearing brawl. The Zamboni (ice re-surfacing) machine broke down. The Kings won.

I was hooked. During high school, I attended many games with a classmate, often sneaking into the Forum through a gate manned by a buddy of ours. I remember sitting on the top step of the upper level to watch the Montreal Canadiens -- one of the few opponents to sell out the place. Years later, I covered the team, even traveling to Montreal for the Kings' ill-fated Stanley Cup Final series of 1993.

So as the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup Monday night, I thought of my dad, who passed away in 1997; the folks at The Beer Hunter; my days as a Kings beat writer; and all the great memories in between.

Congratulations, Kings. Even out here in Menifee, we salute you.

A Doug's Life: Becoming a Desert Rat

I think I was right after all.

When I moved from the San Gabriel Valley to Menifee, I told people I was relocating to the desert. They pictured a cabana next to the pool in Palm Springs and cactus everywhere. OK, I said, it's the edge of the desert.

Then I sat and waited almost eight months for the desert weather to set in. Last October, I could sit in the spa at night and look up at the countless stars. But much of the time since then, I have endured gloomy skies, rain and nighttime temperatures in the 30s. I thought summer in the desert would never get here.

Now this is more like it.

Say what you want. Granted, I haven't seen a whole lot of cacti nor one roadrunner since I got here. Seems there are more horses than lizards or snakes. But you know what? Even if this is just the edge of the desert, I'll take it. I find it kind of therapuetic, if the heat and desert breezes stick around.

The dry heat, clear skies and solitude of the desert has always meant vacation time to me. It started when I was a kid, when my parents would take my sisters and me to Desert Hot Springs for weekend retreats. They would relax in the whirlpools of hot mineral water. I would jump in and out of the cold pool, stare at the stars at night and look for scorpions.

It was the ultimate get-away. Oh sure, we would frequent the beach and the mountains, each of which have their own appeal. But to me, the desert was the premier destination for die-hard adventurers.

Of course, weather conditions were not always perfect. My grandparents lasted only about a year after retiring to a mobile home park in Desert Hot Springs in the 1960s. Grandma hated the windstorms. Said she was tired of cleaning sand out of the window sills (on the inside). And so ended my weekend trips for hours of swimming, hiking and shuffleboard.

Even when I grew to adulthood and experienced more of the desert's weather challenges, I stood firm in my passion for the desert environment. My first newspaper job was in Barstow, where my bare feet would hit the cold tile floor every day at 5 a.m. with the temperature near freezing. It wasn't my idea of the perfect desert experience, but there were always enough old men with sun-scorched, leather-like skin around to keep the vision alive.

Then there were the ghost towns.

Just outside Barstow, it was Calico, the remnants of an old silver mining town. It has a mine shaft you can walk into and an old train to ride, plus a few authentic western buildings among the sand dunes. But it was renovated by the folks at Knott's Berry Farm several years back and is a bit too commercialized for my liking.

You want real desert and a real ghost town? Drive up Highway 395 past Ridgecrest, head east toward Death Valley and explore the adobe remains at Ballarat, where gold was discovered in the 1890s at the foot of the Panamint Mountains. I took the wife and kids out there in a van one hot, dusty summer afternoon. I was fascinated. They wondered where the coke machine was.

Keep heading north on 395 and you'll find the turnoff for ghost towns on both the California and Nevada sides of the highway. The best I've ever seen is Bodie, located east of the 395 and a few miles south of Bridgeport. But now we're getting out of the desert and up toward Lake Tahoe, which is another story.

For now, I'll stick with Menifee. We have a good mix of dry desert heat, sparkling lakes, Indian ruins and old mine shafts within easy driving distance. Yep, it's going to be quite a desert summer. Now where's the sunscreen?

Elevation Travel Wants You Out of Menifee

Last March we took a 10-day vacation to Hawaii, taking in the ocean air, the palm trees, and sipping on mai tais at the Barefoot Bar.

Usually when we travel, we do all the booking and planning ourselves. But this time, we decided to call a travel agent.

Up until now, vacation planning always ran through the usual mish-mash of buying numerous travel books, going on websites to read peoples' complaints of stale toast and flat pillows, and zooming in on Google Maps to figure out where all the shopping and dining is at. I had enough of that. A vacation is supposed to be a vacation, right?

Not having worked with a travel agent before, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Melissa Land, who runs Elevation Travel, which serves the Menifee-area, likes to think of her business as a Full Service Personal Travel Consultant.

Nice. I like that description.

And it seems accurate, too. I provided her the dates of our travel and our suggested price range and a list of things that were important to us and she created a package for us. Moreover, she said, "If anything comes up, and I mean anything, call me first and I'll take care of it."

That's all I needed to hear.

waikiki beach

As it turned out, we didn't have to call her. Everything went as planned. We were able to breeze by the people arguing at the airport ticket counter, and smiled as we left the couple from Nebraska complaining that they didn't get the room they had reserved.  We got into our room and enjoyed that beautiful view of Waikiki Beach.

We did, however, call Melissa after we got settled in, having discovered a stack of brochures and magazines on our table showcasing the many wonders of Hawaii. The hike up to Manoa Falls looked like fun. The Waikiki Trolley sounded like something we wanted to have. Renting a Harley to ride around the island seemed like a great idea. And it looked like visiting the Arizona Memorial would require reservations.

So, I called Melissa and she took care of it, getting us all the necessary sign ups and tickets.

Since then, I've been using a travel agent for all my vacations.

"Hey Melissa!", I'll call her on the phone. "Get me a ticket to Seattle for such and such date".

"Right away", she'd say. "Oh, if you want to wait a week later to fly, you can save another $150.00 off air fare".

"Excellent", I'll say. "Let's do it".

When you consider the better deals they can get you, it doesn't really cost anymore to go through an agent, it's usually less.

And sure, I've used websites like Expedia and Travelocity to look for fares and book rooms, but you're still having to do all the planning yourself. I like being able to call or e-mail Melissa, tell her what I want, and expect it to happen.

It's nice to just snap your fingers and know it's going to get done.

I guess there are still some things a computer can't replace.

Call Melissa Land at Elevation Travel...

Elevation Travel
(877) 294-3918