Susanville, California — Round #1

In a recent online issue of the Lassen County Times, sandwiched between a tragic domestic murder-suicide in Alturas, and the Susanville police solving the mysterious case of a peeping Tom in the women’s restroom at Walmart, is a more uplifting article.

Graced with a color photograph of mounted horses, is the “Saddle Up for St. Jude” fundraising ride, sponsored by the Lassen County Sheriff’s Posse. According to the article, the LCSP is rootin’-tootin’-ready to raise another five grand to donate toward fighting pediatric cancer and other heinous childhood diseases.

The nasty bread in this small town sandwich is sadly commonplace in urban California—murder, mayhem and sex offenders.

But “Saddle Up for St. Jude” is the soft center, a wholesome event that brings together members of a community for a common cause, in this case the healing of children.

The Lassen County Sheriff’s Posse doesn’t chase down shackled criminals over hill and dale following a freak jailbreak. The LCSP is a non-profit that raises money for scholarships and general philanthropy. In fact, you can go straight to their web site——with little fuss, because they’ve made it easy for you in its glaring simplicity. The only glitch is that their page, “2010 jr. fun day” is two years behind the rest of the world’s calendar.

The LCSP’s failure to update their web site is an integral part of the Lassen County experience—a community converging to offer assistance, mixed with a tinge of slight incompetence. Reading about the goals of the LCSP, I agree that their attention is better served by focusing upon their mission statement. All those small details are crucial to a nit-picky person in a faster-paced world. In Susanville, triviality is allowed to fall to the wayside.

I’ve lived part-time in this community since 2005, though I’ve been a seasonal visitor for most of my life. There’s been little change in Susanville, aside from the new Safeway and Walmart, and the fact that they’ve added ten thousand people to their population base.

These aren’t your everyday citizens—they’re prison inmates. In order to qualify for a larger piece of the federal highway fund pie, the brilliant civic leaders decided that ten thousand inmates at High Desert State Prison could legally qualify with their official residence as Susanville. The “Welcome to Susanville” sign boasts a population of 17,500, rather than the actual 7,500 that truly free range this small town.

Susanville a nice place to live, even with a high rate per capita of methamphetamine abuse, and large tracts of open country that shelter marijuana plantations, thought to be established by Mexican drug cartels. Usually it’s the backcountry sportsman who stumbles across these crops. This brings about the almost immediate response of law enforcement.

One would think that marijuana plantations are a new trend, and yet, thirty years ago, following a weeklong surveillance of a grow site at Cottonwood Mountain, just south of Antelope Lake, forty members of law enforcement made what was described then as “California’s largest marijuana bust.” Almost forty-five hundred marijuana plants, with an estimated street value of over four million dollars, were confiscated.

As a sidebar, I’ve always wondered what law enforcement actually does with all that pot, though I have my suspicions…

That bust was a big deal in 1982. Today, it happens with more frequency. A marijuana grow site was removed from public lands in the northwest area of Lassen County as recently as August 17th, 2012.

Six law enforcement agencies converged on this particular crop site—Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, the Susanville Police Department, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (not sure what their function would be), Modoc County Sheriff’s Office, the California Department of Fish & Game (because of the environmental pollution), and officers from the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP is a task force from the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement).

Collectively, law enforcement is the largest source of employment in Lassen County, and this is what I’ve told one of my daughters, a criminal justice major. Go to Susanville, and become a cop or a Sheriff’s deputy, I said. Work for the Department of Corrections, or Juvenile Probation, or the California Highway Patrol. Find employment with the federal government as Park’s Department police, or work for the U.S. Forest Service. Above all, be sure to buy a Glock 23.

And, by the way, the real estate is cheap, I added.

Affordable real estate in Susanville is an actual truism, and not simply a sales phrase, bolstered by the MLS listings. In Lassen County, you can buy a modern four-bedroom/two-bath/two thousand square foot home, for half the price of a cramped, rundown fixer-upper in a shady neighborhood in Santa Clara County.

This is what has made Susanville so tempting for Correctional Officers: a ready-made job site (High Desert State Prison), rows and rows of contemporary, ranch-style single family homes, and lots of things to do…if you hunt, fish, love the outdoors and vote Republican.

If you and/or your children are liberals and city slickers, heed my warning, and stay away from Susanville. You can get easily bored with only two movie theaters to choose from, and keep your mouth shut about your environmental ideals. Nobody likes environmentalists, because they’re tree-huggers (it’s Sierra Pacific who is responsible for killing their own sawmill, shutting it down to avoid paying millions in retrofits). And become a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association). And be wary—or eventually you’ll become an alcoholic, and your children will turn to meth to fill empty hours consumed by doubt, guilt and boredom.

But…if you love the outdoors, then Susanville’s your cup of tea

Hunting is a religion secondary only to Christianity (though you’re in trouble if you’re not Christian, because there are no houses of worship for other creeds).

Our neighborhood is on the outskirts of town, “up in the trees,” they say up here. During hunting season, you occasionally hear the hunters firing guns up on Roop Mountain. Most of our neighbors have quads, and they ride them on the County roads without protective gear. I’ve seen a guy, during winter, with chains on his quad, dragging his kids behind him on a snowbound street, the children mounted atop a plastic sled. Loads of fun, I guarantee. What’s more blood curdling, is the dude who tied the sled to the back of a lift-kitted Ford truck. One application of the brakes, and those kids would’ve been bloody toast. Plastic sleds don’t have brakes, and Ford trucks have huge, deadly tires, not to mention that differential your head is speeding toward.

I can’t wait for my criminal justice major to move up to Susanville, have children, live in a mobile home (e.g., “trailer”) and follow the winter tradition of putting one’s offspring in jeopardy. Meanwhile, this child of mine will have a choice of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to choose from for employment.

Just don’t work for Highway Patrol, because dammit, I want to keep crossing pavement on my dirt bike.


About karenkennedysamoranos

I am an author based in Northern California, and co-manage a small music education business specializing in jazz performance for students ages 5 through 18.
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