In 2021, a bull ran loose on the 15 Freeway. Customers trying to pick up Thanksgiving dinner from a chain restaurant found the doors locked. An early Apple computer from Chaffey College was auctioned for $500,000. A rich guy from Santa Monica spent three nights in West Valley Detention Center before posting $250 million bond.
And all that was just in Rancho Cucamonga. Imagine what level of strangeness took place across the entire Inland Empire!
Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Just keep reading for my 24th annual countdown of the Weird Local Stories of the Year.
10. A six-hour cruise
In February, a driver led police on a bizarre chase that started in San Pedro at 7:45 p.m. and ended in Ontario more than six hours later with his arrest at 1:30 a.m. At some points he inched along at 10 mph or even stopped completely before accelerating. How long was this chase? Many officers left the pursuit to refill their gas tanks. Good thing gas was still relatively cheap back then.
9. Pyramid scheme
For a while, the main source of water at the shuttered, dried-up Splash Kingdom water park seemed to be from fire hoses putting out blazes on the property. Finally, in July, the 25-year-old park, originally known as Pharaoh’s Kingdom, was torn down. My colleague Jennifer Iyer’s story took the long view: “The epoch of pharaohs in Redlands has ended.”
8. Fireworks in March
A private stockpile of fireworks exploded in an Ontario residential neighborhood in March, killing the two men responsible. The boom could be heard miles away, smoke could be seen from Anaheim and $3 million in damages were caused by the commercial-grade fireworks. The mayor called it “a catastrophe.” A resident said: “This neighborhood is usually very quiet.”
7. Re-fund the police!
The “defund the police” movement never gained much traction, but in Pomona, the school board canceled its contract with the police department in July, saying campuses would rely instead on “proctors.” Four months later, after a shooting near a high school campus, the school board quickly brought back the cops. Was there a movement to “Defund the proctors”?
6. When one door closes…
In a silver lining to the pandemic, Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped knocking on doors and interrupting your dinner for awkward, agitated conversation on your doorstep. In explaining the new policy, the Witnesses’ national spokesman told my colleague Deepa Bharath: “We found we could be effective using other forms of ministry like letter-writing or phone calls.” Who says newspapers never print any good news?
5. Travel bug
First the British variant of COVID-19 was found in Big Bear, authorities announced Jan. 1. In March, the Golden State’s first known case of the virus’ Brazilian strain turned up in San Bernardino. And in December, two weeks after entering Southern California, omicron was detected in Redlands. Say what you will about the insularity of the Inland Empire, but our residents do like to travel.
4. ‘Hope you catch that guy!’
In Pomona in January, a suspected car thief running from police came up with a novel escape tactic. He broke into an apartment and hurriedly tried to pretend he lived there: He shaved, changed clothes and did some cooking. When his meal burned, sending smoke wafting out of the apartment, police called the Fire Department. He soon surrendered, perhaps worried that come the first of the month, he’d have to pay rent.
3. Canceled in Riverside
A planned “America First” rally in July at the Riverside Convention Center to feature fringe GOP members of Congress Matt Gaetz of Georgia and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Florida was canceled, possibly under pressure from city officials. The duo then put on a free version outside City Hall and could complain, with some justification, that they’d been persecuted. Only 100 supporters showed up. Wouldn’t it have been better all around if the event had gone ahead at the Convention Center and quietly failed?
Councilwoman Jessica Alexander called COVID-19 “the China virus” during Asian American Pacific Islander Month and said her refusal to wear a mask around others made her a modern-day Rosa Parks. Spare us. Meanwhile, the exquisitely named Steve Loner quit the Temecula Valley school board rather than take a life-saving vaccine. OK, good riddance. The bad news: This vaccine-refusenik retained his day job as a — yikes! — first responder.
And the weirdest news story of 2021?
1. Math division
A Riverside high school teacher donned a homemade “headdress,” like something you’d make out of construction paper in first grade, and began whooping, dancing and chopping the air with her hands in front of students, all to impart a math lesson. A video of this embarrassment went viral in October. I’m sure she meant well, but that’s not the point, is it? Her chant, “SoCahToa,” was said to be a mnemonic device. Combined with racist imagery, though, it was more of a moronic device.
And that was the year that was. Onward to 2022.
When the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of science fiction, were announced Dec. 18, the trophy for Best Graphic Story went to the comics adaptation of Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.” Its illustrator: UC Riverside’s John Jennings, a professor of media and cultural studies — not to mention a mean hand with a pencil.
David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, which could use a good eraser. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.