Biff America: A fragile front end in Paradise (column)

I rolled into Paradise, California, in my mid-twenties, (late ‘70s) in a 1963 Studebaker with dings and dents and a bad front end.

The car once belonged to a sweet old lady from Craig, Colorado. The lady only drove it to the liquor store and to church on Sundays (the body damage I’m guessing was not caused by church).

The lady’s granddaughter was a regular at a bar I worked at. Over time I had provided her cocktails (and other services) when she mentioned that the car was for sale. I bought it, sight unseen, for $400.

In a rare case of good sense I replaced the bald tires but ignored the misaligned front end. Though it shimmied at 55 mph, other than that, it was sound and safe.

Soon after I took ownership, I traded in the granddaughter for a waitress nicknamed ‘Loopie’.

Loopie was originally from Southern California and after one ski season at two miles above sea level, she decided to return home. Rather than head back to crowded Orange County, she relocated north to Paradise, California, a then small town in the foothills of the Sierras.

Loopie extolled the virtues of Paradise. Certainly, the name intrigued me but also the fact that back then the summers in Summit County were as quiet as Mike Pence’s wedding night. So when Loopie invited me to Paradise, when the lifts shut down, I headed west.

Loopie was attending a nearby junior college and lived in a trailer in the woods for which her parents paid the rent. We were very happy, though I did have to move out and sleep in the Studebaker when her father visited. I grew to love Paradise and the people I met there.

The town was a mix of hippies, families, rednecks and retirees. I made some lasting friends. There was a lush forest, beautiful creeks and rivers, and amazing trails for hiking and running. Loopie eventually dumped me and moved away with a guy with a better personality and a vehicle with a stable front end, but by then Paradise to me was all that the name implied.

For many years after, I would return to visit friends and sometimes work. I loved it there and even thought it would be a great place to retire. Though I have lost touch with almost everyone who I used to know, the town maintained a place of fondness in my heart.

Now granted I’m sure in the 20-plus years since I last visited Paradise, I would imagine the town has changed into a different place. Perhaps a place I wouldn’t recognize or enjoy as much as the town of my memories.

But I’ll never know because Paradise is lost, burned to the ground. The most destructive wildfire in California’s history has destroyed almost 10,000 structures. The town is gone with many, still untold, casualities.

Depending if you believe some pundits and politicians or scientists, “natural disasters” (fires, floods, hurricanes) are either an act of God, or a cataclysm that in part is influenced by the behavior of man. Some in our current administration contend that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the once chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, famously (and stupidly) brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove that global warming is a liberal myth. But there is little arguing that CO2 omissions have a quantifiable effect on the increased incidences of hurricanes, floods and fires.

This not a political issue, this is verifiable science.

You cannot fault our parents’ generation or those who preceded them for taking the health of the planet for granted; they knew no better (heck, they believed cigarettes were good for you). But our generation has the benefit of science and the perspective of recorded historical climate information.

I know people who hold varying political, social and spiritual beliefs. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that there has been profound human impact on our climate. But I do know some who believe the cost of reducing that impact is too costly.

The 10 most deadly fires in Colorado have occurred since 2002. Something like 17 of the 20 deadliest fires in California have been in the last 20 years. If we do nothing to reduce greenhouse emissions, scientists say the snowpack in Colorado is likely to decrease 87 percent by 2070.

Yet still we put commerce before global health.

Obviously, climate change isn’t totally to blame for the 30 years’ spate of national disasters. Overdevelopment, wildland/urban interface and forest management also play a role. There are possible remedies and steps we can take to lessen the risks. Time will tell if we will heed the well-voiced warnings.

Hopefully this will happen in my lifetime, though doubt it, since lately my front end is feeling a little like my old Studebaker…..

Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or

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