Flashback: Gadget Envy

June 19, 2012

This silly thing was published in the St. Helena Star on February 11, 2011.  Still posting the oldies  to get them up on the ol’ inter-web, so hang in there!  If you want something newer, scroll down to Wine Open below…

We in St. Helena generally consider our city vastly superior to Napa in most respects, yet in one area Napa can claim a distinct advantage: cool crime-fighting tools. You may recall last year, when the Napa PD chased a suspected Walmart shoplifter (of $70) by helicopter, eventually plucking him out of the Napa River assisted by flashy fire department speedboats, in a scene right out of the movie “The Fugitive.”

And last summer, when an explosive device was reported downtown, the Napa PD bomb squad deployed a highly trained expert in an elaborate 80-pound beekeeper’s costume, who gingerly attached a rope to the thing, dragged it across a bumpy street into a pile of sandbags, and blew it up. The bomb-defeating hero later explained that he was forced to handle the incident in this decidedly old-school fashion because Napa’s robot was “down for maintenance.”

So this has left me wondering ever since: Why doesn’t St. Helena have its own robot?

It is difficult to fathom how we have survived as a municipality without one for so long, since we are completely gadget-crazy here. The minute Apple dreams up a new wireless device it seems half the town is carrying one, despite the fact that it is useful primarily as a doorstop due to the unfortunate placement of AT&T’s antenna in a secret, lead-lined bunker. And when a local restaurant unveiled a gizmo adding bubbles to still water, its competitors had bubbly-water-makers within days.

It is rumored that researchers at NapaStyle are working round-the-clock to develop an animatronic Michael Chiarello for photo ops with celebrity-chef-seeking tourists at Bottega. Plus, as I’ve mentioned: Napa already has one. Clearly we need our own shiny, obedient and discriminately lethal robot, for the following possible uses:

• It can run for Mayor.

It must be lonely for His Honor, running unopposed for high office. Nothing takes the fizz out of the champagne at the victory party like an inability to brag about beating the brains out of your opponent. Wouldn’t it be great if we could spice up the Mayor’s campaign with bumper stickers saying: “At Least He’s Human” or “My Candidate Doesn’t Run on Batteries.” The pre-election debate alone would be worth the price of the contraption, although we’ll have to remember to set the robot’s weapon to stun.

• It can welcome visitors.

Since the city is threatening to remove all funding from the Chamber of Commerce, and downtown business owners spend approximately 68 percent of their time directing tourists to the bathroom, the robot could serve as a Goodwill Ambassador, roaming the streets dispensing coupons, restaurant recommendations, wet wipes and local wine. It could even be programmed to dispense useful misinformation (which we’ll blame on a software glitch) such as driving directions to Yountville that involve traveling west until you hit the ocean, or a geologic history of Calistoga attributing the bubbling sulfur hot springs to decomposing vegetarian dinosaurs passing gas.

• It can fight crime.

There’s a new sheriff in town, as our ever-vigilant robot walks the beat and perhaps rips the head off a shoplifter or two, just as a warning to the others. Watch out, Cheers! revelers, as you’d better be sporting a tightly attached wristband or risk losing a wrist.

• It might even be called into high-risk situations, like maintaining order at school board meetings and announcing local water department rate increases (Note to manufacturer: Please make sure to include the double-strength combat-grade bullet-proof grenade-repelling armor).

Obviously, the St. Helena Robot will be invaluable. Yet how, you might ask, can we possibly pay for it? I’m not generally in favor of displacing human workers with robots, so let’s replace bomb-detonating robots with humans. I personally know at least a dozen thrill-seeking boys between the ages of 8 and 68 who would gladly blow things up at a moment’s notice, many of whom would pay for the privilege. We could auction off the opportunity to blow up the next suspicious object found in town; even lend the high bidders out to blow things up in Napa for a fee (plus we don’t have to clean up afterward).

Not only would this raise funds to pay for essential services, but it would set the entire population of conscientious boys ages 8 to 68 into action seeking out suspicious packages wherever they may be inadvertently set down for a moment or two in the Safeway parking lot while searching for the car keys. And that’s Homeland Security we can live with.