Off Beat

Dim Bulbs

While innocently sipping our morning coffee and perusing our e-mail last week, Off Beat encountered the following dire admonition: "If you're ever driving after dark and see an oncoming car with no headlights turned on, DO NOT flash your lights at them! This is a common gang member 'initiation game' that goes like this: The new gang member under initiation drives along with no headlights and the first car to flash their headlights at him is now his 'target.' He is now required to turn around and chase that car and shoot at or into the car in order to complete his initiation requirements. Make sure you share this information with all the drivers in your family!! Pass on this information to your staff." Off Beat is normally prone to panic under such circumstances, but before we ran screaming from the building we took the time to toddle over to urbanlegends.com, the Internet archive of the alt.folklore.urban (AFU) Usenet discussion group. There we learned that the "Lights Out" myth was all the rage when it originated circa 1994. Though it petered out soon after, it has recently reappeared. During the last week of October, it ranked No. 7 (having catapulted from No. 147 the week before) on the site's list of the top ten urban legends, only to shoot up to No. 1 the following week--knocking "gerbilling," that perennial favorite, out of the top spot. A perusal of the Nexis database reveals that since late October the topic has been broached--and debunked--in several cities nationwide. Not in New Mexico, however; there, according to the Associated Press, state police have "issued a warning that...gang members were instructed to 'follow and shoot' anybody who flashed their lights at them." Things are a tad more, shall we say, high-beam around these parts: Minneapolis Police Department flack Penny Parrish confirms that the gang detail has received several recent calls from worried citizens, but they're writing it off as a myth. "We're not going to say that it couldn't happen," says Parrish, "but we have absolutely no evidence that this is some plot going on." Why would this fairy tale be resurfacing now? Glad you asked! Off Beat has a theory: Prior to the late-October entries, the only pertinent newspaper stories containing the terms "gang" and "headlight" were in reference to the recent release of a horror movie called Urban Legends, in which a
serial killer goes around committing murders based on popular urban myths, including this one.

Paul Bearer

The ascension of Jesse Ventura prompted talk of a "Body for Prez" bid. But the day after the November 3 election, it was Sen. Paul Wellstone who ramped up his White House aspirations, installing Dan Lucas as campaign manager in a D.C. office. Lucas's résumé includes stints at the Democratic National Committee, as deputy field director for John Glenn's '84 presidential bid, and as political director for the Service Employees International Union. Wellstone, who first made noises about running back in April, is expected to make a final decision soon. Off Beat can't help wondering whether he's already finished mulling it over: Why would the 48-year-old Lucas, with his 20 years of inside-the-Beltway political connections and organizing experience, waste his time? Lucas says if Wellstone does resolve to run, it won't be as a symbolic maneuver to put issues on the Democratic agenda. "It's a lot of money to spend to 'move the discussion,'" the strategist says. "And I don't think you can move any discussions unless you win."

Not to Mention the Minnesota Moose

Driving past the former Civic Center in St. Paul, Off Beat was intrigued to see a "Wildlife Management Area" sign dangling from a chain-link fence and wondered: Is the site of the Minnesota Wild hockey arena crawling with rare critters? Has anyone reviewed the project for Endangered Species Act compliance? Our ecological knickers in a wad, we called information specialist Audi Daniels at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History. Any chance of timber wolves, grizzly bears, or spotted owls nesting in the home of the Wild? Nope, says Daniels: The only rare creatures found anywhere near downtown would be frogs, snakes, and peregrine falcons, none of which favor construction sites as habitat. "But anytime you disrupt any kind of structure, you'll disturb some kind of wildlife," she notes, and adds that pigeons, house sparrows, roaches, and spiders may well have been jostled by the demolition and could have been joined since by raccoons and skunks.

At Off Beat our motto is "Staying informed so you don't have to." Call 372-3788 or send an e-mail tooffbeat@citypages.com with any poop that's fit to print.

 
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