February 5, 2007

Lion or No Lion, There’s a Legend and Plenty of Money to Be Made

Some people are laughing, yes laughing, at Wednesday's Rancho Palos Verdes mountain lion sighting. But not me. No sir. As far as I'm concerned, if Hawthorne electrical contractor Romeo Gutierrez said that he saw a big cat coming toward him near Narcissa Drive and Plumtree Road, then that's exactly what he saw.

"You ever see the Discovery Channel when (wild) cats look like they're getting ready to eat? That's what it looked like," he told Breeze "wildlife" reporter Nick Green. Still, despite years working the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the sharp-eyed observer was unable to see in Gutierrez's hastily snapped phone photo anything even remotely resembling a large child and/or poodle-consuming mountain lion.

Which is perfect!

Seriously, what happened to our can-do American shyster spirit? What does it mean when a once opportunistic people can no longer see profit potential in the crazy confluence of blurry predator image and heavily armed but empty-handed Fish and Game guys? This, I tell you, is even better than Reggie, the Harbor City alligator whose nonappearance was meticulously documented by this paper for 55,000 consecutive days.

Here's the difference. Reggie was real.

Fact is, from a marketing standpoint, the more unreal something is the more likely that idiots the world over will buy into its existence. Sure, a mountain lion isn't that rare a creature in California. But it is on the isolated PV Peninsula, where just getting there from the wild would require it using at least three city buses and transit through the Torrance PD jurisdiction.

Do you see the grand Animal Planet anomaly here, the wonderfully anthropomorphic warm fuzziness of such a big kohl-eyed beige cat in amongst the peacocks and multimillion-dollar spreads? For God's sake people, can't you just smell the opportunity to turn a buck?

Let me spell the potential out with two words: Loch and Ness. Also Big and Foot.

But first Loch Ness, which is a large but unremarkable lock (or lake) in a land that is more water than land. In October 1871, one Donald MacKenzie saw something big and reptilian in the loch, which is no more or less beautiful than any other beautiful loch in Scotland's reclaimed ice age landscape.

So what is the difference between a South Bay electrician and a Scot who had nothing better to do at noontime in October 1871 than stare into the frigid waters of a loch where he saw money?

Over the years, dozens of other people, locals mostly, observed the exact same thing, tons and tons of money falling happily from the pockets of everyone from Queen Victoria to my daughter, Rachael, who -- at the age of 5 -- stood looking at this same wind-roiled puddle searching for Nessie, the cuddly Lock Ness Monster.

Sadly, she never saw the creature, which has actually been photographed! In the most famous of these, one just as grainy as Wednesday's mountain lion image, it looks exactly like the smiling green plesiosaur we bought for her in the gift shop of a nearby hotel. And like so many of the area's tourist hotels, its lobby was decorated with photos of scientific teams that have visited over the decades to spend wildly while searching for what is not there.

Not being there is, of course, the key ingredient. Wait, did I mention Bigfoot? Bigfoot is good, too, but he's everywhere, like a hairy Paris Hilton.

No, the biggest draw going is Nessie with the video cam Web site (www.lochness.co.uk/livecam/) and 1,900,000 Google mentions. Compare this to 647,000 for the PV Peninsula. Theirs features a monster, the first PV listings are about the school district.

Now tell me that our wealthy but stranded mountain peak isn't ripe for some jazzing, some image enhancement, some phony baloney income. Tell me that we're not ready for P.V. Pete, the stuffed and fuzzy Palos Verdes Mountain Lion, available at all local shops and online at PVPete.com, $9.99 to $99.99. Chinese made from unadulterated local myth.

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