Should old acquaintances be forgot? Not a chance. We met an outstanding selection of citizens in 2014--caregivers, artists, lawmakers, faith leaders, athletes, foodies, you name it. War, peace, history and histrionics were all grist for the mill. Did we have favorites? Absolutely. Were some a bit more challenging than others? You bet. But to the person, they all passed the ultimate test of being fascinating individuals. So, here's a toast to them and the New Year, which will introduce us to a host of new citizens.
We spent most of the weeks of the 2014 session of the Idaho Legislature hearing from lawmakers from all corners of the state. Some were newcomers (Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking and Reps. Pat McDonald and Ilana Rubel), but we took particular interest in the insight of retiring Rep. Darrell Bolz who stepped away from the Statehouse after seven terms in the Idaho House.
"I'm concerned about our state's revenues for the coming year in terms of the drought," Bolz told Boise Weekly. "Some of the rain we've seen lately is nice, but is it enough to change farmer's plans? Will they grow higher-value crops of onions, potatoes and sugar beets that require more water? Or will they end up growing grains or beans that use a lot less water? I'm pretty concerned. Agriculture has driven this state's economy in the last two or three years at the height of the recession."
Speaking of nutrition, we spent time with some of Idaho's most interesting cooks this year—from white-linen chefs to short-order cooks.
"Life's Kitchen saved me. It really did," Kahootz Steak and Alehouse sous chef Joey Love told BW, recalling the days when he struggled with drugs, before becoming a trained chef.
"Before Life's Kitchen, I was doing a lot of bad things," he said. "I was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, so I was drinking a lot. I felt there was nothing out there for me. They made me realize that family is so important and having a career that you love makes life that much better."
Over at Boise's new high-end Ruth's Chris Steak House, executive chef Bryan Forcina was extra proud of winning the Best Course of the night at this year's Chef's Affaire.
"People who don't know who we are, think they can't afford us," said Forcina. "We have a prime-time menu: three courses for $49. You get to choose your salad, your entrée, your sides and your dessert. It's $49 for an experience—in this beautiful setting with our service, which is polished beyond belief, and the food. You're not going to get this steak somewhere else. You just can't."
But the menu at Fanci Freez, the North End icon, is dramatically simpler. It's all about the burgers and fries and (mostly) the shakes.
"We're getting close to where we're pushing 100,000 shakes per year," said co-owner Chris Bauer. "Our Boston Shakes, for example, are 30 percent of our business for the whole year."
"We had one lady, her name's Barbara and her husband passed away and he loved Fanci Freez," said co-owner Meagan Bauer. "She was having his funeral at the Botanical Gardens on a Sunday and she ordered 600 shakes for the funeral."
We're assuming that shakes will not be on the menu of the Motion Picture Academy Governor's Ball, which follows the Academy Awards this coming February, but it's a pretty fair bet that Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane will be on the invite list. They starred in Boyhood, one of the best films of this or any other year.
"Boyhood became really personal. For most of the process, it didn't even feel like a movie," said Coltrane. "It was more of an exploration of the way humans experience time, and through that, our relationships with one another. I was 7 when we started filming; 19 when we finished last October."
"I would really like to see our director [Richard Linklatter] get an Academy Award," said Arquette, who is also being mentioned as a sure-fire Oscar nominee. "It was part of an incredible alchemy. We weren't just putting a cast together with good actors. We were put together emotionally."
The emotions ran high (more than a few tears were shed) during our conversation with Tom Ford, who has been thrilling audiences at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival since 2002.
"Our audiences have been nothing but endlessly supportive," said Ford. "Really generous, sometimes very moving. I had a woman tell me once that she had never seen a play before I Am My Own Wife, and since then, she goes to the theater all the time."
We were pleasantly surprised how charming Lee Majors was when we sat down to talk during a break in his appearing in The Other Side of September, a feature-length comedy that filmed in Boise this past summer.
"It's all about the script. This movie could turn out to be a good little film. Lately, I'm more on board with smaller independent projects," Majors told BW. "I loved being in Boise. Let me tell you, this has been a very pleasant shoot and I loved spending time at the Plantation Place Retirement Home. When we're done shooting, I enjoy going back there and having some one-on-one time, pose for pictures, sign some autographs."
Certain authors are celebrities, too, and it was standing-room-only this year when writers Douglas Brinkley and Claire Vaye Watkins came to Boise in separate appearances. The 54-year-old Brinkley has authored dozens of best sellers over the decades, but the 30-year-old Watkins has won recent acclaim, winning the Story and Dylan Thomas prizes.
"Winning an award doesn't make be a better writer," Watkins told BW. "I still struggle with the same cycle of doubt and frustration I've always had. In some ways, success is a nice validation, but my old mentality is always asking: Is it good enough?"
Brinkley was the keynote speaker at this year's Frank Church Conference, where he talked about his many passions, including his latest project: a chronicle of the national parks of the Franklin D. Roosevelt era. We were anxious to hear Brinkley's thoughts on Republican leaders at the Idaho Statehouse who are advocating for a state takeover of federal lands.
"It's a very bad idea," said Brinkley. "This is an historical issue. Look at the Dust Bowl, caused by stockmen overgrazing of public lands in the 1920s. The entire West was a nightmare. It was the federal government that came in and began to properly run soil conservation programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps and replanting. FDR saw to it that 3 billion new trees were planted. Also, rivers don't have borders. Migratory birds and animals don't belong to a particular state. I would tell the people of Idaho to be proud of the system they've built. Idaho has become the capital of wilderness that works. The state should be proud of that instead of trying to unravel it."
Speaking of borders, we spent some time with Dr. Richard Heinzl who founded the first North American chapter of Doctors Without Borders, the Nobel Prize-winning medical relief organization that cares for the planet's most vulnerable populations.
"When there's warfare, insecurity or conflict, the normal stuff in society falls apart," said Heinzl. "When greed takes over from simple decency, it can shatter the basic things of society. But it doesn't change my view of human beings in general. There are few very bad people. I don't think anyone would want you to change what you believe in because something bad had happened."
Dr. Jill Gill, graduate director at Boise State's College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, is someone else who deconstructs our failings while looking for opportunities to improve the human experience. We asked Gill how Idaho might embrace, or even recognize, a 21st century civil-rights leader cut from the same cloth as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"If that new version of Martin Luther King came to us today as a gay man or woman, Idaho would have a horrible problem with that," said Gill. "If he or she came to us as a Latino activist, they would probably have a problem there, too. It appears that the only kind of activists that Idaho likes are states' rights activists. For some reason, any other kind of activist isn't considered a patriot; he or she is considered a socialist or radical."
Lauren Necochea isn't an activist, but she effects change, using facts and statistics. She's the new executive director at the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, and we pressed her to remind us of the one statistic that everyone in Idaho should know.
"Twenty-one percent. The child poverty rate in Idaho is 21 percent. And it has been going up over the last 10 years, even as we come out of the Great Recession," she told BW.
When we followed up by asking about Idaho's high percentage of minimum-wage jobs, Necochea hinted that her center was certainly interested in drilling into that data as well. When we asked if her center might address the minimum-wage issue in the coming year, Necochea responded:
"I'll say this: we might."
We'll be anxious to hear about that, too.