The iconoclast of Q Street
At 82, Brooks Truitt is still taking it to the man
Six years ago, SN&R interviewed Brooks Truitt in a piece titled “Portrait of a hell-raiser as an old man” (SN&R 15 Minutes; November 9, 2000). In it, Truitt scoffed at the sobriquet of hell-raiser, expressed some dismay at being reminded that he once had referred to the City Council as “a chickenshit bunch of putzes” but admitted to “taking it to the man.”
Recently, I sought him out to see if he’s mellowed on the state of the world, nation, state and city, his favorite subjects, and found him at a Midtown coffeehouse. The 82-year-old, downtown Q Street resident hasn’t slowed a tad, displaying the same sort of irascibility and iconoclastic spirit that have been his trademarks over the years. The man is not shy.
For starters, we talked about Iraq. This octogenarian, who crewed aboard a B-24 bomber and crash-landed in Europe before his 19th birthday, has little regard for members of the Bush administration who know nothing of combat experience but are busy sending Americans off to death and dismemberment in the Middle East.
“The puerile pissants ought to be removed from office,” he said. “They lied to us about WMDs and have managed to coalesce the entire terrorist movement against us through their stupidity. This incompetent in the White House has alienated our friends through his arrogance and personal lack of understanding of the world. He’s also managed to subvert our civil liberties, make torture an acceptable practice and enrich his oil buddies and Cheney’s contractor pals. And finding our way out of the financial hole he’s dug may be impossible.” He shakes his head in disgust. “And he doesn’t seem to understand that there’s something wrong! Everything’s fine! I think he’s delusional.”
Still taking it to the man.
I decided to change the subject. “The governor? We got ourselves a body builder turned movie star who’s busy protecting vested interests and his wealthy friends from paying the taxes we desperately need to return this state to solvency and provide the services it needs,” Truitt said. “Angelides ran a lousy campaign but was clearly better prepared to run California. He’s a financial guy who knows the ins-and-outs of statecraft as well. We’ll be paying the price for this disastrous pretty-boy choice for some time. Hasta la vista, baby, is right! The state is going down the drain!”
Busy taking it to the man.
Where the city is concerned, Truitt acknowledged that a reinvigorated mixed-use philosophy, one that was stimulated with a defeat of an R Street Corridor plan that would have “walled off” the city some years ago, now seems aimed at developing a lively downtown and encouraging locally owned businesses over chains and franchises.
“And that’s smart,” he said. “A larger share of dollars spent in local stores stays in the community. We need small shops, kiosks, sidewalk merchants, even musicians and artists. Small vendors are a key to the vitality of a city. San Francisco is a great example. The new R Street plan provides for small stores. Big stores can only be accommodated if they provide home delivery. This opens shopping opportunity to people who don’t have cars or prefer transit.”
Truitt was just getting warmed up. He was animated, gesturing.
“Another key to a better city is an intermodal transportation system. Cutting back on city traffic is critical to so many things—congestion, parking, pollution—and pedestrians give us feet and eyes on the streets and a sense of community and security that automobiles, and the drive-by mentality they encourage, will ultimately defeat,” Truitt said. “And we need more big-money players who’ll put aside their own interests, get off their asses and make these things happen!”
Yeah, taking it to the man.
Gadfly, curmudgeon, nonconformist, dissenter, provocateur—Truitt is all of those, but he’s also one citizen who’s not afraid to do what it takes to protect the little guys, the regular people who too often are getting sold out through indifference. To paraphrase a line from a film of yesteryear, he’s madder than hell and won’t take it anymore! So he’s busy taking it to the man.
For 24 years, Truitt worked for the state as a key player in the Social Welfare Department. He retired in 1987 and has been “sucking-up at the public trough ever since.” Well, not quite. He became active in the Sacramento Old City Association, then founded and for the next six years served as editor of the Old City Guardian, the organization’s monthly newspaper. A perusal of one of the issues from 1991 reveals Truitt’s imprimatur on such items as a Hyatt hotel $2 million-plus tax delinquency, and an “I told you so” piece on asbestos danger.
Most every day you can find Truitt at a public meeting of some sort, urging attention to the myriad issues facing the Sacramento he loves. His voice is insistent, challenging and intelligently provocative, sorely-needed among the lethargy so common to most of us.
Has he become cynical at age 82? “Not at all,” he said. “Maybe pessimistic at times, but I see the emergence of the Internet as a real plus, maybe a savior. With all of its faults, electronic communication provides citizens with a chance to sound off and that, at times, coalesces public opinion on the right side of important issues. It will be more and more important in the future.”
Truitt’s future? “I expect to be at the opening of a new Sacramento intermodal transit facility in my 102nd year. See you there.”
And you can bet he’ll be taking it to the man.