Guts to Spare 

The latest fad over at AC Transit: Stomach-stapling.

Today show weatherfella Al Roker got one and lost more than one hundred pounds in eight months. Big, beautiful Carnie Wilson had it done and then posed for Playboy. But celebs are hardly the only people getting pricey stomach-stapling surgeries. Plenty of obese bus drivers for AC Transit, the East Bay's financially troubled public transportation agency, have been undergoing the expensive "gastric bypass" procedure too. "We've had some dramatic weight loss around here," the union shop steward at the bus agency's Emeryville division tells Bottom Feeder. And taxpayers will likely foot the bill for some of that.

Getting a grasp on exactly how many bus drivers have had the fat-fighting surgery is difficult. AC Transit flak-catcher Mike Mills says the district doesn't track that kind of information, though he admits it's common knowledge in some depots that a few drivers have gone under the knife. The Emeryville shop steward estimates that about half a dozen drivers in her division alone have had their seatbelts fastened over the past couple of years. Another AC Transit insider, who regularly interacts with gabby drivers from Richmond to Fremont, puts the overall number at close to two dozen such surgeries over roughly the same period.

That may represent a slender fraction of the agency's 1,450 drivers, but it's way out of whack with overall surgery rates. If we conservatively estimate that just six bus drivers have had their tummies tightened during the past year, that's still more than fifteen times the national adult rate for weight-loss surgeries.

What's the connection between obesity and driving a bus? Sure, bus drivers sit on their butts all day for their jobs, but the same could be said about plenty of professions, including, um, journalism. But Christine Zook, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, says that study after study has shown that bus drivers are more stressed out and die younger than desk-jockeys. Our shop steward points out that the drivers are also notorious for eating junk food after they finish their shifts. "Nine times out of ten," she says, "you don't feel like going to the gym after work. ... The longer people are here, the bigger they get."

Stomach stapling and similar weight-loss surgeries often come with complications, and many docs recommend them only as a last resort for patients who are considered morbidly obese -- at least one hundred pounds overweight -- and thus prone to heart disease and diabetes. The surgery typically costs around $15,000.

So who's picking up that heavy tab? AC Transit, after all, has been slashing routes and raising fares to stem a $50 million shortfall. Mills and union reps say all three of the health plans offered to workers would cover the procedure if a doctor deems it medically necessary.

Almost all the bus drivers opt for Kaiser or HealthNet -- the cheaper options for which AC Transit pays the premiums. But some drivers are enrolled in a fancier, self-insured plan administered by United Healthcare, in which the driver pays part of the monthly, and AC Transit -- the taxpayers, that is -- covers the claims. Mills says the agency doesn't keep track of which plans the gut-checked drivers have tapped. While the shop steward says she recalls one driver having used Kaiser, she says she thought others used United. Either way, she adds, this is a good thing: "People are in better health and can come to work now, and not take so much time off."

Naughty Nuptials
So what does a porn star do when both sex-industry pals and family members are coming to her wedding? Nina Hartley, the Berkeley High School alum (known back then as Mitzi Hartman) who's starred in hundreds of adult films over the past twenty years, apparently tried to keep things moderately decent for her nuptials last month. Hartley drove up from her home in La-La Land to be wed at the San Francisco Zen Center where her mama is a Buddhist high priestess. Word is one attendee wanted to come in drag, but Hartley nixed the idea. Fifty people came to the Monday afternoon ceremony, half relatives and the other half friends such as anal-action star Chloe, fellow early-video-era starlet Sharon Mitchell, and sex advice columnist Carol Queen. The lucky, lucky groom was one Ernest Greene, director, erotica writer, and bondage boy. "It was a very sweet, quiet wedding ceremony," one witness says. "They are obviously enamored with each other." Oh, and yes, the bride did wear white.

The kinky stuff didn't begin till a day later, according to Hartley's blog entry from her Web site: "We do what we can in hotel rooms, and have learned to bring certain things from home: bondage sleeve, ballet boots, chains, cane, crop, lube, gloves, collars, cuffs."

You know, the honeymoon basics.

The Longest Ballot, Ever
Contra Costa County's elections chief Stephen Weir is understandably stressed out right now. Maybe you've heard something by now about the recall election to terminate Guv Gray Davis. Weir predicts the special election will cost the county 1.5 million clams. But that's not the only thing he's worried about. He's wondering if he'll have enough room on the ballot to fit all the prospective candidates.

After the receptionist of state certified the recall last week, people have steadily trickled into Weir's office to see if they meet the minimum qualifications to become the elected executive of the world's fifth-largest economy. It's not too hard. Any registered voter with an opposable thumb, $3,500, and 65 signatures can get their name on fifteen to seventeen million ballots around the state. For another $2,500, Weir says, they can write a 250-word candidate statement saying just about anything they want, as long as it's truthful.

So far, confirmed campaigners include an eighteen-year-old kid from San Bruno who still lives with his parents, busty LA billboard model Angelyne, and a Mountain View computer programmer who's selling thong underwear to help finance her bid. Last week Ned Roscoe, the president of the Cigarettes Cheaper chain who's running as the "smoker's advocate," marched into the office, followed by TV cameras. "We're just looking at this and going, 'Oh my God,'" Weir says. (Clarification: God hasn't put His name on the ballot yet.)

At this rate, experts predict there'll be more candidates for governor than in any other election in the state's history. Also, according to Weir's calculations, he can only fit 41 names on a ballot. Unlike neighboring Alameda County, which has already switched to a computerized touch-screen system, Contra Costa still uses the analogue-era Mark-a-Vote system. So what will Weir do if there are more than 41 horses in the running? "We'll figure it out," he assures Bottom Feeder.


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