Saturday, April 24, 2010

Only in Boulder

Believe it or not, I had no idea that when I decided to attend CU-Boulder, I decided to attend a school that is infamous for being a party school.  Now, really, had I used my brain, I probably could have figured it out.  It's a really big state school, and I feel like those two traits are all that a school really needs to be a party school.

What I had also heard rumors of, of course, was that Boulder was known for its liberalism concerning the use of marijuana, which is rampant and not really curbed by anyone, including the police. I mean, obviously, arrests, etc., are made, but the punishment is a slap on the wrist.

So out of curiosity, and because I'm a nerd, I googled "CU Boulder" a few days after moving in.  I expected to see some cheesy advertisements published by the university itself, maybe a few sports events, some student videos of late-night taco bell runs, and freshman dorm shenanigans.

I am so naive.

Instead of what I would have considered to be normal videos, I saw hundreds of videos celebrating April 20th.  Oh, yes, the infamous 4-20.  I feel like it needs no explanation, but in case it does, April 20th is the famous day for smoking marijuana.  I don't know why, I don't care why.  It just is.  And Boulder being Boulder, 4-20 is bigger than Christmas.

NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Regulations, puts on events across the country, and one of the largest is in Boulder.  It's a "protest," or so they say.  Last year, 10,000 students gathered on Norlin Quad, in front of the famous Norlin Library, and smoked pot.  A lot of pot.  

This year, they expected 15,000.  They only estimate that they had 8,000, but as you can imagine, 8,000 people smoking marijuana in one place at one time can be a crowd.  A very stinky crowd.  Peacefully "protesting."  

If you ask me, it's just another excuse to get high.

Now, I'm not just writing this because my parents read this, but I've never smoked.  Not even once.  I tried a cigarette when I was 13 or something, and haven't put any burning device anywhere near my mouth since.  And I find it sad that there are more medical marijuana dispensaries in Boulder than there are pharmacies.  But what of it?

It's Boulder, I guess, and that's all there is to it.  Here's a video from this year's "celebration":

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Conference on World Affairs

Before I really get into my topic today, I need to 1. apologize, and 2. thank you all.  I haven't blogged in well over two weeks, and believe me, it's as much to my dismay as it is to yours, if not more so, and I apologize.  I thought about doing it every day, but I have simply not had the time.  I realized it was time to blog when my mom called and said, "Are you alive?  You haven't even written a blog."  So now that I have a few minutes I'll get into it.  Even though I haven't written, people have still been visiting, waiting and hoping (at least that's how I interpret it) for an update of my life here in CO.  For that I thank you.

So here it is: the number one reason why I didn't blog for at least one week during my dry spell.

Please, if you're a CWA member, forgive me.  I've put this disclaimer in other blogs, but if you haven't read them, you won't know.  This blog is solely for my opinion, and whether or not I offend you is not my deal.  If you don't like it, don't read it.  But if you have any insights, feel free to share them.  I'll listen.

Although it was news to me (as so many things about Boulder are (more to come on that later)), it's no news to Boulder locals.  For the past 62 years, the University of Colorado has been host to what is known as CWA: The Conference on World Affairs.  One of the first things that I learned from Stephanie Rudy (my scholarship sponsor) was that the CWA is an amazing program and that it runs partly with the assistance of student volunteers. 

As she told me, the conference is a very special event.  Over 100 panelists are invited to Boulder to talk about subjects that are important to the world right now, as we speak.  Obviously, the university can't afford to pay to fly these people in, give them money to talk, and house them all.  Instead, each panelist pays for their own flight in and families in Boulder volunteer to house them for the duration of their stay.  Rather than the committees telling each person what they will talk about, each panelist sends in a list of things they would like to speak about, whether they are experts in the field or just interested in the topic.  Once the lists are compiled, the CWA takes an entire weekend to put people (usually 4) together on a panel.  The tricky part comes in naming the panel something fun and catchy that will encourage people to attend while still telling the real idea of the panel.  And the panels are completely unscripted, so one never knows in which direction the topic will go. 

From the get-go, Stephanie encouraged me to get involved, and it really seemed like a good volunteer activity.  It was clearly something that she was passionate about, so I agreed to help out.  My name was put on a mailing list and suddenly I was part of the CWA Student Committee.  The initial meeting was good.  I learned that most students opt to drive panelists to and from the airport, as well as around Boulder, and that sounded just fine to me.  In order to drive university-owned vehicles, student drivers were required to take a defensive driving course that was pretty painless.  And I actually learned stuff!  After I passed the class and went to a few more meetings, it was time for the Conference to actually begin.  At the last meeting, the week before panelists arrived, we received our schedules for the week.  Let me begin by saying this: we presented our availability to the heads of the Committee, and they encouraged us to write down all of our availability and they said that they would schedules us for a few hours here and there, from morning to evening for 9 days.  

What I didn't expect was to be scheduled for 6 of those 9 days.  Still, when I received my schedule, I found it to be manageable.  And at the beginning of the week, I was still dog-sitting, and it was therefore easy for me to get to headquarters to get the car I'd be driving.  My schedule looked something like this:

Saturday: 11:00 am - Airport Arrival - 2 panelists
Sunday: 8:30 am - Airport Arrival - 1 panelist
Monday: Dinner Driver
Tuesday: off
Wednesday: off
Thursday: Dinner Driver
Friday: 7:45 am - Radio Run, Dinner Captain
Saturday: off
Sunday: 6:45 am - Airport Departure - 2 panelists

What I actually ended up doing looked more like this:
Saturday: 10:30 am - Airport Arrival
Sunday: 8:15 am - Airport Arrival, 10:30 pm airport arrival
Monday: 3:45 pm - Airport Arrival, Dinner Driver (until 9:00 pm)
Tuesday: off
Wednesday: off
Thursday: Dinner Driver (until 12:30 am)
Friday: 7:45 am Radio Run, Dinner Captain (until 12:00 am)
Saturday: off
Sunday: 6:30 Airport Departure

Now, please don't misunderstand me, because yes, I am complaining.  However, let me explain the nature of my complaints.  I don't mind jumping in at a moment's notice when I have time, and I don't mind having to be flexible.  However, no one warned  me that I would need to be so flexible.  Also, no one warned me that being involved in dinner meant carting people around until all hours of the morning.  Finally, no one warned me that things would be very disorganized much of the time.  Had I known these things up front, I don't think that I would have been so upset and frustrated.  Had I known that being involved in dinner would mean that I would be going from 3:45 pm to 9:00 pm, or from 5:00 pm to 12:30 am, I would not have given my availability for those time slots.  After finishing on those nights, I still had to drive home and do my homework.  

I do place a bit of blame on the transportation coordinators, although I realize that all of it is definitely not their fault.  In all fairness, there is no way one can predict the promptness of flights.  Also, no one can predict the attitudes of those panelists who think that they need a ride RIGHT NOW, whether or not there is a car ready (those people made me really, really mad).  It is a very big job to coordinate all that they coordinate, though, with flight arrivals and departures, driving people to and from their housers in the mornings and evenings, driving people to and from dinners and to and from the radio station.  There is a lot of unpredictability.  What I will say is that despite my frustration with the system, I'm not sure that there are many better ways to improve on the system.  And I will definitely not say that I could do a better job, because I'm not sure that I could with all of the variables involved.

Even if I had a lot of better ideas, I could never be transportation coordinator.  I recently learned that in my next spring of school, I'll be giving a junior recital.  Now let me tell you: I don't know how many student volunteers actually went to classes during CWA week.  In fact, I heard more than one telling others that they went to one or none of their classes.  That does not work well in music classes, where one is allowed, on the average, 3 unexcused absences without a full letter grade penalty.  Besides, I'm not really a class-skipper.  Never have been (that might be a fib).  And skipping classes the semester of one's junior recital is definitely frowned upon around here.  

Because I'm mostly complaining here, there are more to come.  Next topic: the panelists themselves.  Many, many, many of the panelists have been coming to the Conference for years.  And by years, I mean 25.  Yes, 25.  To me, that seems kind of counter to the idea of the conference, which is about current events.  I mean, yes, the topics change every year, but isn't it boring to hear the same people speak every year, even if they're really good?  Many of those panelists, at least the ones I met, were really nice.  However, there were some who had this attitude: "Well, I've been coming to the conference for 97 years, and therefore know everything, and you are my minion.  After all, I'm the important one here, not you."  Which I guess is kind of true, except that the conference is really focused on sharing information with the students (who generally don't even go to the panels).  I ran into a few of those panelists, the ones who were so self-important that they didn't even talk to me as I drove them to and from their destination, and it wasn't for lack of trying to converse.  If there is one talent that I got from my parents, it's the art of conversation.  I've also learned from many sources how to get people to talk, and that is to ask them about themselves.  Even when I asked them questions about themselves, many gave one-word answers.  I wanted to say, "Yes, you're tired.  I'm tired, too, but am still doing my best.  Yes, you're here because you were invited, but your job here isn't over until you're at home and in bed." 

And here's a complaint, one against myself: the conference is for students, really.  One of the major complaints of organizers and panelists alike is the lack of student attendance.  I personally didn't make it to a single panel, what with my volunteer and school schedule.  But why do students not attend?  I don't know the answer for sure, but from what I heard from some, it's for the reason outlined above.

I'll be honest: there were a few good points to the conference, but for me, they were far outweighed by the negative impression I got from the very first meeting.  Even then, I thought it strange that the organizers didn't even bother to learn the names of their student volunteers.  On Monday, I overheard one of the head organizers say, "We've been doing things the same way for 62 years.  Why change now?"  Again, strange considering this conference is all about today.  Tradition is good, but tradition for tradition's sake is not.  That comment gave me a really bad taste in my mouth (this coming from a conservative Lutheran from ND).  Although I met quite a few people, I haven't seen or heard from any of them since the conference ended.  And I felt that the only reason many students were involved was to rub elbows with important people, which is the exact wrong reason to volunteer. 

Okay, I guess I'm still searching to come up with good things about the conference.  Which is bad, because I know that there are some.  After all, it's really great for a group of forward thinking people to come together and share their ideas with a group of people.  It's also really great for students to get involved in a cause that they feel passion for.  

I think I'll end with a few thoughts.  I asked one of the transportation workers, who could hardly stand up and stay awake by the end of the week, if it was worth it, and she answered "Yes," without hesitation, which I think says something.  Which is, for some people, it is worth it.  Secondly, maybe I'm selfish and wanted to get something out of the whole experience that I didn't.  If I had to guess what that thing was, I would say it would be a new group of friends, who are my peers, who have similar interests.  I didn't really get that, though, apparently, because I haven't seen any of them since then.  Thirdly, I am really grateful for the opportunity to be involved, because I did meet some really nice people, both students and panelists.  And I think I will be involved next year, but in a different capacity.  

I do apologize for whining and complaining so much about this and for giving everyone a bad impression.  This whole experience has reminded me a lot about my summer job in Medora.  (If you're a Medora tourist, you will not want to read what follows.)  In Medora, we do a lot of behind-the-scenes work.  Work that would, if the tourists knew about it, freak them out.  For example: rattlesnake, mouse, and insect control.  After all, we're encouraged not to eat the ice from the ice bins because of the number of dead rodents found in them.  Another example: cleaning the "stars" dressing rooms.  (Yes, I put "stars" in quotes, because... well... yeah.)  They are, for lack of a better word, pigs, and we are the ones who get to clean up after them.  Joy.  Those are the not-fun things that we deal with that the public would never know about.  I liken this to that.  Had I not been involved in the behind-the-scenes aspect of CWA, and only attended panels, I may have found it to be a great experience.  And maybe it really is.  After all, even though we put up with all of that crap in Medora, we keep going back.  Over and over...  Does that make sense?

Friday, April 02, 2010


About a month ago, a person who I vaguely know and only met once asked me to dogsit for her April 1st through 5th.  She offered a place to live (in Boulder) and a generous daily wage.  Because I love dogs and dearly miss my Lucky, I was more than willing to agree.  The only thing I wasn't too excited about was having to pick up his poop.  Blech.

Two weeks or so ago, she had me over to officially meet her chihuahua, Scooby.  It took him a minute or so to warm up to Pasha and me, but it was no big deal.  Before long, we had him running all over the apartment, chasing after his favorite toy.  Michelle told me all of the ground rules and everything was settled.  I may have even imagined him being sad that we left when we did.
So I wasn't expecting to have any problems when I let myself into Michelle's apartment yesterday afternoon.  

I was wrong.

I entered the apartment to a very, very unhappy dog.  He barked, snarled, barked, bared his teeth, barked, whined, barked, and barked.  And barked more.  I open the door to his kennel, and he would not come out. I was scheduled to have dinner with a friend in Longmont, so I really wanted to let him outside before I left, but whenever I even went into the bedroom, he would freak out.  

I let him bark non-stop for almost two hours before I gave up, and decided to leave to go to supper, hoping that things would be better when I came back for the night.  I mixed up his food and nervously put it into his kennel, but not without him snapping at me.  He wouldn't let me put his water dish in it.  And things weren't better when I got back.

When I returned, Scooby wouldn't even let me get near enough to open the kennel.  Whenever I put my hand near the handle, he would nip at my finger!  It was terrifying (although I tried not to show to him that I was scared).  Oh, and he barked and barked and barked.  

Now, I'm not one to call people when they are on vacation, but I was really worried for him.  I could handle the barking; I can sleep through anything.  What I would not be able to handle would be a dog peeing and pooping in his kennel for 5 days.  So I called Michelle, who could hear him barking.  We tried to put her on speakerphone, but he wouldn't listen.  She had no solutions, and couldn't believe he was acting so strangely.

She called a friend, who brought her dog over, and tried to get him to behave.  He came out of the kennel, but wouldn't let anyone near him.  And definitely wouldn't let us put on his leash to let him outside.  So we let him out without the leash, long enough to go to the bathroom, then brought him back in.  And thus commenced the hours of barking again.

Michelle's friend left, and I was back in the apartment.  Any quick moves would get Scooby barking and baring his teeth again.  It was not fun.  I began to ignore him completely.  I made Michelle's bed, and in the process, he jumped on the bed and wouldn't let me continue on.  He would just nip at me when I got near.

So I gave up on that, and decided to go to bed.  As soon as I crawled into the bed in the guest bedroom, there he was, whining at me, and looking at me with these eyes that said, "But aren't you going to let me sleep with you?"  So I grabbed the blanket off of the bed and went to the couch.
Just like that, we were best friends.  He crawled on top of me and slept there for a large part of the night.  Today, I left and came back, and it took him a good half hour to like me again, and I anticipate it will be that way every time I leave and come back, but at least now he'll let me feed him and take him outside.

This dog is crazy.  But I like him.