Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Houseguest #1

Meet Murray. He's a nine-year-old black Lab who is staying with us until April 3rd. I'm in love with him, which is why his human parents thought of me first when they planned their cruise vacation.

Getting a dog of our own is impossible due to landlord request so I have to make due with the stolen snippets of puppy energy I get from strangers in the park or on the street.

Murray and I go everywhere together now - to the coffee shop, to breakfast, to the airport - everywhere. It's delicious to have a loving, if not slobbering face looking up at me no matter what is going on.

With Murray as my ticket, I've been going to Dog Park, which is like a big playground for canines. There, humans stand around either checking their emails or throwing slobbery tennis balls while their dog frantically runs around sniffing butts and generally celebrating their off-leash status. It's amazingly easy to make a dog happy and their communications with one another are so simple, I'm envious.

When I first let him run free, Murray ran immediately into a pack of four other black Labs and I thought I'd lost track of him. But Murray is a loyal pup and he checks in on me every few minutes without prompting so there's no chance of that. I felt like a proud mama. "Murray is the most handsome dog here, BY FAR," I kept thinking to myself. 

Thinking about turning over Murray next week makes me tear up. I don't want him to leave. Even our black cat, Boudreaux, has gotten used to him, I think.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Garbage is Magic

Every Monday evening for several weeks now, I sit in a classroom above Whole Foods - just above the gourmet cheeses and seductive foodstuffs - and revel in the beauty of decaying garbage.

The classroom is filled with my fellow no-waste nerds and led by the wise and inspiring instructor, Judy Elliott. There, we sit on the edge of our wooden seats, enraptured at the prospect of turning smelly food scraps and garden waste into beautiful soil, "Black Gold." We learn about nematodes, the carbs/nitrogen balance and the many ways we can help Mama Nature do what She is going to do anyway, just a bit faster.

Welcome to the Denver Urban Gardens' Master Composter Program.

I'm only a month or so into the 10-week course but it will technically last throughout the year and beyond, first as a student and then sometime in April or May, as a community presenter. I'm new to composting but it has always appealed to my fear-of-waste mentality.

Ask any relation, friend or co-worker, I am a fanatic about thoughtless waste, which is overwhelming in this country. Over 50% of the food produced in this country gets thrown away - mostly from imperfect (looks-wise) produce, grocery store expirees and restaurant/home leftovers. Meanwhile, 99% of things that Americans buy get thrown away within six months. MAKES ME CRAZY. And even though the "The Story of Stuff" video is old news in WebLand, it's still the most enlightening 20 minutes you'll ever spend.

Kirk has noted on several occasions how little trash we generate in this household - maybe a bag every three weeks or so. I'm fiercely adamant about recycling anything that possibly can be and now with the composting, our rubbage has dwindled even further. Also, I buy very little processed food, mostly produce, so that makes a big difference. Yes, I'm one of those people.

We were given a massive notebook made of recycled cardboard and it must weigh five pounds. With chapter names like, "Building Your Masterpiece of Decomposition: Getting Down and Dirty", "The Food Web of the Compost Mound" and "Vermicomposting: Worms to the Rescue!", it has everything I need to know.

And each class is unique. Last night, the VP of Metech Recycling gave a horrifying presentation on e-waste (computers, phones, iPods, etc.) and next week, we will be starting a compost pile in the classroom, with (non-food) waste we'll bring in. Later in the program, we'll be taking road trips to local recycling plants and landfills for extensive tours. It's like we are being trained as a No-Waste Army to then go out and battle this horrific problem. This is a military movement I can definitely get behind.

Meanwhile, I've accidentally become co-Captain of the Heartstone Garden Village compost, along with my neighbor, Brett. (My other neighbor, Will, gave up the post one day when he found an Army boot and a block of Velveeta in the compost pile.) With spring's arrival, we are doing more and more with it but I'm getting in the habit of turning it weekly, knowing when to mix in leaves and other carbs (chopped up garden waste, sawdust, corn husks, etc.) and when to step back and let it "cook." We have to police it a bit, make sure that it doesn't become a garbage dumping ground, which means digging through an entire neighborhood's worth of trash.

Photo credit: The Green Life
Seeing what people eat is pretty fascinating - lots of fruit, eggs, cabbage and winter root veggies. Rarely are they chopped up, which is preferable for composting, so I take a flat spade and destroy them. Pulverizing a huge beet with a giant tool until its purple guts are everywhere? Incredibly satisfying.

I've pulled out many bits of plastic, that evil material that will eventually lead us to play out the film, 'Wall-E.' (I'd go on but my pal, Beth, has this topic brilliantly covered.) Note that it would take 450 years for that disposable diaper to decompose. And that styrofoam? Never. It will always be here.

Whoops, near-rant averted. So, anyhoo, I'm sticking to my 2011 motto which is, "I have no idea what I'm doing but I'm doing it." 

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Small-Minded Town

Though small towns cannot offer a variety of cultures, cuisine or resident diversity, they certainly have their charms. Tiny burgs offer a times-past scenario where everyone knows everybody, the fire department is all-volunteer and people exchange baked goods. Instead one of those folksy villages, I recently stumbled across a small town full of small minds and have been regretting it ever since, as I will in months to come.

It was mid-January of this year, and I was driving home late from a volunteer shift at the National Western Stock Show. I was pondering my recent job loss and the financial challenges that came with it. As I exited I-70 onto Sheridan, heading south, I passed two cop cars on two side streets, both clearly spring-loaded and ready for action. Though I was alone, I said aloud: "That looks like a trap." 

Next thing I know, red cherry lights moved in right behind me, siren blaring. I tried to move over into the curb lane but two cars were already there. I waited for them to drive ahead and moved over; the cop car sped ahead.

Seconds later, another cop car appeared in the same fashion and practically kissed my bumper. So I pulled over as far as I could, into a King Soopers parking light. He followed me. The entire scenario happened in less than one minute.

I put my hands on the steering wheel, as a standard courtesy to the officer, so he knows I'm no trouble despite my black cowboy hat. Nevertheless, he stood away from the vehicle, shined a flashlight in my face and said firmly, "License and registration, ma'am."

As I collected the documents, I said, "I'm totally confused." 

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" 

"I have no idea. I don't think I was speeding and there were no stop signs." 

Now, there are a ton of good-hearted police officers in the world and, in fact, I have two Wonderful Cop stories I like to tell over and over, but I could already sense that Officer Dickhead would not be making it into my stash of feelgood lore. Not sure if it was the voice volume, patronizing behavior or the bully tactics - perhaps all three.

As instructed, I handed him the license, registration and insurance card. "Ma'am, this insurance ID card is expired." (It's true, by two whole weeks.)

"Oh, well the policy has not. I'm sure they've sent me the new card last month and I haven't put it in here yet. But you can check, the policy is in good standing." 


"Wha...? No!"


(Officer Dickhead was now addressing me in all caps.)

He then explained that although he could write me up for the expired ID card, he was merely going to write me up for obstructing an emergency vehicle. Apparently, I had not moved out of the way fast enough. When I explained the blocked lane scenario, he went back to his vehicle, called the driver of the first cop car to confirm his suspicions. OD then returned to inform me that I was, in fact, guilty. He wrote up the ticket (I was now crying, thinking about the cost) and I could show up on the designated date, dispute the ticket and take it to trial.

"Trial?! Are you kidding me? What is going on????" 

OD handed me the ticket and left. I sat in my car, stunned, finally grasping full meaning of the term, "hoodwinked."

At home, I noted that the ticket came from the city of Mountain View. Huh? I thought I was in Denver - wasn't I three blocks from home? A few weeks later, the city of Mountain View sent me a letter saying I could plead guilty, pay the fine now ($140) and accept a 2-point penalty instead of 4. Instead, I scribbled the court date in my calendar, knowing I had done nothing wrong. For the love of God, I am a child of Los Angeles and a former professional driver, I understand the road.

Weeks later, I arrive at the town's tiny courthouse. There are three cops standing outside, including the jackass who ticketed me. They check my letter to make sure I am qualified to enter. Clearly, it is Court Day in Mountain View because when we enter the room, it is filled with people equally perplexed as I.

I approached the desk and speak with the court clerk, a nice woman named Molly. I express my desire to tell my side of the story, to contest the charges and in a sing-song voice she will use all day long, Molly gently advises against it.

"Frankly speaking, you would not speak to the judge today but you would register your contest. Then, if wanted to get representation and take this to trial ... "

There's that word again! Holy christ. How did I become a criminal so quickly? I felt like I was trapped in a Tom T. Hall song.

"Or you could take the plea and pay your fine today." Here she used a tone of voice that clearly said, 'Trust me, honey, this is the better deal. We do this all day long.'

I wasn't ready to give up just yet. "But you don't understand, I disagree vehemently with the ticket. I'd like to speak to a judge and contest this."

"Frankly dear, I suggest you take some time to think about it."

I looked around and saw Mountain View's entire police force - all six of 'em - crammed into the hallway. They were glaring in several directions and they all exuded this horrible sense of unearned entitlement. 

A trap, indeed.

With a sick feeling of surrender, I eventually wrote those motherfuckers a check with commentary in the notes section: "Donation." When handing my savings money over to the clerk lady, I noticed she had a map behind her. I asked her, "Just how big is Mountain View anyway? Is it here on your map?" 

She cheerily pointed it out to me, all 12 square blocks of it. (That's .1 square miles.) Proudly she relayed the town's history. "We were incorporated in 1904 and we still have all the old books. They're quite interesting to read. There was one complaint in the early 1900s about a cow trespassing on their neighbors lawn!" She thought it was the quaintest fucking thing ever. I wanted to smack her.

"And you've never had the urge to incorporate into Denver or Wheatridge?"

"No, we have considered it but we prefer to have our own town." 

So, I left that double-wide courthouse with some begrudging respect for the little town. I mean, who doesn't love a David & Goliath story? The tale of a small but mighty entity resisting big, modern-day forces that are robbing us of our Amirrrrican values?

Those seeds of warm fuzzy lasted until I went home and Googled the shit out of Mountain View. I then discovered that the sweet little town has quite a dubious reputation, and none of it very sweet at all. Far as I can tell, the town keeps its police force employed not to serve and protect, but to grift. Mountain View isn't a town, it's a hungry aggressive spider, snagging flies as they pass by. (Some might argue it's actually a frog, with a very long tongue.)
"With its land area of only 12 square blocks, Mountain View has a tiny retail sales tax base from which to raise revenue and relies primarily on traffic tickets to pay its police and municipal employees."
Evidently, the town called an emergency meeting on March 2, 2009 to get input on its tenuous future. All 529 residents received a letter explaining that Mountain View faced a growing debt crisis, with a budget shortfall between $6-8,000 dollars a month. Evidently, the town's six police officers had been paid late "three times in the last two months, 40 percent of the town's businesses have closed" and that it petitioned the Attorney General of Colorado to use DEA seizure money to pay police department salaries. That request was declined in May 2009.

"Even though Mountain View is small, its police department is aggressive in traffic enforcement. In the last 2½ years, they've issued approximately 7,200 tickets, according to assistant town attorney Hilary Mogue Graham."
--Colorado Bureau of Investigations
Further digging uncovered several court cases against the city of Mountain View for issuing excessive and questionable traffic citations, both in and out of their jurisdiction. Still, in a beautifully scented irony, a new industry might just end up saving the town:

"Recent monetary problems in Mountain View led some residents to consider disbanding the town (incorporated in 1904 I believe) and joining Wheat Ridge or ….GASP…Denver. However, the new medical marijuana industry has changed things for tiny Mountain View. A new MMJ clinic, called the Berekely MMJ Shop, or something like that, is now located in this municipality. Now Mountain View has more than an Arby’s and its police force to add to the city’s coffers."
--Shaun Snow, DenverUrbanism
Here we have a tiny town so desperate to retain its futile independence in the middle of a metropolitan area that it survives by issuing questionable traffic tickets, selling bad food and medical marijuana. Actually, I'm fine with the Arby's and the dispensary but those bullies in black don't just police on passing motorists, they prey.

I wouldn't mind so much if the fine was a one shot deal but now I'm faced with a two-point loss on my driving record and a certain increase in my monthly car insurance bill. The town of Mountain View gives nothing to world - it only takes. Is this something to be proud of?

These days, when I drive on Sheridan, I observe the traffic around me cruise to a stiff, united speed of exactly 35 mph during the two-blocks it passes through the police state of Mountain View - between 41st and 43rd. Once traffic gets beyond this area, it resumes its normal differentiated flow. Creepy.

When I have relayed this story to my friends and neighbors, they are shocked and wary. I have yet to find one native Coloradoan who has heard of this lame-ass municipality. 

So, congratulations to the wee minds of Mountain View, Colorado with your civic income based on entrapment, bullying and fear. I hope tourism isn't part of the plan to save your sorry asses. Here's hoping you dissolve quickly.