Sunday, April 20, 2014

Onward, aggies and artists!

This time last week, the snow fell and the wind blew. By the end of Sunday, my yard looked more like January than April.

The day before, I was thinking of outdoors and gardening and growing things, so after a workout at the YMCA, I drove by Grant Farms on Lincolnway to see if it was open. Baskets of peonies hung from the front porch and I saw people working inside so I dropped in.

"Just so you know, I'll be bringing all those plants inside tonight," said the woman at the counter. "Didn't want you to get the wrong idea."

Right. It's not time for peonies or other colorful outside growing things. Soon, though. I asked her if I could plant the onion sets she had on display. She said I was probably OK, as they were hardy and most of the plant is in the ground which is gradually warming up.

I bought some onion sets (I liked the name -- Red Zeppelin) and herbs and potting soil and seeds, just so I could feel as if gardening time was upon us.

The Grant Farms store in Cheyenne is alive and kicking after 30-some years. It once was a fruit and veggie stand run by a couple who lived in the house just behind the retail store. A fruit and veggie stand -- an old-fashioned idea that now is new-fashioned in this age of local produce and eggs and meat and chicken coops in the backyard. Grant Farms has a CSA with produce grown in Wellington and its own eggs and other fruits and veggies grown by other small organic growers to our south. The larger Grant Farms company declared bankruptcy last year after a search for a long-term investor went awry. Founder Andy Grant is a CSU grad who blazed the trail for other CSAs and organic farms and locavores in the region. CSU students used to be known as Aggies, this the big whitewashed "A" on the hill west of town. It's still an ag school but now also produces an array of annoying artists and musicians and writers such as yours truly. They feed the burgeoning FoCo music and arts scene, and some even wander up the road to Cheyenne.

I often wonder about the connections among the local food, craft beer and arts scenes. What came first -- the hand-crafted beer or the locally-sourced egg? In 1988-89, I was a member of the Fort Collins Food Co-op. At the time, it seemed like a holdover from the town's hippie days. Most of the shoppers were my age (late 30s) -- younger people in those days didn't seem concerned about the origins and quality of their food. Now they talk about free-range chickens and locally-sourced veggies and free trade coffee. Wonder how that's playing out in the Ag school? Do corporate farms and seed companies and fertilizer conglomerates still rule the roost? Or has "small and local" entered the classroom and lab? What about it, Aggies? There were 1,200 Future Farmers of America kids in town last week for the annual convention. Certainly all of those kids aren't thinking corporate, are they?

My grandparents' roots are rural. I came up in the city and suburbs. My parents were raised in the city. They never talked about "going back to land" -- their future was in accounting and nursing. Some of the earthier Boomer children did talk about "getting back to the land" although very few actually did it. Never in a million years would I have considered farming as an occupation. I know a gardener is miles removed from being a farmer. Still, backyard gardens are feeding a lot of people these days. City gardens are cropping up on patios and rooftops and vacant lots. The greening of the city, some people call it. Prowling the web I see all kinds of innovative ideas for high-rises that include vertical gardens.

The future belongs to the innovators. Aggies and artists.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy 420 Day to all of my friends and relatives in Colorado

Read the cover story at the Psychedelic Library.
Tomorrow, 04/20/14, is 420 day in Colorado. I only recently became aware that 420 was code for marijuana, pot, weed, ganja, reefer, cannabis, etc. It seems silly that a product with so many nicknames would also need one that was numbers only, but there you have it. The origin of the term is complicated. The answer seems to lie with a group of stoners who attended San Rafael High School in Marin County in 1970. You can read the story at 420 Magazine, the source for all things 420.

This only goes to show my advanced age. I was one of the first 12 million or so who had tried pot by Oct. 31, 1969, if one can believe stats in the esteemed Life Magazine (see above).

Public school kids turned on this Catholic school kid to demon weed (figures, doesn't it?). We all worked together at a combination pancake house and Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Daytona Beach, Fla. They asked me if I wanted to get high and go see a concert. Sure, I said, thinking we were going to get some adults to buy us booze and see one of the local rock groups play.

On our way to the concert, Ronnie took out his marijuana stash. He taught me how to smoke a joint. It was quite a ritual, one that spoke to my Catholic roots. I always enjoyed the ritual more than the high -- maybe that speaks volumes about my life. Once we were suitably stoned, we went to a club and saw a group called the Hour Glass in concert. Only later did I realize that these guys would become the Allman Brothers Band, they of "Live at Fillmore East" and the legend of Duane Allman. The Allmans had grown up in Daytona and attended Seabreeze High School, where my pot-smoking pals all went to school.

So now I was 17 and had tried pot. I thought it was pretty cool. It was a different high than Boone's Farm or beer. I liked it, but not enough to keep smoking. I was a jock, after all, and smoking anything was verboten, as was hanging out with hippies, surfing during basketball season, indulging in premarital sex, taking God's name in vain and coveting my neighbor's ass, which was pretty fine if I remember correctly.

My first two years of college, 1969-1971, are kind of a blur. I was trying to smoke as much pot as possible in order to remain firmly entrenched in the minds of the Life Magazine editorial staff, most of whom were the same age as my parents and equally clueless. And I continued smoking for some reason. By the late 1970s, I had left marijuana behind, realizing that it's tough to engage fully in an adult lifestyle while slackin' with Dr. Ganja. I had moved to Denver by then, the future capital city of the 420 legal pot crowd. Strangely enough, the drug of choice in Denver in 1979 was cocaine. Ah, there's a drug for you. A rush that blows off the top of your head and expensive as hell. One more likely to lead you to the pokey or the poor house than to nirvana. I even recall cheering to J.J. Cale as Red Rocks when he strummed into "Cocaine," which became a big hit for Eric Clapton whose own drug jones almost landed him in the morgue.

On Sunday, Denver celebrates "420 Day." I won't be there. It's Easter. I won't be hiding Easter eggs for the kids as they are all grown up now. Chris and I are cooking some steaks with tea totaling friends, so won't even be imbibing a Colorado craft beer or a California wine. Boring old age.

I have mixed feelings about legal pot. Both of my kids have had problems with drugs and alcohol. Both have been in treatment and are now clean and sober. One lives in Tucson and one in L.A., the latter not the best place for people with an inclination for drugs. But we hear now, this time from Al-Jazeera America, that heroin and other opiates are now a deadly plague in rural areas, notably Vermont, better known as the Portlandia of the east. I've known junkies, and don't care to again. Heroin was around when I was in college. Most of my friends had enough sense to avoid it. Even my friend Rick avoided smack, and he rarely met a drug he didn't like. He's now some sort of backwoods preacher in central Florida with a zillion kids. I was best man at his wedding back in the 1980s.

Wyoming won't legalize pot anytime soon. We like our booze, though. The Legislature just got around to banning open containers in vehicles a few sessions ago. And it wasn't without a huge debate about whether the ban applied just to the driver or all of the passengers. I remember fondly a decade ago pulling into  a liquor store drive-up in Sheridan County and ordering gin-and-tonics all around. We were off to a summer cowboy polo match and gin was the drug of choice. I wasn't driving, so I ordered two to go. That was the most fun I ever had at a cowboy polo match.

Happy 420 Day to all of my friends and relatives in Denver. Enjoy!

If you're interested, the Denver Post Cannabist blog has a list of 420 events. And Time mag has an article about the brouhaha in Denver over lighting up in public.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wyoming works to bring science education standards up to the level of East Jesus, Alabama

WyPols had a nice summation of this week's hearings regarding the teaching of science standards in our schools. It once again brings up the question: Don't these people know that we live in an age where Know-Nothing statements make their way around the globe at lightning speed, causing people to wonder what the heck is going on in Wyoming? Read examples here and here.

The WyPols article had some quotes from WY State Board of Education Chair Ron Micheli. You may remember Mr. Micheli from his unsuccessful 2010 run for governor in which Dems changed registration en masse at the primaries to vote for Anyone but Micheli (i.e. Matt Mead). I was working at the polls that day and was very lonely as I watched my Dem friends making a beeline to the "Change Your Registration Here" table. Later, I recall sitting at my union HQ in Cheyenne listening to and blogging about the returns from the primaries. Micheli was ahead for awhile. Think about it:
“I just want people to understand that this isn’t some backwards state that doesn’t believe in discussion, or rational communication with each other. … But it has to be based on the economy of this state,” the chairman said. “The very people in education who are so adamant in favor of global warming” – here his voice started to rise – “are the very people who are being paid. And their money is 80 percent coming from the mineral resources of this state. And that’s a hard fact.”

Wyoming’s entire educational system is based on fossil fuels, Micheli added, “and any attempt to derail that or change that is not in the best interests of the state. Now if that’s being backwoods, if that’s being redneck, if that’s putting our head in the sand, then so be it. But [fossil fuels are]what our state is based on.”

Micheli said he was sorry for standing on his soapbox, but he needed to clarify things.“I am not anti-planet. I’m not an ignorant moron,” he volunteered. “I’m trying to be rational in this debate.”
Methinks he doth protest too much.

I'm, glad my kids are out of the local school system. I can imagine my very outspoken and liberal-minded kids reacting to climate-change deniers in the classroom. I don't blame the teachers, as they are at the mercy of powers greater than themselves, such as Mr. Micheli, crazies in the legislature, raging fundies, Obama haters and our governor. Parents must do their best to make sure their kids and grandkids get accurate info.

Their futures depend on it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why are all of the dad-blamed Gov candidates from Cheyenne?

Article in yesterday's Casper Star-Trib lamented the fact that all three of the announced  Republican candidates for governor are from Laramie County: Incumbent Matt Mead, ticked-off sort-of Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, and Tea Party fave Taylor Haynes.

I don't speak for my fellow Democrats when I say "We will keep Mead if you promise to take Hill and Haynes off of our hands." Most of them aren't too crazy about our current governor. He scuttled Medicaid Expansion and joined in on the failed multi-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. But he is arts- and tech- and business-friendly, and seems to have a little more realistic view of the modern world than his fellow Repubs, especially those from the rural areas of the Cowboy State. At least two county Republican conventions (Platte and Hot Springs) recently censured the Gov over the Hill mess (SF 104) and the suspicion that he might be a RINO -- Republican in Name Only. Two other county Republican gatherings resorted to Tea Party mumbo-jumbo (Freedom! Constitution! Something!) but came up short of an outright censure. Interesting to note that our Dem county convention in March fielded a platform plank that would have called out Gov. Mead on the Hill fiasco. It was roundly defeated after a lively discussion. Most commenters thought that it was unwise to wade into this big Republican mess. Even though I seconded the motion, I ended up voting against it.

In today's CST article, Mead's office pointed out the Gov's rural roots in both Teton (richy-rich hangout) and Albany (liberal UW profs and enviros) counties. Haynes admitted that he was busy getting ready to a new ranch in Albany County. Hill couldn't be reached for comment, no doubt framing another spiteful missive to the Gov and his legal eagles who won't let her move back into her Superintendent offices in the Hathaway Building (the Constitution, ya'll!).

But interviewees in the article wondered why we can't have any gubernatorial candidates from some of our more rural counties. It's a good question. There's 98,000 square miles wherein candidates could dwell. Subtract Laramie County and you have left about 97,000. You could beat the sagebrush and find a few likely governors there. Or not. Still they wonder why their leaders come from The Big City and not from The Heartland.

I guess being a rural Wyoming Republican is a bit like being a Wyoming Democrat anywhere. Dems wonder why nobody ever listens to our progressive views. Here we are, sitting in our urban conclave, sipping lattes and plotting the downfall of Christendom, when a bunch of white guys stream into the Capitol Building from Meeteetse and Frannie and Ten Sleep and start ranting about herding gays into concentration camps and banning birth control and stopping the spread of Commie-inspired urban planning and banning the teaching of certain annoying scientific facts (global warming, evolution, earth orbiting the sun) and so on.

Why don't these people go back to their heavenly rural Nirvanas and leave us city people alone.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday morning round-up: Barrasso fail, CIGNA shout-out, Colorado history flashback

Sunday morning round-up:

Apparently we're supposed to listen to Dr. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) when he speaks about the Affordable Care Act. He is a doctor, after all, and one whose pearls of wisdom on matters medical keep appearing on Casper TV stations. Last week, he accused President Obama of "cooking the books on Obamacare." He and his Repub fellow travelers don't believe that Obamacare exceeded its enrollment goals by the March 31 deadline. Not surprising, as Barrasso has bigger ambitions and his face is always looming in the background whenever Repub minority leader Mitch McConnell blathers on about something. The good news is that Wyoming Democratic Party Director Robin Van Ausdall issued a rebuttal to Barrasso's claims:
“Senator Barrasso should focus on the needs of his constituents instead of making up wild claims for which he has no evidence.”
Read the rest here.

My insurance company is CIGNA. On these pages I've occasionally made snide remarks about health insurers. So easy to be snarky and snide when sitting at a computer keyboard in the wilds of Wyoming. But insurers have changed since the bad old days when clerks sitting at keyboards in the wilds of Dallas and Cleveland were making life-and-death decisions based on arcane rules and the bottom line. Obamacare was responsible for some of the changes, as was the mental health parity act and other legislation. Our family has faced an avalanche of health care emergencies in the past two years. CIGNA has been incredibly accommodating all along the way. It has streamlined the approval process and provides frequent updates on billing issues. When I have questions, I usually can get a real person on the phone or online. Thanks, CIGNA. And thanks for sponsoring programs such as "Weekend Edition" on National Public Radio.

While shuffling through boxes in the basement, I came across a 1959 Denver Post publication This is Colorado: Gold Rush Centennial Edition. In 1859, a few prospectors found gold at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Word went out across the land, and the next thing you know, Denver City is swarming with hipsters looking for great deals on LoDo lofts and crowding into brewpubs. I guess that came a little later. That's the thing -- as I read the 1959 publication, there wasn't a real sense of Denver's future. Photos and stories and display ads celebrated the state's history and landscape. Lots of mentions of the "Rocky Mountain Empire," not surprising when you consider that the Post's motto was "The Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire." Much was written about big manufacturing companies: tire-maker Gates, luggage-maker Samsonite and missile-maker Martin-Marietta. The rise of the automobile got a lot of print, as did trains and street-car travel. But barely a mention of the Denver airport that's become monolithic DIA. I saw only one display ad that mentioned computers, and those were for big business and industry. Some neat photos were included of a fake frontier town that was built near the State Capitol to celebrate the centennial. Also on display was an Atlas rocket. Past and future. That ersatz past has fallen out of favor and Atlas rockets that used to lie primed and ready under fields near Greeley no longer exist. Wyoming has the missiles now -- so don't mess with us, Greenies!

The Post's editors were cheerleaders for Colorado. But they didn't have a clue about what Denver would become. And who could blame them? Personal computers were more than a decade away. The sixties and seventies hadn't happened yet, decades that saw an influx of young people looking for that "Rocky Mountain High" and "Rocky Mountain Way." Young whippersnappers keep pouring into Denver for those same reasons. Colorado's Front Range is not so much a manufacturing center as an entrepreneurial center, more focused on high-tech and apps and small biz start-ups than factories. Who knew?

Ain't history grand?

The book has a few pages devoted to Wyoming and one full-page ad for Cheyenne Frontier Days (63rd year!). The Wyoming article by Cheyenne native Norman Udevitz focused on a western character from his youth named Big Tom and how he represented traits of self-reliance and neighborliness. Udevitz later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Denver Post.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

What does "Magic City of the Plains" really mean?

Can you be an urban guy in a rural state?

Sure. Urban centers exist even in the West's open spaces. Denver is the town that Colorado's eastern prairie loves to hate because, well, it's Denver where all of those liberals live -- and where the dreaded legislature convenes to pass laws to take away our guns, legalize gay marriage, force us to smoke pot, join the EPA's war on coal/gas/oil, and so on. The Western Slope hates Denver because it steals its water -- and they're right about that. Denver has been stealing water from the mountains even before Colorado became a state. That's true of the entire Front Range.

Cheyenne is the most urban of Wyoming's towns. In fact, it's only one of two metropolitan statistical areas (along with Casper) in the state. It's also where the legislature meets and engages in Cheyennigans (also the name of WyoFile's blog about the legislature). Cheyenne, the "Magic City of the Plains," was supposed to be Denver. Thing is, Denver became the home of hustlers and live wires and shysters and visionaries while Cheyenne became home to no-growthers. That wasn't always the case. Cheyenne was a flourishing rail and commercial center while Denver was still figuring out how to put on its boots.

From the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains:
Because of its rapid birth and ability to recover from periodic economic slumps, Cheyenne was called the "Magic City of the Plains." As the city matured during the territorial period (1869–90), it also developed a reputation as a social and cultural center. The city was notable for its opera house, the Atlas Theater, the Cheyenne Club, the Inter-Ocean Hotel, numerous retail businesses, and more than forty lavish mansions. The success and wealth of the city attracted western legends such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Horn, and Wyatt Earp, who rode shotgun on the Cheyenne–Black Hills stage.
Times marches on.

These days, according to Wikipedia: 
Cheyenne is the northern terminus of the extensive and fast-growing Front Range Urban Corridor that stretches from Cheyenne to Pueblo, Colorado, and has a population of 5,467,633 according to the 2010 United States Census.
Some of our rural Wyoming neighbors refer to Cheyenne disparagingly as "North Denver." They may be more accurate than they realize. All cities along the Front Range are actually Denver outliers. Denver International Airport could accurately be called Front Range International Airport except there's another airport with the "Front Range" moniker. All of the commuter flights from the Cheyenne airport feed into DIA. The same goes for Western Kansas and Nebraska, and all of Colorado. Most of us in Cheyenne prefer the two-hour interstate trip to DIA over the shorter "Vomit Comet" air trip to DIA. On good days, I can get to DIA in 90 minutes.

Many of us in Cheyenne get our arts and culture fixes in Denver. I'm one of a group of culture-hungry Dems who regularly get DCPA tickets to touring productions of "The Book of Mormon" and other Broadway shows. We usually have dinner downtown, go to the show, buyWyoming Tribune-Eagle apres-show drinks and spend the night at one of Denver's many hotels. We know that rooms at the big hotels often go begging on weekends when convention and business travelers are at home.

Democrats aren't the only ones leaving the Cowboy State for a big-city night out. All of us -- Dems, Repubs, Indies and Libertarians -- taken together are a boon to Denver's economy. Denver pro sports teams have tons of followers in Cheyenne. I saw a number of FB status updates from Cheyennites yesterday from opening day at Coors Field. The Rockies even won, 12-2.

Cheyenne's membership in the Front Range bugs the Agenda 21 crowd. They don't want Cheyenne to look like other Front Range communities. You know, the prosperous ones such as Fort Collins and Loveland and Longmont and (God forbid) Boulder and Castle Rock. The list goes on and on. Cranky Tea Party types have flooded public commission meetings for PlanCheyenne to voice their displeasure that our county would consider such commie-inspired planning devices as bike paths, public art, parks, incentives for business and industry, efforts to grow the local entertainment scene, etc. Wyoming Tribune-Eagle Executive Editor Reed Eckhardt had an excellent staff editorial in this morning's paper decrying the bullying tactics of the "anti-planners" and the "anti-culture" crowd.
Problem is, Cheyenne was leading the Front Range before there was a Front Range. Just what do the [county] commissioners think the phrase "Magic City on the Plains" means? That people strutted around here in cowboy boots and hats and saluted each other with "howdy" for 10 days of the year?
In case you didn't know, that last reference is to Cheyenne Frontier Days, the big summer western bash in which all of us, even urban dudes such as myself, are asked to wear western gear and be friendly to tourists.

There's a reason that one out of every six Wyomingites live in Cheyenne. They have jobs. Jobs come from growth. New companies are formed and others move in for lots of reasons: tax structure, infrastructure, broadband access, climate, lifestyle. They don't move in because they heard that a lot of Know-Nothings crowded into planning meetings to shout about a United Nations plot to take away our gas-powered vehicles and make us all live in Hobbit homes. While that may be a quaint concept for 1914, it's not very attractive in 2014.

Growth comes, planned or unplanned. Which will it be, Wyoming?