Naked Streets

So I’m headed down 28th Street in Boulder to Mickey D’s for another heart-stopping sausage-and-egg muffin. Let me explain that 28th Street ranks with the butt-ugliest streets in any town in North America from Toronto to Juarez, including Detroit.

The stoplight is flashing red, obviously malfunctioning. I cautiously pull into the left-hand turn lane and stop and flip on my turn signal. I carefully look in all directions. The first three cars in the oncoming lane move across the intersection very slowly and the cars behind them all stop. A guy in an Audi waves me across the intersection.

I clench my teeth and creep across, knowing that some buffed-out, over-caffeinated, entitled software engineer at some start-up doomed to failure is going to charge across the intersection and T-bone my old 4Runner. And then yell at me for going too slowly and getting in his way.

But nothing happens. I cruise across the intersection and on to maybe my 10,321st sausage-and-egg muffin.

You need to know that Boulder is a fairly good place to live, but that there about 21,487 really important people that live here who drive as if the rest of us don’t matter. They are usually driving high-end Eurotrash cars or, if their last start-up flamed-out, Subies. In their minds, there are simply no rules that apply to them. When they don’t have their hands in their pants, because no sane person would sleep with them, they are driving while texting, talking on the cell or doing their eye makeup in the mirror (this is not just an indictment of men; there are woman assholes in Boulder, too, maybe more).

So this moderate, mindful reaction to a traffic light malfunction must have been an anomaly. When I finish my breakfast-in-a-wrapper, there will 297 cars backed-up at the same intersection with two of Boulder’s Finest with donut crumbs on their chests and one Deputy Sheriff trying to straighten out the mess.

Nope. Not true. When I reach the intersection again, the red lights are still flashing in all directions and traffic is moving slowly but efficiently.

This got me to thinking. If drivers in Boulder can manage a busy, malfunctioning intersection, why couldn’t more laid-back folks do the same thing in mountain towns where summer and winter traffic can sometimes just stop dead for minutes at a time due to a red light when no one is moving across the intersection on the green light?

A little research found that this concept is called Naked Streets, something the Euros have been doing for years, and it seems to work. And not only does traffic move more efficiently, but there are fewer fender-benders at these intersections. “Reports often cite the town of Drachten, Holland, as an example. Accidents at one major intersection fell from 36 in four years to two in two years after the traffic lights were removed.” This from a New York Times article of 9.2.09.

So, how about a little traffic experimentation in mountain towns? It might just make us a little more civilized and free to manage our own traffic instead of mindlessly reacting to traffic lights. That we would no longer be supporting the international traffic light cartel, the thousands of government employees that maintain the lights and the criminals who manufacture those traffic violation cameras is a good thing. That our Finest would have more time for donuts is a better thing.

Alan Stark, who used to be MG’s assistant editor, owns and operates Boulder Bookworks.

Talking Turkey

In many ways, the Thanksgiving turkey has become a metaphor for the downfall of our bloated and broken American civilization. Once the sacrificial bird that united the Pilgrims and Indians (that’s the version that is completely devoid of revisionist history), it’s now a word used to describe idiots, has become a common incendiary device with the advent of deep-fat turkey fryers, and helps make Thanksgiving the leading day in the U.S. for house fires. If you have any doubt: watch?v=3vZnuYK2Wfg

1) Hunting for advice?

Turkey hunting is the second-leading cause of hunting accidents, yet it remains a relatively safe sport, with 100 out of 3 million turkey hunters in the U.S. getting hurt in the pursuit of the almighty bird. To add to your own safety, here’s a bit of advice from the Colorado Division of Wildlife: “Don’t wear turkey colors. Red, white and blue are colors found on a turkey’s head.” Anyway.

2) Turkeys talking

Dan Maes, Republican candidate for Colorado governor, said that, although he had initially supported environmentally friendly programs such as Denver’s bike-sharing project, he had to reconsider his position. He said such programs are in fact a veil for much more complex schemes. “If you do your homework and research,” he said, “you realize that (encouraging people to park their cars and ride bikes in the city) is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.” At press time, Maes was trailing Big Time in the polls.

3) The lure of tryptophan

The Golden State has the glory of producing the most turkeys in the American West, growing roughly 15 million each year. (Minnesota leads the nation at a rather gross 48 million.) It’s no surprise that Butterball produces the most turkey meat — 1,330 million pounds a year. Americans devour 17 pounds of turkey apiece annually, while folks over in Israel set the world record at a stout 22 pounds. The largest dressed turkey on record was recorded in 1989 in London. The bird came in at a respectable 86 pounds. Animal rights groups are quick to point out that such weight gain isn’t healthy; if human babies gained at the same rate as farmed turkeys, they’d weigh 1,500 pounds at 18 weeks.

4) Turkeys join Nixon on pardon list

Last Thanksgiving, President Obama issued an official pardon to a 45-pound tom named Courage, meaning that, instead of gracing the table at the White House, the bird would instead travel — live! — to Disneyland to serve as grand marshal at the theme park’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The President described the bird as being saved from a “terrible and delicious fate” by “the interventions of Malia and Sasha — because I was planning to eat this sucker.” A second bird named Carolina also received a pardon and was sent along as a stand-in if Courage couldn’t stand up to the job. The birds were set to retire at a ranch after fulfilling their duties.

5) Turkey spending

If you’re still pissed at Arizona because of its tough stance on illegal immigration, know that someone there has a heart. Consider the case of the Mount Graham red squirrel, which recently won a $1.25 million federal grant. The money is going toward tracking collars, radio transmitters, cameras and canopy bridges for the endangered rodents, to be erected on State Route 366 near Pima as well as Forest Service Road 803. The idea is to keep the 250 existing squirrels (down 15 from last year) from becoming roadkill, and officials believe they will be able to save the lives of at least five squirrels this way. That’s $250,000 per squirrel and suggestive of the work of turkeys at the financial helm. Note, though, that the webbing used in the bridges is military-grade nylon with a minimum vertical clearance of 20 feet.

6) The burp of relief

If salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter or any other pathogens become your dinner guests this Thanksgiving (speaking from personal experience in which I and 16 others suffered Thanksgiving food poisoning at work, I implore you to follow the stuffing guidelines as if your last gasp depended on them, and indeed it does), rest assured you’ve got the legal guns on your side (assuming you didn’t poison yourself). The Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm specializes in big-time food poisoning and has represented clients in almost every big food-borne illness outbreak in recent U.S. history. The firm won $15.6 million for the most seriously injured survivor of the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli debacle, was recently on the front lines of the Iowa egg recall and nationwide salmonella outbreak, and has been involved in most of the big cases in between. Known for a way with words, Bill Marler has issued such tomes as “Who Needs Al-Qaeda when you have got E. Coli?”

7) Turkeys take flight — sort of

According to FAA accident reports from a few years back, a pair of coyote hunters from Ft. Peck, MT, were chasing their prey from the air when the passenger accidentally shot the fuel tank and right wing of the aircraft, causing it to crash. The hunters survived, as did the coyote, and somewhere in all this is a karmic hint about fair chase.

8) Dead Turkey

A 20-year-old man was stopped near Lakeview, OR, for speeding and cops determined that he was driving a stolen car out of Idaho. With that, he was handcuffed and placed in the back of the cruiser, where, ostensibly, he would ride in safety to the nearest jail. However, while the officers were out of the car, he brought his hands to the front of his body, squirmed through the hole between the front and back seats, and set off driving the squad car. He hit speeds of 90 mph before hitting some tack mats. He then drove on flat tires awhile longer before a cop was able to ram him with his cruiser and send the stolen cop car into a spin. Unfortunately, the car rolled and the driver, whose hands were compromised by handcuffs, had been unable to fasten his seat belt.

Why We Do It

In 1923, English mountaineer George Leigh Mallory was asked why he intended to climb Mount Everest the following year. He replied “because it’s there.” Those three words, regarded the most famed in all of mountaineering, might also be the raison d’être for any outdoor activity. The mountain-bike rider traverses a rocky trail because it’s there, just as an evening stroller saunters to a woodland pond because it’s there.

Yet the being of outdoor venues doesn’t fully account for their attraction. Indoor activities clamor more for our attention. This may be why outdoor aficionados often speak of the mental benefits of their pursuits. The mountain-bike rider may boast of the adrenaline kick of a precipitous trail, just as the philosopher may praise the tranquility of a silent shore. And as readers of this magazine know, outdoor life is said to be good for you.

So, we are active outdoors for many reasons. Or are we? Might there be a single unifying reason that explains it all? Moreover, in the ongoing environmental enlightenment, might outdoor activities be part of the Gaia? In 2005, questions such as these were included in a three-year joint initiative by the Nordic countries to probe the interactions between the environment and public health. Together, the Nordic countries are an ideal crucible for such inquiry. Their populations are among the most physically active of the world, which contributes to their consistently high scorings in international comparisons of happiness. They are all social democracies with well-developed welfare systems, so solutions to problems are transferable across borders. And, save for Finnish, their languages are mutually intelligible, so international meetings may be held without interpreters.

The quest was commonsensical; the countries wanted to know where future healthcare spending might be headed. Mental health was singled out as a principal concern, in step with the World Health Organization prediction that, by 2020, mental maladies and depression will be the second-most-prevalent public

health challenge worldwide. That set the agenda for the Outdoor Life and Mental Health project that started in 2006, peaked in an inter-Nordic congress in 2007, finished in 2008, and published its findings in 2009. The findings are largely of interest to welfare administrators and healthcare professionals. But, turned around, they explain why we seek the outdoors, as do three principal findings of interest to those of us attuned to the outdoor experience.

First, regular physical activity is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of many lifestyle illnesses. Yet, to date, it mostly has been prescribed as an antidote for overweight, obesity and cardiovascular maladies. It has been little used in the prevention and treatment of mental maladies. That should change, as physical activity is known to help people overcome angst and depression.

Second, physical activity is most effective when done outdoors. This is because the physiological benefit of physical activity is more or less independent of where it takes place, while the mental benefit can be fully realized only outdoors. In turn, this is because mental benefit depends on the interplay of many stimuli, and only outdoors can we experience the interplay that involves the whole person.

Finally, even in small amounts, natural environments are beneficial. Post-operative patients recover quicker if they can see a bit of green nature through the windows of their hospital rooms. Even short walks in natural surrounds have measurable psychological effects. In urban environments, ready access to green spaces helps improve health, lower mortality and reduce social problems.

The overall conclusion is that the outdoors isn’t just undeveloped landscapes in which some of us romp. It’s where our minds still function, despite the veneer of what we call recorded history. For, 90 percent of the time we humans have existed on Earth, we’ve been hunter-gatherers. In computer terms, we’re still thus hardwired, despite generations of programming to cope with the complexities of our increasingly urban lifestyles.

Most likely, all who have taken to the outdoors for recreation have experienced the truth of that conclusion. I admit to having been aware of it in advance, as the 2007 inter-Nordic congress of the Outdoor Life and Mental health project was held at a course center on the shore of Lake Sem, in the municipality of Asker, the exurb of Oslo where I live. I felt that its findings ought to be boiled down in English and made available to the outdoor world at large. So when the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment asked me to translate an extract of the report, I agreed on the spot. The extract in English was published in April 2010 (see Further Reading box). This Dateline Europe column is based on that enjoyable task.

M. Michael Brady lives in a suburb of Oslo and takes his vacations in France. By education, he’s a natural scientist. His Dateline: Europe column appears monthly in the Gazette.

Too-Close Encounters

The bottom line is that everyone needs something to believe in. Me? I believe in truth and fairness and what goes round, comes round.

I also believe in UFOs. I will state here for all to read that I think UFOs and their occupants make their way here on a fairly regular basis. For what reasons I cannot say, but I’m guessing that we entertain/sadden the piss out of them. God knows we’ve really fucked things up.

I believe in UFOs largely because I believe it’s ludicrous to think Earth is the only planet that hosts life forms, including the bipedal developments that more or less resemble the human being. With this rather thin philosophy, I drove to Hooper, Colorado, where Judy Messoline hosted a Labor Day Weekend conference at her UFO Watchtower. The attendees were people who have thought a whole lot more about the UFO thing than had I or Greg Younger, a provider of good tequila and spit-take campfire stories, who agreed to photograph the experience. These are people, many of whom live and breathe UFOs and paranormal events, who have covered all their informational bases. Ain’t nothing they haven’t talked out, believe me.

We closed in on Hooper after a wrong turn, and had driven in silence for a few minutes when Younger brought up The Critical Thing That Nobody Wants to Talk About.

“Think we’ll get anally probed?” he asked.

“Um, I dunno,” I replied. Fact was, I’d thought about it mightily, and chances are Younger had devoted at least three days to weighing the odds. “Are you getting nervous?”

“No,” he said, staring across the San Luis Valley. More silence.

Our mood lightened when we stopped at the gas station and eatery in Hooper, which sports an inordinately large metal chicken in the parking lot. Younger went nuts taking pictures of the chicken while I went in to get directions. “Three or four miles that way,” the woman at the counter said, probably for the 18

billionth time in her life. The chicken seems to get a lot of competition from Judy’s UFO Watchtower, and if that ain’t enough, there’s an alligator farm down the road and more cattle mutilations in the valley than you want to know about. As someone who’s done therapy, I’ve been told I don’t have a good hold on what normal is. But you’d need to be legally dead to not notice that the San Luis Valley has a lot of Katie-bar-the-door circumstances.

We came across signs with aliens painted on them, and from there you’d need to be — that’s right — legally dead not to find the Watchtower. Set in a field that doubles as a campground, the concrete dome has an expansive viewing platform that faces out to the Great Sand Dunes and Crestone — hot spots in UFO parlance and again, things that everyone at the conference — except for Younger and me — seemed to know about. People hereabouts talk about UFO sightings and subterranean bases the same way the rest of us talk about grocery coupons. Disbelief isn’t even on the radar. These people got over that a long time ago, the same way folks eventually got over the flat-world theory.

Judy drove a golf cart over to the Watchtower and showed us inside the concrete bubble that serves as a gift shop and info center. There’s a rock garden just outside with a couple cairns at its entrance. The garden is loaded with things that people leave behind as remnants of themselves: Mardi Gras beads, plastic aliens, a Wonder Woman Pez dispenser, Polaroid photos, baseball cards, bits of clothing, a wig and skateboard, rocks from all over the place and a half ton of pens stuck into the ground. Judy explained that numerous psychics have been to the garden and have drawn the same conclusion: There are two distinct vortices here, each marked by one of the cairns and each offering a portal to another, um, dimension. At the time, I was

too busy eyeing a plastic Elvis that someone left behind to pay much attention to the dimension theory and overall vibes of the place. Vibes that might contribute to lights sometimes being on inside the gift shop at night, according to a campfire story I would later hear. Thing is, there’s no electricity in the shop.

Judy also mentioned that folks see UFOs from the tower on a fairly regular basis and that she has witnessed dozens of sightings herself. She said this while fielding questions about T-shirts, campsites and the history of the Watchtower and the San Luis Valley, all while reciting the lineup for Saturday’s speakers. My take: This wasn’t someone who had the time or inclination to sit around and make up stuff. Her honesty scored a point for the existence of ETs.

Younger and I headed back to our campsite and met a sweet lady named Lulu from El Jebel. She was offering up a jug of margaritas and we zeroed in on some folks from Texas who had ice. We pulled up chairs near their Winnebago to pass the ceremonial vessel, and it struck me how oddly normal, Middle American these people were. Somehow I had expected a bunch of self-appointed intergalactic maharishis shuffling about, slackjawed, with their hands pushed toward the sky and annoying me to no end. But, no. Instead, we talked about American muscle cars, where everyone was originally from, the UFOs people saw from the Watchtower the night before and people’s kids. Someone mentioned that there’s a lot more alien activity in these uncertain times; Lulu discussed plans for her upcoming 80th birthday bash and I talked about the casserole I’d brought. The UFO stuff was couched in so much American normalcy that I was expecting the shoe to come down good and hard when it finally dropped. If the mothership was coming, I wanted it over and done — probes and all.

We spent the rest of the evening around a campfire with people who stopped by to watch shooting stars and the Milky Way against an unadulterated black sky, all the while hoping we might see a spaceship. It occurred to me that this was the most seductive sky I’d ever seen, and that it probably gets stared at more than, say, Christine O’Donnell at a MENSA meet-up. So, in theory, by virtue of this sky’s sheer beauty, people are going to notice things here that they may not see elsewhere. Another point for the ETs.

The only real abnormality that night was the car that pulled in next to us around midnight, spilling out several brotastics whose collective IQ hovered around 90. Gauging by the smells, I’m fairly certain they built their campfire with a loaded Diaper Genie and kerosene. I’m also betting the evening was dedicated to swearing in the standards bearer for the American Douchebag Association.

Overheard by Younger at 4 a.m., at roughly 300 decibels: “Dude, I juss wanna say that I have integggridy when I’m drunk. I’m juss sayin’.”

“Fuck you, man,” his friend said.

“Well, I’m juss sayin’.”

As a result, Younger was a bit crabby early Saturday morning. In retaliation, breakfast pots were rattled, our voices were decidedly raised and directed toward the brotastics’ tent, and we used the word “integrity” ad nauseam before heading over to the lecture building. We didn’t want to miss the opening talk about sasquatches and phantom panthers, the latter being mountain lions that look and act weird, often in weird places. They can be in the same meadow with

a bunch of deer, for example, and not pay any attention to the prey. Or they might be wandering around a Midwestern office park. And their footprints don’t match up with those of regular panthers. The theory, according to paranormal investigator and conference emcee Joe Fex, is they may not be of this dimension. Same goes for Bigfoot.

Fex was launching into the meat of the presentation when someone shouted, “Call 911!” An SUV had rolled from the highway onto the Watchtower grounds, and the room emptied amid a chorus of “oh, shit!” A bunch of us ran to the road as the travelers squeezed out of their flattened vehicle, scratched up but otherwise okay. That was a good thing; we could have summoned 911 response from Tierra del Fuego and they would have showed up faster than the nearest cops and paramedics. The Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department limped in several minutes after the State Patrol in a truck that was smoking wildly from under the hood, and from all appearances was on fire itself. Note to self: Donate heavily at the next firefighters’ picnic.

The day had begun strangely enough, and Younger and I got back to the lecture barn to find the hung-over brotastics lurking in the far corner and looking at us like we were the Next Dead People on Earth. We thought for a moment that they were going to come over and beat the shit out of us, but the room was packed with about 60 people and there was no way those douchebags could get to us without us first jumping over the back row of the conference attendees and running out the back door.

Next on the lecture docket was Gloria Hawker, an Albuquerque hypnotherapist who works with people who claim to have been abducted by ETs. I’d like to say something punchy here, but there was nothing remotely funny about the stories that unfolded — creepy stories about people getting snatched repeatedly and, at the very least, being severely inconvenienced and freaked out. At worst, these are stories of people getting raped and tortured, sometimes with the compliance of U.S. government officials. Everything has an eerie overlap here, where time and space and multiple dimensions and a zillion things that may or may not be conspiracy theories come together and get your neck hairs up. Apparently there are many, many strains of ETs and just as many reasons for bringing us into their fold: educating us on their technologies and warning us of our predisposition to destroy ourselves, harvesting tissue and the breeding of alien-humans. Between the accident, the Bullshit Brothers planning to kill us and the general ickiness of alien abductions, I lobbied for a trip into town to buy ice.

But the lady behind us said we didn’t want to miss Paola Harris, who was speaking next. And leaving the lecture barn would have been problematic at that point, requiring us to walk down the aisle and precariously close to the Not-So-Happy Campers.

Harris is a former high school teacher who lives in Boulder and Rome and who doesn’t bother to rehash arguments about the reality of ETs. “It’s real,” she said. And by the tone of her voice, we’d best get over it if we still think we’re the only intelligent life out there. Author of several books concerning exopolitics, or the study of the social ramifications of ET-human contact, she can easily convince a person that the topic is the single-biggest issue facing us as a planet. Harris spends a lot of time interviewing officials who have climbed big political and military ladders across the globe, many of them in their later years and feeling like it’s time to spill the beans. This comes at a time when governments such as France, Canada and Russia are liberating their UFO files and letting people decide for themselves what the hell is going on.

Harris told us that people can handle it. And maybe the government isn’t necessarily our biggest obstacle to getting the information into our hands. She said we’re our own worst enemies by keeping ET-related events in the bad-joke department. I looked over at Younger and felt kind of bad about the anal probes.

Feeling like I’d gotten what I’d come for after hearing Harris, and with Younger and I agreeing that we might not live to tell the story if we spent another night next to the newly installed standards bearers for the American Douchebag Association, we went back to the rock garden to leave some things behind.

Younger donated a little stone he’d been carrying around, while I stuck my pen in the ground with the others. And then, just for the hell of it, I put my hand on the top of one of the cairns, which allegedly marked a portal to another, um, dimension. As you might guess, the damned rock was buzzing. I took my hand off, shook it vigorously, and tried it again. Same thing.

Like I said, everyone’s got to believe in something.

Tara Flanagan is the Gazette’s Cartographic Editor. She splits her time between Breckenridge and Boulder, and she’s not bullshitting when she says she believes in stuff like UFOs and alien abductions.