Even before Bill O’Reilly dubbed Boulder something along the lines of “a cesspool of immoral hippies engaging in group sex,” I knew my hometown was special. What prompted Mr. O’Reilly to such slander was a panel on “STDs: Sex, Teenagers and Drugs” at Boulder High School, the subject of much contention in April of 2007.
But the last thing I’m trying to do is defame the name of the greatest city in Colorado. It remains a fact that most people are divided in their opinions of the place. To some, Boulder is the only worthwhile place to visit in Colorado. To others, Boulder will always be home to the richest and most hypocritical liberals in the state, a haven for socialists, communists and even environmentalists. Far from idealizing the city, I’ll always love it.
Because apart from the occasional scandal that rocks a small city of just under 100,000 people, Boulder is a great place to grow up. Let me put it this way: Homeless people in Boulder really are there by choice. I can attest to this, having lived in North Boulder, only a few blocks away from a homeless shelter much nicer than its neighboring Holiday Inn. The homeless guys on Pearl Street, the brick pedestrian mall, wear Rasta hats and hold flippant signs like, “Why lie? It’s for beer.” They’re the happiest homeless men you’ll ever meet.
Both Izze and Crocs originated in Boulder; case in point, you’ll either love us or you’ll hate us. Needless to say, you’re more likely to like us if you tend to lean left in your beliefs and can appreciate the miracle of composting. If you’re Republican and a staunch believer in the Second Amendment, then this is probably not your Eden.
But not even the haters in neighboring conservative towns (the same ones who have coined our city “Boulder Island,” or rather, a chunk of California transplanted to the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains) can deny that Boulder has character. We might not have embraced the “real” suffering that Buddhism emphasizes, but we boast a Shambhala meditation center, Naropa University (a Buddhist institution) and far too many yoga studios to count. We might be hypocritical at times — occasionally driving SUVs with “Save the Rainforest” stickers on the bumpers — but we’re extremely friendly, genuine, open-minded, accepting people. I guess it’s just hard for those people to understand why, exactly, we’re so happy.
As a seven-year-old, I wasn’t too happy about driving more than 1500 miles across the country to live in the heart of what my dad erroneously called the “Wild, Wild West.” Starting from our old house in Connecticut, we slowly made our way to Colorado. I brought with me my beloved hermit crab, George, and wondered what awaited me in the city still so far away and so inexplicably named after a rock.
The move wasn’t the biggest adjustment of my life, but it wasn’t small either. And my expectations of Boulder, the entity, were entirely readjusted upon arrival. My parents had promised me a golden retriever. Instead, we got a Shih Tzu. I’d arrived in July, wrapped in layers of North Face in expectation of cold “mountain weather,” and instead met a sweltering Coloradan summer. I left a prep school in New Haven to attend Friends’ School, whose motto was “Educate the whole child — head, hand and heart.”
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I came to appreciate the transition from fast-paced East Coast to laid-back West, but it might very well have been during one afternoon spent at the Boulder Creek. That day, it was the usual mass of tangled dreadlocks and Che t-shirts, bodies sprawled on blankets, inner tubers drifting lazily on the surface of the water. An ice cream man rang his bell as he wheeled by on a bicycle-led ice cream cart. The wholesomeness of toddlers splashing their feet in the Creek was starkly contradicted by several old joints buried in the gravel between my Tevas. Boulder, I realized, would never be perfect. But it seemed comfortable in its imperfection, and that was more than fine with me.