I was a Cheyenne Frontier Days ‘Carny’ – The World Needs More Cowboys

carny cfd

Carnival worker Anise was my mentor many years ago when I worked at the Bill Hame’s Show during Cheyenne Frontier Days. CFD is again upon us. It’s the last full week in July, plus an extra weekend. I’ve been away from Cheyenne for many years, but still manage to make to CFD for at least a few days each July.

The chutes opened for another Cheyenne Frontier Days. I don’t know if I’ve missed one.

I’ll be up for Cheyenne Day and getting some men and women on the street interviews with CFD volunteers for the Volunteer Crisis Fund tribute I produce each year.

I like to be a part of the action.

There are a bunch of locals who could care less about CFD and leave town during the busiest time of the year.

My mom was big into CFD. She used to sing in a group called the Dearies organized through her women’s club. They sang old time songs and rode in the parade, as did my sister and I. Later, we sold pop at the parade.

Back when I was a newspaper columnist in Lander, I wondered what it was like to work in a carnival and decided to give it a go. I had a pretty good experience and can see how people get addicted to that vagabond lifestyle.

Turns out that the TV and movie business is a lot like the carny life. I worked an ABC Sports gig for a CU – Nebraska game which was as grueling, but didn’t involve sales.

This is my account of that July weekend.

Pink Floyd’s “Money” filled the clear, still evening surrounding the double ferris wheel across from the balloon dart game booth at the Frontier Park carnival where I worked for the Bill Hames Show.

Running off to join the carnival was something I’d always wanted to try and there’s no better time than the present. Getting a stranger to hand you their money with the chance nothing will be given in return is entrepreneurship in its purist form.

I always had a very romantic view of the carnival life as one of freedom, no cares, and endless foot long hotdogs.

The world needs more cowboys.

It’s now 7:30 pm on a busy Saturday night during CFD and I met Wes who had traveled with the show for many years. He finished his supper and escorted me across the Midway where I was introduced to Dozier Simmons.

He and his wife, Angelyn, manage a half dozen games for Kelley’s Concessions out of Alabama and one of several companies affiliated with the Hames Company.

“Here’s a shirt and badge. This is Anice. Just do what she does,” Dozier said as I pulled the blue knit polo shirt over my head.

“The object of the game is to buy a dart for a dollar, bust a balloon for your choice of a small mirror. Five wins for a large mirror,” Anice explained.

“Mirror” is a misnomer since the prizes are non-reflective square pieces of glass with pictures silk-screened on the back.

“I’m just part time – a couple nights a week. I live in Englewood and work at a print shop in Denver. I share a motel room in Cheyenne with one of the other women and her boy friend. I used to work full time, but the guy I was with beat me up and I left the show a couple years ago. Dozier asked if I’d work for him again,” she said while tying a knot in one of the spare balloons.

The game is really rough on the fingers – the world needs more cowboys.

Each of the mirrors slips into a cardboard sleeve to protect the paint and prevent patron injuries.

No matter how careful, I still managed to slice little cuts where I never thought had any useful purpose like on the index finger cuticle which gets irritated each time a balloon stem gets tied off.

My hands bled the entire weekend.

Tonight there’s another woman working with us named Amber. “I’m trained as a nurse and working here until something opens up in town,” she said.

Amber was tenderly limping around the area in obvious pain. “It’s not my foot, it’s my back. I was shot in the abdomen and it hit a disc on the way out,” she pulled up her shirt and showed the scars. “I ruptured another disc moving a box of these mirrors and have to have surgery again.”

After I arrived, the counter was divided up into thirds, “Amber takes the first third, I’ll take the middle and you take the other end,” Anice said with authority, since it’s her joint. I was the newbie and was at the end of the lineup.

There’s an infinitely long imaginary line separating each of the sections, sort of like the invisible cylinder above a basketball hoop used to determine goal tending.

Common courtesy is to avoid cross-hawking. Taking a fellow carny’s business is counter productive. Anice advices me, “If you pull that stunt on one of the guys who’s traveling with the show, he’ll knock the hell out of you. I’m just telling this to you for your own good, if you decide to do this again.”

The dart game marks are pretty easy to spot: biker types wearing all black and mirror shades – “Hey buddy, I’ve got an Ozzy mirror that would go great with the Ozzy T-shirt you’re wearing;” pre-adolescent boys minus parents with their fists gripped around several one dollar bills – “Do you play Little League? Then this game is a cinch. Bust one and win a Bon Jovi mirror;” young touchy- feely couples – “Hey pal, why don’t you be a gentleman and win her another one of these cute panda bear mirrors;” grandparents escorting grandchildren too short to see over the counter – “Tell you what, I’ll let your little cowboy stand on the edge here so he can  be equal to the taller kids.”

The Simmonses stop by to pick our money on their regular rounds. This time, Dozier has a swelled up eye and skinned up elbows. “Some college kid from Colorado punched him out over there. The police took him away,” Angelyn said in a scornful southern drawl.

The carnival business is tough. I didn’t run into any trouble.

Of course the dart game is pretty easy to win, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss.

Losers are bad for business.

As soon as someone misses, the crowd disperses as if in mass thinking, “Yes, this game is somehow rigged.”

The hours on your feet are long and the mental intensity high.

At midnight, there’s only one more hour to go and even Anice’s bark is complacent. The smiles become forced.

When you get busy, you have to keep up the endless personal chatter with everyone waiting in line while you’re locating the right mirror or putting up more balloons so they don’t leave. Everyone who plays is a potential return customer.

It’s closing time.

Dozier calls my name, “See you at 10 in the morning. We’re each paid a percentage of our individual take. I inflated 150 balloons today and my jaw aches.

Angelyn hands me $31.00.

It’s now Sunday, the last day of CFD and the crowd is much smaller. When the rodeo lets out, there’s a brief surge. No night show tonight, either. Tomorrow  is a work day for the locals and many of the tourists are either gone or out of money.

Amber called in sick this morning and arrived late in the afternoon. I noticed she’s working another joint across the way and worry that I encroached on her balloon dart game turf.

Anice and I spend the morning chatting between marks. It being Sunday, religion dominates the discussion. Anice is a born again Christian and feels carnival witnessing is part of her calling. There’s a Shroud of Turin mirror which is very popular today – both sizes.

A young drifter asks me if it’s okay to stow his bag under the counter. He’s looking for Dozier to ask him for a job. The next big stop is the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. We hit it off, probably because I didn’t rifle through his stuff.

He turned out to be real hard worker.

The food isn’t very appetizing and I chose to go without, which proved to be a mistake.

By nightfall the marks are getting tired and not as eager to play. Women and kids just ask to buy a mirror.

“No they’re not for sale. There’s more personal satisfaction in throwing the dart.”

Men try to get better terms and ask “How about three darts for a dollar, or two wins for the large mirror?”

At 10:00 pm the place comes to a screeching halt.

The air is finally quiet.

The neon lights stop flashing.

“Let’s get this place cleaned up. I want it to look like we were never here!”, Juanita screams to three kids in charge of sweeping the asphalt parking lot.

Juanita runs the joint across from ours in which softballs are tossed into a milk can to win a Spuds McKenzie stuffed toy.

The women who operate each of the joints are the informal lead workers supervising the “slough” which is the carnival dismantling process.

There are a dozen of us sloughing. All the prize stock is bagged and locked in the water race trailer.

The dart game trailer is hitched to the panel truck and hauled out.

The parking lot is empty.

It’s now 2:15 am.

Dozier hands me $50 and says, “We’ll see you next year.”

I earned enough to make a deal with another CFD vendor and ended up buying a pool cue from him.

Carnival inner circles are tough to break into and I felt like I gained a little respect among my fellow carnies by paying my initiation dues all the way through the slough.

Next time I do this, I’ll remember a pair of gloves – and eat more often!

The World Needs More Cowboys.

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My Cheyenne Frontier Days 5 life phases – The World Needs More Cowboys

Cheyenne Frontier Days changes, but stays the same. This will be my 65th CFD. Wherever I am, I manage to stop by for at least a day.

The world needs more cowboys.

It’s been several years now since CFD expanded into an extra weekend added onto the “last full week of July.” It was controversial when that happened, CFD became more about profits.

The change amounted to an extra parade, a couple more shows and bull riding and three or four more days of tourists buying boots and hats.

There are huge crowds and kids selling ice cold soft drinks along the parade route.

Two CFD mainstays, the Hitching Post Inn was out of business for many years before it was torched and the Mayflower burned, came back and then went out for good. It’s now a sushi place of all things.

cfd rose garden bob

Bob Larue and yours truly filming Rose Garden at the CFD parade in front of Marv’s Pawnshop.

All businesses either make or break their year based on CFD trade. A new sandwich place called the Capitol Cuisine opened last week hoping for a big start.

The night show entertainment is taking over as the big draw these days. CFD numbers are up, not because of the rodeo, but because of the party atmosphere promoted during CFD. The standing room seats are the primo tickets and a party zone for young people who think hamburger comes from the grocery store.

The world needs more cowboys.

Back in the good old days, the popular shows were family acts like Doc and Festus from “Gunsmoke” and the chuck wagon races. They don’t do those anymore either due to liability issues.

Being a Cheyenne native, some people are surprised to learn that my family and I were city people and didn’t get much into the rodeo part of Frontier Days.

Despite that, I figure I’ve been through four, going on five phases in my CFD lifespan, not counting my very early years I chased pieces of candy in the street at the parade. That’s not allowed now.

Who picked up those plastic ducks from the water raceway at the carnival?

1. Parade Pop Sales – When I was in the fifth and sixth grades, one of my golfing pals,  Pat Higgins, my sister Lori and cousin Matthew from Salt Lake City sold ice cold pop along the parade routes.

cfd alan lori

My sister and I getting ready to ride the hay wagon in the CFD parade.

Two months ahead of time was spent hoarding all the cheap off-brand sodas like Shurfine and Cragmont to sell at each of the three parades that wound through downtown Cheyenne. Although my dad worked for Coca Cola, we opted for a higher profit margin. Besides, thirsty parade goers weren’t interested in brands, they just wanted something wet and cold. This was well before bottled water. I think it was before flip tops and we had to open them using a can opener.

The first year, we ran out of pop and wasted at least a half an hour running over to Brannen’s Market on Carey Ave. which is now a Wyoming state government office.

During subsequent years, three red wagons were dispatched and cars with additional supply strategically parked along the parade route. My cousin saved the bag of loose change from his first take as a reminder of his first entrepreneurial project. I wonder if he still has it.

These days, kids have to get a permit and be accompanied by an adult. Plus there is no selling in the street in front of potential customers, only on the sidewalk behind them.

Sheesh – talk about over regulation.

2. Learning Human Nature at an Early Age – The Hitching Post Inn was the most popular CFD party spot. When I was in junior high school my first job was working as a bus boy there during the summers of 1966 to 1968. It gave me an early education about human nature – I hadn’t run into as many jerks and a**holes as I did during those days and nights at the Hitch.

hitchingpost

The Hitching Post was one of the CFD hot spots. It was my best job.

My favorite shifts during CFD were 7pm to 3am and 11pm to 7am. There was always plenty of action for a 14 year old kid – running booze and glasses to the smoke filled Coach Rooms for the Son’s of the Pioneers Show, shooting the breeze with fun-seeking cowboys and their girlfriends at the counter in the coffee shop.

I was in Phoenix Books and Music the other day and noticed a record by Jody Miller. She used to play in the Hitching Post lounge. I delivered room service to her. The only other famous person I met was Victor Jory, who sat at the coffee shop counter in a tan safari jacket smoking cigarettes.

Just before sunrise one morning another busboy named Mark Samansky – God rest his soul – and I went into the Coach Rooms. Mark played the drum solo from Iron Butterfly’s “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. I don’t think the boss – Kenny Ahlm – ever figured out who was making all the racket. I kept in touch with Mark until he graduated high school. He was a few years older than me and we lost contact. He, not surprisingly, went into radio broadcasting as a well known DJ. He died a few years ago.

3. High School Parade Rides – I’d ridden in the parade before as an elementary school aged kid. My mom was in a singing group called the Dearies, a group of her her women’s club members. All the members had kids – Murrays, St. Clairs, Nichols, Lummises –  and we all hung together during the summer. Many of us still keep in touch through facebook.

cheyenne frye

In high school, I rode in the CFD parade with Ed Frye in the ambulance.

I can’t remember who had the pull, but all of us kids from the neighborhood rode on the hay wagons during the CFD parade. That was sort of an initiation for kids to get involved with CFD – turns out it was for me since I’m still involved. The mom of one of my high school classmates, Janice Benton, was a volunteer on the CFD Parade Committee and for three summers through high school we rode in the horse drawn field ambulance wagon.

Two girls dressed up as Civil War nurses and two guys moaned in pain with bandaged limbs hanging out of the windows. For my shift, it was Jan, Eddie Frye and Tad Leeper.

We had messy jugs of red colored water and let it run out of the corners of our mouths – pretty graphic for CFD – but the crowd loved it.

We also had this “bed pan” schtick, but I don’t need to go into any of the details about that!

4. Old Enough to Drink in Public – As far as I’m concerned, Frontier Days started to go downhill when the Mayflower Bar on 17th Street went rock and roll. It was nutty back in the late 70s and early 80s. I was living in Gillette at the time and one year, we packed way too many people in a room at the Atlas Motel.

 

Brammar Neg 4036, Mayflower Cafe dance hall interior, Cheyenne Frontier Days, nd

The second Mayflower went out of business the year I made my Kerouac movie. This is the original Mayflower interior.

The police would block off 17th Street between Capitol and Central Avenues and walk down the sidewalk wielding night sticks banging beer cans out of the hands of pseudo-cowboys wearing huge gold and silver fake trophy buckles.

The obligatory circuit was flowing along with the mass humanity from the Mayflower then to the Elks Club then back to the Mayflower where I would bump into Cheyenne friends I hadn’t seen for years.

The Pioneer Hotel was taken over by bikers.

The Cheyenne Club opened on Capitol and was the big cowboy hangout for a few years until it went out. It’s been through several iterations and now empty when the Drunken Skunk went out.

All the CFD gathering points are now out of town at the Cadillac in east Cheyenne. and the Outlaw in south Cheyenne. When the parade ends, downtown turns into a ghost town with tourists and locals heading to the rodeo and the carnival Midway in Frontier Park.

 

cfd jill bill

CFD parade watch 50th birthday July 19, 2003 with Judy Gilmore, Susan Keenan, Jill Jensen, Steve Gilmore, Jeff Tish, Bill Keenan.

The Plains Hotel has had an identity crisis over the past few years. One of things I’d wanted yo do is watch the parade from a corner suite there.

In 2003, Bob Jensen, Al Wiederspahn – God rest his soul – and Mick McMurry renovated the Plains into a show piece. It wasn’t ready to open, but for my 50th birthday, I rented the room and invited 100 of my closest friends over for Bloody Mary’s and the parade.

Downtown Cheyenne has been unstable since JC Penney moved out to the mall 40 years ago. The Plains changed hands again. The restaurant is separate from the hotel.

Under the previous management, the Wigwam 2 – an homage to the original Wigwam Bar sort of worked.. It was kind of small but fun.

I don’t know what will be in there this year, but it’s a great place to eatch the parade.

I imagine the bar hopping circuit will be the same, but a much smaller circuit: Albany – Crown  – Elks. There is the relatively new Chop House, which, if they wanted to become the focus, open up the parking lot to revelry.

 

5. Movie Making I’m now in my fifth CFD life. I’d generally get media credentials when I was in the newspaper business. I remember doing a pretty good story about Indian Relay Races. CFD doesn’t have those any more.

I’ve made a couple short movies in Cheyenne using CFD as a back drop – “On the Trail: Jack Kerouac in Cheyenne” which is about the night Sal Paradise spent in Cheyenne during CFD on his way to Denver; “Rose Garden” which happens at the parade and in Frontier Park. I’m working on a documentary about the wild horse race, but I’m having a little trouble coming up with a story.

I also did work for the CFD Old West Museum and make the CFD Volunteer Crisis Fund annual tribute video.

CFD 2018 beganon Friday. I’ll be over at the media trailer picking up credentials and talking to people I see once a year there.

Incidentally, my CFD handle is “Bud” which is one of my best kept secrets.

The World Needs More Cowboys.

With 300 million guns circulating how can people be deterred from buying more?

guns with history

This video is a good example of how the gun culture can be changed by people believing their own observations, rather than their perceptions.

We’re a gun culture and nothing will change that. I used to think otherwise until there was yet another mass shooting by another American, killing 17 school kids and wounding another 15 in south Florida.

I don’t know about you, but I’m growing tired of all this.

I suppose the positive is the out pouring of care – random people wanting to donate blood, heroic acts by strangers, prayer vigils, flowers left at the scene, public officials decrying the action, social media memes.

Before the Texas 26 and 40 wounded, were 59 dead and 500 wounded in Vegas, before that it was Congressman Scalise shot while playing baseball this summer.

Before that, it was the June 2016 Orlando Massacre – 49 dead and 53 wounded.

Before that was in October 2015 at Umqua Community College in Oregon that was shot up by another twisted buy with 14 weapons in his apartment.

Rather than more laws, how can the culture change?

There’s an excellent scenario that played out in Manhattan with huge impact. Prospective first-time gun buyers get their wake up calls about gun ownership. Watch it here.

Buffalo Operation Rescue 1992

The gun control lobby should take a page out of the anti-abortion lobby playbook and start publicly shaming gun shop patrons.

The anti-gun lobby should take a page out of the anti-abortion playbook.

The anti-abortion lobby works hard to change the culture through grassroots efforts. It can’t pass laws that ban abortions, but put up roadblocks like strategic public shaming.

The pro-gun lobby says that more laws won’t keep guns out of the hands of anybody, let alone crazy people.

I acquired my hunting rifle from a friend. When I gave up the sport, I traded it to a guy who did some tile work.  I had a box of shot gun shells that I used for a movie prop and sold those at a garage sale. Guns and ammo are easy to come by – crazy or not.

I have to agree with that, particularly with 300 million civilian guns in circulation. One size does not fit all.

The crazies and bad guys get guns regardless of laws. The United States government is the largest consumer of firearms in the world, so it’s not backing off guns anytime soon.

newtown parents testifying

Newtown parents testifying before elected officials has fallen on deaf ears.

The politicos think that keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people is the answer. All crazy people have access to guns, but not all crazy people have access to mental health services.

That makes sense from a rhetorical standpoint, but I don’t know how politicians decide who’s the craziest, though.

Who’s crazier, McConnell or me? It’s a toss up.

It may be a personal choice to access mental health care services, but part of creating a new culture includes a social environment that makes seeking mental health services socially acceptable. Depression and other mental diseases are coming out of the shadows.

The POTUS 2018 budget slashes funding for mental health services which doesn’t exactly encourage people to seek services which are scarce. When a guy like the Vegas shooter knowingly goes up into a hotel with two dozen fire arms, that’s a public health issue.

While I’m sure that everyone personally deals with events like this differently, there doesn’t seem to be very many who are interested in creating the social and cultural change necessary to end gun violence.

I, for one,  haven’t followed the most recent Florida shooting much and end up watching the fake violence switching back and forth between Law & Order SVU and Criminal Minds.

Compared to anti-abortion zealots, the anti-gun group members don’t show the same long-term passion.

Before buying a gun, maybe prospective purchasers have to watch a video with bloodied up shooting victims. How about public shaming and protests in the rights-of-way of gun stores or on the public sidewalks in front of the Walton family homes.

Like the anti-abortion lobby, the anti-gun people should be grooming like-minded people to put in for appointed and run for elected public offices.

caleb keeter vegas

After the Vegas massacre, Kyle Abbott band guitarist Caleb Keeter posted this tweet after he was shot at during the show in Vegas.

I’m thinking that in the final analysis, the only people who get involved in trying to change the gun culture are those families and friends directly affected by the death or injury to a friend or loved one.

That’s a pretty small number of people and they can’t do it alone. The anti-gun lobby needs to come up with a higher purpose for their end game.

After Vegas, there was a country music guitarist, Caleb Keeter who had a wake up call after playing at the concert that night. He tweeted “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment all my life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”

Knowing his market, he may well go the route of the Dixie Chicks.

After the most recent Florida massacre, I doubt any legislators will put forth much effort beyond strong emotional responses, particularly since nothing happened after the 59 dead were sniped in Vegas, 49 were gunned down in Orlando, 27 school kids and teachers murdered in their school, nine South Carolina church goers shot in the back, another nine gunned down in a community college classroom. I lose track.

Here are three ideas to help change the culture without having to take anyone’s guns away since that’s not happening any time soon:

Short Term: Go to the shooting range and take a hunter safety class – The United States is a gun culture. If you don’t want to fire a gun, at least go to a gun shop and handle one – they have a distinct smell, they are heavier than the ones Detective Benson slings around. I used to be a hunter, but that experience gave me an appreciation for the power of guns and a realization that animals don’t stand much of a chance against them. I felled an antelope, shot at a few deer which was enough for me – it was a right of passage for a Wyoming guy. The country was founded on violence. The Constitution was written with that in mind – preserving and protecting citizen rights over that of the government – not storming into people’s houses, innocent until proven guilty by the government, right to privacy.

The last thing the government is going to do is take away people’s guns. That’s a scare tactic, but a successful one since the gun lobby continues to grow and the sale of guns is out of sight, despite nobody taking away any guns.

Medium Term: * Civil Rights Laws – Unless authorities uncover some hidden agenda behind the recent Florida massacre shooter, what about an “asterisk civil rights” class? Acting strange and owning guns do not rise to the “probable cause” threshold. People who are observed to have weird behavior, say odd things, post crazy facebooks posts need to put on some sort of “watch list”. After Orlando, I heard a news guy talking about this on the Today Show. He asked a Homeland Security guy about what it would take to “asterisk” civil rights laws so that anyone like the latest Florida terrorist could continue to be watched and monitored even if there is no probable cause determined. I think the only time limited martial law was approved was by the antebellum Congress at the time of Abraham Lincoln.

Long Term: Reapportionment – the US Census will be completed in 2020 and new US congressional districts will be drawn as well as state legislative districts. The SCOTUS ruled in favor of independent redistricting commissions taking gerrymandering out of the political process. This is an opportune time to create competitive state and national districts and balance when considering potentially divisive legislation.

If you didn’t read this story last time or this time, I’ll re-write the lead after the next massacre.

Tiny House Cohousing?

green creek rv park

The Green Creek Hotel and RV park is the model for tiny house cohousing infrastructure. On the horizon is the Smith Mansion, which has an odd history.

On the road in Wyoming last week one night was spent at the Green Creek Inn and RV park. If you’ve stayed in camping / RV parks there’s, generally, an area set aside for semi-permanent places for longer-stay RVers.

In Wyoming, they are seasonal park workers, oil and gas field workers, hard-core hunters and fishers.

There’s been talk about low cost housing types for Millennials paying off student debt, seniors seeking nursing home alternatives and marginalized populations like homeless vets.

Forms of cooperative and collaborative approaches float to the surface. Tiny houses are low cost to construct and lots of them can be crammed onto a piece of ground. As such, there are cities that are building tiny houses for the homeless population.

A few years ago, I helped organize a Regional Cohousing Conference in Boulder. There were around 90 people in attendance from the US, Canada and Australia with various interests in this collaborative housing form.

This is tiny house that is 21' by 8.5' in size with a fairly tall ceiling.

This is tiny house that is 21′ by 8.5′ in size with a fairly tall ceiling.

In a past life, I used to be a city planner in Wyoming and a member the Boulder Planning Board in Colorado, as well as the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley in Longmont. I studied ecological biology and environmental politics as an undergrad and grad student. How to live a balanced life in both the human and natural environments has always been an interest of mine.

The cohousing idea is a little bit about the buildings, but it’s more about setting up an old fashioned sense of community in which residents participate in the design, character and culture of their neighborhoods. With an itinerant population like homeless people, creating a sense of community would be a challenge.

The cohousing idea originated in Scandanavia, which is a bit more communal and socialistic than in the US. Here, cohousing tries to adapt communal tenets into the “rugged individualism” of America.

The pitfalls of that evolution was the main topic of the Regional Cohousing Conference which was entitled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I’ve written a post or two about those issues.

cohousing2

This is a 500 sq ft tiny house that has a 1-car garage and a balcony.

Over the past few years, interest in “tiny houses” has been growing. That is, people choosing to live in homes that are from 200 to 600 sq ft in size.

They are generally built on a “flat bed” and can be wheeled around from place to place, but also can be built on a foundation, but that kicks in an entirely different set of building requirements. Tiny houses on skids or wheels fall into the land use category of mobile homes.

They are far different than your standard mobile home. Regular mobile homes can be the size of stick built houses that incorporate some space saving design features. If you google “tiny house” lots of websites and images pop up.

How about this idea – a cohousing community  that consists of tiny houses?

It makes sense to me.

The biggest hurdle for traditional cohousing, as well as regular housing, for that matter, is money.

Cohousing homes are houses with no lot lines with the development and individual houses

Cohousing homes are houses with no lot lines with the development and individual houses “designed” with input by the resident / community members. This home in Silver Sage Village recently sold for $750,000.

Money for land, money for the development. Because cost is such a huge factor, homes are constructed that maximize profit. This generally means expensive houses crammed onto a tiny space. How about the opposite – inexpensive houses on tiny spaces, that results in more open spaces?

Tiny houses cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 and can be parked in friends’ back yards. They are often built with sweat equity. There’s a cable tv show about downsizing baby boomers, young couples and individuals making the move to drop out of the “bigger is better” society. Some tiny homeowners want to be more mobile, others are sedentary.

With tiny houses, a cohousing organizer wouldn’t need near as much space as a typical coho development. It would depend on the rules, but a tiny house development would likely be more transient.

Utilities could be “hook ups” like in an RV park. Decisions would have to be made, based on political jurisdiction about individual septic or a septic field or central wastewater collection; individual water cisterns or central water.

I would think there would be some amenities like streets, sidewalks, open space, in addition to the common house.

This is the interior of a tiny house that through innovative design maximizes the space.

This is the interior of a tiny house that through innovative design maximizes the space.

At the typical RV park, the longer-stay “residents” have access to the common showers / restrooms, laundry, the little store and breakfast available to the overnight campers.

I can envision a common house that is more permanent, though. As a monetary hedge against potentially higher turnover rates, the common house could be mixed use with community amenities like the open dining area, kitchen, laundry facilities, TV room, guest rooms, with business tenants or owners like a convenience store, coffee shop, business offices, laundromat and the like.

I happened to be at a commercial development in Highlands Ranch – a ‘burb of Denver. There was high and medium density housing on the back side and mixed use / commercial fronting on the main drag and a strip mall with convenient services like coffee shops and kitschy stores that also included large box retail which require lots of parking.

Highlands Ranch is more known as a typical “cul de sac” nation and not as a “sustainable” community – intentional ir not.

Because tiny houses are small, neighbors would be more likely to frequent the common house, than in some traditional cohousing communities in which homes are the same as in suburbia with large living rooms, utility rooms, large kitchens. Neighbors go in their house and you don’t see them again.

Sarah Susanka says that buying a home strictly for

Sarah Susanka says that buying a home strictly for “resale” value isn’t the best choice.

There are the unfounded housing characteristics necessary for resale, as espoused by Sarah Susanka author of “Not So Big House.”

Susanka, who is also an architect, says that the sense of “home” has less to do with quantity and everything to do with quality. She points out that we feel “at home” in our houses when where we live reflects who we are in our hearts.

I heard her speak at Denver University a few years ago. The examples that stuck with me are those of the “den” and “dining room.” She asked the huge audience about who uses their den and who eats in the dining room. Not many hands went up.

I’d say that, for the most part, communities still have a bias AGAINST mobile home parks and hold the “trailer trash” stereotype. In a place like Boulder, there would be an uproar about this as a form of affordable housing. The best place to try this out would be where land is inexpensive and there is less of an elitist attitude.

At the coho conference, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker from Minnesota, who also lives in cohousing, about the idea of tiny house cohousing.

I’ll plant the seed here, but it may take me developing the idea in order for me to document it.

lincoln court old postcard

Click on the Lincoln Court image to check out and download the draft business plan.

As it turns out, I am trying to get interest in a mixed use intentional community located in Cheyenne, Wyoming called the Lincoln Court. We had our first informational meeting with participants naming “tiny houses” as one of the possible land uses, along with cohousing, apartments, coworking offices, gallery and performance space and studios.

The project is moving forward with a draft business plan available. Check it out. The project is planning for a tiny house village to diversity apartments, and two affordable cohousing projects offering stick-built town houses and cottages.

Anyone interested in building a tiny house in a cohousing community?

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This article was originally published in December 2014, but updated, in part due to a wordpress glitch that obliterated the story.

The ‘Aging Gratefully’ in cohousing film series now streaming – rent or buy

alan mri machine

Book a personal appearance by “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Good Health and Good Neighbors” filmmaker Alan O’Hashi who will screen the film and facilitate a discussion. $$$ is deductible and negotiable!

The “Aging Gratefully in Cohousing” documentary series is now streaming. There are currently three films related to growing old in an intentional community.

You can also book a screening for your community or general audience by obtaining a screening license for a nominal donation.

To purchase or rent, click on the Video On Demand (VOD) links below:

“Aging Gratefully: The Power of Good Health and Good Neighbors” (Run Time: 50min – 2017) Filmmaker and Silver Sage Village senior cohousing resident Alan O’Hashi is mostly recovered from his death bed illness in 2013.

DSCN2046 As a result of that experience he’s become much more aware of his health. One of his neighbors circulated information about a research study at the University of Colorado about the effects of exercise on brain health.

Curious, he was selected to be a research subject. To measure success, one of the criteria is emotional health and strength of relationship building.

Does living in a cohousing community be an added benefit to physical exercise? He interviewed six residents of newly-formed Germantown Commons to find out their motivations to living in cohousing and whether living intentionally with neighbors was a positive experience and what physical activities happen in a group setting.

Germantown Commons featured residents:

  • Essie Sappenfield (retired)
  • Doug Luckes (still working)
  • Suzanne Glasgow (still working)
  • Sarah Carroll (single mom)
  • Chris Corby (still working)
  • Ginger Lange (retired)
  • Vicki Metzgar (retired)

Also Appearing:

  • Bryan Bowen, AIA (Caddis Architects)
  • Angela Bryan PhD ( Principal Investigator CU FORCE study)
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Book a personal appearance by “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Culture and Traditions” filmmaker Alan O’Hashi who will screen the film and facilitate a discussion about his experiences. $$$ is deductible and negotiable.

“Aging Gratefully: The Power of Culture and Traditions” (Run Time: 30 min – 2017) My latest trek took me to South Africa where I’m investigating a third documentary in the Aging Gratefully series.

There’s an intentional community being formed in the Town of Memel and the Township of Zamani in the South African Free State Province by a friend and colleague, Steven Ablondi and his wife Cindy Burns. Steve and I serve on the National Cohousing Association board of directors.

I tagged along with the Memel Global Community architect and my across the street neighbor Bryan Bowen and a couple of his crew, Jamison and Molly. Bryan lives in the Wild Sage Cohousing community in Boulder.

I embedded myself with a local buy named Shakes in the Black African community and even though it was only for a couple days, I gained quite a bit of insight into the cultural dynamics, which are not unlike those I encounter among my Northern Arapaho tribal member friends.

As this story develops, how Native American tribes could incorporate cohousing concepts into its growing housing demand will also be investigated. There are generations-long traditional tribal cultures that have a norm about multi-generational care for elders. Does it it makes any sense to form intentional communities around these customs?

This is a 30 minutes pilot of my visit shot mainly on an iPhone 6s and I’m not sure if anything will come of this story. What do you think?

Memel Global Community featured denizens:

  • Steven Ablondi (cofounder)
  • Bryan Bowen (Caddis Architects)
  • Shakes Mafanela (SheWins sports coordinator)
  • Marley Hauser (SheWins volunteer)
  • Pieter Lombaard (Binary Film Works)
alan shoveling

Book a personal appearance by “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” filmmaker Alan O’Hashi who will screen the film and facilitate a discussion about his experiences. $$$ is deductible and negotiable!

“Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” (Run Time: 51min – 2015) In the first of the series, what if 25 senior citizens decided to grow old together in a cohousing community? Learn about their illness, angst, and fun times while owning and maintaining 16 condos, a common house and community gardens.

Cohousing is a collaborative living arrangement. Residents own their own homes, live private lives but share in the ownership and upkeep of common spaces such the garden and common house.

It’s a challenging way to live, but living together more intentionally is a hedge against being alone and isolated through the twilight years of life.

Filmmaker and Silver Sage Village resident Alan O’Hashi was on his death bed in December 2013. Following a 6 week hospital and rehab stay and a month of home confinement, he joined a yoga community to regain his strength, but learned more about himself than just getting healthier.

Through his reflections, he recounts his continuing recovery and weaves those experiences with the perspectives of neighbors with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and those who find themselves in supportive neighborly care giving roles.

Cohousing pioneers Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett and gerontologist Anne Glass phD offer their perspectives about senior cohousing living.

jim brownie bbqerSilver Sage Village featured residents:

  • Lindy Cook (nurse)
  • John Huyler (facilitator)
  • Henry and Jean Kroll (retired from San Francisco)
  • Dan Knifong (retired professor)
  • Jim Leach (Silver Sage Village developer)
  • Margaret Porter (retired federal government)

Also Appearing:

  • Anne Glass phD (University of North Carolina Wilmington Gerontology Program Coordinator)
  • Chuck Durrett AIA (McCamant and Durrett Architects)
  • Katie McCamant (The Cohousing Company)
  • Larissa Ortiz (teacher The Little Yoga Studio)

The Denver Post published a story prior to “Aging Gratefully” production beginning and KGNU radio did a story about it post production

If you have questions about purchase, rental or booking a screening, email Boulder Community Media

Collaborative Communities 101 and Lincoln Court

Boulder Senior Cohousing Communities

Click on the image of Lindy Cook and Alan O’Hashi and join the Lincoln Court facebook page. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

Baby Boomers have kicked the birdies out of their nests and downsizing from years of accumulating the detritus of life.

Millennials are finding it increasingly difficult to find low cost housing for themselves.

One lifestyle that’s getting some traction is that of living in a community whether it being a traditional retirement village or having housemates which are well known alternatives or in not-so-well known communities like cohousing.

While cohousing is far from mainstream, there is growing interest in intentional neighborhoods. Architects Chuck Durrett and Katie McCamant studied in Denmark and coined the term “cohousing.”

What if the six characteristics of cohousing were applied to an urban community consisting of not only housing but a mix of businesses and public uses?

A small group of cohousing, mixed use visionaries, including myself have started a 20 acre project on the urban fringe of Cheyenne, Wyoming called the Lincoln Court. We’re laying cohousing approaches over a high density, mixed use community anchored by a city owned and operated indoor ice rink and a proposed indoor sports complex. It’s a grassroots project that will come about as a result of a high degree of consensus among the future community denizens:

back-40-subdivisionCollaborative neighborhood process. Future Lincoln Court denizens will have a chance to participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs. There will be a series of meetings as the project progresses to define them. Some collaborative communities are initiated or driven by a developer.  The Lincoln Court Collaborative Community is a combination of both with the developer playing more of a technical role making the community member vision real. This collaboration will result in a well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community that integrates with the adjacent West Edge community, as outlined in the city of Cheyenne Missile Drive Corridor Plan.

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Collaborative neighborhood design. Rather than a top-down approach with planners, architects driving the design, the physical layout and orientation of the buildings will be initially determined by a “focus group” of people who attend various informational meetings. The design process encourages a sense of community and facilitates social interactions from the get-go. For example, the private residences will likely be clustered on the site, leaving more shared open space; compatible businesses are planned to co-locate in the common house or on other common spaces. The goal: create a strong sense of community using physical design choices – walk-ability, live / work artist spaces, community and private spaces for public and private performance and art exhibits and classes, co-working spaces for residents.

garden-dayCollaborative common spaces. Common facilities will be designed for daily use, and for special community activities. They are an integral part of the collaborative community, and complementary to the private residences and businesses. The extent to which the private businesses and studio spaces are public will be determined. There will likely be an expectation that community uses and activities will be a part of the private business spaces. Participating in community life is optional – denizens may have as much community as or as little community as they want.  Since the buildings are clustered, the Lincoln Court may retain several or many acres of undeveloped shared open space for future expansion.

henry-facilitatingCollaborative management. Lincoln Court denizens will manage, to a great extent, the business of the collaborative community, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. The cohousing sub-communities participate in the preparation of common meals, and meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community. A master Community Association may be formed to deal with issues concerning common spaces of the entire collaborative community, such as snow removal, open space maintenance, and managing community business relations.

ssv-sharing-circleCollaborative consensus. Leadership roles will evolve and based on how and when community members join Lincoln Court. However, no one person (or persons) has authority over others. As individuals, families, businesses and organizations join the collaboration, each take on one or more roles consistent with their skills, abilities or interests. Lincoln Court will make decisions by consensus or similar forms of consensus decision-making. Although likely will have a policy for majority-rules voting if the group cannot reach consensus (nuclear option).

cr-art-showCollaborative community economy. The community is not a source of income for its individual members. However, in the Lincoln Court, rental income from businesses, use of performance / exhibition space, studio / co-working spaces would accrue back to the community at-large to decrease homeowner / community owner association fees / reserve funds. It is possible that the master association or a sub-associations could contract with a resident / tenant to perform a specific task for compensation, but more typically the work will be considered that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities. It is possible that community residents will earn income from rented studio or business location.

CFD-Production-5948Collaborative higher purpose. The envisioned community “higher purpose” is around arts, culture and fostering creative thinking in the day-to-day community functionality. The site has a great story. The original site was a part of a Homestead Act land grant at the turn of the 20th century. Historic Highway 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway spanned coast to coast in the 1930s. The Lincoln Court was built as a motor hotel which later evolved into the Hitching Post Inn. The Hitching Post was a legendary Cheyenne landmark. There are some great stories associated with the site which are big selling points for the project. Mine, for example? My first job when I was a 12-year-old was at the Hitching Post.

An introductory meeting is being planned for early December. We’ll provide some information about the project, about collaborative communities, cohousing, the arts and cultural higher purpose. We’ll ask those in attendance to “break ground” and help with some general land use concepts for the site. It will be informative and a lot of fun.

Yes: Amendments T, 69, 70, 72, sugary drink tax, schools … Hillary

My ballot is ready for delivery. There’s a law in Colurado that photos of filled out ballots are not allowed. Mine is in the secrecy sleeve.

The election ballot came in the mail the other day. I hear a bunch of people haven’t quite made up their minds yet. I don’t get that. Not that I’m any kind of political guru, but here are my takes on the election.

While I like the convenience of mail-in ballots, having to place first class postage on them is a form of a poll tax. Old school student that I am, I will drop off my ballot at the polling place on election day.

I predict the Democrats will take back the Senate and make a big dent in the House GOP majority. What will continue to stalemate congress is the heavily gerrymandered districts that benefit the Republicans. Democrats who get elected in Republican districts will likely be there for one, maybe two terms. The SCOTUS decision upholding the Arizona election commission as a non-partisan redistricting tool and the 2020 census should enable the creation of more competitive districts.

Presidential Electors – Hillary and Kaine: I was/am an ardent Bernie supporter but now reluctantly for Hillary – but solidly, 100 percent behind her. A vote for Hillary / Kaine is a vote for the Bernie movement. If you’re for social justice, getting money out of politics, balancing income disparity, cracking down on Wall Street, further health care reform, fixing trade deals, then, maintaining a Democrat in the White House  will move that agenda.

I predict Hillary will win by a landslide. It will be unbelievably huge – believe me. Hillary is lucky she’s isn’t running against McCain or Romney this time. It would have been a tight 2016 race.

Write in Moon

If you’re one of those “Bernie or Nobody” or “Hillary and Trump are both terrible” voters, it’s not like you don’t have choices. There are 22 pairs of candidates on the Colorado ballot. If you don’t like any of them, there’s a “write-in” blank. Because of third party candidates, Hillary is likely to win in Utah … WHA’???!!!

If it’s any consolation to my Wyoming friends voting for Trump, in any scenario from a Hillary landslide to a Hillary squeaker, Wyoming goes solidly for Trump. Trump is guaranteed three electoral votes.

For those of you who have forgotten what you learned in political science class, we don’t vote for candidates, but rather for electors who, in turn cast each state’s vote for president. Electors aren’t bound to vote how the state directs them, however. There are people who don’t like this approach, but we’re a nation of states not a nation of people, as we are sometimes led to believe. The electoral college system provides equity to the least populated states.

US Senator – Michael Bennet: This is a no-brainer for me. In a purple state like Colorado, the US Senators have to govern to the center. Michael Bennet after being appointed by Governor Hickenlooper, had a tough reelection campaign in 2010 against Ken Buck. He’s proven his ability to work on both sides of the aisle including with junior Senator Cory Gardner. He stays out of papers and governs quietly.

Representative CD 2 – Jared Polis: I’ve known Jared and his partner Marlon Reis for a number of years. I think I first met Jared when he was managing his foundation and eventually on the state board of education. He is another guy who has to be sensitive to the Republicans in his district, which expands north and east. I’m okay with that.

I tend to support people I know – Republican or Democrat – and that’s no exception for these contested races:

CU Regent – Alice Madden

State Senator – Steve Fenberg

County Commissioners – Elise Jones, Deb Gardener

As for the judges, the blue book gave them all a pass. I’ll let them ride another term.

Constitutional Amendment T – YES: This reminds me of that Seinfeld pilot episode within an episode when a guy is sentenced to be Jerry’s butler. Rather than take this provision out of the constitution, the reference to slavery and involuntary servitude should have just been removed. There are plenty of similar punishments that happen in the forms of community service, restorative justice retribution, etc.

Constitutional Amendment U – NO: People / Corporations who use public land for private purposes should continue to pay taxes. The constitution is no place to be dealing with administrative costs as being a reason to exempt users from paying tax.

Constitutional Amendment 69 – YES: Big pharma and mega-insurance companies are against this one. If it passes, it will signal other states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act which has been a boon to big medicine. There are many people who will be turning 65 soon and enrolled in Medicare. Why should I be okay with paying a little more income tax? It’s for the common good. Besides, I don’t have kids in the public school system and I don’t complain about paying those taxes, because education is public good.

Constitutional Amendment 70 – YES: When I was a kid, I worked for the minimum wage, which was, seems like $1.32, and for a 12-year old that was a lot of money – especially when I was allowed to work sometimes 50 hours a week. What else did I have to do? The minimum wage isn’t supposed to be a living wage. It’s a benchmark. It’s a starting wage. The current $8.31 isn’t even a starting wage. However, for workers who think they can make a living on $9.50 / hour, I have news for them, they better get two jobs or get fit to work into something that is better paying. Small and micro business owners have a good gripe in that this could be an undo burden on them, but it’s a cost of doing business. If a small biz is just squeaking by paying workers $8 an hour, maybe it should evaluate the business model.

Constitutional Amendment 71 – NO: The reason the constitution gets amended so often is because if it isn’t in the constitution, the state legislature can change a law passed by referendum at the drop of a hat. If anything, the constitution should be amended to say that any law passed by referendum can be changed by the legislature, but any changes have to be by majority of each county’s legislators, independent of party of affiliation.

Constitutional Amendment 72 – YES: Taxes like these are paid by people who knowingly use a product that is bad for them like tobacco (in fact, it’s written on all the packages). Tobacco also happens to be addictive so it’s an easy sell. Tobacco smoking isn’t a right, it’s a choice. People who choose unhealthy options, regardless of reasons, also place a burden on the public health and safety through second hand smoke, avoidable health problems such as heart and lung disease. The bad lifestyle choosers also get into insurance pools driving up premium costs. This isn’t about tobacco users (they often think laws like this gang up on them) but rather about tobacco. Also, if this were only a law passed by referendum, the tobacco company lobbyists would have a hey day lining elected officials pockets to get the law gutted.

Proposition 106 – NO: I think there are adequate ways for caregivers to end a person’s life or a sick person to end their own life without adding this huge death industrial complex behind it. Let’s see, there’s Smith and Wesson, the left over oxycodon … This is a choice that a person makes after consultation with family friends, preacher, their dog. The government has no place in this decision.

Proposition 107 – YES: I imagine both political parties are against an open primary because it allows independent voters to vote in either partys presidential primary election. I don’t know how any one who stood in line for hours thinks the caucus system is better than a direct primary.

Proposition 108 – NO: While independent voters would be able to vote in a party primary for state and local candidates, it allows an exception for non-presidential candidates to be selected by a convention of party elites. This must be a compromise voter suppression measure proposed by the GOP.

Boulder County Issues 1A, 1B, 1c – YES: I always vote for the pittance of sales tax increases to maintain infrastructure including parks and open spaces. I seldom use the open spaces, but they are a public good.

Boulder County Issue 1d – NO: Term limiting candidates should be left up to the voters to decide. If the District Attorney is doing an okay job, let him/her serve as long as the public can stand them.

City of Boulder 2H – YES: This is a tax similar to the tobacco tax proposed in Amendment 72. If a person wants to make unhealthy choices, they should be willing to pay a little extra. The Big Gulp from 7-Eleven now costs $1.59 and a refill is $.99 – I’m pretty sure your average Big Gulp drinker would pay 50 cents extra. I know I won’t mind. I’ll continue to buy my fountain soda here, than travel to Longmont for my occasional to save on taxes.

City of Boulder 2I – NO: There are other ways to better utilize the Boulder water supplies. Denying land owners water isn’t the right way to do it. There’s a big debate happening in town now about residential growth. Allocation of scarce resources needs to be a more balanced approach.

City of Boulder 2J – NO: The city of Boulder council is not a full time job and providing access to benefits available to city employees encourages people to run for office not to serve, but to self serve because of the health insurance benefits.

City of Boulder 302 – NO: There is no need to legislate term limits. If anything, there should be another effort to establish city council wards in Boulder to create more equitable representation. Remember the time when two council members lived in the same house?

Boulder Valley School District 3A – Yes: Even though I don’t have kids in the school system, education is a public good. I helped on 2A many years ago which fixed the existing schools and built some new ones.

Yours truly, Michael and Jerry mugging at BIFF

Scientific and Cultural Facilities District 4b – YES: I am self-interested in this one. I’m a member of the Boulder International Film Festival board of directors and some of our funding is SCFD. This is one of most worthwhile taxes, particularly for small to medium sized arts organizations.

In another race of interest to me, I think this is the biggest game changer of all the overlooked elections in the country:

Wyoming CD At Large – Liz Cheney: I predict the Virginia carpetbagger and daughter of Dick Cheney will win in a landslide. She quasi-moved back to Wyoming to take the open seat held by Cynthia Lummis. I further predict that Cheney will ditch Wyoming after two terms and run for president in 2020 / 2024. Carpetbagging worked for Hillary Wyoming is a way easier path to the top than going through New York. If she wanted to take the big state route, Texas – corporate home to her dad’s firm Halliburton – would have been the obvious choice.