Time On My Hands

People covet that which is new and shiny. This universal truth has been demonstrated once again in the south suburbs of Denver, Colorado on Tuesday when hundreds of people waited for hours in the freezing early morning fog as the first Krispy Kreme store opened. I find this entertaining not because people camped out the night before the grand opening or that the wait to buy doughnuts was still an hour-and-a-half at eight o’clock in the evening. The really amusing part of this story was traffic was so heavy around the doughnut shop that it clogged up the highways in the area the entire day.

A lot of people tell me that I have too much time on my hands. While I don’t disagree with that statement, I feel it is my duty to point out that I was not one of the thousands of people who stopped at Krispy Kreme on Tuesday. I would also like to point out there are many, many bakeries in the Denver area that bake doughnuts every day that can be visited without cashing in a sick day.

The story got me thinking about what kind of things I do to waste time. A lot of people seem to think that running the newfunny.com web site is clear proof that I have too much time on my hands. While I can’t totally disagree with that statement, I’m not the kind of guy who wastes time with a single activity. No– I like to think I am very diversified in this part of my life. To prove my point (and waste a little time in the process), I thought I would talk about one of my more memorable recent time killers.

Before I go into the details here, I would like to emphasize the point that not everyone who uses a vacuum to clean their patio has a mental illness. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First of all, my patio is on the first floor and has a four foot high concrete barrier in lieu of a decorative railing. The concrete compliments the thorny bushes that block out 95 percent of the sunlight that attempts to get through. These architectural cues were borrowed from the beach front structures the Germans used to defend their positions in Normandy.

In addition to being a strategic location to mount heavy artillery, my porch is also a great place for dust and leaves to collect. If left unattended for a few years, the area would completely fill up with dirt and develop it’s own thriving ecosystem. While I’m generally all for allowing man and nature to peacefully coexist, I also would like to get back my damage deposit when I move out of my apartment. So every now and then I go out and clean up the area.

The leaves and random pieces of trash that visit my porch don’t really put up much of a fight when clean up time approaches. The real problem is the fine dirt– it doesn’t really sweep up very well since the area is not very large. The fact that the floor of the porch sits several feet below the ground means there isn’t anywhere to sweep the dirt. That was when I decided to bring out the vacuum cleaner.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time probably wouldn’t describe me as a “clean freak”. The whole point of vacuuming my patio was to get it clean with the least amount of effort. In all honesty, I didn’t think that using a vacuum cleaner was going to work very well. In fact it turned out to be a lot less effort than the half-assed approach I was initially going to use. Getting the porch cleaner than initially planned was just an added bonus to the entire situation.

I would like to encourage everyone who reads this to make sure to spend some time each day doing something that isn’t productive. You don’t have to look far to find such activities. Play a few games of “Minesweeper” on your computer. Think about what the sequel to “The Matrix” is going to be like. Sit around and imagine what Al Gore is doing today instead of running the country. And, if you are one of the many, many people who are wasting time waiting in line at Krispy Kreme, pick me up a half-dozen glazed doughnuts and a pint of milk.

Slowing Down in Boulder

It seems like you can’t take five minutes nowadays to lay in the grass and stare up at the cloud formations floating across the sky without something coming along trying to speed up the pace of life. Pagers and cell phones make sure we are constantly in touch with the rest of the world-whether we want to be or not. If it isn’t time to check e-mail over the phone then you better whip out the Palm Pilot for some fast paced day trading.

I remember a time when the world wasn’t in such a rush to get where it’s going. We would sit around that beat up old portable radio and learn about what animals the communists sent up into space and what dirty lyrics the FBI discovered in that “Mony Mony” song. Most of our spare time involved trying to figure out a way to get to Woodstock that summer. Wait a minute, I was born in 1974. I think it’s quite possible that I’m writing about false memories. But the pace of the world is getting faster-I’m sure about that. The city of Boulder, Colorado, however, is doing what it can to slow things down.

No, they aren’t chaining themselves to cell phone towers and requiring that all citizens wear sandals. Instead the city is focusing on ways to slow down the speed of traffic. Recently they have installed bright orange construction barrels in the middle of certain intersections with signs that say something like, “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk.” I’m not taking the position of being against pedestrians. In fact there are times when I had to park my car a block or two away from where I was going and actually became a pedestrian myself.

I believe that people in cars have their own definition of what it means to yield to pedestrians. Some drivers come to a complete stop when they see someone that wants to cross at a cross walk. Other drivers purchased the front grill and headlight protection on their sport utility vehicles for the sole purpose of not having to slow down when encountering any indigenous mammal life forms. The other ninety-nine percent of the driving population seems to fall between these two terribly contrived extremes. My point here is that people’s driving habits aren’t going to change based on construction barrels placed in the middle of cross walks.

While I personally don’t like this new traffic control device, I have to admit that traffic does seem to slow down on that stretch of the road. Especially when the car in front of me slammed on its brakes when a cute little kitten jumped out from behind one of those barrels at just the wrong moment. OK, that was a cheap emotional ploy to win your sympathy. While I did just make up the part about the kitten, it brings up an important point about our automotive transportation network. When constructing intersections, the people who build roads generally try to keep the pavement clear of shrubbery, billboards, those little drive-through taco stands, and in general, anything that people can’t see through very well.

I thought about going to the intersection and chaining myself to one of the barrels, but I quickly realized that I would be stuck in the intersection until I was hit by a car or arrested by the police. If anyone in town drives half as bad as I do, I would probably get hit first. Also, the logistics of chaining myself to a large rubber barrel seemed more complex than, say, a tree or a cell phone tower. Moving the barrel out of the intersection and then chaining myself to it would be safer, but not quite as effective as a protest.

In the end I decided to use my unique mix of witty banter and irrelevant emotional appeals to prove my case. Speaking of which, the kitten narrowly escaped injury. The car in front of me stopped just in time to avoid contact. The driver was so relieved seeing that the kitten was OK that she didn’t see the golden retriever puppy that was hiding behind the barrel on the other side of the street. Skipping over some of the gory details, the puppy survived the ordeal. The only way of knowing he was ever in an accident is the little doggie wheelchair he has to use for the rest of his life.

Entertainment of the Future

I have to admit up front that I have never written a story while being held against my will at the Boulder County Police Headquarters. Usually I sit home at my desk and mold the random thoughts running around in my head into a somewhat coherent and for the most part correctly-spelled piece of literature. On this occasion I was not afforded the meager luxuries of my small one bedroom apartment, but rather I scribbled my thoughts on the back of some legal documents with a small pencil the guards overlooked during the customary pat-down process. I suppose the guards didn’t view me as a traditional “psycho killer” type during the check in process. Either that or their apathy won over. What ever the reason, it gives me a chance to explain how I got here in the first place.

It all started rather innocently enough. After a few hours of one of our favorite Saturday night activities, my friends and I were talking about how we could improve the already wildly entertaining game of Laser Tag. The place where we usually play sports an impressive 8500 square foot multistory arena where up to forty people run around shooting each other for thirty minutes at a time. The next logical step would be to play it outdoors. Being regular customers, the manager let us take a few of the guns out in the parking lot to see how well it would work.

Playing laser tag in the parking lot was a blast. We would run around the buildings and take refuge behind the few cars that remained in the parking lot at two in the morning. If you aimed the gun carefully, you could hit someone that was standing still from about 200 yards away. The biggest problem was that after about thirty minutes of running around the parking lot we were all too out of breath to play anymore.

I suppose at this point in the story we could have all gone home, and the story would have ended there-and more importantly, without the need for police intervention. But that’s not what happened. After catching our breath on the curb of the parking lot, we created a slight variation of the game. We reasoned because we all like to play Laser Tag and we all like to drive our cars that, “Laser Car Tag” would be more entertaining than either activity by itself. We decided on boundaries for the game, picked teams, and each got into our own car.

The general idea was to chase down one of the cars from the other team and shoot the blinking lights on their gun in order to get points. With four cars and a rather large field of play it wasn’t very easy to find the other team, much less shoot the lights on their gun. We all drove around for twenty minutes without anyone getting hit. At that moment I realized my teammate Brian and I both had cell phones in our cars. I called him up and we set up a trap for the other team.

In case you were wondering, it’s not all that easy to drive a car with a standard transmission, talk on a cell phone, and aim a laser gun out the window trying to hit the other team all at the same time. Despite these difficulties, Brian and I were able to set up a trap where I got one of the other cars to chase me and Brian sneaked up from behind and hit one of their sensors. Victory was ours.

Sometimes in life you can win and lose at the same time. This was such an occasion.

While Brian was sneaking up on our prey, it turns out that there was a police car that was sneaking up behind all of us and witnessed the entire maneuver. He pulled all three of the cars over. In all honesty, I don’t think he appreciated our creative vision that night. While he didn’t specifically arrest us for playing laser car tag, he did mention some “laws” against going thirty-five miles an hour over the speed limit through the main street in Boulder, not stopping at red lights, and erratically changing lanes every three seconds. We presented what I thought was a convincing verbal argument that it’s the difference in speed that kills and since we were both going seventy miles an hour down 28th street, there was really no chance that we would hit each other. The officer seemed largely unconvinced and decided to give us the pleasure of spending the night in jail.

My first (and so far only) night in jail was not as bad as I imagined. Neither the guards or other prisoners deemed it necessary for me to receive any kind of “anal probe”, which I greatly appreciated. I spent four years in college living on dorm food, so what they gave us in jail really brought back memories. If all goes as planned tomorrow morning we will all get out on bail pending our court hearings.

Post Trial Comments:

The trial received much more publicity due to the accounts of that night and the corresponding video tape from the officer’s patrol car being the feature story on the television show “COPS” last week. As part of my plea bargain, I have agreed to provide a public service message on what has now become known as Xtreme Laser Tag.

Youth of America– playing Laser Tag while operating a car, motorcycle, mountain bike, or gyrocopter may seem like a whole lot of fun, but it’s actually a very dangerous sport. While there have been no documented deaths attributed to this activity in the United States, it is believed every year between 100 and 200 children in Mexico and other parts of South America die in Laser Tag related incidents. Remember– friends don’t let friends get really drunk at Christmas parties and… OOPS, that was a previous story. Just remember kids, officers have been authorized to use stun guns and other forms of violent-yet-non-lethal force to stop these now illegal Laser Tag games.

Well, that part is over. Now I can get this whole ugly mess behind me once I finish my 200 hours of community service in accordance with the terms of my parole.

Problems on the Hill

The unusually cold winter this season has given Boulder a few months of calm from the recurring problem of wildly inappropriate behavior up on the Hill. As a mix of retail, housing, and Greek organizations, the area west of the CU Boulder campus known as the Hill has become a real black eye for both the University of Colorado and the city of Boulder. While several approaches have been used to bring the occasional riot under control, the problem does not seem to be going away. While I don’t claim to have all the answers (or even to know what all the questions are for that matter), I have observed various conditions in the area that seem to aggravate the younger residents of Boulder and may be part of why this situation on the Hill is far from being resolved.

Anyone that has been on the CU Boulder campus for more than three seconds has more than likely encountered a parking Nazi hard at work writing tickets for illegally parked cars. I’m not sure exactly how they do this, but just pulling into a metered spot when you know you don’t have any change in your car attracts their attention. I suspect the CU Parking Department has formed an alliance with the National Security Agency to use high level military satellites and state-of-the-art computer algorithms to monitor each car that enters the campus. I think the rules such as, “don’t take up three handicapped parking spaces if you are on your way to participate in a sporting event” and, “No matter how late you are for class, please don’t abandon your car in the middle of busy intersections” should be strictly enforced. The parking situation on campus isn’t going to get any better by ticketing every single car that has gone over the meter. It gives the general impression that the University is more interested in parking revenue than providing students with an education. This, in turn, adds to the general frustration level in the area.

Another issue in the Boulder area at the moment involves closing down local raves. If you are not familiar with the concept, it’s a place where young people go on the weekends to listen and dance to music all night long. The organizers of these events work with local law enforcement officials to keep the situation under control. People are searched for drugs and weapons before going in and undercover officers patrol the event to discourage drug use. In the wake of some highly publicized incidents in the metro area involving teenagers and Ecstasy, the city of Boulder is considering using “nuisance laws” to shut down local raves. Eliminating this relatively controlled environment by classifying these young people as a nuisance is going to lead to more negative energy in the town. While sitting in an abandoned warehouse listening to alternative rave music until the sun comes up may not be everyone’s idea of fun, as far as I understand it does not involve vandalizing storefronts, lighting things on fire, or dispensing tear gas canisters.

In general, I like to think of myself as being on the side of the police. Sure, I’ve received an occasional speeding ticket, but I don’t hold a grudge when I knew all along that I was going twenty miles an hour over the speed limit as I flew by the police car parked in the convenience store parking lot. My view changed a little bit after attending a CU verses CSU football game at Mile High Stadium two years ago and watching police officers in full riot gear deploy pepper spray from behind a chain link fence at people who were sitting in their seats after the game had ended. I’m not sure what the commanding officer at the game was thinking, but if you put fourty or so fully armed police officers around the field at the end of a college football game you are going to have a whole bunch of curious people waiting around to see what happens. I can understand the desire to keep students from pouring on to the field, but the overt display of police force aggravated the situation more than it helped.

So the next time an unruly group of people gather up on the Hill looking for trouble, consider the big picture. Some part of the group is saying, “I believe the CU Parking Department is over zealous with their enforcement of parking regulations”. The next couch or dumpster that is lit on fire in the street is a statement of, “Thanks for trying to shut down the raves.” And when a drunken, unruly mob starts throwing empty beer bottles at the responding riot police officers they are saying, “This is for Mile High Stadium– where we were unfairly brutalized and beaten up by the CSU football team two years in a row!”

Fun and Games

While most people think of me as a mere computer geek, the truth is that my obsession with the less popular aspects of general amusement span the entire technological spectrum. I can entertain myself for indefinite amounts of time with the time honored tradition of poking at things with a stick. At the other extreme, anything that is shiny, contains a variety of colors, and makes funny sounds also captures my attention. This, of course, explains my life long obsession with Elton John.

I visit some of my friends on a regular basis and we will often times get together for an evening of Empire Builder– our favorite railroad board game. (It’s OK, Rail Baron– we love you too) The general idea is to build a network of railroad tracks across the board with different color crayons to connect various cities on the map. Once you have built up enough track, you earn money by acquiring and delivering different types of cargo (oil, wheat, steel, and so on) to different cities along your network of train tracks. A lot of things seem more amusing when it’s three in the morning and you have been drinking caffeinated beverages continuously for the past seven hours while staring at a bunch of crayon marks on a map of the United States. Having said that, our favorite type of cargo is oats because we get to use the phrase, “Hey everyone, I’m haulin’ oats”.

I thoroughly enjoy playing Empire Builder despite the fact I hardly ever win. I suspect my problem is I derive too much pleasure from building tracks just to get in the way of everyone else. They say that defense wins championships, but I suspect that particular philosophy is more applicable in the NFL. Another problem I have involves bringing out my anger from past experiences. I have a deep psychological need to build tracks into Pittsburgh after an embarrassing tactical error on my part in a previous game that allowed Brian to take control of the city. In the long run it didn’t really matter-there are more than two dozen cities on the map. I felt as though I let the city down in its moment of need. Kind of like when I was five and my mom would leave me in the checkout line at the store to pick up something she forgot to put in the cart and I had visions of the checkout guy taking me off to jail when they realized I didn’t have any money to pay for the groceries.

On the more “high tech” side of social activities, my friends and I are really into playing Laser Tag. I know that most people associate it with a bunch of sixteen year olds running around with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. While that described us rather accurately when we first discovered the game, it’s now ten years later; we drive better cars and have a more lenient curfew. The part about having better things to do on a Saturday night is really a matter of perspective. I enjoy playing Laser Tag more than I like taking part in excessive alcohol consumption while having to deal with abrupt changes in the directional flow of my upper digestive track.

While Laser Tag is a physical game that involves running around a large maze, one of the keys to getting a high score involves employing a good strategy. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off is generally not the best way to go. Following basic rules like, “Don’t stand in the same place if you are getting hit every five seconds” and, “You can’t sneak up on people very well if you are yelling at one of your friends twenty feet away” can dramatically increase your score. Despite the use of the word “laser” in the name of the game, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a decent player. I’ve seen quite a few thirteen year olds girls with neon color hair and various metal objects in their nose get impressive rankings once the scores were tallied. Being skilled at Laser Tag and longing for various members of N’SYNC do not seem to be mutually exclusive.

Now you know insofar as can be described in eight hundred and twenty-four words what I like to do for fun. This story would’ve used more words if I wasn’t so lazy with the use of contractions, or fewer words if I eased up on the tangentially relevant anecdotes. If you are the type to stay awake at night wondering about my entertainment habits, you are going to have to think about something else tonight. I suggest going into your living room, turning the television to some random cable channel, and start thinking, “Now how have I managed to survive this long with a kitchen that doesn’t include a restaurant quality portable rotisserie cooker?”