L’shana tova, my fellow non-believers!

I have a complicated relationship with Judaism. It’s not even serious enough to qualify for the “It’s Complicated” status on Facebook, but it is there, nonetheless. See, I’m what one might call a secular Jew. How the hell does that work? you might ask. I suppose it doesn’t, if you’re only looking at Judaism as a religion. If you recognize it as encompassing a culture and ethnicity as well, however, you have a lot of my family and me pegged.

Unlike my father, aunt, uncle, and three male cousins, I didn’t even have to squirm and roll my eyes through Hebrew school. I was never Bat Mitzvahed, and if Ethan and I ever do tie the knot (something that only comes up when both of us are at least two sheets to the wind, so don’t hold your breath for breathless wedding posts), our plan is to go before a Justice of the Peace. If we even spend that much money. I hear we can get it done for free at the DMV, and given how annoying wedding planning sounds, I’d rather substitute three hours in line for months of stress anyway.

Thus leaving me wrestling with the question of what, exactly, to do on the high holidays. Contrary to popular belief, Hanukkah is relatively insignificant. None of the events commemorated even took place during Biblical times. It only gets the attention because it happens to be right around Christmas. By the way, there is nothing in the traditional Hanukkah story that lends the holiday to any gift-giving, let alone eight nights of it. I’m pretty sure that was only put in to stop American Jews from converting to Christmas–I mean, Christianity–en masse.

But Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover–I gleefully attend dinners the night they start. I’m supposed to take the following day off work or any activity that might resemble work. I couldn’t take the day off for Passover this year; I already had to get a substitute just to come to dinner, and the community college I worked at docked part-time instructors’ pay for any time taken off. I also would have needed to secure a substitute for two evenings instead of one, none of which added up to pretending to be a good Jewish girl for a god I don’t even believe in.

But sometimes, you get nagging questions about your beliefs. I also don’t believe in an afterlife–very few Jewish people do, and I certainly know of no atheists who do–but I started asking questions when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year. After years upon years of sucking elephant balls, Chicago’s hockey team finally won the trophy. The only way that seemed possible was if my mother, a Chicago native and Chicago sports fanatic who died nearly four years ago, had been up there somewhere, nagging whatever powers that be until they conceded and let her precious hockey team walk away with something more than butkis.

Or take today. My boyfriend and I were supposed to go down to Albuquerque, leaving Denver after our radio show this morning. Devout Jews would never drive on the Sabbath or a high holiday, so I would be committing a major no-no here, and no way in hell would I let Ethan drive the entire 440-something miles. But plans are plans, and Ethan’s mother is intimidating enough that I would not want to interfere with the itinerary I gave her.

So it was with some displeasure that I woke up with a splitting headache, a raw throat, snot clogging my airways, and eyes sticky and unfocused from a lack of sleep. The show must go on, so Ethan and I finished our broadcast and mulled whether or not we really wanted to drive down today or wait until tomorrow.

“You look groggy,” he said as my eyes drooped during our discussion.

“I’m exhausted,” I admitted.

“I didn’t sleep too well, either,” he said.

“Like I’d let you drive anyway,” I snorted.

“Like I’d want to.”

So Ethan called his mother and explained that we were a little too sick and tired to begin driving. Two of her relatives had died in a car crash when they both fell asleep and the road made a curve that they didn’t follow, so she was eager to let us catch up on some much-needed shuteye. I was more than thrilled to collapse on the couch and sawed logs for the next four hours.

I didn’t drive after all. I did manage to get in my radio show, but the Torah was written well before Yahweh could put an express prohibition against internet usage. Besides, it’s not work if I’m not getting paid. I know I merely caught a head cold from tutoring in a public place with all kinds of public germs on Monday, but I suppose you never know for sure.


“I’m Hemorrhaging Money Here!”

That the Subaru was shuddering violently even at Jackson’s posted 35 mph speed limit was not a good sign. That it only shuddered more violently on the highway was even worse.

“I wonder what the resonance frequency of a Subaru Outback is?” I mused out loud. Ethan chuckled nervously. We had just blown through Rock Springs and were 100 miles from any noticeable form of civilization, a position not uncommon for travelers trying to get through the bland southern Wyoming landscape.

But the vibrations kind of felt like a massage after a while, and they ran together so tightly after 75 miles per hour that they were hardly noticeable. We got to Denver without winding up as discrete Subaru parts flung across the highway. Still, I resolved to take her into the dealership the next day.

The nearest dealership to my house is in Aurora. As I’ve alluded to earlier, getting from my apartment to the ‘burbs is no quick errand, and the area in which the Shortline dealership is doesn’t lend itself to lingering for a few hours. Ethan and I were invited to visit the Village Inn while they figured what was causing the vibrations.

We went through one pot of coffee. Then another. Ethan had found a copy of the Denver Post, and we each went through the headline section, then Denver & the West, then the entertainment section. We were about a quarter of the way through the crossword puzzle–the New York Times puzzle, no less–when I finally got the fateful call.

“One of the tires cracked loose from its seal,” the cheerful voice informed me, “but it looks like they all need to be replaced. Also, both the front and back brakes are worn out, the drive belt has some tears in it, and the battery started leaking acid all over its casing. That’ll of course need to be replaced, as will everything that got corroded.”

“Nnnngh,” I groaned.

“We don’t have an estimate on the tires yet,” the cheerful voice continued, “but the other repairs will total $956. Plus tax, of course.”

Ethan watched sympathetically as I audibly dropped my head to the table.

“One grand!” I shouted as Ethan guided me back up Havana, where the dealership would arrange for us to get a rental from Enterprise. “And that’s not even including the tires! I’m gonna need to sell this car to pay for its repairs!”

Ethan patted my back. “She’s four years old. We drove her a lot last year. You needed new tires anyway.”

Always reassuring, my boyfriend. I blame him for the stares we attracted as I wailed into his shoulder, attracting the stares of people waiting at the light.

The rental car, at least, got covered by the dealership. I was able to fork over $1550 and regain my car the next day. Not a moment too soon, as my other car, the one I had inherited from my mother and kept around mostly for sentimental reasons (and because it’s too old to fetch a decent price), needed to be moved out of my stepbrother’s garage. Since it had been in there for so long, it needed to be jumped.

I jumped it once and got it out of the garage and into the alley, where it died. I jumped it again and got it almost out onto the street. The third time, a combined team effort of my boyfriend, my stepbrother, and myself were able to get it moved to a parking spot along the street. That night, I joined AAA, which said they, like most health insurance companies, would not cover “preexisting conditions.” I resolved to wait two days before calling a tow truck.

Fortunately, the tow was free. Unfortunately, replacing the alternator and drive belt on this car would not be. “Second verse, same as the first!” I thought to myself as the mechanic totaled up the damage. $750.

“These cars better be fuckin’ indestructible!” I screamed to Ethan as I got off the phone.

“It could be worse,” he pointed out.

“Oh?” I said through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, remember how we took the cat to the vet yesterday? At least he didn’t need surgery!”

“Just two hundred dollars worth of diagnostic tests and pills,” I sighed, looking at the lovely scratches across my hands from where the cat dug his claws into me as I gave him said pills. He’ll need two a day for the rest of his life.

So I hope neither car needs replacement parts again for a good, long time. I also hope cars and cats can live well with only Ramen noodles as fuel, because such will be my lot in life for the next few months. We all know misery loves company.

Seeing Bears Eye-to-Eye

It was our second day of hiking in a row. Today we were going to hike the eyebrow-raisingly named Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.

“I hope we see some wildlife today,” Ethan said.

We turned to go to Moose Junction for some sandwiches. Cars were parked illegally, clogging up both shoulders, and a slew of out-of-towners hovered on the side of the road. I craned my neck and found the source of the commotion.

“There’s some wildlife for you,” I told Ethan, casually pointing to the moose grazing fifteen feet from the road. I chuckled. “A moose in Moose!”

“I’ve never seen a moose before,” Ethan said in awe. He declined my non-existent offer to park the car so he could join the crowd of gawkers, citing a pressing need to visit the restroom.

Sandwiches purchased and innards relieved, we bounced over a dirt road that might have contributed to my car’s $1600 tune-up (why, oh why, do they have to wait until they’re no longer under warranty to fizzle out?). After the longest mile imaginable, we reached the trailhead and geared up to go.

“Huh,” Ethan murmured, leafing through his backpack. “You have the bear spray?”

I snorted. “Sure do,” I said. “In Denver.”

“Oh,” he said, glancing nervously at the “Be Bear Aware” signs posted ominously throughout the parking lot.

“When was the last time you saw a bear on the trail?” I sighed, rolling my eyes.

“There was that one near the road two months ago. That wasn’t very far from here.”

“That was in the car, and he wasn’t on the road. You’re just letting all those menacing reports in the local paper get to you.” I shouldered my backpack and locked up the car. Ethan quietly did the same.

The trail wasn’t as steep as we’d been led to expect, at least not right away–my dad’s friend had told us that the first two miles of the trail were breathtaking in a literal sense–so Ethan blathered on for the first hundred feet. I nodded, paying the usual amount of attention I gave him, and scanned the trail ahead.

I thought I saw something moving just twenty feet ahead, but I shook my head. “Rubbish,” I said to myself, the inner monologue pleasantly drowning out my boyfriend. “That’s no bear, and you know it. Remember the last ‘bear’ you saw on a hiking trail?” Not two months earlier on a Yellowstone trail, I had rounded a switchback and stopped, nearly causing Ethan to slam into me.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

I took a deep breath, trying to gently point to the bear just off the side of the trail as I frantically tried to convince my bladder not to empty its contents. Then I took a second glance. It was a burned log with a couple of smaller branches atop it serving as the ears.

“I stubbed my toe,” I hastily explained, carrying on with an affected limp. I trotted away as quickly as I could so Ethan wouldn’t notice the little bit of urine that had escaped.

Since we’d just been talking about bears, I reasoned on the Death Canyon trail, obviously my mind was playing tricks. I took a determined two steps forward, coming around a slight curve, and stood shock still.

Ethan was blabbering on one pace behind me. I took a hasty step back and grabbed Ethan’s chest. “Bear,” I whispered.

He stopped talking and gawked. Sure enough, twenty feet ahead and right in the middle of the trail, a black bear leveled his gaze on us.

I raised my arms slowly above my head. “Make yourself look bigger,” I hissed to Ethan. “Avoid eye contact, and let’s just slowly back away.”

Ethan did as told, and we shuffled back three steps. I glanced up quickly each step to see if the bear was still watching. Each time, he was. The expression on his face seemed to say, “What are you two idiots doing here?”

I was wondering the same thing myself. I was also wondering if I could at least get a picture of him and post it to Facebook before he mauled us. Before I had the chance to slowly reach for my iPhone, however, he decided we were boring and bounded off into the woods.

Ethan and I looked at each other, shrugged, and kept going. Every time we passed someone going back the way we’d come, we’d exchange the usual hiker talk–“It’s a good, steep one, but it only took us two hours,” etc.–then I’d break into a huge grin.

“We came face-to-face with a bear less than a tenth of a mile from the parking lot!” I said cheerily. “Keep a lookout!”

And our fellow hikers, being generally as nuts as we are as evidenced by their already successfully ascents of something called Death Canyon, got a strange expression on their faces.

“I don’t know if we want to run into him or not,” they’d murmur, dreaming of Facebook posts of their own that would warrant innumerable exclamations of, “OMG!!!” “R u ok?!?!” and, “Scary!!!!!”

The only wildlife we saw on the rest of the trip included a few chipmunks and a Brit who was headed down as we were headed up the truly steep part. “Nahsty bit of work, isn’t it?” he asked sympathetically.

“Quite,” I couldn’t help but answer.

On the trip back, the moose was still in Moose, although it had moved to the other side of the bridge, and my bear spray remained in Denver. But at least my boyfriend could be satisfied that we had, indeed, seen much more wildlife than we had the day before.

Skis in September? You Must Be in Denver.

On Monday, I got a great deal. In exchange for buying dinner at Vine Street Pub, my cousin gave me a pair of Dynastar skis. They’ll make great rock skis–light and gently used, bindings already included. I just need to get the bindings fitted to the boots, and I’ll be ready to go in October. It was a better deal than I could have gotten anywhere else in the Denver area.

After the exchange, I just had a wee bit of a problem. Ethan and I had walked to Vine Street with the intention of enjoying a few beers. Under normal circumstances, the six blocks between the restaurant and our house is a piddling distance for us. We’re used to walking distances of around a mile and a half to get to some of our haunts.

But tonight, in the rapidly chilling September air, the walk home would be a little more interesting. I’m used to carrying skis from my car to the chairlift, the equivalent of no more than a short city block. Resort planners understand how grueling walking any distance in ski boots, especially while loaded down with skis and poles, can be. They provide shuttles if the walk is any longer.

To make things slightly more entertaining, the stormclouds that had been brooding overhead had their catharsis as soon as we paid up. I’d brought my jacket. Ethan was in nothing but his shirt sleeves. He shivered at the first drops of rain.

“Here, take this,” I said, handing him my jacket.

“Don’t be an idiot. What kind of guy does that make me look like if I take your jacket?”

“A dry one.” He gave me a doubtful look. “I’ll have the skis to keep me warm.”

He rolled his eyes but took the jacket. The rain started to come down more insistently as he zipped up.

I strode out of the restaurant, mindful not to hit the waitresses with my skis. Since I had little protection from the rain besides the shoulder on which my new-old skis were balanced and my black camisole and sports bra, I ran across the street in front of the bar, cursing under my breath as Ethan stopped to wait for a passing car that was moving at a pace to rival the drowning earthworms.

He finally got across. “Last chance to take the jacket,” he offered halfheartedly. I ignored him and strode on.

I expected some glares, a few swerved cars, maybe a briefly rolled-down window and a shouted, “What the fuck?” or, “Where’s the pow at?” But the six blocks home passed uneventfully for me, despite being the only person walking down York Street in the middle of September with a pair of skis. I would have gotten more attention in a short black dress, six-inch stilettos, and pancake makeup.

Which I think is more a comment on fashion and femininity in the Mile High City than the excitability of men here, there, and everywhere. Even I stop and gawk at women in tight clothing with less-than-breathable fabrics, artificially pouty lips, and makeup that’s going to run as soon as they have to walk up Capitol Hill–forget if they happen to venture to the foothills.

They’re not exactly a common sight here. While it’s unquestionably an exaggeration to say that all or even most women (or men) in a city fit a stereotype, many of the women you see walking the streets place priority on things besides fashion and beauty in their spare time. There are runners, cyclists, power walkers, dog enthusiasts, beer hounds, and even overenthusiastic skiers who are getting geared up a month before the season could conceivably start.

Linguists talk about the marked and unmarked cases in language–the unmarked case referring to whatever is the standard or norm. The marked, of course, is whatever is unusual or noteworthy, abnormal, even. Deborah Tannen argues that women can never be unmarked. If we’re wearing makeup, that’s obviously different from the male standard. If not, then we’re defying the female standard. Either way, we can’t win.

But with all due respect to Dr. Tannen, who is a wonderful teacher in the classroom, I would say Denver is the exception to that rule. Here, it isn’t unusual if a woman decides to forego makeup while out on the town. The standard here is devotion, usually to some outdoor activity, but certainly to some hobby or study. As long as you have an answer to the question, “What do you do?” and your answer revolves around whatever you’re passionate about, you’ll fit right in here. It’s a wonderfully permissive, relaxed attitude that allows everyone to sit back and just chill, man.

Even if you are trying to hunch under your skis as protection from the rain near City Park.

Why I’m Not Much of a Happy Camper

I wasn’t much of an enthusiastic camper until last year. Even after I realized that Yellowstone was too damn far away from even Jackson (an hour and a half from town to the park entrance? Oy!) to take in much in a day, I still used camping as a means to an end more than a spiritual, reconnecting-with-nature experience. Sure, we made s’mores, commented on the beauty of the stars, and even kept campfires going with some degree of success, but to say that my boyfriend and I were camping for any other reason than to be closer to our proposed hiking trail, especially when we had cushy and free accommodations at my dad’s place in Jackson, would be folly.

It was an experience in June that cemented that my boyfriend and I are not nearly as hardcore as we think we are. We were a wee bit suspicious when we crossed into the park and found that the surrounding peaks were still covered with snow. Granted, this was not unusual in the high Rockies–as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, there are parts of the mountains that are skiable year-round–but the peaks in Yellowstone are a tad too low to still be sparkling white that close to the Summer Solstice. Which either meant that it had been snowing a shit ton, or that it still got damn cold at night.

The second sign that maybe we were in over our heads was when were able to find a campground pretty deep into Yellowstone well after the 11 a.m. cutoff, the time after which all the campsites have usually been scooped up in summertime. At the time, we blessed our good fortune as we set up our tent. A site well-placed between two of the trails we wanted to do–we could actually get them both in one trip!

So we set up our tent and went on our merry way. It was a bit nippy when we were hiking, to be sure, but we were exercising and had proper hiking gear. No sweat–literally.

We bought wood from the ranger station at our campsite when we returned. I shivered a bit and decided to change into my long underwear even though the sun hadn’t set yet. Ethan did the same, then set to work getting the fire going.

I huddled next to the stove as I waited for the water to boil so we could get some hot, if disgusting, camp rations into our guts. Ethan got the fire up to a good roar with the starter kit and some newspaper, but as soon as he added a proper piece of wood, it faltered. Seeing that the water had been going for fifteen minutes and wasn’t liable to boil any time soon, I jumped over to help. We huffed and we puffed with enough intensity to either blow a house down or to bogart a really big bong. Finally, the fire warily crackled up to something passable just as the rain started.

“And you said I don’t give good blow jobs,” I crowed to Ethan. He shook his head and laughed.

“You think you can hold down the fort? I really need to pee.”

“Yeah, sure.”

The water was finally coming close to boiling. I went to the back of the car to grab our backpackers’ rations. A group of twenty-somethings, two rugged-looking guys and a girl who looked like she’d wandered off from her volunteer library position, walked into our campsite.

“Hello!” the girl exclaimed.

“Uh, hi,” I said, dumping my goods and frowning at the fire.

“We’re with the Yellowstone Ranger Council. We just wanted to let everyone know that there’s going to be a presentation on bears of Yellowstone tonight at 8:30 in the amphitheater, and tomorrow there will be interdenominational faith services there at 8 a.m.”

I wanted to retort that for the faith services to be truly inclusive of Jewish campers, they would have been held this morning, not merely on Sunday. Instead I smiled, cast a weary eye at the fire, and said, “Great. Thanks.”

The girl nodded pleasantly, and I smiled to let her know that she’d done her duty and she could go interrupt other campers who were making serious attempts not to freeze their asses off or starve to death. Instead, she glanced off to the side.

“Oh! Are you from Colorado?” she asked.

I followed her gaze. She was looking at the back of my car.

It was an excellent guess. I will never know how she figured it out.
The back of my car.


“However did you guess?” I replied.

“I used to live in Granby,” she continued. “I kind of miss it sometimes.”

“Oh, yeah, the Icebox of North America!” I said. Then I shivered, throwing an anxious glance at the happily suicidal fire.

“Well, you’re welcome to come to either of the events. Just come find us or one of the rangers if you have questions!” she said, taking her silent guardians with her.

“Thanks!” I hastily replied as I went back to blowing the fire back to life with everything I had in me.

Ethan came back once they were gone. The water finally boiled, and we finally ate. We would have to eat in shifts, one person shoveling in something that might once have resembled chili with beans, the other blowing like mad on the fire and gagging once the wind blew smoke directly into their face.

The sun set. It started to rain. Still we attempted to keep the fire going. We’d brought up s’more materials, and damned if we weren’t gonna eat them.

We finally judged the fire passable enough to lower our marshmallow sticks into. Just as the marshmallows were getting close to the idealized golden brown, there was a fierce howling that sounded like it was just outside our campsite. Then another howl. Then another, and another, and soon the whole pack had chimed in. Ethan and I froze.

“That’s a game trail just south of our campsite, isn’t it?” Ethan asked.

“Sure is.”

“Uhhh…wolves are afraid of fire, aren’t they?”

“Don’t think so. Well, good night!” I said, shoving my marshmallow into its graham-cracker and Hershey bar coating, taking the whole thing down in one bite. At least the wolves might keep the bears at bay, I thought as I watched huge crumbs escape my mouth.

I actually did stay out with Ethan for another s’more, then until the fire died down (not too long after we gave up on it). The wolves must’ve found something else to keep them satiated, because we crawled into bed and made it through the night without, even when we both discovered we had to pee like mofos at 1:30 a.m.

In the morning, we packed up, determined to make it back to Jackson that night to regain something like feeling in our fingers. Even the guys in the site next to us who hailed from Minnesota agreed that it had been kind of a chilly evening.

The hiking trail, however, made the previous night’s stay in the park worthwhile. As was the fascinating fresh wolf kill–a bison calf–that we found near the trailhead.

How do the rest of us honor 9/11?

This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11, just in case you’ve been living under a rock and weren’t aware of this fact. For those of us who are all too aware of it, however, we as a nation seem to struggle to figure out how best to respond to this event. That bittersweet slice of poetic justice that was Osama bin Laden’s death came early enough in the summer for citizens to toast the Navy SEALS who brought it about, then go on carping about how the government needs to DO SOMETHING about the economy.

On Slate, retrospectives focused not so much on the event itself as the conspiracy theories and their propagators who continue to believe, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Bush was somehow smart enough to orchestrate the whole thing for some nefarious political purposes that remain undefined to this day. Landmark Theatres responded by almost putting a reprint of Airplane! in its theaters for midnight showings this weekend, then backing off when HQ realized that the poster featured an airplane tied in knots around a skyscraper. Bad juju, apparently. (Shameless self-promotion: For more of my thoughts on that controversy, listen to my podcast from my radio show on Party 934.)

It’s undeniable the impact this tragedy has had on the country as a whole. Every region has lost soldiers to two costly wars, only one directly linked to hunting down the men responsible, the other a piece of political machination that would make Machiavelli lose faith in humanity. We’ve become paranoid and insular, and some have even hinted that our response to the attacks helped nudge our economy down the toilet.

And yet I understand the ambivalence about how much or what exactly to say about the anniversary itself. While I will never forget where I was when I heard about the attacks–the end of the Intro to Business class I took as a sophomore, where one of my classmates and I wondered aloud who exactly belonged to Grandview High School’s Emergency Response Task Force and what they were going to do about destroyed buildings in New York City–the day seemed not to affect Denver personally. The most said in the Denver Post about the matter was that some officials had put the Colorado National Guard on high alert, fearing that the Qwest building downtown was at a risk. You know, being the tallest building in our landlocked and only semi-strategically important city.

Sure, we were all two or three degrees from someone who had been affected. My father worked for the Veterans’ Administration at the time and happened to talk to an officer who was in the Pentagon during the attacks. The man had vivid flashbacks of the plane hitting the building. Just before it had, he’d been chatting with a colleague over coffee. They turned and parted ways. The officer, of course, had the wind knocked out of him but was otherwise physically fine. But his colleague had gone the wrong way.

Still, it seems fair to say that this day really belongs to longtime residents of New York City and longtime employees at the Pentagon and families of the Flight 93 passengers to set the tempo. They’re the ones who still have to deal with the mental scarring, not just this Sunday, but every day for the rest of their lives. If they want it to be a day of mourning, so be it. But so far, all the reactions I’ve seen have approached the date with a pause for reflection, perhaps even a glimmer of humor, but definitely a sense that life marches on. And so I will carry on mindfully but normally this Sunday and raise a toast on their behalf when Airplane! finally does get shown at the Esquire in November.

Skier’s Black Friday: Ski Rex Edition

I loathe shopping with a flaming, burning passion that feels somewhat like gonorrhea. (Not that I’d know, of course! Ha ha!) On the scale of activities I do not like, it ranks somewhere below cooking (to a normal person, this would be the equivalent of shoving sharp implements in various orifices for a whole week) and somewhere above being around babies (about the equivalent of being sealed up in the snake pit from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, only with hungry tarantulas thrown in for good measure). I shake my head in wonder at the people who camp out for Black Friday sales and make a rush for the mall on Christmas Eve. What the hell are they thinking?

I have no choice now but to bite my tongue on that issue. “Remind me of this when Black Friday rolls around,” I told my boyfriend as we lined up outside Colorado Ski & Golf twenty minutes before it opened its doors this morning, our special VIP invites, complete with $10 off coupon on purchases of $50 or more, flapping from our hands.

The guy in front of us turned around. “Yeah, but we’re lining up fifteen minutes early,” he pointed out. “It’s not like we camped out overnight.”

“True,” I conceded, although the fact that I’d gotten up about four hours earlier than I normally would so that I could beat the rest of Denver for a good deal on worthy ski boots indicated that I was not in my right state of mind.

This was, after all, the big time. In previous years, when I didn’t live in Denver, I’d pick up gear here and there as needed, usually waiting until my dad gave me money or gift cards to buy equipment, then browsing the sales. If I happened to be west of the Mississippi for the big Labor Day sales, I’d browse with my dad, seeing if there were deals to be had and approaching the whole affair somewhat dismissively, like a sane person would do.

But something happened when I moved back to Denver last year. I started going up skiing more, and my flexible work schedule allowed me to go up and catch numerous powder days. And the great conditions and added practice time compared to years previous made me realize something: I fucking love skiing.

So it was with a new zeal that I went and shopped around for a new pair of ski boots last year. The ones I had owned for sixteen years were no longer going to cut it, literally–they were so loose as to be sloppy, and sharp turns were not going to happen.

The sales are excellent at the end of the year, but since stores sell their equipment off as hard and fast as they can to make room for camping equipment and hiking gear, the selection was limited when I checked in spring. My best bet for getting that magical pair of foot-shaped bowling balls that is so crucial to a skier’s performance was going to have to wait until summer wound down.

Cue the VIP invite. Colorado Ski & Golf made it known on its website that Labor Day weekend would be the big one, and snow enthusiasts could pour in for the chance to beat each other to death over the last pair of Atomic Advance skis.

But Ethan and I bought ski passes last week. Turns out that the purchase of the Epic Local pass gets you a chance to come in on Friday, before the sale opens to the “general public” (never mind the staggering number of people who bought one of these passes since last year and received such an invite). Even though I knew people would sneak off of work a day early to try and surge ahead of the masses for the elusive intersection of price and quality…well, actually, because of that, I knew I needed to take advantage.

So there Ethan and I were, lined up eagerly as we watched employees brace themselves for the onslaught. The doors opened, and we filed silently and respectfully in. I joined the crowd waiting to get fitted for ski boots, and Ethan went to look for a better-fitting jacket and skis that were an upgrade from a 2009 rental package that had been put on sale, the only skis he’d ever owned.

I tried on three pairs of boots. The man helping me let me know prices and discounts on all three, and happily encouraged my purchase of the mid-price point boots. Alas, he wasn’t wearing his name tag, so I was unable to compliment on his excellent knowledge of the stock that would fit my wide feet and lack of interest in pushing the top-end, super pricy boots on me.

Ethan found a pair of skis he’d had his eye on for a while, and he clutched them so eagerly that I bought them as a really early Generic Winter Holiday gift. We both found nicely discounted parkas in the sale tent, and a mere three hours after our arrival, we stood in the long line at the checkout. All in good time, though–we had planned out a chunk of time, knowing that the crowd would pile up.

Alas, not all who came understood how the massive Labor Day sales work. “Come on!” a frustrated frat boy shouted from another line. “I’ve been waiting here half an hour! Why’s it taking so long?” The other customers shot him dirty looks and muttered under their breath.

Five minutes passed. “What the hell, man?” the asshole shouted. By this point, I was tired and cranky. I’d had enough of his bullshit.

“What did you expect?” I yelled back.

“I expected to be out of here by now!”

I sneered and shrugged. “That’s life!” I yelled back, though I don’t think he heard me.

Ethan and I paid for our gear and hauled the bags and skis out to the car. The frat boy was still standing in line, his purpling face contrasting horribly with his violently green shirt. I caught his eye and smirked on the way out. The beauty of karma.

The heat wave has broken at last. Once it starts snowing again, Ethan and I will be more than ready to hit the slopes. I can’t guarantee that I won’t have a snide comment or two for the Black Friday campers, but I guarantee I will be laughing and taking pictures if I see an ugly frat-boy type riding down the mountain on his face.