If you’ve spent any time in or near Boulder, Colorado, you’ve probably heard all the jokes. Most of them center around the idea that Boulder is so liberal that the people are out of touch. In mostly conservative Colorado they say Boulder is surrounded on all sides by reality.
If you actually live here, though, you quickly get the idea, that Boulderites rather enjoy their reputation but that they’re not doing a great job earning it. Boulder citizens are proud of being liberal, environmentally aware, athletic, and spiritually tolerant. The disappointing reality is that amongst the Subarus, there is no shortage of giant SUVs and gas-guzzling trucks. Boulder’s authorities recently published a statistic that 20% of the city rides bicycles to work, but that laughable claim is easily discredited on any morning. There just aren’t four cars for every bike on the road. Maybe more like forty! I saw many more bikes in Santa Cruz than here.
Boulderites are pretty well-off and many have traveled far and seen a bit of the world. There are more tibetan prayer flags here than I ever saw in Nepal. And they’re proud of this reputation for worldliness and tolerance, but I’ve heard wiccans sneer curses at secularists and atheists during a coffeehouse poetry reading and noticed all the heads turn when a black face walks on stage because one really only rarely sees black people in Boulder.
Today, though, I realized something. I noticed for almost hundredth time that there are quite a few panhandlers in this small city. Most every corner downtown has a man or a woman, some clean cut, some in dreads, some with packs just a few feet behind, and some with dogs wagging tails and looking up affectionately at their sign holder/providor. How can a city of under 100,000 people support so many panhandlers? Denver is not far away; don’t your odds of cars actually stopping to hand over lunch money seem a lot better when there are more people around?
The truth is, for all the contradictions, Boulderites really are handing out enough spare change to keep these folks from moving on to greener pastures. Clearly, well above an average amount of people are reaching into their change holders and handing over money, because otherwise there would be no way to support this number of people.
Boulder may not know what to do with real minorities, but there are book and curio stores representing most every continent and gender preference there is. Of course nearly every vehicle here has ski racks all year round and it sure looks like bikes spend more times on car racks than on the road, and yet it sure is easy to find cheap climbing/hiking/biking gear and so many people on the trails wearing that gear that at least some people really aren’t just for show. Once more, there’s a reason that it’s easy to compare Ann Arbor, Michigan; Austin, Texas; Lawrence, Kansas; and Berkley, California along with many more to Boulder (or Boulder to them.) For all the false bravado these liberal bastions of America share, they’re all college towns full of smarter-than-average, really sincere people, a surprising range of restaurants, plenty of interesting things to do, which are really all the sorts of things that just make them charming pleasant towns, even for a libertarian like me.