Dragon Boat Festival

So far, one of the major differences I’ve noticed between Colorado Springs and Denver (other than the fact of neighborhoods, which is a concept that’s halfway between a sports team and a social class, who knew?) is that infrastructure is far, far more important.

In Colorado Springs, I went:  Just look at the goddamn roads.  Look at them.

Because, really, if you’re not in the right part of town, the hell with you, your roads, your streetlights, etc.  The city does the best it can with the funds it’s given (as far as I know), but some areas get just a little bit more of the best than others.  Just navigate south Academy, one of the main non-Interstate thoroughfares, and you’ll see what I mean.  If you’re lucky.

If you’re not, say goodbye to an axle.

Denver:  it’s not so much a question of whether the roads are any good (there are, at least, no foot-deep potholes that I’ve had to swerve around…yet) but a question of whether you can go at all.

Example, of a positive nature:

Jennifer LaPointe asked me if I wanted to go to the Dragon Boat Festival this year.  Why, yes! I said.  One of my favorite books ever* has a dragon boat race in it and I’ve always wanted to see one.  It’s just a matter of whether I can manage not to wig out or not, because introverts, stress, and people do not mix.  But knowing that other people will know whether or not I’ve actually gone will help motivate me.

Great! she said.  You should park at Sports Authority Field, it’s five dollars, cash, and they have free shuttle buses from there to the festival.  I mostly go for the food but if you’re interested in the dragon boat racing you should go to the opening ceremonies.  I’ve seen it and am not getting up that early…

Later, she sent me a reminder that also included a reminder about the parking situation.

Okay.  I tend to copy what the person in front of me is doing the first time I do something; I mean, I’m not the greatest person with a hint but this sounded easy enough.  Probably the five dollar fee would go to a good cause.

Drove up, paid, parked, saw a line of school buses, five or six of them.


Put on sunscreen (this was another one of her reminders), checked bag for water, put on hat, walked to bus, accepted program from volunteer.

Entered bus and sat in seat behind driver.

The bus pulled away; the bus driver was asking for directions (eep!), as it was her first run of the day.  We lurched through the streets, school buses not being the most elegant of beasts.  There was a normal amount of traffic–but I was glad to have paid the parking fee; it looked like finding a parking spot along the side streets was going to be a pain, and it might be hot in the afternoon, at which point I wouldn’t have wanted to walk back to the car.  Good advice, Jen!  They dropped us off in back of the festival at Sloan Park, behind some fencing.

Once upon the grass, I checked my program, which included a map.  I wasn’t sure where to go to see anything, stuck the program back in my overladen purse, and started walking until I saw the dragon.

It was on what looked like disembroomified broomsticks and was made out of satin and shiny trim–the kind that you put on Old West barmaid dresses, with the long loops on it.  It wasn’t in the best repair and didn’t cover its handlers at all, but was still wonderful.  It had a red ball in front of it that the dragon head chased as it wended this way and that.

The rowing teams were lining up behind a huge drum, which was right behind the dragon, and the word “ready” was being thrown back and forth.  I stopped to take a few phone snaps, then started walking to keep up with the front of the dragon as it began to move.

Dear reader, I chased that dragon through the rowing teams’ area, through the first food court, past the main stage, through the stuff and health area, through the second food court, and then lost them as I noticed that there was a floating pier, upon which several people were watching something out on the water.

I walked out onto the pier:  the races were already set up.  And in fact an announcer from a nearby tent said that they were lined up and almost ready to go…it was going to be a real arm-buster…

And the first race of the day was off.

I couldn’t hear the drummers; the boats were specks on the other side of the lake.  A light haze hung over the water; birds swooped over the surface.  The boats seemed to ripple and I had to blink–for a moment, out of the corner of my eye, it had looked like the boats were dragons, Chinese ones, long and low, hovering just over the water.  As the rowers stroked the water, they bobbed and wove, almost in harmony–the imperfection of it, the haze, the bright sunshine–it looked like there were dragons on the water, I swear.

I teared up.

Closer…closer…finally I could hear the drums.  The boats slid past the finish markers floating in the water.  The winners cheered and the others congratulated themselves on a good try.

Then I saw that the dancing dragon had disappeared, and was nowhere to be seen:  oh shit.  Fortunately there were a number of people in similar shirts standing in line between the tents.  I followed them up to the main stage and parked myself under the awning.  The pale and freckled woman in front of me had a sunburn across her neck; I offered her the use of some sunscreen but it turned out the sunburn was from a previous outing, thank you, she was fine.

The boat teams were introduced and cheered for themselves, with greater or lesser enthusiasm.  The last team was Team Simpson.  I say THEE, you say SIMPSONS.

The speakers on the stage gave speeches; it was remarkably like listening to the speeches at a writers’ conference banquet, except for the Guest Storyteller of Lengthy Exposition that you usually get at these things, explaining how they became writers and You Can Too.  I got to see the mayor in person as well as two congresspeople, Diana DeGette and Mike Coffman.  People were relaxed and funny, except Mr. Coffman, who sounded like he was giving a class president speech from Invader Zim.  He sounded blustery, contentless, and uncomfortable.  Not sure whether that’s normal for him or not.

Then there was a ceremony from the Denver Zen Study Group.  An altar sat at the back of the stage; about eighteen people in black and brown robes took the altar and a celebrant (a sifu) with orange silk over his robes stood in the center, back to the crowd, and they all chanted:  after five minutes I was completely convinced it was time to zone out and sleep.  When they finished, I blinked–it was like the sudden end of a squally rainstorm.  Relaxing.  Good thing I was sitting in the grass by then.

I followed the train of people, led by the dancing dragon (look, doing so hadn’t let me down yet) through the crowd again.  People were giving me dirty looks as I walked behind a couple of the sponsors.  Cutting in line, oh cutting in line, won’t you join me cutting in line, tra la tra la.

We threaded through the park again and ended up in front of the pier.

The dragon boats had been dragged up on shore and were waiting to have their eyes painted in.  Unfortunately, the rest of the crowd was already waiting over there, so I couldn’t see.  So much for following the dragon.

A waft of the breeze reminded me that there was a food court right next to the pier and everyone else was currently distracted.

I ditched the rest of the ceremony and quickly looked over my options.  Upon seeing that the Ethiopian food truck line was sparse, I selected it.  On the advice of the cheerful woman at the window (I kept staring at her hypnotic and beautiful braids; I was hungry and more than a little spacey by that point), I got two delicious vegetarian things that I can’t remember the names of but would instantly recognize on a plate again (red lentils and a potato/cabbage/carrot thing) and lurked past the end of the truck, watching the three cooks working in the back.

Whereupon I discovered a guy behind the truck dealing with huge stacks of perfect injera bread.  I could reach out and grab one.  Or maybe two.  Or maybe like a whole bag of the stuff.

I looked at him; he looked at me; I decided not to try to abduct one of the huge plastic bags stacked with delicious, delicious bread–but it was close.  He looked away and they called my name.

I took my plate over to the one slip of shade at the end of a table, at which point the woman across from me started talking to me in classic Colorado fashion.  Another woman had tried to talk to me earlier, just as I got to the awning by the main stage.  She had a fabulous floppy straw hat and two small dogs, one of which looked like a Jack Russell cross and the other from the fine tradition of ugly off-white shaggy mutts that’ll bite your ankle off.  She said something about my beverage (cafe mocha protein something? from the grocery store), but I couldn’t make out her accent, and that made me sad:  having strangers make random comments to me in public is one of my favorite parts of living here.  This other woman was from Sterling and gave the impression that she was pleasantly drunk.  We discussed having the empty lot behind her house filled with a Zen temple; she said she’d give up smoking and drinking and just listen to them chant all day, which was probably a valid plan, although she might want to keep some chocolate vodka in the freezer, just in case.

By the time I was finished eating, the food lines were hopeless, as predicted.  HOPELESS.  I eyed them with regret but moved on and covered the rest of the festival, getting sucked in by a Totoro mug with a silicone hat (with a teeny Totoro on top) to keep your tea from getting cold.  This may have been an extremely fortunate purchase; I have been drinking the half-forgotten tea of flawed memory for years, a tepid beverage of apathy and sorrow.

I watched a hat dance on the grass by tween girls in neon pink pajama pants, silk tops, and hats so big that a mariachi tourist band would have been proud.  The girls kept rolling their eyes.  Can you believe it?  I’m up here, performing this dumb thing.  I applauded enthusiastically.

I watched a little bit of a martial arts exhibition in which one person threw another onto a plywood floor set on the grass.  Tonk.

I watched another set of dancers, this time on the main stage, that looked more Indian than anything else (but actually I have no idea).  The background track was prerecorded but the drummers were live, right in front of the stage.  The girls ranged from about eight to teenagers, and were all smiling.  Hee hee hee lookit lookit we’re on staaaage!  Maybe the difference was the status of the stage.

I watched kids and a pair of drunk women run around in circles in those floating inflatable tube things on the lake, the kind where you think, Oh I could roll that down a mountain no problem, and then you start wondering what would go wrong if you hit a cactus or a mountain lion or a very sharp rock.

I watched another boat race; for some reason it was just one boat, and was far more passionate than the first race I’d watched.  I think it was the drummer; this one was much louder and faster, anyway.

I looked at all the food places again:  had the lines gone down?  No, they had not.  Curses.

I started to feel faint from the sun and the heat and decided to go back to the bus.

Oh, God.

There was a line at least a hundred people long waiting for the bus, politely queued up in a web-strap maze (several people cut in line, the bastards, pulling up the strap and ducking under…one…two…three kids, two grandparents, parents…wave wave wave, you too…Oh Lord…).  I’m not gonna make it.  I’m not–

Fortunately, the line moved quickly.  Five minutes later I was not just on the bus but on the bus with a free lemonade in hand, which was probably a good thing.  I drank most of it on the way back.  The bus parked at the end of a long line of buses (which had to be only half the buses–what with the steady stream of them picking up passengers and bringing them back) and I was released back into the parking lot of the stadium, which damn had filled up considerably since the last time I saw it.

Drove back, stopped at Costco, got home, and collapsed for two hours with a cold washcloth on my head.

Signs of sunstroke:

  • High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke. I was frying.
  • Altered mental state or behavior.  Maybe?
  • Alteration in sweating.  Buckets.
  • Nausea and vomiting.  Nausea.
  • Flushed skin.  Yes.
  • Rapid breathing.  Nope, until I had to go up a small hill at the stadium–then it was almost panic attack time.
  • Racing heart rate.  See above.
  • Headache.  Ow.  Owowowowow.

If it hadn’t been for those buses, I would never ever ever  go back again.  The side streets, where they weren’t blocked off, were absolutely packed, I wasn’t feeling well, and it would have been hella easy to get lost on the way back to the car.

It wasn’t until I got back that I realized how miserable I still was, over an hour after I’d left the festival and subjected myself to the full blast of a/c in the car.

As it was, I had fun.

Lessons learned:

  • When Jen bothers to repeat something, it’s freaking important.
  • Pay attention to parking.  You can’t just go places and expect to be escorted to a convenient parking space, not for love or money.  There are just too damn many people.
  • Hats good.  Sunbrellas better.
  • I just finished my first cup of tea out of the new cup, and it was still hot.



*The book:  Eight Skilled GentlemenBarry Hughart.





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  1. Our bus driver side swiped a car. Whoops.

    We did the ALS walk at the lake the last two years. It’s crazy hot there even in September.

    There’s a good Ethiopian place down here in Old Colorado City. Though I imagine there are at least five in Denver then. Anything Colorado Springs has, Denver has five of.

    I ate way too much food! Then further punished myself by going to Casa Bonita.

  2. DeAnna Knippling

    Uchenna! I’ve eaten there 🙂

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