Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fourth Installment of the BolderLife Festival

"What's your tampon?" Though out of context it may not mean much, this simple phrase, uttered by Ash Beckham of TedX fame, was enough to bring an anxious crowd to their feet. While the main event was still yet to come, Beckham, the keynote speaker for the BolderLife Festival opening gala, was a hard act to follow. Speaking about her own story of coming out, but still living in fear of judgement and question in public bathrooms, Beckham began the first of many "difficult," conversations, which will act as an underlying theme of this year's festival. Offering advice such as "Please don't be frozen in the ice of your insecurity," Beckham paved the way for the rest of the night's activities, even if the big time stars ended up postponing.

The BolderLife festival is a weeklong event that "...supports emotional education and growth with programming aimed at high-school students and the wider community." Through mediums such as film, theater, and dance, matched with corresponding educational events, BolderLife helps bridge the gap between discomfort and understanding. While often misstated as a simple film festival, the event (which runs through Sunday) aims to introduce taboo subjects through film, theater, and art, opening up dialogue and education. The 501c3 non-profit organization's goal is to cultivate mindfulness and courage, while exploring that which makes us uncomfortable.

For this year's installment, some of the bigger names include a film opening and discussion with Jason Bateman, as well as musical performances by Pink and Colbie Caillat. Along with the stars, the festival will also showcase ten films, host two days of theater programs, and align both of these with seven targeted educational panels, and three half day student programing courses. The festival is also host to a plethora of exhibits, as well as local art. The film and theater pieces vary in length and topic, with their synopsis found here

Along with both high school and community education, the BolderLife Festival is also a philanthropic endeavor. While the event is open to any and all interested parties, it does have a focus on women's and youth empowerment. This year's installment has chosen to partner with and feature multiple local and national non-profits that fall under this mission. The featured organizations are Safehouse Denver,, Educate2Protect, Amy's House for Girls, Dress for Success, and iEmpathize. The festival also has a monthly or yearly donating option, named BolderLove, with proceeds continuing to fund educational events targeted at middle and high school-aged students.

For those of you in the Denver area,  don't miss out on your chance to experience the sights, sounds, and lessons in abundance at this year's BolderLife Festival. Through difficult conversations and immersing yourself directly in discomfort, hopefully this weekend you'll leave with an  answer to Beckham's closing question, "What is the one thing stopping you from being the authentic you?" 

Photo courtesy of BolderLife Festival

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Harry Potter and the Unattainable Cost of Living - The Beauty and the Blunder of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

SPOILER ALERT: I'll start this by dispelling the notion (see what I did there?) that I'm going to use this piece to knock Universal Studios or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While I'm primarily a budget traveler, I adore Harry Potter and amusement parks. Though I offer a critique, I'm not going to waste anyone's time rambling about consumerism or outrageous prices. Awesome! Here we go...

One of the many Triwizard tournament propaganda flags near the Dragon Challenge Ride in Hogsmeade

For those of us who treasure experiences more than tangible treasures, it isn't always easy to set your sails for a destination that moves you on a visceral level. This isn't to say that traveling retards your ability to loose yourself to sights and sounds. Au contraire, it fortifies it. It just isn't always ostentatious. Travelers are calm and collected, so finding a place that made me revert to outward emotions, especially ones derived from fictional places and characters, was quite bizarre and overwhelming.
The entrance to heaven...I mean Hogsmeade

Like many outted Harry Potter fanatics, I hold J.K Rowling's universe in a much higher regard than just books and films. No, I see Harry Potter as a completely intricate creation that helped bulldoze the barriers between genre. It showed generations alike how to exist, and that even in the midst of evil and tyranny, we are still people, and life must continue. It portrayed the beauty of innocence and reminded us that when this innocence is combatted and beaten, the youthful spirit can still thrive. Most eloquently put by the likes of Stephen King, " Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity." While I've spent countless hours lost in HP media, seeing the cast iron sign for Hogsmeade, framing the idyllic view of fake snow atop buildings I've only dreamed of, allowed me to be whisped away to entirely different realm.

After finding my composure, I began to venture down the Hogsmeade streets, passing HoneyDukes and the Three Broomsticks. I imagined sipping Fire Whiskey after a long day of Auroring at the Hogshead Pub, or taking my future, hypothetical children to the misplaced Olivander's to get their first wands. I listened to screeching Mandrakes and bubbling cauldrons, and passed upbeat Universal staff performing songs and dances I've performed countless times in the comfort of my mind's creatively dressed walls. I even listened to moaning Myrtle shriek and giggle as I used the public urinal. In eager anticipation, as buildings began to fade, denotated by a fabricated intersection, I starred up at the sight us HP fans have always longed to visit: 


As silly as it sounds, seeing the place I'd devoted many-a-night wishing existed in the present, was exceedingly moving for me. It is a place I dreamt housed my first love, or the failures, triumphs, and follies of my youth. It is a place I could only imagine experiencing the changing of seasons in, year in and year out. Even without stepping foot inside, I felt fulfilled...that is until I did step my rapidly moving feet through the threshold! After dropping my bag in the free locker (Whaaa? Free!), while jaunting easily through the scarcely populated single riders line, I gazed at the enchanted paintings on the wall explaining the procedures for the ride. I saw the animatronic Sorting Hat tell anxious muggles about what to expect when strapped in for the "Forbidden Journey." Even the staff seemed enthused to see riders fly along with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and a large group of notable Hogwarts students and staff, living a youthful fantasy in the flesh. Though I made the rookie mistake of downing a sickeningly sweet butter beer before departure (don't do this if you're over the age of 12), nothing about this experience disappointed. I was even enthused to look at all the crazy merchandise in the exit turned gift shop before returning to Hogsmeade. After riding all the rides and looking in the shops multiple times, the sheer idea of existing in this tangible representation of a fictional universe I love left a lasting smile on my face. 

The Sorting Hat

As nearly 5 hours elapsed in what I can only describe as how clouds in cartoons feel, I was kindly told that Universal was two different parks, and my pass wouldn't allow me to venture to the newly created Diagon Alley. Without hesitation (sorry dwindling savings) I paid the exorbitant fee to upgrade my ticket, and was quickly embarking on the Hogwarts Express to London. The ride, which is an actual train that transports you from park to park, is an extremely realistic take on what the Hogwarts express looks like in the films. To further immerse you into your wildest fantasy, the windows are replaced with projectors that show you weaving through the countryside, past dementors and ominous weather, before reaching London (where the Nightbus is weaving magically through the streets.) The Kings Cross Station is realistic enough to have a vendor selling English beer and crisps to those waiting in queue. My excitement to break through the enchanted brick wall to Diagon Alley was nearly unbearable!

The Hogwarts Express
Maybe it was my rapidly decreasing blood sugar (my purse of outside snacks didn't last as long as I'd hoped), but Diagon Alley didn't foster the same magic as stepping into Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. While aesthetically amazing, with the addition of Knockturn Alley and a fire-breathing dragon perched atop Gringotts, the experience as a whole left me longing for the comfort of my own imagination, melding with previously peered pages. Universal's blunder, I felt, was making Diagon Alley a glorified walking mall. While yes, Diagon Alley is a shopping center, it's a freaking magical shopping center. Obviously Universal wants to push a product, but making every store only a store doesn't do what Rowling has created justice. The aging Simpon's universe, while still hawking product, at least offers activities in which you can dump your money. Apart from the Gringott's Ride (and 9 or so small pieces of Diagon Alley's structure that have a "magical" movement activated with the swish of a $50 interactive wand), Diagon Alley's only option was starring at the buildings in amazement, or buying Harry Potter memorablia. While not necessarily disappointed, I found myself seeing Universal starting to fluster in their second installment to the Wizarding World. After milking my $4 pumpkin juice as long as possible, I realized I would better spend my time seeing the alternate video played while catching the Hogwart's Express from London to Hogsmeade, and enjoying a handcrafted Wizard Brew (made locally in Florida for the park) in Hogshead. While the money to upgrade my ticket was well worth getting to ride the immaculate and entertaining Hogwarts Express, my immersion seemed to only exist in the artificially snowcapped village of Hogsmeade, laying in the the majestic shadows of the Hogwarts castle.

Hogsmeade in all its glory
While one can be tempted to make jokes about how it's fitting that Harry, while sadly orphaned, was a trust fund baby, I can't but help look back on my time in the Wizarding World with fond memories. Though I think the clip at the end of the Gringotts' ride, where Bill Weasly tries to get you to invest in a vault, is fitting description of the Diagon Alley addition (the Hogwarts ride ends with Harry singing your praises and Dumbledore inviting you back), I am more than pleased with what I felt, smelled, tasted, and experienced. Having the opportunity walk through Hogsmeade,  peer into Hogwarts, and ride the Hogwarts express in real life is more than I could ever ask for. While I'll always prefer the realm that exists at the amalgamate of literature and my imagination, experiencing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one I'm grateful to tick off the bucket list.

Here are some extra photos to wet  your whistle until your Hogwarts Letter (i.e fat paycheck of disposable income you choose to spend on a vacation to a theme park) arrives...

More Triwizard signage
Another view of the castle
Muggles will never learn to drive...

The lovely ladies of Beauxbatons and the strapping gentlemen of Durmstrang

The Hogwart's Express made the park-to-park ticket upgrade worth the cost

Enjoying a specially brewed beer in the Hogshead

Shamelessly asking other onlookers to take my picture at Hogwarts


Disney is no longer the happiest place on earth

Photos courtesy of author

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bikes, Beer, Babes, and Social Justice

Winter Wonderland Cruise 2014

If you’ve spent a summer in the Denver area, and, you know, you like to ride bikes and what not, you’ve probably heard of Denver Cruisers (aka Denver Bike Night). If you meet these criteria, it is also a safe bet to say you’ve probably found yourself in a costume that relates to other participants, drinking an adult beverage, pondering whether or not to tempt fate by riding into the Circle of Death. You’ve probably torn through the streets, HOPEFULLLY respecting the Law of the Land, enjoying what could have been brushed off as another typical hump day. With the regular season having met its match in Mother Nature, the long haul of costume-less, cold weather rides is now upon us. As the cruise down memory lane commences, one should not only revel in the majesty of the passed season, but take the time to savor how Denver Cruisers is leaving a positive footprint in the city of Denver.

The final ride of the season offered everything a rider could want. There was a time-honored theme (Winter Wonderland!), an extremely fitting location, DJ bikes, food trucks, riding swiftly in circles, and enough LED to make any EDM enthusiast's pants a little tighter. While the Groove Subaru stage and table threw me for a loop (I guess if you want participation to grow, the luxury of dancing to random tunes from a DJ bike isn’t enough enticement), the party went off without a hitch. Participants were happy, planners were ecstatic, and the long line of loud flashing bikes will forever be etched in our memories. The season came and went, but unlike the ostentations parade of peddling partiers, the Denver Cruiser folks coyly promoted their understated agenda. 

Some bikes stick out amongst the crowd
While Cruisers often gets criticized (sometimes understandably) by city officials and occupants, the truth is, the organization itself has a much larger mission than getting folks dressed and liqoured up on weeknights. Denver Cruisers is part of a citywide initiative known as MindTheBike. The campaign was established to promote bike safety in Denver, using slogans like, “If you are a dick, you will be treated like a dick - it’s the basic law of the universe.” Though their media is humorous, the goal of promoting safety for both bikers and city occupants isn’t a laughing matter. Denver, as an up and coming city, has seen the influx of bike commuters grow about as fast as the real estate market. MindTheBike encourages riders to know their rights, obey traffic laws, ride sober, use lights, helmets, and locks, as well as reminding all people “Don’t be a douche bag.” A quick glance at the website can align any visitor with the rules of the road, such as… BIKERS AREN’T SUPPOSED TO RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK ASSHOLE IN THE TURN LANE WHO WON’T WAIT YOUR TURN! Subtly aside, Denver Cruisers and MindTheBike have made bombing down our city streets not only safe but sexy. 

Along with promoting bicycle safety, Cruisers also helps promote local business and stimulate local economy. Wednesday's meet-up, now under the moniker of Denver Bike Night, partners with different bars to act as start-up locations. With the birth of a hump day eve, hundreds of rowdy participants flock to the chosen bars before embarking on the ride. At the meet-up Bike Party, participants are bestowed the ability to purchase nourishment from local food trucks. After the Man vacates the Bike Party, another bar is chosen for the Official After Party, creating another lucrative night for the food and beverage industry. 

While cruisers has its flaws and critics, it is undeniably a positive event in the streets of Denver. The creative take on stimulating economy, supporting local business, and encouraging the safe use of green transportation has transformed our city for the better. There are always going to be those who think it's OK to block traffic, run a red light, or throw fireworks into the Circle of Death, but these outliers shouldn’t deter from the main event. Denver Cruisers is a shinning example of why our city is flourishing, and what can happen if we encourage creative ways to inspire the masses. 

Participants getting ready to cruise 

Photos courtesy of author