Faithful readers will notice that The Observer has been on the move lately. Something about the spring makes us put on the traveling shoes.
Our latest excursion took us to Denver, Colo., for a journalists’ conference. It turns out that Colorado has some different laws than back in home in Arkansas! Fascinating. Though far from the office, The Observer knows an opportunity for some reporting and observing when we see one. We investigated.
Lest we offend those of delicate sensibilities or constitutions, we shall now speak in code.
You may have read about Colorado’s recently passed laws regarding the decriminalization of tater tots. Here in Arkansas, as in most states, tater tots are illegal. They’re still more or less available, but only through the black market (and enforcement of the tater tot laws has been horribly discriminatory against racial minorities). By popular referendum, the voters of Colorado recently chose to legalize tater tots — and tax them, bringing tens of millions of dollars to the state coffers.
The Observer was fascinated to walk into a tater-tot dispensary, full of a large variety of all manner of tater tots (apparently tater-tot chocolates are particularly popular). The dispensary employee was friendly and helpful (if you’re wondering, they are not allowed to eat tater tots on the job). It was almost like … a normal customer service experience! None of the awkward meetups with sketchy tater-tot dealers that The Observer may or may not have had in the past. No coded text messages or confusing etiquette or social obligation to eat tater tots at the moment of purchase. Just a simple, and legal, transaction. The free market. Free as a bird.
After consumption of tater tots, perhaps the air was a bit more crisp. Perhaps the Rockies, towering above the Denver skyline, were more magnificent. Or as magnificent as they had always been, the tater tots merely helping The Observer to observe. The Observer got a little giggly during a conference panel discussion on mapping bacteria in the body, but otherwise, we can report that society seems to be surviving the legalization of tater tots just fine.
This assessment stands in sharp contrast to the dire predictions of those who wish to continue the endless War on Tater Tots. “There will be many harmful consequences,” one Colorado sheriff predicted in 2012. “Expect more crime, more kids eating tater tots, and tater tots for sale everywhere.”
A California sheriff was a guest on Denver television and said to expect this: “Thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your tater tots, give me your money.’ “
However, three months into the Great Colorado Tater-Tot experiment, crime in Denver has gone down, not up. As for The Observer, we finished our investigation with some tacos. Delicious.
As hard as it is to believe for Yours Truly, this week marked the 20th anniversary of the death by suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who took his own life on April 5, 1994, with a shotgun in his Seattle home after several years of struggling with heroin addiction and depression. What a blow that was, children. What a tragedy. What a bewildering wound.
The ’50s had Elvis Presley, who bloated and faded and finally burned out. The flower children had John Lennon, silenced by a lunatic with a gun. The Observer’s vintage, meanwhile — Generation X — had Cobain, a hugely flawed and reluctant anti-hero who was eventually stolen away by his appetites and his own despair. Calling somebody “the voice of a generation” is a cliche, sure. But for a few years, if there was a voice, Cobain was it. He sure took this kid from the sticks to new places, helping The Observer shrug off the neon-lit testosterone stench of hair metal in favor of a music that was more thoughtful, more introspective, more real. Knowing that Cobain gave in to hopelessness after a few short years of giving everybody else a kind of hope was a hell of a thing, still hard to fathom long after all the flannel shirts and Doc Martin boots went to the back of the closet or off to Goodwill. But that voice was a hell of thing as well. And the voice will live forever.