Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sunny Days ... You Hope

Today, my Granny took me around downtown Denver to celebrate my birthday, as we've done for years now. We ride the Light Rail (Denver's form of non-bus transportation that looks tiny after riding the F line), eat lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (at an outdoor table next to the street, under umbrellas that touch for maximum shade), and then do any number of things - shop, visit art galleries and boutiques, go to the art museum, eat more food, take pictures with painted cow sculptures, go to the Tattered Cover bookstore - and then get on the Light Rail and head home.

Though we used to always get the same thing at Cheesecake Factory (Chinese Chicken salad, lunch size, with White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake), we've branched out the last couple of years. This time we had pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and chicken, and the Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake. YUM. We went to a shop in the Tabor Center that we found last year, and I put a shirt and necklace on hold.

Next we went to the art museum and saw the King Tut exhibit (my Granny is a member, and now that I go to school in NYC, I find museums to be normal ways to spend any day). Since the exhibit is new, it was very crowded, so during the second half, I gave her the "Reader's Digest" version of their information plaques above the various relics. After the museum, we visited the "cookie lady," which my uncle told us about - technically she was closed, but we still got three yummy cookies for $1 (and you know how I feel about bargains). We then went back to the store and got my shirt and necklace, got on the Light Rail, and headed home. A fun day!

Interspersed throughout our day, however, were tragic sights. Brightly painted pianos sat outside on street corners, waiting to be either played or rained upon. See, in a project that only people who work for the city government could have come up with, these pianos had been placed to help "promote community" and "revitalize the mall." Or, as my Granny said, "They're supposed to make us want to talk to each other. Apparently you see people on the bus and on the street every day, but you never talk to them. And if there was a piano, you'd talk to them."

So, all day long we passed pianos that were over one hundred years old, and were sitting in the sun, silently. Few had people sitting at them playing, and none were surrounded by former strangers chatting. In fact, the project seemed to be an expensive way to ruin pianos, rather than create the downtown version of "Kum Ba Yah." Some of them were cute, and similar projects have been tried in other cities around the world (including NYC), but it simply wasn't a good use of resources.

See, the pianos weren't free. Since they're only here for a limited time, after they're done rotting in the elements, the city will have to pay to have them re-painted and re-tuned. In return, they've had a few street-music wars between caucasian rastafarians playing harp-like instruments and whoever is on the piano, but there has been no instant community. I don't think people are baking each other cookies, or babysitting for free, or joining corporate softball leagues. I think people are going about life in downtown Denver as usual, with the occasional piano on the street.

The government can't see that this is a poor investment of our tax dollars - they're blinded by PBS-friendly words like "community," "neighborhood-feel," and "the letter A." The problem is, we don't live on Sesame Street, and we don't live in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. In fact, most people are commuters or tourists - they work in their offices, and venture out during the lunch hour, or are there to see the sights, whatever they may be. If neither of these is the correct group, they're likely homeless, spending their days as they please.

While these people are living in reality, our tax dollars are paying for a wasteful (albeit whimsical) pet project designed to foster spontaneous friendship. The problem is, life isn't a children's book - people don't leave work to play the piano and quit chasing success and decide to go home and paint a picture with their kids. Pianos can't sit outside for months and not experience physical damage. People who have never spoken to each other don't start speaking when the scenery changes.

So, while they were fun to see, I think the city can find an art exhibit for its streets that is both less expensive and less destructive. However, I doubt they'll be swayed by these arguments. If someone could say that "the public display of music is offensive to me and my religious convictions," or point out that the "freedom of choice" was taken away from the poor pianos who were never asked to be put outside, or even "you know, George Bush LOVES painted pianos," we just might get those poor instruments back inside.

I had a fun day with my Granny in:
Khaki shorts, purple tunic top with beaded top, peacock feather earrings, sea green big daisy ring, and black platform flip-flops. (Not business casual, my apologies. It was around 100 degrees, and we were walking everywhere.)

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