Lynn and I did something quite novel two nights ago: we sat in our house with the lights on. On Halloween.
This is the first year in decades that I have not been in the Palisades subdivision, where Halloween is A Thing. Not necessarily planned or wanted by residents, but a Big Thing for all those kids and their parents who decided long ago that the place to go trick-or-treating was the Palisades.
It doesn’t matter where in town you live, or even if you live 30 miles out of town. You take, or send, your kids to the Palisades.
I’m guessing some of this is a volume decision. For years and years the Palisades were the most densely packed part of Gunnison, 10 houses on one side of a block compared to three or four through most of town. More bang for less effort, it seems.
And by now it’s just A Thing that you don’t even question. You just pop your kids in the car and drive them over to the seven streets of the Palisades, trundle along in literal bumper-to-bumper traffic, have your kids hit the better part of 100 houses, then pack up and head home, satisfied that you didn’t have a major capital outlay in candy and your kids had a safe night of trick-or-treating.
I’m not even sure why people still persist on going to the Palisades, since my informal observations over the last several years have shown that a full half of our old block does not turn porch lights on, the universal signal for “not open for business.” And due to sheer volume (easily more than 200 kids), most people aren’t giving out “good” candy, but something affordable, like Smarties or Jolly Ranchers.
I used to participate in this madness, leaving my porch light on and doling out Jolly Ranchers and Smarties to the endless line of mostly children, some high schoolers and an occasional college student. One year, back when I worked for the paper, I came back from an out-of-town volleyball tournament on Halloween, arriving at my house as the hordes were descending. I desperately needed to relieve myself, and there was no chance to do so, as kids just kept coming and coming, an endless line of them on my rather narrow porch. Finally a friend and her kids came by, and I turned candy dispensing over to them so that I could make it to the bathroom.
Lynn may have participated in this madness a year or two as well, but sometime around her arrival the chamber of commerce had this bright idea for marketing downtown: the businesses could host a trick-or-treat for the kids.
This works as most marketing plans the chamber has come up with: it’s a fun event the community loves; it costs the merchants money; and it doesn’t increase sales one iota.
I have stopped counting how many cheap Chinese-made toys get handed out at Pat’s Screen Printing each year, but the number now has to be around 700. At some point in this process, after I would leave the throngs downtown and try to wend my way home through the throngs clogging the Palisades —
I could ride my bike through dark streets and see a little band of kids here, another there, nothing remarkable all the way home, until I reached Spencer Avenue, start of the Palisades. Then there were throngs.
— and somewhere in here it occurred to me: I already gave at the office. I already spent north of $400 making children happy. (Or not: I’m afraid I gave out several dud glow sticks this year.) I do not need to contribute any further.
So Lynn and I joined some neighbors in turning the porch light off, closing the curtains, and hiding in a darkened house. This meant trying to fix dinner in low light and scuttling quickly through the living room, which had no curtains, and ignoring those clueless kids who came up and rang the doorbell despite the darkened porch and house.
This year we didn’t have to do any of that. We bought some candy bars (“good candy”) in case any of the seven-ish kids who live in Riverwalk came calling, or maybe some of the kids from the trailer park across the highway (there is a bike/pedestrian underpass, even if it would be a long walk for little reward), but no trick-or-treaters.
I know people don’t think my jaundiced attitude toward Halloween is appropriate. I guess it’s okay if my religious neighbors object to the holiday on those grounds, but it’s never been okay for me to not like it just because nothing about it appeals to me.
I suppose I liked it well enough as a kid — free candy and all — but I could never come up with a costume and rarely enjoyed the dress-up aspect. As an adult the lesson I learned is “hosting Halloween parties = divorce.” The parties themselves always seemed fun, and the less effort I put into my costume the more compliments I got — but every couple who hosted them is now divorced. Cause and effect, right there.
In Crested Butte, dressing up is the town religion, and many people in Gunnison seem to like it too (although no one can like it as much as those in Crested Butte), given how many join their kids in costume on Main Street. But the only part of the holiday I like is shopping for cheap toys from China.
It’s not just me: over however many years this downtown trick-or-treat has taken place, nearly every employee of Pat’s has tried handing out the toys at least once. Usually once, and then everyone refuses. It’s a feeding frenzy in a suffocating swarm of children. And while parents like that what we give out isn’t candy, it creates more of a backlog when you get the kids who have to root through the entire cauldron, seeking the singular toy that will bring their lives joy.
Which is where Ranger Don comes in. Don Maguire, retired from Western No Longer State, used to hand out candy at NuVista Credit Union, across the street. But for some reason they no longer wished to use his services, and as soon as I discovered he was a free agent, I snapped him up.
As the Pat’s staff hovers safely out of reach behind glass, we send Ranger Don out to the sidewalk, where he spends two hours enveloped in costumed children and their parents. He genuinely loves it and keeps coming back every year — more power to him.
The crowds eventually thin out — home to eat dinner before picking up more treats in the Palisades (because three blocks worth of storefronts on Main is never enough) and Don, the Unmasked Ranger, takes his leave of us for another year. And then I extinguish my smoking skull with glowing LED eyes, close the shop up for the night and head home to spend the evening hiding in my house.
Not this year, though. I just headed home and spent a regular evening. With lights on and everything. And I didn’t miss the Palisades at all.
Ranger Don to the rescue!