I was giddy with the (for me!) novel experience of being a sort-of big shot. I couldn't wait to go to community events and to be appropriately fawned over by the rich and powerful, whose ranks I actually thought I'd joined. (OK, I was delusional.)
But local attorney Tyler Makepeace (then married to then-Councilwoman Mary Lou) quickly burst my bubble.
"You wait," he said sourly. "You'll have to go to meetings, and lunches, and dinners and receptions that you'd pay good money to get out of. And you only get to talk to the people who want something. You won't make friends, people won't think you're wonderful, you'll eat bad food, drink too much and get fat."
He was right. After a while, I learned how to work the crowd, smile genially at everyone, avoid the food and drink Diet Coke.
It was dj vu all over again the other evening, when I once again imitated a power person and hung out with several hundred of our city's movers and shakers at World Arena. The occasion: the annual Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame Banquet and Induction Ceremony.
Surprisingly, it was fascinating. Two of my coffee-shop geezer homies (Mike Moran and Fred Whitacre) were among the honorees, and they got more than their share of teasing from their fellow geriatrics. Present were the city's longtime leaders, whether in business, law, government and politics or the nonprofit world. Some of them have been here for 50 years, some for five. But they share common goals and a common vision for this community.
We tend to pay attention to the noisemakers: Eric Christen, Douglas Bruce, James Dobson. They distort the way we see our community, our sense of belonging to Colorado Springs and our image in the rest of the country. We don't pay much attention to -- and we scarcely know the names of -- the people who really matter.
So based on a wholly unscientific survey (personal observation for 25 years), let's take a look at 'em. Longtime developers Scott Smith and Doug Stimple, lawyer Tom James, El Pomar senior vice president of operations Dave Palenchar, KILO general manager Lou Mellini, Terry Sullivan of the organization formerly known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ed Sauer of the Bank at Broadmoor -- these guys are here to stay.
Folks like the Gazette's former publisher, Chris Anderson, may come and go, but real power and influence resides with those who come and never leave. They're mostly white, middle-aged and male. They dress like it's 1955 -- and party like it's 1959. They're mostly Republican and overwhelmingly moderate. They supported Referendums C & D, despise Douglas Bruce and live either in the North End or 80906.
If religious, they belong to mainstream denominations; few, if any, worship at New Life or Woodmen Valley Chapel. They're settled, in every sense of the word; they are reasonably wealthy, successful, energetic and deeply community-minded.
Like it or not, these folks rule our world. Colorado Springs is what it is because of their individual and collective decisions. They've made mistakes along the way, most notably allowing the extreme right to take over the Republican Party. But let's not blame them for unregulated growth, for sprawl and for an unsustainable economy. Those phenomena, like Wal-Mart, are worldwide.
What distinguishes our homegrown power structure from similar aggregates in other Western boomtowns? Maybe a certain lack of showiness, a willingness to act collectively, a shared belief in hard work and devotion to community nonprofits. These guys are competent and neither ideological nor interested in who gets the credit as long the job gets done ... wait a minute! They're exactly who George W. claimed to be. No wonder they all voted for him.
Most of us aren't, and never will be, card-carrying members of the power structure. But they deserve our thanks, and if thanking them means sitting for a couple of hours listening to speeches, then so be it. In the quaint rituals of the powerful, that's part of the glue that holds everything together.