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2009 Year in Review: When the lows were lower and the highs were really, really high

2009. Yeah, we're sick about it, too. From swine flu to job cuts to a suspected terrorist in Aurora (Aurora, really?), every month brought a new horror, a new reason to clutch our nauseated stomachs and moan over that chronic ache in our heads. If it wasn't coyotes running amok in our neighborhoods or the foreclosures that made us say goodbye to our neighbors, it was former professor Ward Churchill, who kept coming back from the career dead, or the giant blue Mustang at Denver International Airport, whose evil red eyes continue to shine into our very souls.

This was supposed to be the year of change, the year we put old politics and old problems behind us. Instead, it was a year of the same old, same old — only less of it, as the state, cities and school districts slashed their budgets at every opportunity. And if the Rocky Mountain News hadn't closed up shop in February after 150 years, we would have gotten a double dose of all the bad news.

Then, finally, one story rose above all the rest: A silver Mylar balloon lifted off from Fort Collins, reportedly carrying six-year-old Falcon Heene high, higher, highest over the Front Range.

And although Balloon Boy turned out to be a hoax, getting high turned out to be a hit — Colorado's surprise hit of 2009.

Once the purview of the corner dealer, the marijuana industry was taken over by legitimate, permitted businesspeople after the Colorado Board of Health abandoned an attempt to limit the number of medical marijuana patients that one caregiver can oversee. As a result, medical marijuana dispensaries now fill nearly 200 formerly empty storefronts in Denver alone, and dozens upon dozens more across the state.

And just in time. Nausea and the chronic pain we experienced this year are just two symptoms for which a doctor might prescribe a little bit of leafy relief. How long this green-gold rush lasts may be determined by lawmakers in the coming months. But no one wants to kill the buzz too fast; after all, we can use the sales-tax money.

So relax, sit back, light up, let all those painful thoughts float away — and enjoy a true Rocky Mountain high.

STRANGE BUT TRUE: THE TOP TEN

What happens when the Colorado Board of Health holds a last-minute meeting on medical marijuana rules using teleconferencing equipment that no one knows how to work? Comic genius. The November hearing collapsed in chaos and confusion as boardmembers fought for voice time with members of the public who were only supposed to be listening in but who could be heard as well as anyone, if not better. The resulting transcript includes conversations not just about pot policy, but about laxatives and barbecues, too — when the discussion wasn't blotted out by music. The best line comes near the end, when someone yells out, "Shut up about your fucking mango!" After that, decorum goes out the window as one listener repeats the mantra "Legalize it" over and over.

Brian Drone had a little too much to drink one day last May and figured he'd go for a joyride — but not in his car. Instead, Drone saddled up his horse, Cricket, and giddyapped through Arvada, ending up at a strip mall, where someone called the cops. The drunken cowboy drew a crowd — and a $25 ticket for riding an animal while under the influence, which is apparently only a minor traffic violation, according to KUSA-TV. A local stable owner eventually took charge of Cricket while Drone sobered up.

A fight over the song "Margaritaville" playing on the jukebox of a Steamboat Springs sports bar led to the death of a Green Beret on New Year's Day. The dispute began when Miami brothers David and Eddie Capote began heckling Army sergeant Richard Lopez and two friends inside the Tap House Sports Grill. Although both sides seemed to calm down, police said the brothers later ambushed Lopez while he was crossing a nearby street; Lopez later died of injuries sustained during the attack. The Capotes were arrested in March and charged with several counts of assault; both have pleaded not guilty.

The mystery of who smashed eleven picture windows at Colorado Democratic Party headquarters was solved in August when police arrested a suspect. A radical GOPer? A bitter Hillary supporter? Nope. Turns out the culprit was Maurice Joseph Schwenkler, a transgender anti-Obama anarchist activist better known as Ariel Attack, and a friend of Denver Bash Back, a group of radical gay, lesbian and transgender people who have opposed both the Republican Party and progressive Democrats and whose website shows jihadist-looking individuals dressed in black robes and pink burkhas. In December, Schwenkler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief in exchange for having felony charges dropped.

A hapless skier at Vail got more exposure to the elements than he anticipated in January when he slid through his seat after boarding the Blue Sky Basin lift and was left dangling upside down, his cheeks bare. Some hilarious pics of the pantsless man immediately went viral on the Internet, but the man who shot them, Marty Odom, lost his job with SharpShooter Imaging, which said he'd violated its code of conduct by distributing the photos — which he took while on the job — without permission. The company, which hires photographers to take on-mountain pictures of skiers at various resorts, threatened to sue the Smoking Gun website, which had posted the naked truth, but the images are still available in every dark crack of the Internet.

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