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Ethan Wenberg

How to Survive...Summer On a Dollar a Day

If you have an extreme fear of heights, it's wise to not accept a job that requires you to work on the side of a mountain. I realized that a little too late last May, as I found myself faced with a dilemma: choose certain death working on the side of a mountain building wilderness trails or become unemployed, homeless and die in a violent bum fight on the streets. After careful consideration, I chose option number two. It was the only logical choice.

So I started hitting the pavement, applying at every company I could think of. But until that happened, I knew had to find a way to support myself. Unemployment benefits weren't an option, because I had filled out the forms wrong. I also couldn't live off credit cards, because the credit-card company had figured out long ago not to give me any. Then it hit me, like lightning in the head: Become a summer-festival volunteer. I had signed up for the Capital Hill People's Fair a few weeks before being fired, and I knew they were going to feed me for volunteering. Were there more events like that, I wondered? And so began my volunteering-for-food mission. Here's a cheat sheet to getting through the summer on a dollar a day -- or less.

CHUN Capitol Hill People's Fair

Days volunteered: One.

What I received: Orange volunteer T-shirt, lunch from Wild Oats and a free beer.

Tasks: Handing out event maps and manning the information booth.

Level of my desperation: Low. I still had some savings left.

Overall assessment of event: I had a great time. Anytime is good when you get free beer. I also got hit on by one of Denver's finest. Who says cops don't like minorities?

Dates held this year: June 4 and 5.

Global Groove World Music Festival

Days volunteered: Two.

What I received: Two white volunteer T-shirts, one Global Groove card with $5 on it, two Chipotle burritos.

Tasks: Ticket-taker.

Level of my desperation: Still low but rising, as I realized that I had no job lined up and only $50 left in my bank account.

Overall assessment of event: God, I love Chipotle. The burrito is the most perfect food. I used the card to buy an overpriced margarita. There were fifty cents left, but I couldn't find anything at the festival that only cost fifty cents. Oh, there were also some great musical acts, but I didn't really get to listen, because I was trying to hide from a guy I'd gone on a date with earlier in the week. (He paid for dinner).

Dates held this year: Global Groove will be a stage at the Cingular LoDo Music Festival, June 17 and 18.

Cherry Creek Arts Festival

Days volunteered:One.

What I received: Yellow volunteer T-shirt, Continental breakfast, lunch from Wild Oats.

Tasks: Booth-sitter. (Theft protection.)

Overall assessment of event: Why would anyone want to pay $18,000 for a giant head? I did get an idea to put X-ray film in the microwave and sell it for $50 a sheet. Besides some questionable prices, I got to meet some great artists and see some amazing works of art.

Level of my desperation: By the time this festival had come around, I had resorted to becoming a guinea pig for the University of Colorado's psychology department for quick cash. You don't know how low you are until you are willing -- for $100 and lunch -- to be the first person to test a drug that wipes out your short-term memory.

Days being held this year: July 2, 3 and 4

Cingular LoDo Fest

Days volunteered: Two.

What I received: White volunteer T-shirt and a sandwich from one of the vendors.

Tasks: Ticket-taker.

Overall assessment of event: The food was a bust -- and they only fed me one day. Also, there are a lot of people in Denver who think they are entitled to have their every whim served. I don't know how many times I told some drunken frat boy that I couldn't accept $5 for a $25 ticket. I can't complain too much, though, because I did get to hear Big Daddy Kane. I thought he was dead, but, to my surprise, he is not.

Level of my desperation: I hadn't paid my rent in two months. I had to pretend to be asleep, drunk and sometimes dead every time my roommate came home.

Dates held this year: June 17 and 18

Denver International Busker Festival

Days volunteered: Three.

What I received: Two white volunteer T-shirts, dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery, a lot of leftover chai and a load of Mardi Gras beads.

Tasks: Running audio for the artists.

Overall assessment of event: Dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery was like God Himself had blessed me and fed me free chicken wings from His hands. The chai? Someone should have told me that chai is spicy milk before I accepted twenty bottles of it. I am lactose intolerant. I drank all of it, but I could have died. Also, I still don't understand the attraction of Mardi Gras beads. People kept asking me to give them beads. If you want something so bad, you should be willing to pay for it. Sadly, no one took me up on my offer of $20 per strand.

Level of my desperation: By this time, I had lost thirty pounds from eating only festival-provided food and tuna bought from 7-Eleven.

Dates held this year: September 9, 10 and 11.

By the end of the Busker Fest, I knew I should be out there buskering. I had been turned down by every place I had applied. My pride was in the toilet. It was time to kill someone for a job. But I didn't kill anyone. I did the next best thing: I went back to college. I realized that the job market wasn't ready for a 24-year-old whose skills included dressing up in costumes and drinking. If you don't have a job after a summer of festival-for-food hopping, I suggest you do what I did and think about going back to school. Financial Aid refunds are just like hitting the lottery -- a lottery that you have to pay back at 5 percent interest.

And I can, because this summer, I'm happy to say, I am gainfully employed, so I don't have to rely on the many summer festivals as my sole source of food and upper-body clothing. But I am still going to volunteer. Because volunteering also got me into the festivals for free, and free food is free food, whether you can afford to pay for it or not.


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