Exactly four months from now, the Democratic National Convention comes to town.
Colorado's not ready for its close-up.
That became all too apparent on April 11, when the Colorado Tourism Office turned New York City's Madison Square Park into Colorado for the day, under the chirpy order "Let's Talk the Many Seasons of Colorado." Visitors to the faux state — and I'm sorry to report there were 7,000 of them — could fish in a fake lake made of a blue plastic tarp, climb a fake mountain and snack on a fake Colorado dessert, an unappetizing confection created by Danny Meyer, a restaurateur whose connections to this state are exactly none, and named "Colorado's High Altitude Concrete." Yum!
Unfortunately, "Let's Talk the Many Seasons of Colorado" was not just a one-day event. The "Let's Talk Colorado" Gallery, featuring displays from some of the thirty organizations that joined the CTO in sponsoring the campaign, opened on April 1 — no joke — with a launch party featuring vodka snow cones, hot dogs "and other treats from the great state of Colorado!," and an invitation list helpfully copied to hundreds of potential invitees by a ham-handed PR agency. That goofy gallery — "Omigod," reported my spy who dropped in for a visit, "this is worse than the Broncos' first trip to the Super Bowl" — will stay up through the end of the month. And materials that visitors were able to access at the park's "tourism pavilion" are still available at www.letstalkcolorado.com, the website for the CTO's inane Let's Talk Colorado campaign, which promises to teach you to "talk Colorado like a Coloradan."
"With so many unique things to see and do, Colorado's got a language all our own," the site awkwardly advises. "So whether it's climbing a 14er, using your granny gears or eating a rattler cake, you'll find it here." And with one click, you can access descriptions of such common Colorado terms as "Singletrack" ("Dude! It's a narrow mountain biking trail just wide enough for one cyclist"), "Chickheads" ("Something the butcher takes care of? Nope, this rock climbing lingo refers to a knobby granite feature [resembling a chicken's head] that provides excellent holds for hands or feet") and "Rattler Cake" ("Colorado's answer to crab cakes, rattler cakes come from you guessed it, rattlesnake. Think sweeter and sans the fishy taste, rattlesnake can be a bit gamey"). From these slightly incoherent definitions, another click will take you to more in-depth, but no less dumb, explanations of Colorado's mountain-bike trails, its rock climbing, its "restaurants and cuisine."
Rocky Mountain oysters, for example. "Plainly told, these are bovine testicles. No use hiding the fact, or beating 'round the bush about it. But don't let this anatomical fact dissuade you from ordering it off the menu. When prepared by a knowledgeable chef, Rocky Mountain oysters are first-rate delicacies. Most preparations are straightforward. They're cut into thin strips, battered in flour and herbs, and pan or deep-fried. And the taste? Well, it usually depends on the seasoning used in the batter, but it has often been likened to fried oysters — hence it's apropos name."
When I first stumbled upon this description a few weeks ago while looking for information about "Let's Talk the Many Seasons of Colorado" — the big-ticket event that was about to show New York just how sophisticated Colorado can be (and whose details were so closely guarded you would have thought it was being held at Rocky Flats circa 1989) — the bulls' balls were actually "battered in flower." A fast call to the state tourism office got that charming error (which flowers? Columbines, or that new Denver daisy that John Hickenlooper just introduced?) corrected, but the rest of the error-ridden copy remains, right down to the incorrect "it's."
Let's talk about the fact that this state allegedly has one of the highest education levels in the nation.
Finding typos is the equivalent of "Granny Gears" — and we all know that "old and young kick in their granny gears, the lowest and easiest gear on a bicycle." But this talk isn't cheap. The New York event cost $200,000, and so far, the biggest media mention has been a chaps-wearing Kathie Lee Gifford extolling the beauties of Colorado on the Today show while a cowboy lassoed a fake steer. (This will not come as good news to Dean Singleton, who's sponsoring the DNC media party and is adamant that "we're not going to have a damn rodeo.... For these East Coast Democrats to tell us who we ought to be is bullshit.")
And $200,000 is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the $19 million that the state is now spending every year to promote itself — with a good slice of that going to the company that came up with the Let's Talk campaign, MMG Worldwide. Worldwide, but based in Kansas City — although with an office in Fort Collins. An office that apparently lacks a proofreader, since early this week, "Terrior" was still listed as one of the twenty examples of how you can Talk Colorado.
According to Let's Talk, "Pronounced 'te-rwar' with your best French-cum-Colorado-twang accent, gout de terroir is French for 'taste of the earth,' noting the physical and geographical characteristics of a particular vineyard that give the resultant wine its unique properties." And Colorado's wine business is considered important enough that not only did the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board provide samples of its wares at a media luncheon in New York City, but here at home, the state has hired an enologist, Stephen Menke, to promote the industry.
Colorado restaurants have done their bit to promote an updated image, too. In March, an impressive lineup of Denver chefs was featured at the James Beard House, the culinary equivalent of bagging a 14er, and another group will be there in May, to show just how far Colorado has gone beyond Rocky Mountain oysters. Except on its state-subsidized website, of course. The one that serves as an introduction to Colorado for all the people thinking about coming here, all the people who will be arriving in August.
Most of them will be coming through Denver International Airport, where Colorado: See the New West Like a Local just opened. The exhibit features artistic interpretations of written statements that Coloradans sent in response to this question: "What does Colorado Look Like to You?" So rather than leave Colorado's culinary contributions hanging like a dangling participle or a sac of bovine testicles, I'm nipping this problem in the bud by asking for responses to this question: "What does Colorado Taste Like to You?" Your answer could be a bowl of green chile at your favorite Mexican joint, a pan-seared trout by a mountain lake — or the taste of crow after visiting www.letstalkcolorado.com.
The ball's in your court, Colorado.