Posted: Nov 4, 2009
BOULDER, Colo. -- This city has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation. But this Halloween, one of its wackiest traditions is under siege: the Naked Pumpkin Run.
The event is exactly what its name implies. Scores of men and women pour into downtown streets for a late-night jog, wearing not a stitch between the jack-o'-lanterns on their heads and the sneakers on their feet.
For nearly a decade, naked pumpkin runners did their thing unmolested, stampeding through the frigid dark past crowds of admirers who hooted, hollered and tossed candy. But last year the run attracted more than 150 participants, and Police Chief Mark Beckner fears things are getting out of hand. "It's a free-for-all," he says.
So he intends to stop it.
He will station more than 40 officers on the traditional four-block route tonight, with two SWAT teams patrolling nearby. All have orders to arrest gourd-topped streakers as sex offenders.
Runners and their fans are outraged. This is not the free-spirited Boulder they know and love. "It kind of reminds me of what's happening in Tehran," says Andy Schmidt, a lawyer. "They're pre-emptively outlawing a gathering."
The American Civil Liberties Union has fired off a letter accusing the police of violating citizens' constitutional rights to express whatever it is they're expressing when they slip hollowed-out pumpkins over their heads and race buck naked down the Pearl Street pedestrian mall.
At a recent forum for city council candidates, all 10 participants said they disapproved of the threatened crackdown.
Even Mayor Matt Appelbaum, who supports the police, admits to a tinge of worry that arresting Halloween streakers will tarnish Boulder's reputation as, well, Boulder.
"I'm a little old for it, but it could be pretty cool to be running around with a pumpkin on your head and not much else," says the 57-year-old mayor.
As for the runners themselves, they're stressing. Do they hand the cops a victory by staying home? Fashion a zucchini codpiece to stay legal? Let it all hang out?
Oleg Abramov, a 31-year-old planetary scientist, says it's an excruciating choice. He loves the run; he calls it a "liberating and somewhat surreal community arts project." But being labeled a sex offender could ruin his career.
He won't divulge his plans for tonight, except to say that if he does run, he plans to "have a lawyer standing by."
This year, police plan to make a stronger statement. They are on edge not just about the pumpkin run but also about an outdoor costume party that could draw thousands of rowdy revelers to the pedestrian mall. So this time, officers won't mess around with handing out tickets; they expect to make arrests.
"We're a police department," Chief Beckner says. "We enforce the law."
Whether the law applies to naked pumpkin runners is a matter of some dispute.
It's not illegal to be naked in downtown Boulder. In fact, the city has had a long, proud history of nudity.
Hundreds of University of Colorado students dashed across campus in the buff in 1974, in a vain attempt to set a Guinness World Record.
More recently, Boulder has played host to an annual Naked Bike Ride to protest dependence on fossil fuels. And the Boulder Daily Camera, the local newspaper, serves up a steady stream of stories about clothes-free joggers and nudist gardeners.
Casting about for a law to apply, since nudity per se is not illegal, police hit upon the state's indecent exposure statute, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly expose his or her genitals in circumstances "likely to cause affront or alarm."
Even if the run does catch a few people by surprise, "the joy it brings overall far outweighs the one or two people who could be offended," says Callie Webster, who is 22 and a veteran pumpkinhead.
Police acknowledge they have not been flooded with pumpkin-run-related complaints, but say that's beside the point. A throng of naked people with jack-o-lanterns on their heads is, by definition, an alarming sight, Chief Beckner says. Therefore, it's illegal.
Those convicted of indecent exposure rarely get jail time, but they must register as sex offenders, just as rapists do. Which seems a bit excessive to Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.
"A lot of times," he says with a sigh, "these people are just being idiots."
Still, Mr. Garnett says he will back up the police, adding, "We will take the cases they give us."
The looming threat has scrambled planning for the pumpkin run, which is loosely organized even in the best of years. (This being Boulder, the only hard-and-fast rule is that participants must put their pumpkins into a compost heap after the run.)
"It was very playful," she says, adding with a hint of indignation, "There was no aspect of sexual debauchery."
But Ms. Buja knows a jury might not see it her way, and she can't risk a conviction as a sex offender. "I'm going into education," she says, "and I don't know that's necessarily the best thing to have on my record."
With so many runners spooked, some organizers are quietly planning to outflank the police by taking their pumpkins elsewhere. Come nightfall, they intend to doff their clothes and don their gourds in a nearby, unnamed but presumably less prudish city. A restaurant called Hapa Sushi offers an alternative for those who remain loyal to Boulder: It's handing out free orange undies, including barely-there thongs, imprinted with the slogan "Run Responsibly."
The Naked Pumpkin Run is not for everyone. It's hot and smelly and goopy inside the jack-o'-lanterns. Even hollowed out, the pumpkins can weigh 25 to 30 pounds, so they are heavy and tough to balance; veteran runners learn to carve big ears that can double as handles.
And it's usually quite chilly in Colorado on Halloween, so running around naked takes a good deal of fortitude. The Saturday forecast is for a low of 35 degrees, with two feet of snow on the ground. Still, those who have tried it say it's addictive. "It's wild. It's crazy," said one organizer, who hopes to evade police scrutiny by giving only his nom de gourd, Captain Cold. "And it gives you bragging rights for the entire year."
Posted: Nov 4, 2009
|Aww man... damn shame. I wonder what ended up happening...|
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