I live in a town called Cripple Creek. Our claim to fame are the donkeys that roam the town, that stand in the middle of the roads and look at the cars that try to pass by them with bored faces. Though the tourists who come to our town in order to play the slot machines in the casinos that consume all of the window fronts of the main road think the song by The Band called “Up on Cripple Creek” is about us. But no, that song is about Cripple Creek, Virginia. So this Cripple Creek in nowhere Colorado tries to stake our claim, take pride in our donkeys.
There is a yellow sign at the edge of town that says “Donkeys At Large.” Actually, it says “At Large” then has a drawing of a black silhouette of a donkey underneath it. Somehow the maker of the sign managed to make the donkey look mean. People here are serious about their donkeys.
Other than crowding the streets, the donkeys also roam the yards in town, mowing everyone’s grass with their big snouts as they chomp away at what they can get. Hit a donkey with your car, and the fine is greater than if you were pulled over while driving drunk.
And there are plenty of drunk drivers in this town. With nothing else to do but go to the casinos and slurp on free drinks as the slot machines engulf your money, drinking is an all day activity. Everyone here lives by the rule that it’s 5 o’ clock somewhere. Though there are no alcoholics in this town, they’re just called Regulars.
My boyfriend and I moved here in June a few weeks before the Donkey Derby Days festival. While the rest of the U.S. was celebrating gay pride weekend, in the town of Cripple Creek, we were celebrating our donkeys. At the festival, which consisted of donkey races and food booths selling Steak-on-a- Stick, an old man approached my boyfriend and I asking if we could sell him some weed. Being a white girl with dreadlocks, I get this request a lot. When I told the old man and his weathered skin that I did not smoke, he then asked me for some coke.
“No sir, don’t do that either.”
“Come on, I’m not a cop,” he said as he chugged warm, piss-colored beer from his donkey-shaped mug. He’s probably a Regular at all the bars in town.
I told him nope, sorry again, and then stared at his back as he walked slovenly away. His shirt was from the Donkey Derby Days festival back in 2001, and declared in bright yellow letters on black cotton that the festival was so full of fun that it was ReDONKulous.
This is where I live.
I came here to escape the big cities I have lived in, to hide in the mountains and write. I live in my grandparent’s spare cabin, paying no rent, no utilities, and I’m even driving around their spare car—a 1982 El Camino. Classic.
It has been three months since Donkey Derby Days, but the town folk, the Regulars still show their pride in their donkey-themed town. Shirts declaring, “Where the asses run free and the donkeys are well behaved.” There’s also a shirt you can buy from the General Store that says “Cripple Creek: in most states it’s illegal to be this high.” Because, yes, we’re 9,494 feet in the air. And yes, everyone here accept for this white girl with dreadlocks and her boyfriend are high. Regulars. Good ol’ donkey lovin’, pot smokin’, coke snortin’ folk.
After the festival we retreated to the cabin, got away from the asses and the donkeys. As we drove out of town that day, my boyfriend spotted a green sign. He thought it said, “Population 9,494.” I corrected him.
“No honey, that says “ELEVATION 9,494.”
And in a town of no more than 500 people, I drove back to the cabin wondering what the donkey to human ratio was.
Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in THIS, Stone Highway, Atticus Review, Sleet and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt for her essays “BodyHome” and “I Have Been Thinking About,” respectively. She is currently finishing up a collection of essays about finding the concept of home in the body. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.wordpress.com.