I’ve lived my entire adult life in (four) college towns. Cities that experience the ebbs and flows of the college cycle. Walmarts with bare shelves because it’s the first week of classes. Coffee shops that are quiet because it’s summer. Full hotels and crowded restaurants because it’s graduation weekend. Even the year we spent in Orlando, we lived minutes from the largest university in the country, giving everything around us collegiate flair.
Fort Collins, Colorado is no different. With college students making up 20 percent of the population, the city feels a shift once summer hits.
Unless that summer falls during an odd-numbered year.
Fort Collins residents know what to expect. For decades, they’ve watched their city be taken over by 7,000 out-of-towners. Schools re-purposed for the country’s largest childcare operation. A university campus transformed into a training and conference complex. The locals have us marked within second. Entire apartment complexes offering students only 9-month leases on odd-numbered years, to accommodate the influx of thousands who make Fort Collins their temporary home.
Walk in any store or restaurant and immediately cashiers ask if you’re “with the conference.” If you are, you’re given “the discount.” Half the time, they need not even ask – you are probably still sporting your conference name tag.
Fort Collins may or may not be glad we are here, but they certainly knew we were coming.
Having your turf invaded is slightly less painful when you know it’s coming. When townies know to avoid the Northwest side of town for all of July, they’re on track for making wise decisions. Starbucks, Q’doba, Sonic, and the local grocery store don’t belong to Fort Collins anymore. They belong to the lanyard-clad groupies, scurrying in and out between general sessions. They are home to reunions, internal interviews, study sessions, and live-streaming for those backs can’t hack the arena seats.
Knowing what to expect helps take the edge off. It even provides a chance to embrace unwanted change. There’s a getting-use-to-the-idea method that’s worth its weight in gold. There’s an “it is what it is” that rolls with the punches. There’s a grumble-and-bear-it, they’ll-be-gone-soon approach.
We’re not always afforded advanced notice. We don’t always get to know what’s coming. And we certainly don’t always like what we’re staring in the face of.
But when we do have fair warning, we have a few options.
We can kick, scream, and throw stuff.
We can fight back in futile attempts for avoidance and prevention.
We can face it head on, but promise not to like it.
Or, we can find a way to make the most of it.
Fort Collins seems to be making the most of it. They knew we were coming and they rolled out the red carpet (and the light pole banners).
They’re patiently waiting as the light turns green, but the mob of conferees flows intended. Will it ever finish crossing the street? They put up with our presence just about everywhere. They invite us to visit their establishments. They allow us to fill their parks, their roads, their checkout lanes.
They’ve found some bright spots in a partnership they have little say in.
Fort Collins makes it work.
So, what about you? What’s coming up ahead and how are you dealing with it? Resisting, intervening, arm-folding, or embracing?
Yeah, I’m from out-of-town and I’m “one of those,” so thanks for sharing your city with me.