A Ted Talks

An Ode to Volunteering


Volunteering for civic organizations on the Key Peninsula is often associated with rearranging furniture, separating the recyclables, and raising enormous amounts of money from the community just to give it back to them in a new and improved format. There are many unknown joys and unsuspected challenges in this noble pursuit.

I recently encountered a variety of each when I volunteered to sell fireworks at the Key Peninsula Civic Center stand in Key Center in July. Running the stand was the easy part; guarding it overnight was not. 

Having buttoned up the fireworks stand for the night, I was just pouring a slosh of fine single malt scotch into my crystal glass and preparing a Cohiba for a leisurely smoke when suddenly four roaring pickup trucks materialized. Each disgorged demonic occupants usually associated with All-Hallows Eve, i.e., trick-or-treaters; in this case, middle-aged pranksters pretending to be “civic-minded volunteers” who were there to help me “protect” Key Center through the long watches of the night.

Their first demand was to find them seating. But this turned out to be no problem, since some had thoughtfully arrived with their own ice chests full of beer that we arranged around a brimstone-laced firepit with built-in cupholders. Next, they wanted their own crystal glasses. I provided plastic travel mugs out of my camper, though I was also compelled to produce another four cigars.

With the refreshments taken care of, we turned to the real business behind their rather sudden manifestation. The five of us proceeded to enjoy a late-night to early-morning confab, which (it turned out) was the only objective of these so-called volunteers, sitting in solidarity to guard Key Center from whatever might come. 

As it was my first year as a firework seller, I was unaware that the fireworks stand doubled overnight as a venue for erudite literary and artistic criticism, along the lines of Dorothy Parker’s Algonquin Hotel “Vicious Circle” round table. 

Ergo, the first discussion challenge: “What’s your favorite opening scene from the movies?” posed by one with a noted affinity for obscure and esoteric cinema. The gauntlet having been thrown, a battle of increasingly more tendentious and nebulous analysis raged as to the fundamental overarching thematic content of various extraordinary films—most of which most of us had never seen.

As the single malt gave way to a fine bourbon, gradually the subject switched to the more ethereal and cosmological, such as “Is that a bat or an owl?” and “Why are those planets moving so fast?” and “How come the scotch is gone?” A significant amount of time was spent looking at constellation maps on our smart phones in a vain attempt to work out why Saturn and Jupiter seemed to be so obviously in the wrong positions, and whether Mars was actually red. However, none of us could see our phone screens clearly by this point, so we agreed that Jupiter and Saturn were indeed planets in the sky, and left the complexion of Mars to a future debate.

The final challenge of the night was to lower our voices, as the patrons of the nearby eateries could neither hear nor appreciate the deterioration of overnight traffic behavior in Key Center as more and more gigantic diesel pickup trucks and tiny foreign two-doors barreled through at high speed with each passing hour. We pondered the utility of speed bumps (with and without spikes), roundabouts, engine-destroying EMP emitters, and a permanent detachment of Washington State Patrol cruisers, but came to no conclusion. 

Whatever lawless activity may or may not ordinarily menace Key Center after hours, the only crimes committed that night were those of judgment perpetrated by me and my fellow volunteers, but of course it was all and only for the benefit of the community.

The next day was the Fourth of July and we sold the rest of the fireworks.

Ted Ralston is a civic-minded volunteer who lives in Vaughn. His opinions, wide and varied, are not necessarily those of the KPCCA.