Free tree mayhem

My utilities company, SRP (“Salt River Project”), has a Shade Tree Program in which customers can receive up to two free, desert-adapted trees to plant in energy-saving locations around their yard. In order to receive the trees, though, customers need to attend a workshop to learn how to properly plant and to care for the trees.

My husband and I recently bought our house. We have no tree in our front, south-facing yard, so we agreed we should take advantage of SRP’s program. I registered for a workshop, which was held at a local high school.

I arrived at the school and was dumbfounded by the event’s grand scale. It was more like a convention than a workshop. Staff members directing traffic in the parking lot. People in SRP vests standing throughout campus, guiding attendees to the auditorium. Booths about water conservation and mesquite pod harvesting. Multiple registration tables with long, albeit fast-moving, queues. I estimated at least 1,000 people in the auditorium. All of these energetic, tree-loving people at 8 a.m. on a Saturday.

This energy, however, quickly took a turn for the weird. When a speaker began welcoming us and introducing the presenter, there was some feedback from her microphone. The audience freaked. And I mean, in an overly angry, strangely impatient way. At first it was just a few muffled voices coming from the back. But this quickly escalated into a mob shouting some variation of “we can’t hear you,” while excitedly holding one hand up to their ear, or to their mouth as a makeshift megaphone. A man sitting behind me let out a huff, crossed his arms, and repeatedly shook his head while muttering, “That mic is done. It’s done.”

This all began within seconds after the speaker began talking and it was clear there was a problem. Seconds. She and another staff member were frantically attempting to correct the problem. They were trying new microphones, moving to different parts of the stage, and making hand gestures to someone sitting in a sound booth. All the while, the crowd just kept getting louder. A few people yelled that the speaker should just put down the microphone, come to the front of the stage, and project. Others in the back yelled no, that if the speaker did that, they wouldn’t be able to hear. Then others began yelling that those in the back should come take empty seats in the front. Others just shook their heads and looked disgusted. All of this dialogue happened within what-couldn’t-have-been more than a minute after the problem began.

A man two seats down from me and I made eye contact. With his eyebrow raised, he asked me if I thought someone would begin throwing tomatoes at the speaker.

I told him no – but that a Starbucks cup was a distinct possibility. He asked if I thought we should create a human wall.

Within a couple of minutes, the staff solved the problem. The presenter gave an informative presentation. I am excited about the tree I will receive in September. I am a little nervous, however, about what my neighbors might do to me if I mess up my tree.

I came home and told my husband that I thought we should hire a professional.

My desert willow, as it arrived in September 2017.

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