Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/denver-met
he stricken yet excited bumbler who emerges down the escalator after and before so many into the airport’s grand rectangular concourse forms for a moment the third leg of a tableau, stealing glances over at a blonde woman bending down over her luggage, framed by a poster of her putative Native American sister.
Draped from above, resplendent digital billboards bid us heed crisp commerce. It’s early afternoon and your bumbler’s in no rush; in fact let’s stay awhile at the airport, take a seat at this bar facing the concourse, and open the sleek laptop lid to look up as the Americans go by. Of course the news plays on a wall screen. For me it’s reminiscent of a cafe I once patronized in a stripmall outside the newly-built Israeli town of Modi’in, where CNN played silently on the wall like at an American airport.
This feels a good start; usually jitters sweep me directly to my booked room so as to sprout some local roots, be they shallow as beard trimmings. This time however many hours of daylight remain and our first night’s accommodation is not downtown but in a residential neighborhood, so that lingering at the airport with some low-quality Cola feels just fine.
Then it’s time take the train since there is one (though plagued with delays; try what may the railroad cannot recapture the American imagination). Colorado! Somewhere near an arid university stop the rough-faced conductor asks a passenger: “You watching Moana?” “You bet.” The conductor exclaims: “I love Moana!”
The terminus at Union Station downtown is flummoxingly outdoors. We’re using public transport to get to the bed & breakfast because this thirsty exile has been catapulted back in for a primer and all we want is to suck up myriad Americana. My phone instructs a free central downtown bus then another. The price: the underground depot fumes me with diesel.
For the second bus it’s a silent wide downtown street. At the corner store a couple of homeless Black Lears loaf, agitated with shopping carts. Boredom arrives before the bus; like a dream upon awakening, my excitement for America dissipates, replaced by feeling inadequate, a mere unfortunate waiting at a bus stop. I did live in this country once, suffering at least as many moments of disappointment as I had anywhere else. No, standing here beats waiting at an airport taxi rank; it’s random, evoking hitchhiking in the midst of business travel; this way we are more truly landed.
Saturday, October 14th, 2017; Denver, Colorado
On the bus the slightly drunken pockmarked Hispanic fellow next to me starts to talk. We discuss the city; I am after all the visiting foreigner professional slumming on public transport. Well, what of it? I’m utterly pleased to be with the clatter and the folks and one extremely violent pothole. He recommends me a legendary Mexican place to eat. For a few moments it’s as if the front of the bus has struck up a little campsite. Because of me?
Throughout the rest of this trip however I get around only with the nice drivers of Lyft. I wonder: since the bus isn’t much cheaper, is riding it some sort of rearguard communitarian action? Doubtful, because almost everyone has the requisite phone. So they lack the requisite credit or debit card? Also doubtful. So most likely the issue is simply cost, which within the city is likely a mere $3–5 difference between a journey on the bus or with Lyft; the difference is meager.
Out we trundle. An old pleasure it is, walking a main American road near the outskirts of town — oversized, sparse and slightly run-down. We turn left off the main drag and it’s a lovely green residential neighborhood, and left again, and there it is, the bed and breakfast, a shock of magnificence on this verdant street, exactly what I’d hoped for weeks ago when planning from the web browser.
The owners are a middle-aged couple — tall, white and handsome. Faint tendrils of snoot waft over however; after spending hundreds of thousand of dollars on a gorgeous old heap perhaps they’d forgotten they’d need to serve their inferiors to earn it back.
After I settle in the owner recommends dinner at an Italian eatery (my mention of the place recommended on the bus evinces a true wince). By the time I walk down there it’s dark. I see the white-tablecloth establishment is tinkly and hectic and doesn’t feel right for a solitary diner. I continue past, unsure, and peer into the window of my first marijuana dispensary; a young black dude steps out and welcomes me in. But nosiree, not yet, no fun induced frantic hysteria for me until after this conference is done — because I’m speaking, oh dear.
Even as my flight had approached Denver’s McLean Airport, my mild surprise at the flat barren landscape east of the city had fallen away to a stab of anxiety — because I’m speaking, oh dear. Once upon a time I did attend a college where public speaking was the only required course, and didn’t always do terribly badly, but that was many years ago. Oh dear.
Next door to the Italian place is a ramen restaurant full of students. Groups throng outside awaiting tables but seating for a single diner is no problem. Here the discomfort of eating alone is alleviated by squashed benches and single-course fare. Students abound; a father and his teenage daughters are crammed up next to me. The Asian soup arrives in its big wooden bowl; what fabulous recuperation from a long airplane ride and a day extended 7 hours.
This soup signifies. On another day I may well have followed the innkeeper’s recommendation due to it simply being my only instruction. Thankfully, this time at least, mental chatter and rigidity have given way to feeling. Slurping all this heartening egg, herb and obvious goodness has come from noting what’s within, not suggestions from without.
Back in my room however the traditional wood panelling and patterned ceiling foment some self-doubt. Am I paying more than necessary for this preliminary night’s stay? Decades-old memories inspired me to choose midwestern neighborhood grace and tranquility over a more expensive downtown hotel or less expensive guesthouse room. The thought was to calm and encourage me the night before the conference. Well, thank for your kindness; it is indeed very nice.
Breakfast next morning is served in the wood-lined dining room. I’m the only diner and sit alongside a large window. Unsurprisingly the proprietor is not serving. Instead the middle-aged white male employee is a tad over-solicitatious, which makes things slightly awkward; unlike in Romance countries, waiting tables is no prestigious mid-life vocation for Anglospherian Man unless perhaps our specimen is a first-generation immigrant in a large city with close family ties to the business; otherwise the role is emasculating. He and I conspire to mitigate this by turning my breakfast into an engineering project due to my particular requests and by discussing as fellow admirers the potato-and-onion hash. This he pointedly says he did not cook himself (in this establishment working the kitchen is lower down the hierarchy than front-of-the-house).
Before the Conference
Wednesday, October 11th, 2017; Denver, Colorado
More coffee? I accept too often and become agitated and indecisive despite the view to the leafy colors outside. Optional pre-conference workshops are being held today; should I attend? I’m part of things and should contribute my presence and financial support and my revelling time is planned for the weekend after the conference, not the day before. And at some point today I must check out of the b&b anyway and move to the hotel, so why not now?
I acquire a souvenir; the glass tumblers seem the place’s best branded objects and the breakfast fellow is happy to give me one. So I close the grand doors behind me, fiddle with the loose handle, and gamely head over to the hotel. The Lyft driver is an older fellow with a gammy leg and a nice tan Jeep. This phone-based ride service is another new delight for me and feels giddily cheap. We set to chatting immediately and when I mention the low price he says he’s just happy to get out of the house. Does he protest too much and things have indeed gotten quite desperate post-Great Recession? Perhaps I am simply too long out of America to grok innate good cheer and industriousness.
As we cross the bridge from this residential neighborhood, the elevation combined with dearth of tall buildings on this southwest side of the city provide a welcoming glimpse of downtown. Denver has been up-and-coming for a while not just because of its natural surroundings — many cities have that — but because it’s reached critical mass (recently the fastest-growing large city in the US) and has become trendy — a socially liberal city in a socially liberal state, one of the handful of pockets around the heartland where the college-educated feel they can live without worry of becoming dynastically woven into some local basket of deplorables. In fact Denver’s in danger of over-heating; these days few can comfortably afford to live here. We as conference-attending professionals have — for the dozen or so years that our field has existed — considered ourselves securely at the vanguard of the current economic revolution. But we are basically artisans and, unless employed at some large or network-effect-leveraging firm, are exposed to the automation-powered winners also conquering our own industry. Without such employment or products or rare renown, I fear we too are tumbling out of the cocoon of privilege into the camp of latter-day rickshaw coolies.
Meanwhile the sky is blue and the hotel is located on the edge of the University of Colorado campus, the concrete slabs on the sidewalk still fresh and light grey, the lawns vast, the pedestrians youthful, the architecture reasonably gracious and monumental. At the hotel’s front desk an obviously mentally handicapped young lady checks me in and I am in turn disconcerted, then impressed and warmed, then slightly cynical, then abashed at my cynicism at her employment — all within less than a second. We do that: a quick catch-up, preferably without a blink, when realizing society has moved ahead of us.
I settle in for the workshop. A bit overwhelmed, I find it hard to concentrate in this exciting new environment, also knowing I’ll be be up there speaking myself in a couple of days. Towards the end I ask an insistent question; once again, marked a troublemaker.
In truth the whole thing unnerves me; people have travelled far to make these awkward excuse-me’s and occasional introductions around the generous coffee stand. At every chance I retreat 11 floors up and slide in my hotel room card key and let the heavy door close behind me and imbibe the isolation and protection. From what? Please explain to me the integrity in being agape to the wider world but merely ajar to immediacies.
It’s the end of the afternoon and before I know it I’ve surged out the hotel into the warmth of lovely hues and this is it, the fresh glory of exploring an unfamiliar city. Like any reasonably instinctual walker I arrive at the river. Denver has a narrow canyon cutting through it diagonally, Cherry Creek, and along it runs a pedestrian pathway with joggers, cyclists and evocative murals. Checking my phone, an attendee has asked the community if anyone will accompany her in a taxi to the Speaker’s Dinner tonight because she has breathing issues in the high altitude. After a few mortifying minutes of virtual silence I text that I’d be glad to. So this is a nasty bunch after all? Perhaps everyone knows something about this woman from the last conference that I don’t.
Then it’s up and out of Cherry Creek Trail towards the Colorado State Capitol, a neo-classical throne within a large rectangular park. The area is slightly bereft of footfall, though one clump of trees serves as the encampment for smoked-up young ‘uns. I linger momentarily and am reminded of the smaller but rather more significant area in front of the parliament building in Athens, Syntagma Square, where protests have been held in recent years. The temperature and light drop. For the walk back to the hotel let’s take a different route, crossing quiet downtown streets set wide and diagonal.
The Speaker’s Dinner is held in a curtained-off room at a nearby restaurant. At dinner I spend too much time conversing with one guy, an energetic young Englishman who’s been transposed to America thanks to a job. Sadly, I am envious of this arrangement, and sadder still, the envy is so deep-seated that I’m almost unaware of it. He’s eager to bond over things British but I — also sadly — have little interest there and try instead to be the old hand at this America thing (you must read Moby Dick, etc).
“Politics” come up at the table and I cannot resist resisting. Everyone’s agreeing that their despicable president is risking global war by calling an adversarial dictator by a disparaging nickname. But, I posit, isn’t mockery how one should treat dictators — you know, Chaplin, The Great Dictator, Hitler? Silence. Are my table compadres mulling over my fresh and even insightful view? More like socially recalibrating due to my mad run at the fence beyond which lies the pale.
Some of the boys continue on to a nearby German-themed pub where we squeeze around a table. On the return to the hotel I find myself alongside one of the organizers. From his gait and demeanor I’m surprised he has a wife and kids, but only momentarily; effeminacy in a man precludes nothing. We talk families. Subsequently throughout the conference he will become unfriendly towards me. His centrality to and stature within the community becomes increasingly clear; is that what the hostility about, my feeling inferior to him vis-a-vis the respect he garners? Is the hostility then in fact coming from me? Within the conference I am worried about what people think of me; without it I’m interested in and invigorated by everything; yet it’s only due to the conference that I’m travelling. I’d hoped that being a speaker here would alleviate things by putting me at least in the middle of the pecking order so that the debilitating stupidities of ego could leave me be.
By speaking, the cost of my hotel room is covered for the two nights of the conference, and it’s a spacious delight, a reminder of a world a bit more privileged than mine. But o, the breakfast! The crockery is a stack of lousy cardboard things resembling hospital vomit bowls. The dining area is unnecessarily small — bizarre for America, where almost everything is unnecessarily big — and it’s windowless, walled off from the spacious lobby with its floor-to-ceiling vistas. A comprehensive and generous breakfast is the humane thing, especially in a hotel, when people are away from their own preferences and setup. Yes indeed, breakfast deserves prime of place at a hotel, which here would be seating at the lobby’s mitred glass corners, where one can gaze up at the sun, the sky, the city; and if necessary gird; and feel caffeinated gratitude for the comfortable previous night and the upcoming day here in dry privileged airs. Instead, this pinched affair. I am concerned for their priorities.
Upstairs in the conference area a lounge of round tables has been set up for attendees to come and go, usually alone busy with their laptops. It’s the second day and I’m sitting with a few people. One is a woman well-known in the community whom I’ve never met. She’s just given her talk and I thought it surprisingly vapid and under-prepared. She’s badgering slightly for feedback. I take issue with one of the unimportant arguments she made, believing I’m engaging with her on the merits of the subject matter. Before she’s finished replying I guess I’ve interrupted her with a rejoinder. The fellow sitting across the table overrides me and says he’d like to hear what she has to say. Kapow! It’s the social fascism of which I’ve read so many op-eds; he has stepped in to protect her from sexist aggression — it’s fairly certain he would not have done this if she had been another male. So I have become the iffy person against whom polite professional society must cross arms. I am irritated, abashed, bemused. This puritanical tendency towards a stiffening of the social arteries has always seemed an existential danger to liberal American society. But life goes on; perhaps a society formed of so much flux needs the gothic buttressing of a Code of Conduct.
Who am I?
Thursday, October 12th, 2017; Denver, Colorado
Another time at the same table I’m talking with a middle-aged English guy — he’s even wearing a grey tweed blazer as if to double down on the part — and we’re getting along quite well. Then I remember we met at the previous conference when he was attending with a senior colleague and they pretty much ignored me. I feel a bit of disgust for both of us. Then idiotic at being so prickly about nothing. All these imagined slights; I’m a fool.
This only night of the conference proper there’s a party for everyone on a balmy restaurant rooftop and though we are completely outdoors there’s no smoking allowed anywhere which is surely silly. It’s quite hopping. At a nearby table two older nametagged men from some other conference network each other with gusto.
Nobody talks to me for quite a while as I get myself a drink and whatnot. At an opportune moment I approach a fellow speaker who’s regaling a couple of other guys and I congratulate him on his talk, which I enjoyed and want to tell him so. To my sides I feel the heat of bemusement coming off the others and my interchange with him peters out. I spot people with whom I’d been out with the night before but there are no particular moves to greet. Socializing events such as this are the hub of a conference, I do realize that, but I’m resolved to just head on back to the hotel if this excruciation continues much longer.
I join another conversation and soon enough the others fall away and it becomes an enjoyable one-on-one. She’d been at my table the night before and had been asking from pretty early on if anyone wants to go back to the hotel and nobody did. After we’ve been speaking for a while she asks if I’m up for leaving and I am; I’m enjoying her company and don’t want to fall back to yet another hunt for a conversation partner. I’m usually a straggler so it feels simultaneously wholesome and transgressive to be among the first to leave; wholesome because Early to bed early to rise, transgressive because leaving early seems like the deepest way of saying Fuck You to everyone else there. Is that why I’m generally a straggler — because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving before them?
We walk back and it turns out she’s also a performing artist, somewhat torn between her work in our field and that one. She reminds me of a couple of other attractive self-sufficient Italian-American women I have known who did not start families. Back at the hotel we ride up in the elevator together and alight at our separate floors. I am weary and there has been no suggestion that we linger, and she is weary as well I think, and despite the fun talk she too is ultimately part of the gathering from which I want to escape back to the spaciousness and dignity of my hotel room. The hyper-gregariousness of teenage life fades slightly in the 20s; does it continue fading? Shouldn’t a conference be like a school trip but for working people, in each other’s hotel rooms all night drinking and carousing? No, each age is a different creature. Oscar Wilde said that the tragedy of being old is not that one is old but that one is young; that’s lovely but not quite true.
The following day I find myself at the back of the conference room with her and a female organizer. She tells the organizer with a smile that I walked her home last night. Initially I am stricken by this, thinking she is mocking me for trying to come on to her, or talking about me like a child as if I’m not there. But right now sexual harassment is a big deal — the current most recognizable meme shorthand is #meToo — and I realize she may be doing her duty in the informal female network, reporting that I am one of the good guys. I should be pleased but instead still feel some queasy emasculation.
By the third night the conference is over and whoever isn’t rushing off comes out for dinner to the German-themed bar of the first night’s after-party. It’s warmer and we sit at outdoor tables and I enjoy it much more. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally given my talk and am less anxious? Or because we’re no longer operating under the conference’s deathly Code of Conduct and are simply people out for dinner?
And here too I leave early, though perhaps tonight would have been a good one for straggling, as I’m sitting for the first time with the team around whose product this conference is organized, and am truly enjoying their company. These are honest-to-goodness down-home Americans; very intelligent, but not people who rushed to Silicon Valley or were ever Ivy Leaguers. They are jean-jacketed folk who have somewhat randomly arrived at their jobs and live in grounded homes in far-flung parts of the country and have other non-digital interests mainly related to the land and could be working in any number of other fields that require a bit of brains and the can-do spirit. They have health and spousal issues. They don’t see each other that often. It’s likely I leave because I am overwhelmed.
And my talk! It went alright. Among the charismatic speakers each had individuated style and was clear; those merely experienced were less clear and less individual; and those with even less experience were often unclear and more alike in their stiffness and monotony; I was among them. One person did come up to me excitedly afterwards saying he’d been trying to achieve precisely what I was talking about, but most others in the audience — as it pained me to briefly observe mid-talk — were staring blankly. Oh, to have been animated, to have used my voice and movement to modulate and emphasize and castigate and insinuate.
Goodbye, hotel; another Lyft ride wafts me to my chosen Airbnb guesthouse back in NoHo, the same leafy northwest neighborhood as the b&b; here we’ll stay the final two nights. I’m welcomed by the wife, pleased to be told to remove my shoes in the hallway, and shown my room in the basement. She’s from Chicago and I mention I went to university there and she tells me her father was a professor at my alma mater. I am thrilled at this little rekindling from my old life, that social common ground is found via my university, rather than how it happens here in Britain, where my root is the city I left as a child and with which have almost no connection. What might my life have been like had I managed to stay in the USA and be woven into society at that nice level? Yet we do not particularly warm to each other; perhaps I am frightened by her excessive make-up. She is proud of their map of the world in the hallway with pins marking guests’ home countries.
Another paying guest is upstairs. We have free access to the kitchen; in the pantry is a proudly extensive box of teas and infusions for our use. Outside is a little closed-off outdoor seating area. It was pictured on the Airbnb site with people communing, which is what sold me on the place, along with some caring little details pictured in the room itself.
The hosts delicately ask if I’m interested in what is legally available in-state and I say Absolutely, so they recommend a particular dispensary around the corner from the one I’d first seen, and indeed the Google Reviewers prefer it. I walk down there in a hurry as it closes at 11pm and that’s soon. I enter an ante-room with a male receptionist whom I realize is actually more a bouncer. He buzzes me through another door into the actual shop. Here on all sides is marijuana in vials and jars displayed floor to ceiling. I want to look around and take it all in but the sexy tattooed cashier reminds me of closing time and I jump to apologize, probably with sufficient gusto as to obviously be British. How to choose which strain? Her colleague breaks it down to basically uppers or downers, sativa or indica; he’s doing it perfunctorily, a hair away from giving me the officious “sir”, which does seem mildly deflating considering the wondrous nature of his stock. I choose upper! The amount I’m purchasing turns out to be embarrassingly small. The cashier warms up, addressing me with endearments.
Back at the house the owners are watching TV. We discuss shows and I gain some cultural credibility by mentioning a TV show they’re surprised they haven’t heard of. Onto the kitchen table the fellow hauls a big icebox containing various marijuana accessories that he says have been left as gifts from guests. I’m worried by how many times he mentions gifts from guests. We smoke up together — he says he rarely does this — and so begins a long jibber-jabber. It’s a bit cold outside and I’m shivering so we spend much of the time standing around the kitchen. The wife has gone to bed. Because I’m stoned he fills my firmament and my perception of him — and thereby of all else — oscillates between gentle athletic marvel and embittered venal striver. I’m grateful for the tea box and brew fresh ones liberally and repeatedly. His business successes are a reassurance that things are actually fine here on the ground. Yet he returns frequently to the topic of incorrigible top-down corruption, to the point where he and his wife are considering emigrating. He is an innovator yet perhaps a huckster, a manager yet now has no staff, a fit family man yet they have no children.
Good morning! It’s Saturday, the only full free day here. The mission: to hit the trails and reach a high water mark of awayness before the reverse journey home late tomorrow afternoon. One young fellow had arrived at the conference a few days early to climb a mountain; consider this our extravagantly modest version of that.
Guests are allotted a daily coffee at the cafe nearby. Ah, this modest glorious residential street feels right at home with me. The cafe though feels less so, despite the airspacey full-bleed brick walls and windows and matcha latte on the menu. It’s a bit empty; in Brighton on a sunny Saturday morning people would be reading newspapers, chatting, frowning into laptops. I sit at a tall corner table and call both parents one after the other to casually mention where I am and why.
After too long I get going towards town to catch the train to Golden in the foothills and our chosen trail. My feet sport minimalist finger shoes for hiking; all toes wiggle and cry Freedom! I’m at the bridge when I realize I’ve forgotten my wallet. Freedom! Back we go, the different route affording a glimpse through giant balloons of a neighborhood basketball game, marvellous with cheerleaders.
Saturday, October 14th, 2017; Denver, Colorado
The friendly black Lyft driver looks too young to have teenage kids. I tell him where I’m from and it turns out he’s been to Israel, having made port at Haifa when in the Navy. He drops me off downtown with hearty handshakes and I walk through a plaza leading to the train station. It smells disconcertingly of weed; wonderful that it’s legal but heck there’s a time and a place.
The train ride to Golden is pleasant and uneventful but I should have known it would terminate way short of the town center; the station is at a complex of government buildings deserted for the weekend. That’s fine, I say, and follow the pedestrian path to town. (Do they expect townsfolk to walk all this way to get to the train? Surely not but they paved it anyway.) The path joins with the end of the last street in town and I greatly enjoy entering town from behind as if on a through-hike. There’s a college campus in town and I sit with a newspaper and my lunch, a piece of leftover piece meat bagged from the German pub the evening before. Of course I shouldn’t be eating mammal flesh but at least I never waste a fibre when I do, at least that.
Saturday, October 14th, 2017; Golden, Colorado
At the center of town a sign crosses Washington Ave: “Howdy Folks! Welcome to Golden, Where the West Lives.” I stay awhile window-shopping, calling home, considering gifts from the craft shops such as a nice bag. On one street corner a sculpture of a cowboy arches up and back seemingly mid-whipcrack. A hotel’s thrilling clay facade pulls me in just to look around — I love the lobby’s buffed saltillo floor tiles.
Through town runs Clear Creek; along its bank runs our trail up into the hills. But this too is paved in concrete and by now the minimalist shoes are less toe liberators than heel punishers. I’d worn them expecting trails and earth but have instead been victimized all day by our civilizational mania for paving.
Saturday, October 14th, 2017; Golden, Colorado
Eventually, relief; Clear Creek Trail does becomes a trail. I reach a bridge and sit on the rocky grassy riverbank alongside it and use the paraphernalia loaned me to smoke some. The time is already 5:30pm — due to my dawdling this big day has reached a rather advanced hour by the time I’ve gotten here where I want to be, but so be it; as a nod to wholesomeness and a flinch from anxiety I prefer not to partake of the weed before dusk anyway. A couple has been standing on the bridge but turn around back the way they came. I cross it and carry on up the hillside albeit with some doubt and trepidation because I’m not sure where it leads and the daylight isn’t what it was and mild chill is settling in and now I’m under the influence of what I smoked, both opened up and contracted. Up we clamor and it’s wonderful to be walking our own path so randomly so bloody far from home.
The view ahead and below is pretty Golden, framed between two sculpted-looking mountains. We’re at the foothills of the Rockies, the great divider of this great country, though these mountains around us don’t seem particularly huge because we’re in fact too close now to see the heights beyond. Some leftover infrastructure is up here, concrete walls, abandoned machines of some kind, but they are sufficiently rare as to be picturesque artifacts rather than erasing nature. Down below I see what looks like the extensive ruins of a motel, but no, cars are parked, it is in fact a condo with a rusted roof.
This feels pretty glorious, and it’s also reassuring to be in sight of town and heading back that way. As the trail turns up and away I decide to abandon it and trundle down a steep non-trail to the highway and back to town; great to get away, great to come back. I run awkwardly across Highway 6 during a break in the traffic and we’re back to concrete winding paths and high school playing fields. As I head towards town it finally gets dark. I’m reminded of a street in Binyamina in Israel that I walked through to get from the train station to the Israel Trail that passes outside town; the homes were of similar scale and atmosphere: well-off, spacious, not considering themselves well-to-do, even as they enjoy both being within walking distance of town yet backing out to gorgeous wilderness.
I turn around. Some way up the mountainside is an area lit up in white. It’s a letter! What is that? How come that? It’s definitely a letter. For me personally this letter is a sign with much meaning. Seeing it out here in the dark, so far from home, so surprisingly, on a mountain… Now, life has signs — chords — and one can either hear them and follow them like a patriarch or ignore and lose them and one’s way. And that is pretty much the long and short of it.
So there’s no way I’m riding back to Denver on the train, the station being so far away. I consult the bus lines; I’ll need some cash for that. Surprisingly there don’t seem to be any cash machines on the main shopping drag, so I ask someone and must walk a little way to a drive-in bank; I’d forgotten about these. A withdrawal costs $3.50; that’s fine. The Airbnb hosts have invited me to meet them at a Chicago-themed sports bar for dinner as some game is on. I’m flattered and very up for it. A Lyft ride back to Denver will cost $20. Although this is probably some four times more expensive than the bus, we’re still only speaking of a $10–15 difference, and these are rare days away, so yes, I will hail a private ride. But the app says none are available for at least 30 minutes. A thought sparks — that clay hotel! I go to it and find the bar and order their house margarita.
Eye on America
Saturday, October 14th, 2017; Golden, Colorado
Boy, after a sweaty hike this is just perfect. Next to me at the corner of the bar an angry-seeming young fellow sits glued to his phone. We don’t speak at all. I don’t care much; I’ve been walking much of the day so am simply pleased to be sitting with a great drink. And when I swipe for another Lyft ride this time it’s cheaper. I step outside to wait for it, and after a few minutes here he comes; I could get used to this. But we are heading to the wrong destination; the app has mixed up the fares! The driver apologizes like he’s representing the company. When we arrive I pay him cash instead, feeling that this really after all is how it should be done in the first place, and we are going to regret all this centralized nonsense.
I get to the sports bar and it’s probably a mistake; it’s been too much exposure to this couple; I’m not interested in the sports and when the fellow says he really isn’t either he just comes for his wife’s sake, we have likely created a standoffish little corner of poisoned atmosphere; unlike on the bus ride my presence is not spreading good cheer. They had seated me between themselves, which really was kind and generous. I order an Italian mozzarella tomato salad because it’s exactly what I want and besides I try to eat lightly at night, but I worry that even this comes off as perhaps a European slight to whatever deep fried things they’ve ordered. I’ve been feeling a bit too pleased with myself and am perhaps a bit patronizing. Some conversational gambits go awry. I discover too late that these are some pretty impressive folks — one long silver-haired woman is an international animal welfare activist — and I feel mortified that I had pre-judged them because they were meeting at a sports-themed bar to watch some game. We drive home and I think the wife at least has decided I’m an annoying man. Back at the house I’m looking to smoke up one last time but the fellow says abruptly that he can’t do this again and heads off upstairs to join his wife. I enjoy what remains of the night in my room with some American TV. It’s been a rich day.
It’s morning, my last day, glorious day. I look in the full-length mirror. Mindful of the cost of dawdling yesterday and of the need to get to the airport, I’m up and out quick and take a 20-minute Lyft ride directly downtown to the museum area and the state museum. If there’s time I’ll go to the art museum next door as well. This may reflect misguided priorities; the art should maybe come first as the true mainlining of history, the keenest expression of any era, but, well, I do like to be told don’t I, and so it appears do you, dear reader.
A Nice Street in Denver
Sunday, October 15th, 2017; Denver, Colorado
A museum such as this should be free; since it’s not it’s somewhat bereft of visitors. Passing through the expansive entry hall with low wood-panelled ceiling, we emerge into the powerful atrium, some four storeys high, lit from skylights above and by dint of one side being a glass wall. I love so much about the USA: cultural output, landscape, sensory by-products such as the mournful sound made by a train as it moves slowly through a town. And this room rekindles a love for one other aspect: the humane scale and style of American pedagogical civic monuments. Perhaps it’s something about the typography and the horizontality.
The floor here is a large mosaic depicting Colorado’s topography. But it’s mostly ignored; people seldom come to a museum to look down. Upon one wall is projected a slideshow of milestones of Colorado history. Once again I spend a while on the phone, this time with an old friend. It’s a memorable conversation primarily because I’m having it in this large space sitting in one of the deck chairs laid out for watching the slideshow. Again though, social phonecalls are probably not the best use of time and attention on rare days away.
Upstairs I’m attracted to an exhibition depicting a typical general store. Although it’s quaintly handmade and of the 19th century, the products are already branded — Coca-Cola, Kellog’s, Colgate, and of course many other brands now long gone. Moreover there are stocks of identical packages, so that we are already in the era of multiplicity, of Warhol’s upcoming Campbell Soup cans.
Another exhibition is of Keota, a small homestead some 100 miles northeast of Denver, which flourished briefly then floundered when the railroad that passed through it closed. Its determined rise and pre-determined fall expresses historic currents that we are unwise to resist. Nearby I step up and into a real Model T Ford and sit in the driver’s seat, which feels an important pilgrimage, like touching a space capsule or an Egyptian pyramid.
Other exhibits interest me less. I exit through the empty restaurant out into the sunshine for a walk around the museum plaza area. It’s gotten too late though for another museum; I need to get back now to pick up my suitcase and head to the airport. I call another Lyft but must wait quite a while for this one. Although we are downtown it’s Sunday and largely empty of people. I loiter outside a British-themed pub, its Union Jack and red telephone box contrasting with the wide street and American “No Parking Any Time” sign. Back to that soon, though Brighton has few Union Jacks and no telephone boxes.
The Lyft driver is Kimberly, a middle-class white married woman probably slightly younger than me who seems nervous about driving and indeed takes a non-optimal route back to the house, and again the app doesn’t work and we have to reset it. I tell her I’m going to the airport and asks if she’s up for that journey. She is and waits outside while I fetch my packed suitcase and say fervent goodbyes to my hosts. The ride costs about three times the train ticket. I offer to pay cash but she’d prefer to use the buggy app. What gives? Turns out she doesn’t actually live in Denver. We talk pleasantly the whole way there.
I still haven’t bought any gifts so enjoy doing that at the airport; I want Colorado-themed items. I buy a cap that costs more than a sweater and a cuddly toy combined. I should have bought that nice bag in Golden.
The journey home requires a stopover in Iceland. I love landing in a new country, even if only for a brief layover; tall poppies of the national culture invariably thrust through the airport homogeneity. I want to eat fish. At the airport cafe I sit down to a hot chocolate and an intense savoury pastry overflowing with smoked salmon, garnished with cream cheese, slices of radish and some greens. Uniquely for me I didn’t even calculate the price. Like with the ramen soup after the previous flight, this was not a mind-based craving but a physical need that I was pleased to recognize, for which I was happily rewarded.
A few hours later I step off the train at Brighton Station, walk down the platform, look up, and my lady and eldest boy are beaming at me. It makes sense; I just hadn’t expected to be met.
- The bed and breakfast is the Lumber Baron Inn & Gardens.
- The restaurant recommended on the bus is Chubby’s (the original original).
- The recommended Italian restaurant is Bar Dough, the adjacent ramen restaurant Uncle.
- The hotel is the SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown at MSU Denver.
- Alexis de Tocqueville writes in Chapter 15 of his Democracy in America:
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is in danger of an auto-da-fe, but he is exposed to continued obloquy and persecution. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority that is able to open it. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before making public his opinions he thought he had sympathizers; now it seems to him that he has none any more since he has revealed himself to everyone; then those who blame him criticize loudly and those who think as he does keep quiet and move away without courage. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.
- The TV show I mention is Louie CK’s Horace & Pete.
- The cafe is the Cherry Bean.
- My shoes are Vibram FiveFingers.
- The college campus is that of the Colorado School of Mines (hence the M on the mountainside — students built it on Mount Zion in 1908 and it’s been lit up every night since 1932).
- The statue is “Cowboy’s Day Off” by Michael Hamby — the subject is in fact not mid-whipcrack but fly-fishing.
- The hotel with the clay facade is the Table Mountain Inn.
- The trail I turn away from is the Chimney Gulch.