Monday, July 1st, 2019. Denver, Colorado.
We abandoned the pernicious hostel and wandered the early morning city with all our worldly possessions on our backs, like a pair of gorgeous Depression Era hobos.
I had all my worldly possessions in my pack, anyway. I spent my college years jumping from apartment to dorm like a hirsute Irish frogger and the experience had taught me the less you lug with you, the hastier your getaway. Marie Kondo has since repackaged it into an adorable little “joy-sparking” system of totemic ritual, and when that particular fever swept the nation, I had nothing to part with but some novelty t-shirts and a coyote skull.
It’s important to have a bug-out bag good to go, and much more efficient if it fits everything you own.
An adjoining window enthusiastically advertised “As featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives!”
I’m a patriot first and foremost, and I was not about to let my country down. Neither was I going to disappoint Guy Fieri. We settled into a huge booth to determine the logistics of our last day in this unspoiled netherworld.
Our waitress looked like Katie from Letterkenny, but smaller. She brought me a truly gargantuan breakfast burrito full of buffalo. My heart sang and my power tripled.
“We’ve got to do Red Rocks,” Ladygirl said.
“It’s only fair,” I said. “Every Uber driver so far has recommended it.”
“Everybody back home, too,” she said. “One of my co-workers is from Denver, it was the first thing he said.”
I ate my three pounds of cheesed bison, then felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I looked out the window and saw cop cars.
“Too much buffalo,” I told Ladygirl, apropos of nothing. “They think I’m poaching.”
“We gotta go.”
We fled to the safe house and drank a brisk morning beer. It’s called carb-cycling.
Energized by a well-balanced breakfast, we caught a ride up to the much-vaunted Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Let me preface this by saying these pictures don’t do justice to the sheer size of the rocks. Where I’m from, there’s a bunch of rocks. I’ve seen a rock or two in my day, but never like this. They were so incomprehensibly massive that it made me uncomfortable. They were the bones of mountains and it was easy to visualize one shifting, just minorly, and annihilating everyone in the vicinity. A bloody smear and erasure from history.
We got into the amphitheater proper and it was gorgeous.
“The website said they’re playing Top Gun tonight,” I said. “It’s a shame we’re going back.”
“It really is.”
“Welp, let’s hit the trail. Soak up some of this natural splendor.”
There are those who question the practicality of putting off your hike until the one day, during the entire trip, that you have to carry all your gear. Don’t listen to these cowards.
Along the trail, we discovered a monument to John Denver, in memorium of the moment he befriended a bald eagle and founded Denver.
We completed the loop and took shelter in the gift shop. I considered buying a $20 plastic piece of junk to commemorate the time I took a hike near some real big rocks, but ultimately decided against it.
“All right,” Ladygirl said, after she had finished studying the trading post’s John Denver record altar room. “We’ve got to catch the uber down in the D lot, which is like a ten minute walk. It’ll be here in twenty minutes.”
Thunder exploded outside. It had been cloudless a second ago. Ladygirl looked out and frowned.
“Maybe we should wait to order it?”
“Naw,” I said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
The sky opened up and let loose a biblical monsoon.
Once, long ago, I was driving listlessly around the Frozen North when a hurricane hit. I pulled off into the grocery store where my brother worked and bought a bag of fried chicken. He took his break and we sat under the awning on the big stone benches, watching the rain flood the parking lot and tear down tree branches as we ate.
What happened at Red Rocks wasn’t a hurricane, but it was close.
My phone camera doesn’t do justice to the a wall of water. Ladygirl and I sheltered under the picnic pavilion and watched the sky fall.
We were shoulder to shoulder with a battalion of likewise trapper hikers, who took up the chorus of “It’s hail now! It’s rain now!” for the entire half hour storm.
When it broke, we called the uber and waited fifteen minutes in an empty parking lot while the car climbed the mountain.
A few hours until takeoff, so we wound up in a neighborhood called RiNo, which I just found out means River North. It was industrial chic, that slow-substantiating hip you see in bohemian parts of cities that used to produce something other than craft beer and vegan confectionary.
I don’t remember the brewery we went to, but I remember the bartender was friendly and they were playing the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 sound track exclusively. We asked where to go for food and she told us to go to the Blue Moon Brewing company.
“Absolutely not,” I told Ladygirl, shouting to be heard over Goldfinger’s Superman. “Bar food isn’t. We can find a real restaurant.”
“You don’t want to check out the Blue Moon place?” she asked.
“I don’t like Blue Moon.”
“I’ve seen you drink it!”
“Yeah, if I’m backed into a corner. If my options are Blue Moon, Rolling Rock, or seltzer water, I’ll take one for the team. But there’s no team here. Let’s find a real restaurant.”
In college, I single-handedly ran a hole in the wall called Mo’s Grill, right off Gay Street in West Chester. The owner was a lanky white cokehead from Reading named Kevin who battered his illegal immigrant girlfriend and tried to rip off all his employees. There was no Mo.
When the register got over $50, he would send me down to the block to New Haven pizza to buy a sixer of Blue Moon. He would drink it in the basement, dragging along whichever employee was there. I always turned him down. I didn’t care for Blue Moon then, and that experience certainly didn’t endear me to it.
“You’re an information junkie,” he once told me. “I can tell. I can read people. You like to learn, but your problem is you don’t use it for anything.”
“That must be my problem,” I said. “Thanks.”
I could have deflected by saying something disarming like, “Where I come from, we just shorten that to ‘nerd'”, but I didn’t want to deflect or disarm. I needed the money to avoid getting kicked out of my first apartment (spoilers: it didn’t work), but I also hated him with a passion, and always hoped it would escalate to violence between us. Not only for the satisfaction of smashing his shining egg-shaped skull off the deli counter, but for the inevitable lawsuit opportunity that would be presented thereafter.
He was paying me under the table, of course, and promised a raise from $6 to $8. In retrospect, times really were tough. When he didn’t deliver on the timeline, I confronted him on it Friday as the rush began. He shouted in my face that I didn’t get the promotion because, “You’re not worth it!” I wished him luck finding someone who was and quit on the spot.
“You’re gonna do this to me?” he roared into the rapidly filling restauraunt foyer. “To ME!?”
“Sure seems that way,” I told him. I paused at the door. He had bragged about throwing a knife at one of his former employees so many times after he came stumbling drunkenly up from the basement, I thought it was only fair to give him the chance.
“Fine!” he said. “Go! Get the fuck out of here!”
I did. Brief epilogue, the girlfriend did eventually leave him and immigrate legally. She’s still living in the area and going to school for social work. The restaurant went under a month or two after I quit. Kevin disappeared back to Reading to live like a leech on his elderly mom. Last I heard, he stacked up a few more DUIs.
I didn’t tell Ladygirl any of that. We were having a nice time. Instead, we went to a barbecue place called Smok where I just kept eating piles of meat.
It was phenomenal. Ladygirl was queasy and tapped out quick, so I was forced to eat both her and my orders of meat. I washed it down with brisket, for the road.
The exit was guarded by a vengeful wooden elephant.
Our time in Denver had drawn to an end. I’m bored of places after four days, tops. The only exceptions to this rule so far had been Barcelona, Athens, Istanbul, and Denver. Next year, I think I’ll go back to school, lock down the PhD. I haven’t decided where yet, but I know it’ll be in Colorado.
The ride back to the airport was melancholy. There was no longing for home, no excitement for the trip to be over, to get back to the reliable clockwork hum of the every day routine. I kept thinking about all the crackheads, the endless heat wave, and how the Philly airport always smelled like piss.
Outside the Denver airport, there’s a massive statue of a blue horse. Legend has it during the construction, its head fell off and killed the artist. They finished the sculpture, and it stands sentinel over the city, watching who comes and who goes with glowing red eyes.
Good night, sweet Blucifer. I’ll see you soon.