Monday, June 12, 2006

And a thanks to Colorado

We like to think of ourselves as a country, a people, a society, and notwithstanding all the brouhaha about illegal immigration, and the goals of the new immigrants (i.e. are they desirous of becoming Americans with a Capital A, or do they simply want to come here to enjoy the benefits of employment, health care, etc.) I think most Americans feel a certain kinship with the rest of the country. That may well be justified on some levels, but I had an experience this week which made me wonder if we are all really the same. But I shall digress, since the Blob is a tool for regression unlike most others. Some would call it unbridled impulsiveness at its worst. Clearly, once you start to Blob (the act of touching fingers to either pen or keys) anything that plops into your head is worthy of sharing with others. It’s a little like deciding to take a shower on a street corner with no walls around you. You turn the water on, avoid stepping on the broken glass and dog poop on the sidewalk, hang your clothes on a newsrack, and just go forth under the water for all to see. Some of what they see, they might like, and other bits, well, I’m sure there would seldom be unanimity on anything you display.

So, I’ll just start by tossing my jacket on the WSJ rack and we’ll see what happens. I was in Southern Utah for a few days earlier this week, running around in those beautiful red canyons, chased by the kinds of cloud formations which Spielberg tried to Patent in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Those roiling, heavy, steel grey cloud formations, moving at a speed you could see with the naked eye, and mine were naked, were quite stunning. At the end of my trip, I flew from the tiny municipality of Cortez to Denver, a one hour flight which on the way down FROM Denver had become one of those white knuckle flights you don’t mind reading about, but hate to share on your own. The tiny planes, part of the Great Lakes Air Service (I know, I know.. why was it called Red Rocks Air, or Four Corners Flight Service?) fleet of Beechcrafts barely qualified for Iris’ Rules of Flight: First of all, the plane MUST have an Aisle. That is a rather modest request, and this plane had an aisle, with a little bump in the middle of the plane where the wing spar (that’s the part that holds it all together) was situated. That flight, days before, from Denver was one of the white knuckle types where you know there is trouble. The knuckles you’re grabbing are not your own. That’s the sign of a real bouncy flight. Nonetheless, we arrived in Denver Saturday about 9am, ready for a whole day of fun.

l-r: Scott Crabtree, Yours truly, Steve Andrews - at Monument Lake

Most of my trips are increasingly Out/Back in as few days as possible. Once Jordan was born, I felt that lingering in a location was just something that got in the way of spending time with her and Iris, time which I truly value. So out I go on a Tuesday, shoot Wednesday, Thursday, maybe Friday, and when I’m done, I’ll often take the red-eye home, to get there as soon as possible. Very seldom do I build in time on the location for just shooting unrelated pictures, or farting around. This trip, however, I decided to linger an extra day in Denver and catch up with a couple of old friends. I never fail to be amazed at the way Iris works so hard to maintain her many lifelong friendships. Whether it’s Pam (since Nursery school), Ronnie and Joyce Wild (Jr. High), Karen, Suzie, or Dink (college roommates), I’m always surprised, as I try and search unsuccessfully in my own life for those kinds of patterns, how she does it. Well, this weekend two former frat boy friends from Colorado College, Steve Andrews (roommate Soph, and Senior years) and Scott Crabtree (wing mate, partner in barely bridled hooligansim – well, OK , we weren’t hooligans, but we certainly saw how easy it would be to become one!) and I decided to spend two catch up days. I had seen both briefly at our 35th reunion three years ago, but the more you attend these reunions, the more you realize they are too fleeting to really connect. So, a week ago, I sent them a note, yes, I will attend the 4West (our Freshman dorm wing) mini reunion, and to count on my appearance. When you have a 42 year expanse to relate to (we entered CC in 1964) it becomes another one of those “geez, that can’t be us! We’re not OLD enough to have college friends from 42 years ago. “ INCORRECT! When we met, there were several thousand US advisers in Vietnam, Barry Goldwater was challenging Lyndon Johnson for the White House, and (I believe..) Mantle was still playing for the Yankees. To put it in another context, had someone our age (59 ¾ yrs.) had the same reminescence in the year we met, he would be waxing poetic about the effects of the Versailles Treaty and the demilitarization of the Rhineland, Babe Ruth just starting his 3rd season with the Yankees, and the upset at Warren Harding having become ill on a trip to the Alaska Expedition ( a trip my grandfather helped arrange) and perishing on the way back, leaving Cal Coolidge to take the reins. That really is what all this blobbing is about, I think, some way for us to put into context the events we have lived through, and make some historic sense of it.

On the 4West Hallway, 42 years later.

Steve Andrews, a soccer player at CC in 1964 when soccer was about as popular in the US as buffalo hunting, became an expert in energy issues (the “peak of oil”, efficiency of auto mobiles, etc.) and has made a real difference in trying to make people appreciate the precariousness of our unthrottled use of energy resources. Scott Crabtree became a lawyer, and in the last decade a District Judge in a Denver suburb and presides over a courtroom whose cases include everything from major civil litigation to cold-case murders. But to me, they will always be “Lurch” Andrews (a name tapped from the Adams family t v show) and “the Crabs” or the “Mole” – the latter a reflection of his prominent use of sunglasses, even in a dimly lit Chemistry hall. Me? I remain to this small band of folks “Burnie.” None of us have been called any of these names for nearly forty years. They brand a certain time in our lives, but still carry meaning when spoken by one of us. Our plan included heading out to find the locations where we first tasted beer, (Monument Lake – the Freshman mixer – Sept ’64, when colleges still let their young charges drink, albeit mindful of their “In loco parentis” obligations.) One stop at a Fire Station led us to the now transformed lake. Amazingly though, what happened was a spilling over of memories and moments triggered by the onslaught of our own chit chat. I found it to be better than Sudoku and Crosswords as a stimulant of the mind: phrases I hadn’t thought of for forty years, uttered by a friend or colleague came back as if they were there with us. The phrase “…you remember….?” must have been spoken a hundred times that day. We then drove to the last of the 60 miles to Colorado Springs, the car full of amusing anecdotes, stories and memories. This was, really, much better than a half day reunion, where you feel obliged to force it all into a very small space of time. Once at CC, we parked (school ended two weeks ago) and headed across to the lot which formerly housed our non-descript fraternity house (Kappa Sigma). Now its part of a bigger science center. Then to Slocum hall, the place where we all learned to live away from home for the first time. Oh, the changes. First of all: locks on the doors. We had to make our way inside the hall by asking someone with a key, and they were only too amused to let the three old farts continue the walk down memory lane. 4West was a small wing, but feisty, and in the intramural competition which started in the third week of school (Yes, in those days, EVERYONE had to participate in intramural sports) we actually won the Push Ball blue ribbon. (For those unknowing of Push Ball, it’s a 4’ high inflated ball that you push, careen, kick, or otherwise propel down the field to the other teams goal. It was fun, we all participated, and that winning helped to forge a bond among us all. In our old hallway, now carpeted ( I guess that means you can’t play hockey with a real puck anymore) we found other evidence of change: No longer just one big bath/shower, now there are two (He and She). It is worth noting that the co-ed dorms and the initiation of the now respected and highly touted Block Plan came just after we left CC, giving us real envy in those later years.

Next we headed to the student center (formerly Rastall Center, now renamed for the former President of the school, Lloyd Worner), passing by the area where, among other things, we took cover behind leafy foliage as we tossed eggs at the townies who circled the block. The student/townie thing was one of those “class” issues I only came to understand better as I grew up. At the Worner center, we looked at the Cafeteria no longer looked after by the Notorious “Spider” Webb, a guy who seemed really OLD to us, and who must have been all of 28 or 30. The place looked great, like a really sumptuous Golden Corrall “all you can eat” buffet restaurant. If there was mystery meat, it was in hiding. The great shock came when we looked out on the deck to the C C ice rink, a full sheet of hockey regulation ice, which we regularly entered ‘after hours’ – midnight usually while the guards were having their late night coffee – by lifting up one of the chicken wire screens, and bounding over it. Now, as with all things regulated by Liability, Insurance, over-active Prosecutors, and, dare I say it, Lawyers looking for a good case, it has been totally enclosed in a building, making those late night ice forays a distant memory. It was here, too in late ’67 and early ’68 that classmate Peggy Fleming used to practice, her mother watching like a hawk from the warmth of her Buick, as she prepared to win the Gold medal at the Olympics. Our last drop by was the Kappa Sigma house, whose lineage included the three of us (and myself as the house President in 1967-68). It was a, well… a mess. If you think you live in a cluttered mess, this could give you a new sense of cluttered. Admittedly, it was the beginning of summer, and everyone left, but, OOPS: they forget to throw the junk out. Bottles everywhere, stuff everywhere, it was a kind of new realm into Messy: It makes me think my Studio at home looks like a Gallery at the Corcoran. I did take the opportunity to lay on the old sofa on the front porch, a kind of salute to 1967.

We wrapped up our trip to school, by driving to the Broadmoor, the fancy schmancy hotel at whose ice rink all the official CC hockey games were held, and where in the fall of 1967,as the result of a search for a cheap & unknown band

to play at our annual Homecoming dance, a newly discovered group called the Doors, led by Jim Morrison himself, played for the $3500 rate they were getting when the contract was signed in April, not the $30000 they were then getting after the release of “Light My Fire.” Well, even the Broadmoor now screens who comes in, and while Scott tried to convince them from the back of Steve’s Prius (over 50 miles per gallon for all the driving we did this weekend) that we were interested in the Presidential Suite, somehow it just didn’t fly. We headed back to Denver, and swapped cars to go downtown to see the Colorado Rockies, a hot & cold baseball team, host the L A Dodgers in the really beautiful Coors Field. We ended up in nosebleed seats for $9 above first base (and I mean ABOVE first base) but the tickets turned out to be fantastic for enjoying a real major league game, in a beautiful major league park, with a helluva lot of people in the stands. For me the most surprising element of the crowd was how baseball has become like so many other 21st century events: social first, and baseball second. The food, the drink (like all sports events) seemed edible yet quite pricey.
No one minds building a little profit into a Coors Beer, but $6 for a bottle (that would be 500% profit, right? Gee, I hope the guy schlepping the beer all over the stands gets a good cut of that) seems a bit steep. Of course, I am an old fart, and I suppose if you think a $6 beer isn’t reasonable, you won’t like a $12 martini either. Somehow I begin to understand what my mother feels when she has to deal with today’s inflated prices. My dad always thought a quarter or maybe fifty cents was a great tip in a cafĂ©, and in the days of eggs & coffee for a buck, it really was. But we just have to try and adjust ourselves to these things I suppose. I may adjust on the outside, but I will always make a smart ass comment about it (sorry Jordan, I just have trouble with these things). Most interesting was the way the 20-something generation, in great evidence at the game, seemed to be-bop from seat to seat, turning the game into a chapter of musical chairs. Topping it all off was the fact that the hometeam, lately of hard times, managed to win the game 11-9. Even the walk out of the stadium was one of a lot of contented people, walking together in the glow of not only a victory, but spending four hours in the company of beautiful light, and elegant skies.

Sunday morning we awoke with plans for a long bike ride. Though I ride a lot on the stationery bike at home I was a little worried that the 5000’ altitude (which doesn’t usually bother me) and the lack of much road biking this spring, would catch up with me. Well, we ended up riding from Steve’s to the Cherry Creek Reservoir State Park, one of the most utilized state parks in the country. And it’s easy to see why. Besides runners, there are skads of bikes, and in between, plenty of boats. They even have a shooting range, and a model airplane field (no, I didn’t have a chance to see it.) Once we had ridden about 7 miles, including over doing it a bit on an uphill leg, we decided to turn around and head for home, confident that a good 15 mile run would be just the ticket.
At that moment, I noticed my chain had skipped off the front gears and that I was pedalling aimlessly. Then, when I stopped, it was clear my rear tire was flat. (It’s amazing how easy it is to make that determination when it really IS flat.) We flipped the bike over, trying to see if we could pump life back into the tube. No dice; the little ‘on the road’ pump just didn’t have the moxie to do it. So, we hatched a plan: Scott would ride forward a couple of miles to try and find a bike shop, and Steve would head back to the house to get the (dreaded word) Car, and come fetch us. So there I was, sitting on a railing at a turn-out, on a very busy and used bikeway, waiting for help.

Here is where I think Colorado might get a particular tip o’ the hat. In the 45 minutes that I waited by the side of the road, at least twenty people pedaling by me asked if they could help. Having just read this past week the story of Lincoln Hall, the Australian climber who had been left for dead on the slopes of Mt Everest, and who then rallied and eventually made it off the mountain, I was sensitive to these kinds of issues. Of course I was awake, and soaking up rays for my farmer’s tan, but nonetheless, the kindness of those Denver cyclists is something that will stay with me a while. I know that in some places, people who don’t bike seem to take joy in threatening to nick a biker as they fly by them on the hiway. Well, I was impressed today. Bless the good folks of Denver. They rightly deserve the reputation they have as sportsters. I write this in bed back in Arlington, tired, plum tired. But a good tired nonetheless. We re just sayin.



Walt said...

Great Lakes Airlines, what a fond memory.

Minneapolis / St. Paul to Jamestown, North Dakota - non-stop.

I'm afraid to attend one of my fraternity's reunions (you were president? more in common with G. Bush everyday). They don't even own the house I lived in anymore, and I understand my freshman dorm, no upper classman would be found dead in, is now THE dorm for co-ed living. Geez!

Thanks for the tigger for the rush of memories for this NYC born Jersey Boy. Grin.

Anonymous said...

I can't compare your story about going back to your beginning but I can relate. Recently after 7 years I went back to my home town. Actually I had only been back three times in over fourty years. I planned on visiting my mother of 91 years and was invited to attend a breakfast reunion of my old, very old, high school classmates. It has been fourty eight years since I graduated and the same amount of years since I saw any of them. At the appointed time I arrived at the diner, saw a table set up for 20 people and figured that was for us. I sat down, I was a little early, at least five minutes, they slowly began to arrive. I didn't recognize any of them. Being I was the alien they all knew who I was. We drank coffee and ordered breakfast, each order on a seperate ticket. They brought pictures and as they passed them my way I asked who was who. The blond sitting across from me was telling me about her life and after a half hour I asked her about Patty Dietnam. That's when she told me she was Patty Dietnam.
I told her, "I love the way you wore those tight skirts in school" to which a stunned silence came over the table. I guess that was a little to risque for them. I had my camera sitting on the table. Fourteen arrived, 12 classmates and two spouses. One owned a computer, three owned cell phones and one owned three cars but never got a drivers license. She explained that she never left town. None were currently working but then we all were 65 or so. We chatted for over two hours, I wasn't interested in any of the women, I had planned on taking one of the to dinner, didn't matter which one really. But I changed my mind. We left without hugs, that was a little to touchy I think. Their planning on a big fifty year reunion but the way the death rate is increasing I don't think it amount to a large gathering. Funny but I didn't take one picture. I am thinking about sending them an exercise video, maybe that would help to straighten their posture. Never saw so many hunched back people in one place. Gee, I forgot to mention the high school I graduated from. It was the Coal Township High School. Torn down in l965 and still lies in a large pile of bricks and concrete so I guess there wasn't any plan to replace it with anything. Maybe I should buy it and turn it into a cemetary/memorial for all the alumni. Clay

Anonymous said...

There are roots, and old friends and old haunts. Very cool.

Sean C said...

Let me know next time you revisit the past. I'll take you out to lunch.

Sean Cayton

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