Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas charm

The road toward my first Christmas away from home confirmed a charmed life. I'd abandoned three retail jobs I was working simultaneously and quit the lovely, but WAY out-of-my-price range liberal arts college in Portland I'd attended, where I'd racked up enough debt to bury a Bloomberg (hint: it's Monica Lewinsky's alma mater). My last month's rent at an apartment in Southwest P-Town was the agreed-upon price of a respectable, matching davenport and chair my grandparents had given me some months earlier.

November, 1981. I was a drop-out, floundering, working my ass off, getting nowhere. On a whim a few weeks earlier, I'd picked up the phone and called the ski school director in Vail, Colo. 
"Are you certified?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I can put you to work, but not 'til mid-December.
"Great! I'll be there."


I had assumed the few bucks I'd saved would last until my first paycheck landed. 

They didn't.

A friendly, dread-locked, trust-funder ski-bum I met within minutes of rolling into town invited me to stay in his den of iniquity, a place packed with roommates and other freeloaders. "Stay as long as you want," he said.


That first night in Vail was a sleepless Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, there in a crowded condo where the party never ended and my "room" was a couch in the middle of it all. The next morning...
"You gotta go. Change of plans. Parents are coming in for the weekend."

A drafty, Victorian flophouse in Minturn, circa 1880s, provided shelter the next several nights, but not much warmth. In those days, Minturn was the anti-Vail, the low-low rent district on the other side of the mountain and the tracks, still little more than the way station it had been for 100 years. The building was three stories, white, tall, skinny and uninsulated, a long, single-paned window looking out from each room. It housed railroad workers on overnighters as they passed through. Rooms were small and bare, plank floors and walls, with a shared bath down the hall. Ten bucks a night, BYO bedding. I threw my sleeping bag on the cot. Shivering by night, searching for better digs by day but with no money to offer, my bitty coffers dwindled.

That first night out of the flophouse, I hung out in my car till fingers and toes screamed from the cold, then stole into the lobby of the Holiday Inn. I'd grown up in the relative balm of the Pacific Northwest. The Rockies presented a level of cold I'd not experienced. Two hours, maybe three, there in a cushy chair by the fireplace, I checked my watch regularly and looked around, pretending to wait for someone. The desk clerk ignored me for awhile, but his looks grew more frequent, longer with each glance, until I was sure he was onto me. So I cruised downtown to the bus depot, parked my frozen fanny on a hard wood bench, read the paper, dozed. Buses pulled in and out, but I had no place to go. The sun rose. That's when I met Gerry.
"You can stay with us," he said. "Buy groceries when you get paid. Pay a little rent if you can. You'll have to sleep on the sofa, but I'm sure Ed won't mind. Nice guy. We rent a room from him. Ed works graveyard at Safeway. We never see him."


Gerry's wife Sue was an engineer with a real job working for a small company in Avon or Eagle, one of those once tiny mountain towns west along the Interstate. Gerry was an instructor like me, tickled that we would be colleagues. Their plan was to enjoy the ski bum life for a few years before returning home to Pennsylvania, where they'd start a business and raise a family. The next morning, warm and well-rested, it seemed a good time to introduce myself at the ski school office, fill out paperwork, pick up my uniform and stash my gear, though I wasn't scheduled to start work for another week.

Alone in the locker room, I was hanging my parka and pants when a young man burst through the heavy, gray doors.
"You're Toni, right?"
"You're certified? I mean, have you taught before?"
"I have a group of 12 level never-evers and no instructor. Can you take them? Now?"


Late Christmas Eve, and the village stores were closed. Lights twinkled and snow drifted upon us in fat, soft flakes as we strolled the streets of Vail, peering into shop windows, ogling stoles and coats made from the hides and furs of dead animals.
"You could buy a BMW for that!" I said.
"You could buy a house for that!" Sue said.
We sang carols with revised lyrics. Later on, we'll perspire, as we sweat, by the fire...
No gifts, no pressure, no family obligations, we shared a walk, a meal, laughter, and friendship.


It was a wonderful Christmas.

May your holidays be so charmed this year. Peace!


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Maynard lives!

I guess the little guy had stored enough chow for a few days and didn't need my offerings. Mice sometimes get into stuff they shouldn't -- that's why they're so easy to poison, on purpose or by accident. I left a bag of bacterial digestive drain stuff on the counter next to the sink some weeks ago. The next morning, microorganism-laden bits were scattered across the counter, a large hole gnawed into the thick plastic container. The label reads, "Harmful if taken internally. Keep out of reach of children."

Maynard was fine after that incident, and I've seen no evidence of similar mischief since. He's a survivor, like his ancestors, resourceful adaptors like mine. Living softly as we do today, however, no predators to evade, as much food wasted as consumed, all things sanitized and pasteurized for our protection, minds unchallenged, numbed by technology and trivia, I wonder if we aren't sliding backward along a muddied, evolutionary trail.

We've set ourselves up for the greatest challenge yet, an epic episode of Survivor with all humanity, all life as we know it on planet earth at stake. The predators have morphed. The tracking of sustenance has changed. Our best hope is to avoid our own progress. We're back to discovering food that won't kill us, ways of life that won't poison our environment, stunt our psyches or compromise our ethics. We evade predators daily, the sharks of our time. Maynard has avoided the hawks and foxes that prowl the adjacent pasture by ducking into this cabin. Whether it's by luck or intuition, he's chosen this particular land-ship to stow away. He's safe, for now, lives day to day as best he can, but without assumptions. Maynard is opportunistic, but not exploitative. He's broken away from his pack, or herd, or however mice roll. He's like the risk-takers, rebels and weirdos of our species, the entrepreneurs and self-mades, the mad, reclusive scientists, the nerds who read, write and ponder rather than watch TV, outcasts who eschew what's mass produced, plasticized, homogenized, and pest-resistant, those who pedal or walk rather than drive, create rather than destroy, value life and beauty and nature over things. My bet's on them to save the world. Artists and free-thinkers are not trickling brooks divergent from the main stream, but rather the flourishing, nourishing tributaries that feed it. Concrete or abstract, it is their crazy revelations, their witness to and conveyance of truth that keeps humanity a hair's width ahead of its sprint toward self-destruction.

Hyperbolic you say? A little mouse's escapades analogous to all that?  Maybe....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scat, scat

I'm worried about Maynard.

     When I told my mother some months ago that I had a mouse living behind the dishwasher here at the cabin, she said, "Time to get some Decon."
     "You must have me confused with your sane daughter, the one who doesn't rescue spiders from the tub and ferry them to safety in the garage," I said. To be clear, I am an only child.
     "You can't live with a mouse in your house," she said. "And where there's one, there are always more."
     "Nope. There's just the one," I said. "I'm sure of it."
     "They carry diseases," she said. "I read about a woman somewhere near where you live, New Mexico or Wyoming, and she contracted some horrible disease from rodents."
     "That's it!"
     "If my mouse had hantavirus, I'd be in the ICU or dead by now. And anyway, operation relocation is underway, so don't you worry. I'll capture him, then release him in a well-covered spot behind the barn. Give the little guy a chance."
     She let out one of those motherly sighs through the phone, the ones that don't require accompanying body language to interpret. Translation? "Tsk, tsk. Good grief. Who are you, and what have you done with my rational, practical daughter?" Never mind that I've never possessed either of those traits in more than trace quantities.
     There are dozens of ways to catch a mouse, alive or dead, but the trap I found at Ace was just so ingenius in its design, I had to have it. Forget about electronics or chemicals. I'm a sucker for cool mechanics. This contraption -- or conTRAPtion as I'd have named it -- is friggin' brilliant. I brought it home, played with the tiny, spring-loaded ramps, inspected the cavity, marveled at the see-through top,  the way it slides away to let the little buggah out, with plenty of room inside to add a little sustenance in the event he's stuck in there for a few hours. The night I brought the trap home, my wheat-hued, round-eared pal got his name: Maynard.
     "I'll wait until the weekend, so you're not stuck in there all day," I told him. Yeah, I talked to him. What of it?
     That first weekend came and passed, then another, and another. The trap is still in the box. I've come to listen for him at night. A clink in the dark, and I sneak down the hall in my slippers, a cat on the prowl, a native hunter, silent, slinking toward the kitchen. Flick goes the beam of a flashlight. Maynard freezes, there on the counter against the wall, an unprepared performer caught by a spotlight onstage. He stares back at me, aghast, looks both ways, then scurries, behind the faucet, across the countertop onto the refrigerator plug, along the coils and poof. Gone. In the morning, behind the coffee pot, a tiny trail of bitsy black Maynard turds shows me his path. A spritz and a wipe, and the evidence is gone. Scat, scat.
     My initial theory was that if I left munchies in a safe place on the floor, he'd have no need to scavenge the countertops. Ah, but Maynard is a born explorer, like the Vikings, Magellan, the Hawaiians in their single hulled canoes, Lewis and Clark across the plains to the Pacific. He is Lawrence of Arabia, bound to uncover the tiniest mysteries of a barren, formica landscape.
     It's been two days since Maynard snatched up my offerings of granola and veggies, neatly contained in a jar lid behind the fridge. There have been no clinks, or rustling, no dash in a blur of fur when I flick on the kitchen light in the wee hours.
     Nothing smells weird. There's no detectable decomp. Maybe he found his way back through whatever hole lead him in. Maybe he found a mouse spouse under the house, and the happy couple chose to settle somewhere else. Maybe he's exhausted the intrigue of this place, and has moved on to other adventures. Hope clings like droppings to a stovetop.

Wherever you are, adios, Maynard.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Preposterous ponderings

I realize this forthcoming statement makes me an anomaly among women, a freak if you will, but here goes: I HATE shopping! Clothes are the worst, especially pants. (Well, especially swimwear, but that's its own sordid, traumatic topic, not suited -- ehem! -- for the annals of this blog.) Whatever happened to simple choices?  Khakis or chinos? Or are those the same thing? Levis or Wranglers? Today, there's curvy fit, straight fit, trouser fit, low rise, mid rise, high rise, moon rise, sun rise, crotch creepers (OK nobody calls them that, but come on). There's mid rise curvy skinny, low rise straight skinny, mid rise curvy relaxed, natural rise pleated, mid rise easy, tapered legs, straight legs, boot cut, ultra flare.... it goes on and on and on. Some companies have names for each of these: the Blakely Fit, the Mercer Fit, Fit 1, Fit 2, Fit 3, Fit 26.7. None of them fit me. I found a pair today that was close, mostly not synthetic, mostly not crappy craftsmanship, manufactured in a democracy. The kicker: They were three inches too long. I could have them altered, but that would cost more than the pants themselves. I could hem them myself, if I didn't care how they look. So I left the pants on the rack and bought other stuff-- a nice pan, tighty black-ies, grey-ies, blue-ies. The whities just seemed so...white. Why no pastels for the boys? Tough enough to wear pink-- briefs? Or a practical color, like brown? Socks, dog treats, licorice, and an oil change for the car. All but the pan and the oil change will be sent across the ocean to the coffee farming entourage that is my family. I found some great stuff at Murdoch's Ranch Store that had me lingering in defiance of shopping disdain, adorable flannel shirts and Carhartts everything, but I can't wear any of that to work at the bank. I hate the bank for many reasons, but especially for its refusal to accommodate my preferred wardrobe. I'm parked all day behind a waist-high counter, and nobody sees my pants or shoes. Sweatpants, sneakers and a Brother's Brother blouse would work just fine, in my opinion, but no-o-o-o. They won't have it. When it comes to appropriate, non-jeans leg&butt wear, polyester, rayon, microfiber or otherwise clingy, bulletproof, flammable fabrics abound, materials that melt when held to a match, but come out of the dryer looking swell. What ever happened to wool for sheep's sake? And apparently, cotton is no longer the fabric of our lives.

Columbus Day reminds me of the famous storm that struck the Pacific Northwest in 1962, also known as The Big Blow. My tricycle flew down the driveway. My parents and I watched through the window as it disappeared. There were candles. Lots of them. The power was out, the house was dark but for the glow of tiny flames, and we were all three together, safe inside as the gale raged outside. I think my mom and dad must have been frightened, but I had no clue. To me, The Columbus Day Storm was a blast. The next day, we and the neighbors "discovered" that their garage had been crushed by a tree.

Shopping bust aside, this chilly morning yielded to an Indian summer day custom made to recognize, respect and honor the contributions of native Americans, consciously, if not actively. Rustlings of my paternal grandmother's insistence that we are descended from the Algonquin Blackfoot rang in my head as I listened to Sherman Alexie on NPR, then meandered along the river, through the canyon and over the pass toward the sprawling metropolis of Montrose. It's called Discoverers' Day in Hawaii, the irony obviously lost on those who name holidays there, considering the well-documented fate of that infamous island "discoverer," Captain Cook.  But let's examine Columbus. Besides being an exploitative, treasure-hunting dick-wad, he missed. Two huge continents, their combined length spanning most of the globe north to south, and he lands on a tiny island not connected to either one. What kind of navigation skills are those? The Hawaiians, some 1500 years earlier than Topher C. (He's gotta be a Topher. With that hat?), sailing in canoes, managed to stick their landing on a tiny archipelago in the middle of nowhere. Maybe those are the discoverers Hawaii's talking about with their version of the Holiday. In that case, never mind about the Captain Cook crack. Those intrepid Hawaiians are worthy of celebration. And what of my maternal ancestors, those wacky, horny Vikings? The helmets. That's what was horny. Although, after a long journey at sea... Anyway, where's Vikings Day? Why are we not all eating lutefisk with our fries?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mill Lake

I learned a new word a couple of weeks ago, hangin' wit' my California homey Gail in the big city of Denver. Our waitress at the Breckenridge Brewery was excruciatingly young. Literally, it made my joints ache and my jaw clench just to look at her. She was sweet, helpful and oh-so talkative, giving us directions to parks and bars. The word she taught us? Dank. Dank, you see, is the new sick, which was, and still is in some circles, the new bad, which everyone knows is good. Get it? Got it. Dank.

My pal Gail and I walked the streets of Denver, 8.5 miles. This, according to a cool app loaded onto her iPhone that tells her how far and where she's gone, using GPS satellite positioning to accomplish this and displaying a map to show the exact route. Dank.

One of our first assignments as fledgling MFA students (about 100 years ago), was to introduce ourselves in a representative way by describing a favorite place. The image that faded into view like a developing Polaroid was here, Mill Lake, Fossil Ridge Wilderness, Gunnison County, Colorado. I vowed then that I would return to this place, and last Sunday, I did. Mill Lake should not to be confused with Mill Creek, an equally picturesque if more heavily traveled area. To get to Mill Lake, you pass through the metropolis of Ohio City, not to be confused with Ohio Creek, which does not flow through Ohio City but rather connects with Mill Creek. Mill Creek and Mill Lake are just a bit further apart than Ohio Creek and Ohio City, in exactly the same direction. Get it? Got it. Dank.

A woman from Ohio City came into the bank this morning. She lives on Broadway, not far from its intersection with Wall Street. I'm not sure if Ohio City was an especially ambitious place in it's early days, or if its founders just appreciated sarcasm. I like to think it's the latter.


Solitude is a curious thing, not to be confused with loneliness.

You encounter no one along the trail, and within moments, it belongs to you alone, never mind the fact that its very existence is proof otherwise. The conifer forest smells like home. Higher by the inch, footfalls become the backbeat to a serenade of stuttering woodpeckers and squawking magpies. Ten thousand feet, then eleven thousand. A jet passes overhead. Surely it's flying low. Here's a better thought: the plane's not low, but rather you are especially high. Trudge, in segments of random time, measured by the sound of your own heartbeat, and when it overtakes the rustle of the wind in the boughs and the chatter of the jays, you stop, breath, shoot a photo and tip a drink from your bottle. Switchback after rocky switchback leads you here, where the breeze tickles cones from needled perches and becomes visible in ripples across the jaded lake. Marmots sing warnings to surrounding creatures of your arrival. A lunatic trout leaps from the surface. The caldera, chiseled by winter slides and spring waterfalls, contains you. A snow globe in summer, a bug in a jar, you are walled in, to solitude. Alone here is not the same as alone in your car or alone in your house or alone with your thoughts. If, as Kurt Cobain insisted, "All alone is all we are," then here is as good a place as any to meet that loneliness and embrace it. Here, solitude feels like a favorite sweater.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The plan

I put out the hint recently that I had an idea for a new venture. It may be some time before I figure out what I'm doing or how to do it, but since several people have asked, here's the gist:

Cleverness and wit haven't gotten me far in this world, but like Obi-Wan Kanobe, they're my only hope. There's a need for it out there; all those websites, newsletters, blogs, tweets and such have to say something, and if they're not clever, or witty, or at least interesting... click. I realize this is not a new concept. There are gobs of copywriting businesses, companies and individuals who make a living writing for other people who don't have time or skill to write for themselves, writers more clever and witty than I. Whether you pen novels or ad copy, it's likely been done before. So why bother? Every writer comes to her craft with a unique perspective on the world, telling stories only she can tell, in a way only she can tell them. There may be a cornucopia of copywriters and essayists and memoirists and fiction writers out there, selling their "wares" as it were, hocking words by the penny, but they're not you, and they're not me. So, that's my plan-- Have keyboard, will travel. Bartleby's Copywriting Services, coming soon. Unless somebody makes me a better offer or I hit the Lotto.

On an aside, if you haven't told those around you love them lately, you really should get on that. Say it straight out. Hug them. Kiss them. Gush if you have to. The Columbine Memorial Garden at IOOF Park in Gunnison is in full bloom, as flags fly half-mast in honor of the fallen in Aurora. In this world, you can go to school or to the movies on any random, regular day and end up dead at the hands of a madman and his arsenal.  So hold on tight, cherish those close to you, do what you can to make every moment count with each of them.

Peace and love. It's really that simple.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

There is no try

I was taken by an interview with Nora Ephron this morning on NPR. She told of a dear friend with whom she often played the game, "Last meal." It's not so much a game as a conversation, where you share you're favorite foods, those you'd request on death row the night before your execution. She noted that the last time they played, her friend was dying of throat cancer and could not have eaten her favorite meal even if she'd wanted to. Ephron's advice: whatever your last meal is, eat it. Everyday if you can. Whatever it is you want to do, do it now.

My friend Gail and I do something similar, discussing our bucket lists. She recently took her 80-year-old mother zip-lining. That's the gist of this rambling thought bubble.

The Ephron interview has lingered with me all day. I mentioned it to a friend and co-worker, a woman who would love to escape the pressure of her day-to-day, retire and motor-coach the country, but "can't."
"If only we could all afford to do that," she said. What she doesn't know is that Nora's favorite food was a hot dog. Certainly, money does buy opportunity, and if your heart's desire is beluga caviar and Kobe filet mignon and you currently live under a bridge in a cardboard box, meager means are an obstacle. But in many cases, our reticence to go after what we want is not for poverty's sake, but for simple fear of failure, aversion to change, unwillingness or lack of confidence to believe that, in doing our best, we will, in fact, do well. The stars don't have to be perfectly aligned, nor must our venture be amply capitalized to succeed. To quote Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try." My co-worker has postponed surgery, forsaken time off and made undue sacrifices over the years, giving up bits of her life to a corporation that doesn't give a gnats toenail about her. She's now postponed her retirement another two years. Two years is forever. It's also a blip.

Outside the bank, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Gunnison. It has to be. The economy is soft everywhere these days, but this has never been a place where regular jobs are the norm. Few get rich, but they seem happier here, masters of their own destiny.

I'm impressed by the creative, resourceful ways friends make a living here. Even my husband, half a world away, is inspiring, for his undaunted pursuit of coffee perfection in the rainforest.  I credit their influence with sparking this epiphany. And Nora Ephron, for fanning the flame.

 I am not cut out for corporate life, nor am I suited for government work. It's all I can do not to roll my eyes in most staff meetings. The superficial rah-rah? Can't do it. And yet, I've been searching, applying for, scouring the employment posts for just such a job. I hold one of them right now. Starting your own business, doing your own thing -- that's a huge risk. It takes enormous cojones. There are plenty of practical, well-meaning loved ones happy to point out the merits of a secure paycheck and benefits, reminding you of all the obstacles and pitfalls with each numskull idea you've -- I've -- ever hatched. High risk of failure and discouragement have kept me employed by someone, or searching for so-called secure employment -- lately in vein -- all my life. The crux of this revelation, the lightbulb over the head part, is that I've finally hit on something, a business idea I can pursue now, without huge capital investment, utilizing my only two skills. (One of which, if I may be so bold to say, is writing.)

What is it, you ask? Patience, grasshopper. I'll unveil it soon. Stay tuned.

The crazy, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-drawers kid has returned from a rumplestiltskinian nap, ready to break free of adulthood's evil, stifling clutches. From now on, spontaneity rules. Ideas rule. Creativity rules.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer breeze, makin' me whine, blowing too much crap around my YA-A-A-RD!!!

(Seals and Crofts, eat your 70s pop-duo-harmony hearts out.) 

Calm. This morning, the quakies aren't quaking, the cottonwoods, quiet. No debris flies across the land, and the house is not threatening to twist off its foundation, spin upward and over the mountains, toward Kansas. Actually, I'd have more likely landed in Crested Butte than Topeka, or maybe Missoula. There's no doubt from which direction the wind has come lately. Ehem... New Mexico? Please keep your blasted wind to yourself, thank-you-very-much! And no, it's not because Colorado sucks. The Memorial Day flag that hangs over the highway had been layed out flat and stiff, completely horizontal as it points me northward from town to home.

One day last week, my co-workers and I were enjoying an especially fine morning. The sun shone, brilliant and warm. The holiday weekend was approaching, and in anticipation of the official kickoff to summer, a positive vibe prevailed. Folks were especially pleasant, issuing forth the most sincere, "You have a great day," sentiments you can imagine. Then the wind picked up, and the transformation was palpable.

A woman comes in to access her safety deposit box.  We pull it out together, and I move to escort her to the room, a small, private enclave with a desk, a chair and a door that closes.
"I'll just be a minute," she says. "I can do what I need to right here." She stands firm, there in the vault.
"I'm sorry, but we're not allowed to let anyone open a box in here," I say, in my best, most encouraging, ultra-friendly way. We lowly tellers are not supposed to see what people have in their boxes, and that's hard to accomplish within the tight confines of the vault. There's also no place to put the box, unwieldy and heavy even when it's empty, and it would be easy to drop something while holding it with one hand, opening it with the other, and having no extra hands to retrieve or add stuff. It's a long standing rule, in place for years, decades, maybe even centuries, one which most people appreciate, and to my knowledge is applied at every bank.
"Well, that's NEW," she says, with an undisguised, over-the-top sigh of pissiness. "You people." She jerks the box in close to her, for lack of anything else to jerk, and fairly stomps through the vault door toward the room. "You wouldn't believe what I've been through today already. Those people at the post office. And now I'm running late and still have to drive all the way across town." The door to the tiny room closes behind her.
I glance at my co-worker, who has undoubtedly heard this, since her work station is right there.
"Ooh, all the way across town," I wink and whisper. The woman remains in the room for about a minute, then bursts out.
"Well, that was fast," I say.
"I told you it would just be a minute."
We return her box to its slot, lock it in and leave the vault, and as she marches across the lobby toward the exit I say, "You have a great day."

The rest of the afternoon was no better. The wind makes people cranky, anxious, irritable, impatient. The blowing has been relentless, for days, and to make matters worse, the Saturday morning sky had turned smog brown,  like mid-summer over Los Angeles, the West Elks standing in for The San Gabriels, an unmistakable scent in the air. "It begins," I thought. Fire.

I understand why the suicide rate was so high among early homesteaders on the Great Plains. Tiny sod farmhouses, specks on the vast, treeless prairie, the wind's howl tormenting, ever pushing them to the brink of insanity. Of course, we have mountains here, and trees, and know the wind will, eventually, let up. In fact, it has, and this Sunday morning couldn't be prettier if it were Miss America in the Rose Parade.

I left town for a few hours yesterday, to take care of some newly-discovered, unresolved banking for my dad. It seems he had a checking account that was still active, four years after his passing, with just enough money in it to pay the senior citizen rate ($5) for an empty safe deposit box into perpetuity. Or at least for a couple more years. His bank has a branch in Montrose, so I secured all the proper official documentation I needed to close it out.

Heading out of Gunnison, our little town was teaming with cyclists, here for The Growler, a bike race. Cyclists are the best tourists. As a rule, they're well behaved, pleasant and happy, and they seemed that way yesterday too, despite the wind and smoky air. Cyclists were everywhere, in every direction, fit and looking fast in their bright, snug jerseys and lycra shorts, leaning against cars, chatting as they screwed on their shoes, lifting bikes from racks, torquing this spot or that on their iron horses with alan wrenches, stretching, hydrating, stuffing energy bars into their mouths, clipping on helmets, cruising the streets in small packs toward the main gathering spot and starting line at IOOF Park. A dozen iron horses of a different sort, a breed known as Harley Davidson, were hitched in a shiny row along the curb at Ol' Miner Steakhouse, where the bikers know they served a pretty tasty, hearty breakfast. Campers, trailers, cars and pickups topped with bikes and kayaks, fishing poles in gun racks-- the hive is alive. You can hear it abuzzin'.

Montrose was busy too, with local traffic and passers through. It's a city now, sprawled too far, too fast, but with a pittance of small-town charm that clings tenaciously by it's fraying fingernails, mostly for the efforts and attitudes of long-timers, who don't seem so keen on the rapid pace of development in their community. Growth has slowed in recent years due to what Gary, the Big O Tire shuttle driver called, "The downturn." What a friendly fellow. "Oh I suppose it'll pick back up again," he said, with more than a hint of lament in his voice. I feel a little bad about buying my tires there. I'm a big proponent of buying local, even if the price is a little higher, but the difference this time was enough to justify the drive. I also had a coupon, and they're open on Saturdays, and I had to go to Montrose anyway, so there you go. "Service," says Gary. "Our customers take care of us, so we take care of them." Simple.

Sprawling cities do have their amenities, however. A Chinese food restaurant that once stood on Main Street is now an Indian-Himalayan joint with a lunch buffet. Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer? I'm there! They had my favorite Indian desserts, too-- brown rice balls floating in a honey sauce (don't know what those things are called, but they're yummy) and rice pudding. More raisins, please. The Guru is a cultural detour in a sea of meat and spuds. In Hilo Town, Hawaii, you can't throw a lava rock without hitting a Thai restaurant. (In Gunnison, that same adage applies to Mexican restaurants.) Here, passing a large, exotic building on Townsend (the main, north/south drag through Montrose), it caught my eye like a house ablaze. I could almost smell the Panang. But they were closed for lunch, and I was headed home. So growth isn't all bad. With it comes diversity. I'll have to try the Thai place next time I'm in town.

The fire causing all that smoke yesterday seems to have died. But there are still others burning, and the with great likelihood of more to come through the summer, all over the southwest. So let's be careful out there, folks. Smokey's watching....

Oh, and, you have a great day!

A hui hou. Aloha.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Montrose adventure

Last weekend, I ventured to the mini-metropolis of Montrose, CO. I call it that with impunity, for it's clear that Montrose aspires to be just like every other sprawling, mall-strewn city in America. The place has always been aesthetically challenged but for the might San Juan Range as a distant backdrop. There's a new development to the north that wants to be Highlands Ranch, a cookie-cutter housing tract smack in the middle of corn fields. It won't be long before the farmland is gobbled up by insatiable suburbia. North Townsend, a road that leads south to better places like Ridgeway and Telluride, Ophir and Ouray, looks like a miniature version of Denver or Colorado Springs or Anycity, USA. Generica.

Montrose does have a few things going for it, thing you'll have look hard or stop awhile to notice, but worth the effort. There's Murdoch's ranch store and Russell Stover Candies. A quaint downtown with a brewery, a coffee shops and a bakery, surrounded by a few blocks worth of old Victorian homes, give the place some character. There's also a cool, old movie theater and a nice library. At a little place called Sushitini, you'll find surprisingly fresh, well-presented offerings that belie its location so far from the sea. And then there's the clear, booming reception of KVNF Mountain Grown Public Radio, broadcast live from beautiful, downtown Paonia.

My late start getting to the big city turned into a later one heading home. As I popped sushi rolls and mango mochi ice cream balls into my mouth chatting with Nick, the sushi guy, the twilight faded. Within ten minutes toward Cerro Summit to the east, Betty and I (she's the car) slammed into a massive spring blizzard. In an instant, there were no lines to follow, no road at all. Switching to high beams made visibility worse, illuminating a barrage of fat kamikaze flakes, mesmerizing as they hurled themselves toward the windshield. The young, fearless me, the one with less brains, good snow tires and 20-20 vision, would have powered through that storm, whiteout and darkness be damned. The new me, or to clarify, the new old me, the chicken-shit, near-sighted one with crappy tires, turned around. Clearly, I've lost my caginess. I spent the night in a comfy motor-lodge bed, heater cranked, a long soak in the tub reading the oxymoronic Montrose Style Magazine. Next morning, I grabbed a so-so but oh-so filling country breakfast buffet, before heading once again toward the summit, over the crest, and home.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Small town observations

Every day at noon, a siren blares from atop the city government building in Gunnison. Each time I hear it, I want to shout, “Yabba dabba doo!” even though it’s nowhere near happy hour. I’ve blurted this once or twice, only to elicit blank stares in response. Am I that old? Doesn’t anyone remember the The Flintstones? I hear that horn and imagine Fred sliding down the long neck of his gravel-quarry dino-dozer (which, thanks to Jurassic Park and the miracle of Google we all recognize now as riojasaurus). Quitting time! Fred flees, his fleet feet slapping toward a rack o’ ribs and a night of good times with Wilma, Barney, Betty and Dino. That’s Dino the dino, pronounced Deeno the dyno. Think that’s delusional? Another day, walking downtown near the source of the noontime wale, it struck me, a revelation it was, that the ramp up to full blast sounds just like the introduction to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, only this is a mega-air-raid, civil-defense siren solo rather than a clarinet, which admittedly changes the vibe from blue to bomb shelter. But it’s Gershwin. I’m sure of that.

In another daily-life homage to The Flintstones, I have a coworker at the bank who laughs EXACTLY like the staccato giggle of Betty Rubble. It’s a little lower key, but it’s Betty. I’m sure of that, too.

A young man came in to retrieve his lost debit card today. Someone had turned it in, and we’d called to let him know. He approached the window, reached across, flashed me his passport and a crooked grin. Dude! He was like Pigpen, but the cloud around him wasn’t dust. Catching an instant contact high, I swayed a little, then staggered to the vault to retrieve the card for the boy, refreshed that some college traditions refuse to die. Here was a fine young man carrying on the All-American stoner tradition established in generations past, a cultural hallmark of higher education. “Here ya go!” I smiled. Made bloodshot eye contact. “Glad you could make it in so quickly to pick that up. Thanks for choosing Bank of the West. Yo Homes, smell ya later!

Extreme climate, extreme town, extreme hats. People are insanely proud of their headwear here, the more unique the better, and always happy to share interesting tidbits about its origins. Here’s how a typical conversation might go:

“That’s a cute hat."
“Thanks. It was made by a 95 year-old indigenous, armless Peruvian woman who lives at 15,000 feet in the Andes. She knitted it with her toes!”

What’s my point in all this rambling? I have no point... Yet. But as a writer, it is my obligation to pay attention, to observe the world from my exclusive vantage point, collecting the fodder I will use to tell stories only I can tell. If you have a compulsion to write stories, I encourage you to do the same.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Last day of a long weekend

This afternoon, in pursuit of a story, I was rebuffed by a prospective interviewee who refused to talk to me and was adamant that she did not want to be quoted or named.
"I don't trust reporters," she said, to me, the reporter, but her voice, her tone, implied less distrust than outright hatred. "I had a bad experience with a reporter once, so I refuse to talk to them." I once had bad service at a restaurant, but it didn't make me despise all waitresses. Why is blatant disdain OK when it's directed at journalists -- or lawyers -- but not mechanics or plumbers or even priests, for God's sake? OK, the lawyer thing I get. But reporters? Yes, some are despicable. Those TMZ guys, for example. But they're not real journalists. Reporters are keepers of the faith, guardians of The Bill of Rights, bulwarks of the first amendment, for patriot's sake. I wrote a very nice piece, one sure to shed only positive light on the subjects and subject matter, which was peace by the way--hard not to shed positive light there (unless you're Ann Coulter or something). She, the testy reporter-hater, will not be in my fine story. That's justice enough for me.

A three day weekend has come and gone, and I've been about as productive as a lone turnip in the Mojave. Without irrigation. A withered vegetable. I feel rested.

It's been raining so much and so hard at our home in Hawaii that Ron spent today -- finally a nice one -- righting crooked trees, their shallow roots letting go of the mud and leaning like amputees without their prostheses. He fought fertilizer dilution with yet more fertilizer and mowed the impossibly soggy grass with no small measure of difficulty. Meanwhile, I gazed out at an impossibly brown landscape, broken by evergreens and mountain peaks, up and out to the brilliant blue, awaiting snow that so far this winter has been illusive, rendering my pending purchase of knobby tires moot. I did make my way to Gene Taylor's Sporting Goods today to drool over a pair of skis. I'm old school, and they all seem kinda fat to me. I'll buy them when it snows, but not until. No reason to thrash a brand new pair or planks on the rocks.

Speaking of fat, it wouldn't kill me to get into a little better shape before I go. Tomorrow night, I shall hit the treadmill and the leg press in ernest. Or with ernest. Whoever Ernest is. Actually, he is my grandfather, my uncle and my cousin. I have a very Ernest family. Of course, I won't hit the machines (or the Ernests) literally. People would stare, and the owners of the gym might frown on my abuse of their equipment. Surely, you know what I mean. You're not Shirley?  OK, I'll stop.

Don't you just totally miss Leslie Nielsen?

A hui hou. Aloha!