My trip to Colorado already seems a distant memory. I thought I could probably write about it for weeks on end… but did it ever even happen? I keep drifting through my “new old” life saying to myself, “Two weeks ago, we were at the foot of Saint Mary’s Glacier—my son, my wife, and I…”—and the next day, “Two weeks ago, I was watching my boy’s shoulders merge with the night as he left us in the parking lot to return to his apartment….” I hate how life slips away like that, at least the good parts. The bad parts just don’t want to go away.
But I feel that I have to attempt some kind of wrap-up, some general verdict on what I saw. It would be this. Denver, like so many of our other major cities, is too “wide open”. I realize that that’s an attraction for young people, especially those who have grown up in small cities and towns. The situation has been repeated so often that it has become a rhythm characteristic of our national life: the young leave the farm for the city lights, jobs flourish in the city because so many people are pouring in, the cost of living also shoots up because the demand for everything has skyrocketed, public amenities are strained and local taxes soar through the ceiling, crimes related to vice and violent invasion surge because so much loot is lying about and so few neighbors know each other, the streets grow unbelievably congested… it’s a bonanza for some, and a descent into Hell for others. And here I’m talking about any large American city.
In Denver, this paradoxically “infernal paradise” phenomenon has been magnified by the legalization of marijuana. People have transplanted themselves to Colorado for no better reason than that here they may smoke their weed unmolested. The streets grow even more congested, the apartment complexes even more prolific, and the taxes even more onerous. The catastrophic failure of state economies to the west (California, Oregon, and increasingly Washington) has also generated a flood of “white-collar refugees” who want respite from ruthless taxation yet have not divested themselves of the political opinions that created the mess they left behind. In fact, I find Denver to harbor an unusually high density of contradictions rooted in “pampered white professional” fantasies.
Just consider. Denverites want the traffic, the pollution, and the unsightly and cheaply constructed apartment complexes to go away, yet they declare their burg a sanctuary city.
They view themselves proudly as defenders of the natural environment, yet they pour into the Rockies whenever they have a few hours of free time with bikes attached to vehicles and smother Mother Nature beneath their collective human mass.
They cheerfully accept being designated as health nuts and surrender substantial chunks of their paychecks at upscale grocery stores that grossly overcharge for cashew butter and bison steak; yet their appetite for kinky sex, socially lubricative beverages, and—yes—the inhaled smoke of certain incinerated leaves rivals any city’s anywhere in the country.
Half the population seems to possess racing bikes or mountain bikes, complete with skimpy biking clothes that cling like duct tape, streamlined water bottles, saddlebags of trail mix, etc.; yet the city sprawls too much for anyone to bike to work, and it’s so overrun with traffic that no one could actually get much exercise waiting for all the lights to change while biking a few dozen blocks.
Denver has no sense, over all. Like its horde of young residents, it hasn’t thought anything through. It likes to flash images of what it wants others to think about it and wants to think about itself; but these surfaces can no more resist profound realities than a grand vista can soften the threat of the daily afternoon thunderstorms that rage down from the mountains.
I have to believe that the pockets of surviving Denverites from generations back are no happier than long-time residents of Austin, Santa Fe, or Phoenix. You sometimes see evidence of a few of them: a pasture where horses graze boxed in by humming highways. How they afford the tax on their property is more than I can answer. Perhaps they’re holding out for someone to offer them a million bucks per acre… but at some point, you have to sell up and move on.
And then the sharks gather, like the faceless conglomerate that owns my son’s former apartment complex and tried to stick him with a $3,000 bill for undocumented damages months after his departure. That was my final impression of Denver this trip. Know what? You can have it.