A few nights ago I was lying awake while scenes from the past paraded by. One scene hit a sensitive nostalgic nerve and I followed its tingle back to Denver visiting old haunts and remembering the more pleasant details of my life before Taos. It wasn’t that I wanted to move back to Denver, probably more a need to overhaul the bridge from my previous life to the present. What was worth revisiting from that life? Was there something important that I left behind? Triggering these thoughts was the impending need for us to decide about a location for PQ’s eventual lung transplant. Would it be Denver or Tucson? I thought if it was Denver, I could visit Cherry Creek, 16th Street Mall, the Library, and Denver Art Museum and perhaps I could get my old Job back at Tattered Cover, since in either location we would need income.
The next day Miles and Gail called and said that after their summer in Europe they would be arriving in Denver by Amtrak from Chicago and wanted us to fetch their jeep in Santa Fe, drive it to Denver and meet them at the train station Wednesday morning. Then they would drive it to Washington State and a reunion with an old friend who held concert tickets for them. In turn, they would pay for the gas and rent a motel room for us. We would have a chance to visit old haunts, dear friends and good restaurants, a pleasant combination of nostalgia plus a taste of the big city. I must add that the nostalgia was only mine, PQ isn’t fond of Denver.
We picked the Jeep up in Santa Fe on Tuesday, had a nice lunch at Harry’s Roadhouse before getting on the freeway back to Taos in anticipation of a mini vacation. We started early the next morning. I made note of a smoky haze in all directions. It had been clear the day before. This haze continued for the rest of the trip. Our drive to Denver on Wednesday was pleasant although it felt strange to be travelling in different cars and the haziness shrouded the usually beautiful landscape. In Denver, I was proud of myself for immediately finding the hotel where Miles had arranged our reservation. Although it was in a rather obscure area, I drove right to it with PQ following in the Jeep. This was encouraging. Maybe I still have a sense of how to navigate Denver. PQ informed me that the Jeep’s air conditioner went out on the way up and said, “It probably needs fluid, but let Miles know when he calls.” Miles and Gail were scheduled to arrive at 7:30 the next morning, and I knew Lodo (nickname for Lower Downtown) was a blurred memory. To be safe, I printed out Google maps of the area before starting out.
After checking into the hotel, I immediately called longtime friend Rachel. She gave us a report on interesting restaurants, as she always does, and I was dumbfounded when she mentioned Racine’s. This restaurant closed and a high rise went up in its place many years ago. It was one of my favorites and now it has reincarnated, awesome! When we walked in the door, the layout was the same as the original only larger and more contemporary. The food was even better. Ah, nostalgia!
After dinner, Rachel took us down town. She had graciously volunteered to give us a tour of downtown so that we wouldn’t get lost the next morning, but suddenly we were caught in a maze of dead end streets, all one-way, and fenced off construction sites. There were several new street names and new blocks with old street names going new places. The huge Coor’s Field sat like a mangled Darth Vader in the center and we never did figure out how to get around it and still come out in the same place we started. Several times, we passed under an overpass with a train on it but couldn’t find a way to the source. Tension got higher and higher as we began to suspect we’d been witched, eternally caught in a malicious vortex. It was a real life M.C. Escher staircase, or at least a maze enhanced with by trick mirrors.
In a state of confounded exhaustion, we gave up and retreated to Rachel’s apartment on the other side of town. There we researched more options on Google maps and none of them resembled anything that we had just witnessed. There were streets we hadn’t seen and some that were not on the maps. Finally, Rachel called Amtrak and the woman who answered said that the station was in a temporary location too new to appear on GPS or Google Maps. This blessed woman gave us some new instructions that sounded simple enough and we said goodnight to Rachel and headed back to the motel. There we received a phone call from Miles and Gail saying that the train would be very late because of false news of an accident and some other delays the details of which I no longer remember. This was bad news for them but good news for us. I had a bad feeling that we would need all the extra time we could get just to find the station.
The next morning we showered, discussed our strategy and went downstairs for the free breakfast promised by the motel. When we got there, the closed sign had just gone up. We missed our chance for a much-needed cup of coffee and Danish by 10 minutes. Oh well! This gave us time to look for a garage that could service the Jeep’s air-conditioner. We took it up the road, way up the road, and found one almost on the county line. In the office, they told us they could service it right away but we were looking at two-hour process. Two hours was out of the question so we decided instead to resume our search for the Amtrak station.
Once on the freeway I watched for the 213 exit but the exits were getting smaller, 110, 109, etc. so I pulled off as soon as I could safely do so in the rush of morning traffic. Miraculously I found myself on an old familiar part of town and pulled off at a rest stop. PQ did an outstanding job of following as I wove this way and that way through traffic. Finally, it dawned on me that the Amtrak lady gave us directions for an approach from the south. PQ comforted me through a minor meltdown and brain freeze. Then we launched off again.
With renewed determination, I turned around, had a joyful reunion with a familiar viaduct and got on I-25 going north. The rest was easy; get off on 213, south to Wewatta, right over an overpass, right to 21st street and there was the station. I still don’t believe it. We parked both cars, then PQ said, “look, the train is here.” Next, we see Miles and Gail walking toward the station as we stand quietly anticipating their arrival as if we knew just what we were doing.
After listening to Miles and Gail describe the insanity of their Amtrak experience, we described the problem with the Jeep’s failed air conditioning. They got online and located a service station on the south end of town. Fortunately, I was familiar with this area. By this time, they had resigned themselves to driving most of the night and we found a nearby Denny’s for a 2pm breakfast. The job was going to take two or three hours so there was time to kill. PQ and I didn’t want to leave them stranded in this ugly garage in an ugly part of town for two hours so we decided to drive around and catch up on each other’s lives. My intention was to take us to the Tattered Cover on Colfax where we could browse books and magazines and visit in a quiet environment. Besides, at this point I needed at least one pleasant nostalgic experience.
Somehow, I mangled the approach. I couldn’t remember the cross street and then we became entrapped in some major road work. I couldn’t get in the proper lane in time to turn back and ended up on Colorado Blvd. Since we were in the neighborhood, I decided to drive by my old house. Yup, another pitiful attack of nostalgia. There was a traffic jam when I tried to turn back onto Colorado Blvd. so we turned around in City Park and then I made the mistake of turning onto 13th Street instead of Colfax. After meandering here and there through several blocks, Gail offered to look our destination up on her iPhone and read the directions to me. PQ had bad stomach cramps from the stress and we had to pick up some Tums at the first drugstore in range. Finally, we found the Tattered Cover like a quiet island in a sea of chaos. Gratefully, we enjoyed a few minutes of calm to chat and browse. They had great coffee, too!
When we got back to the garage the Jeep was ready to go and Miles and Gail headed north on I-25, now resigned to driving most of the night, and we headed south toward Home. Of course, we missed the I-25 ramp south and had to drive down Santa Fe Blvd. all the way to Littleton, about fifteen miles, but it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was actually better than the going- home traffic on I-25. There was one more hurdle, how to recognize the turnoff to E-470, our last chance to get on I-25 south. By now, I’m getting smarter and I expect it to look totally different than the last time I’d taken this route. I saw a new overpass looming in the distance and made sure that I got to the right side to take it. The rest was easy. The Denver curse finally lifted. Or, did it?
There’s no place like home. However, the experience of home can be multidimensional. When I think of home, it is of both a time and place. If we rearrange our living room furniture, we may trip over something in the middle of the night because it isn’t in its familiar place. Eventually we get used to the new arrangement but that isn’t fixed either. So much of our personal identity has to do with how well we navigate the space and time we occupy. The Denver I knew before moving to Taos is gone but so is the person I was then. Time and circumstance will tell how much I can take on the next trip down memory lane, but I think I just learned to travel lighter.