Denver, CO 2009

Thursday 5/21/09

With a "big picture" plan to explore other areas of the world while we are relatively young and then spend time traveling the USA when we slow down a bit, we are making an exception this trip by visiting Denver, Colorado. Having never been outside of the Denver airport, it has always been on my "wouldn't mind" visiting list. No strong urge, but not opposed to the idea. I have heard so many great things about the city, but nothing yet has pushed me into making the trip, until now. Several years ago some of our dearest friends had moved out to Denver to start a family and coincidentally, my sister and brother-in-law recently made a similar move. It started to become one of those situations that every time you talk to them or email them, the conversation almost always includes the obligatory "hey, when are you coming to Denver?" Of course, we politely shrug our shoulders and say we have no plans, but if we ever did we would be sure to let them know. So, in a perfect timing situation, I recently read with great interest as one of my favorite bands, Jane's Addiction, announced dates for their "reunion" tour. Hoping for, but not expecting to see the itinerary starting in my local concert venue, I scanned the list of tour dates trying to figure out the closest and/or most practical show for us to see. The tour started in Florida and makes its way around the south of the US until finally winding up in the northeast. Knowing the volatility of the personalities in that band, I knew I wanted to see that tour as soon as I could for fear of it self-destructing before it made its way to my part of the country. I saw that about ten dates into the tour was Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre near Denver the day after Memorial Day. After discussing it with El, I changed my Facebook status to read that "Simeon Morrell is considering seeing Jane's Addiction in Denver at the end of May". Within an hour, I was getting responses from all of the people I know in Colorado, and not just Denver. The Denver friends were excited to hear of our potential visit and with that, I started looking into planes, rooms, and automobiles. We had a few frequent flier miles to use up and decided to use them to offset the cost of the plane tickets. The concert tickets had already cost us a small fortune and anywhere we could save was welcomed. This trip is a little different for us as besides the concert, we don't really have any solid sightseeing planned. We are anxious to spend time with Jim and Jenn and family for the first half of the trip, then, spend the second half with Amanda and Brian. I have a couple of other Denver area contacts that I hope will pan out and make for a fulfilling vacation, as that is truly what it is all about...not working and enjoying time off. Our flight leaves from Albany at 4:45pm and connects through Chicago. We are expected to arrive in Denver around 8:30 tonight. At this hour the security check is not very busy. This is good in that you get through relatively quickly, but unfortunately the officer to passenger ratio is skewed in their favor to make themselves feel like their jobs are the most important on earth, each one works their function on you. One example of this is that as you enter the security area a boarding pass checker clears you for advancement. As you step forward not two steps, another officer has inserted themselves into the line and asks you again for your boarding pass full well knowing that if you did not have one, you would not have been waived into the security area. Then, the x-ray machine officer moves your carry-on luggage through the machine, but the other officer whose machine is closed due to a lack of people coming through decides to come over to run your bag through again to see if he sees something the first time through did not reveal. We make it through in a reasonable time and since we were early arriving, now have close to three hours until takeoff. We sit bored in the airport. The time actually goes by rather quickly. The gate representative announces that he may be looking for some volunteers to take a bump to help others on the sold out flight. Of course El and I head up to the counter to avail ourselves since our bump experience has been so positive. Fortunately or unfortunately, they wind up not needing to bump anyone and we board our regularly scheduled flight on time and are in the air within minutes of our departure time. The flight is completely uneventful. We should land in Chicago soon to catch our connector to Denver. After getting a bit of misinformation about our connecting gate, we make our way to another terminal only to find the gate assignment has changed, and head back to the correct gate. When we get there, the boarding has already begun. Again offering ourselves for bumping, they too decide not to ask for volunteers and allow us to board. This flight too, winds up leaving close to on-time which I am impressed by. Of course planes should leave on time, but my experiences have not shown that to be true all of the time. Another sold out flight, and luckily, the seats we picked are the only two in the row as the plane seats are in a 2-5-2 configuration. This is good so we don't have to ask people to move and El gets her aisle and I get my window. The only annoyance is the guy in front of me who insists on reclining his seat to the maximum, which essentially cuts my personal space in half. And with the way coach seats are set up anyway, I didn't have much to begin with. We are told the flying time is close to 2 hours. We hope for a further uneventful flight. We arrive on time and make our way to the baggage claim and car rental shuttle. The line at the car rental place is painfully slow. Trainees and their trainers keeping the line moving at a snail’s pace. And to make matters more frustrating, they have their own version of the frequent renter plan and people in that club can walk up to the front of the line, so every time we thought we saw hope, it was quickly dashed when new "preferred" members arrived. We finally get through the check-in process and hit the road. The GPS comes in very handy and we get to the hotel in fine fashion. Before we check-in, we grab some dinner at a bar in the area. As we drive around, we see a sign for an Indian Restaurant. As we pull up, we see it is closed for the night, as is the sushi place and Vietnamese restaurant all in the same strip mall. The only place open is JD's Bait Shop Sports Grill. For dinner we get an order of onion lures (like petals), and then I get a Reuben sandwich with fries, a salad with a Heineken. El shares the onions and gets a grilled cheese, bowl of soup, and a beer. The whole tab comes out to $26 even! Quite reasonable for our first meal in the Mile High City. We could only be so lucky to find more places this cheap. It's getting on midnight and with the time change it feels like 2:00am. We are both bushed and head to the hotel to call it a night.

Friday 5/22/09

We wake in the hotel naturally. No alarm clocks or rude motel guests. We spend about an hour trying to sift through our accumulated literature to discuss our options for what to do today. We come up with somewhat of an outline and head out. First stop is just to get us held over until lunch that we expect to eat in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We see a place near the motel called Peaberry's Coffee which looks to be like a local version of Starbucks. I get a cafe au lait and a slice of crumb cake. Afterwards we set out to drive to Cheyenne on I-25, 2 hours through farmlands. Not much to see. Our original thinking was that this might be a good way to see some of the beautiful Rocky Mountain views. As we drive, I don't know if the overcast skies are obscuring the vistas or if there just isn't anything to see here. We continue to drive and discuss alternate routes back to the hotel in hopes of seeing some of the sweeping landscapes that are synonymous with the eastern Colorado Rockies. As we drive we completely miss Cheyenne and drive right through and past it. When we realize this we make a u-turn and head back to Cheyenne. This time we make it and find some of the more busy parts of the city. We drive around looking for lunch and use the GPS to help us choose a place. As we drive around the city, I think to myself that I wanted to goof on the city, but as we drive, I think that it looks like a nice little city. The city limit sign says it has a population of 53,000, making it bigger than I thought. It is a nice, small city. The GPS helps us find a place called Sanford’s Grub and Pub which turns out to be chain- but, by the time we realize this, we are already seated. I get a pint of New Belgium Fat Tire amber which is nice and refreshing. They serve a basket of fresh fried, Cajun spiced kettle chips and ranch dressing. I order a "Coolest Salad Ever" which appears to be a cheeseburger salad. This place is a fun little bar with a fun atmosphere. It doesn't matter that there are 10 or 12 locations, and even though it won't be one of those magical lunches we will talk about for years, it fits the bill for what we are looking for right now. We wrap up and get the bill. As we leave, we head back down I-25 south to Route 34 towards Estes Park where it appears from the maps that we might see some of the mountain views we want to see. We did. Most of the road is slow and winding, but we saw some great views.

standing in the Rockies

driving in the Rockies

It was a nice, leisurely drive and we take a few hours to make our way back down to Denver using Route 7 to 72. Along the way we make a couple of stops. We drive up towards Longs Peak which is one of the tallest peaks in Colorado. It is 14,259ft. We drove up to the ranger station that services the mountain. From this point you could hike up, but cars were prohibited from higher climbing. We walked around a little and took some pictures, but unfortunately the station was not set up as scenic overlook and there weren’t many great photo ops there. We got back in the car and descended. A few minutes later we passed a small chapel by the side of the road. The parking lot, from the road, appeared to be the scenic spot we were looking for. We turned around after passing it and went down to see if we could get some snaps. This worked out well as there was a family in there who were going to visit the little chapel. El and I asked them to take a photo of us with the peak. We did pop onto the chapel, but did not stay long. Soon after, we were on our way. From the road we call our friends who we are visiting this evening to solidify plans. We make a quick stop at the hotel and then head a few miles up the road to their house. The Stephens Family are some of our dearest friends and we have been looking forward to seeing them (and meeting their new additions) since they moved out here several years ago. We went and spent the entire evening catching up and spending quality time with the family. We ate a nice home cooked meal and talked for hours. Then, we put together our preliminary plan for tomorrow which we will be spending with the Stephens' again. We are a little beat, and decide to call it a night. We head back to the hotel, check email, catch up on our journals, and get to bed to hopefully get an early start tomorrow.

Funny sign in the bathroom: "please do not throw cigarette butts into the urinal; it makes them soggy and hard to light".

Saturday 5/23/09

We got up at a good time and readied for the day. The plan is spend it with the Stephens family who are making some great suggestions for places to go and things to see in and around the city. For simplicities sake, we had back to Peaberry's for a coffee and scone breakfast. We could have done something more substantial, but I feared it would cut too far into our day out. We made it to their house around 9:00am and decided that we would go to Red Rocks Amphitheater in the town of Morrison as the first stop of the day. Red Rocks is a natural and most picturesque venue located just a few miles outside of the city. I had always wanted to see it and this was a perfect opportunity. We all piled into the car and drove for about 20 minutes to Morrison. Even walking towards the place the surroundings were immediately recognizable. I wished that we could have seen a concert here to get the full experience, but alas, none were scheduled. We went in and witnessed part of a high school graduation in progress. We took some pictures and then went down into the museum portion of the facility where they have a path setup with a history of the venue. You could see photos, videos, and information cards with historical info about the place. At one point, we watched a short film about the history. We made our way through the self-guided tour and took more pictures. Eventually we made it out to the other side and saw some other nice views.

Red Rocks' stage

El and I at Red Rocks

Walking up the steps in and around the Red Rocks I really started to feel the effects of the thin air- thankfully I don’t smoke any longer and don’t have that challenge to contend with. The next stop for us is back to Denver to see the LoDo (lower downtown) area. LoDo is a nice little walk-around area with plenty of shops and food places. One of Jim's favorite spots is a bookstore called the Tattered Cover. We make this our first stop so everyone can browse around. I am not much of a used book guy and opt to sit outside in the light breeze to update my journal. We have a lunch plan to go to Duffy's Cherry Cricket for burgers around 3:00pm, so we feed the meter for two hours and stroll around seeing what is available. Right this minute as I look around I am reminded a little bit of Montreal and how walk-around friendly that city is. I picked up a copy of the local entertainment paper and see that a singer I am interested in seeing is playing tonight at a bar in this area. So if it works out, I may be back through this area tonight. We then scoot across town to the Cherry Creek district which is another walk-around shopping area with a lot of shops and eateries. Our original plan is to eat a late lunch around 3:00pm, but as we get out of the car to walk, it is obvious that the kids are ready for lunch closer to now than then. We find Duffy's and are a little surprised by the amount of people waiting outside. We put our name in and told of a fifteen minute wait. We walk around for a few minutes to kill time. We have had good luck with most of the places we have seen on the Food Network and all indications are that this place will do the job. Fast forward to two hours later, and it certainly did. It is a dive bar without the stench of stale beer and graffiti on the bathroom walls. Everyone ordered their fancy and the table split a sampler platter. The platter was standard and since I don’t particularly enjoy fried, breaded out of a box menu items (cheese sticks, onion rings, poppers etc.), I didn’t eat much of it. Also, I knew I was in for a big burger as I had planned to get the burger named for the show that brought me here. I got a Fat Tire amber and the Man vs. Food Burger with a side of Spanish rice and beans. When The television show: Man vs. Food came to Denver, he went to both Duffy's and the Buckhorn Exchange (where we will eat tomorrow). Adam (the host), gave his waitress six darts and a dartboard sectioned into every burger topping. She threw the darts and fate created the "Man vs. Food burger". It is a 1/2 lb burger with smoked cheddar, grilled onions, bacon, salsa, guacamole, and a fried egg. I ordered it as is without adding or removing any of the toppings. The burger was messy, although I think I handled it pretty well. My only major complaint was that the fried egg was over easy, so obviously with the first bite of the burger the gush of yolk is slightly reminiscent of Freshen-Up gum. Because the toppings were added by chance, I couldn't really fault anyone, including myself, for the fact that I did not think the flavors melded together nicely. When I said this to the waitress who solicited my impressions of the burger, she said that I was the first person to say that. Maybe I have a more sophisticated palate than others, or a less cultured one, but it was what it was. Everyone at the table enjoyed their lunch and we all leave the Cricket full, if not overly so.

Us with the Stephens Family at Duffy's

the Man vs. Food Burger ingredients

With the weather still holding up, we are able to stroll a little and digest a bit before pressing on. It is close to 4:00pm now and I don't think we have anything else on the agenda, so beers on the porch might be our next stop. El has agreed to join Jenn at a spa party (that she will discuss in her journal!) and I will spend the evening catching up with Jim. We got back to their house and dropped off Jenn and the kids. Then, Jim took El and I to see the school where he teaches. Jim is a high school teacher in a charter school in Denver and is incredibly passionate and excited about teaching and learning for himself and his students. He gives us a brief rundown of how charter schools work and how they differ from other public schools. He walks us through the small school and takes us to his classroom. It sounds like his school is enjoying tremendous success and has a 100% graduation rate. We don't stay long and the weather is very bad. The rain is actually causing flooding on the streets and the visibility is very poor. After we leave there, we head to two different used CD stores. One is called Wax Trax and the other is called the Independent. Both have a nice selection of stuff, but I don't see anything I can't live without. We head back to the house so that Jenn and El can go to their spa party. Jim and I take the boys out for ice cream to a local shop called Bonnie Brae Ice Cream. I get a dish of Bonnie Brae Signature flavor. It is coconut ice cream with caramel swirl and fudge pralines mixed in. It is quite decent and the boys love their cones. We get back to the house and I update the journal while Jim puts them to bed. Jim and I spend some quality time enjoying some Heinekens and catching up and talking about people from our past. Jenn and El get back to the house around 10:15 and we get the rundown on their evening. It is soon obvious that everyone is getting tired and we set up our plan for Tuesday when we will see them next and head out. Even though it is late and the weather is crappy, I think I still want to try to catch the show at the Larimer Lounge in the downtown area. The act is a one man band named Scott H. Biram, who I have heard about for years, but have not seen or heard. Once in the car El calls the club to see if Scott has already gone on, and he has not. The cover is $12 and he is scheduled for a midnight stage time. Ever in agreement, El is game and we press on through the down pouring rain to the club. The opening band is still on and they are decent enough. They finish around 11:45 and Scott H. Biram is on by 12:15. One man bands usually impress me on some level- and I don't mean a guy with an acoustic guitar, but when a guy can play a guitar, a harmonica, a bass drum, and sing the song, I have to give him respect. The tunes are really decent even though I do not know any of them. However, it has been a long day and we are now both very tired, so we decide to leave after about 50 minutes. I would have really liked to stay, but it was just too late for me to enjoy it any longer. I will definitely look to catch Scott again, and hopefully he will play earlier next time. We head back to the room and call it a night. We get to bed close to 1:30am and I am out immediately. Until, in a first for us, we are rudely awakened by a guy yelling and screaming in the hallway waking everyone in the motel up. The ramblings of the drunken loser are loud and boisterous. El and I lay awake, not daring to venture out of the room under any conditions. We wait, hoping he will take his idiocy to another floor. After several minutes we hear more voices trying to calm the loudmouth down. It becomes apparent from the new tone in his voice that the new voices are that of the police officers trying to calm him down while arresting him. The episode is over in a matter of 10 minutes and we return to slumbers without further interruption.

Observation: I could not believe my eyes to learn though, that Denver does not have a citywide residential recycling program and that glass, paper, plastic, and cans are not picked up for recycling. Rather they are tossed in the garbage.

Sunday 5/24/09

Today we check out of the motel and will stay with my sister Amanda and brother-in-law Brian for the rest of our trip. We have dinner reservations tonight with them and plan to drive down to Colorado Springs today to see what that area has to offer. First stop, our local coffee spot, Peaberry's Coffee. I get another cafe au lait and a blueberry scone to start my day. The GPS system has become our invaluable friend on these trips. While I drive, El reviews the maps and brochures. We decide our first stop shall be Manitou Springs to see the cliff dwellings and then play the rest by ear. Including a nasty accident delay, we make it down to Colorado Springs in pretty decent time. We read in the literature that there is a museum of some sort down there that you can pay for. After a brief discussion, we decide that we just need to do a drive-by of the cliff dwellings and can pass on the museum and gift shop altogether. Interestingly enough the brochure actually gives a GPS address for the cliff dwellings. We follow our directions. However, as we get closer we realize we are at the toll booth being charged $10 each to enter the "park". I ask if there is any way to see the cliff dwellings without paying the fee, and she says “no”. As other cars come up behind us, we have to bite the bullet and just do it. We go in and park where we can. We walk up to the dwellings and take the self-guided tour through them. We wander through all of the living areas and then head down to the gift shop. Not to buy anything, but because it has the bathrooms. As we finish up in the gift shop, I ready to make our way back to the car. El stops me and tells me we still have the lower portion of the complex to tour. I respectfully disagree, thinking we have now seen the entire extent of park. And, upon further inspection of the maps, El concedes that I am correct in my assessment that we have already, by now, seen the entire extent of the small and not worth the money, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwelling Park.

Manitou Springs Cliff Dwelling Park

We get our pictures and head on to Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak access road is only a few miles down the road in the town of Cascade, Colorado, and we are there in no time. The maps say that it is a toll road that leads up to the summit, but in fact, it is not, as you pay by the person, whereas a toll road, I think is a pay by the car system. As we pull up to the gate there is a sign that says that the road is open 18 of the 19 total miles, it tells us to allow two hours for the round trip, and reminds us to drive the entire course in low gear. The ranger at the gate who collects our $10 each gives us some more details and sends us on our way. The views were pretty good and the drive was easy, for the most part. Eventually, we make it up to mile 18 where a ranger it set up motioning for everyone to turn around and head back down. At that point the outside temperature was a cool 34 degrees. I can't say that I was at all disappointed in the closed road since at the point we were completely cloud covered and there was very little visibility. As we descended, the fog cleared and that was what we wanted to see. We were well above the tree line and the ground was pretty covered with snow and ice.

view from Pike's Peak

I don't think we were prepared for the weather

Luckily, the roads themselves were not icy, since there is no guardrail for most of the way I could easily see a car sliding off the edge if the conditions were less than ideal. After getting most of our photos on the way up, after the turnaround we are able to head right down and move on to our next destination: Garden of the Gods Park. Again, just a short drive from the bottom of Pikes Peak. The “garden” is basically a natural collection of rock formations with a road that winds around the area. There is no fee (a nice relief) and you just drive through at your leisure pulling off at any of several parking areas and overlooks. We spend about an hour driving through and getting our pictures. One of the highlights is a balanced rock that is a striking image.

at the Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Sadly, our better camera picks that exact moment to shut down with a dead battery. We make do with our smaller camera and finish the self-guided tour. As we exit the park we call Amanda and Brian whom we are scheduled to stay with and go out to dinner with tonight. We are an hour away and the besides a little rain, the drive is uneventful. One funny thing is that most of the highway speed limits are 75 mph and when you drive through a work zone you have to "slow down" to 65 mph- a speed that would get you a ticket in a work zone at home. We arrive at Amanda's in fine time to change and get a quick tour of the house. We are soon off to dinner at the Buckhorn Exchange. It is Denver's oldest restaurant and specializes in steaks and game.

bar area of the Buckhorn Exchange

We arrive on time for our 6:00pm reservation, but our table is not ready. We are asked to wait in the upstairs bar area where I get a Dewar's to start the night. The first and most striking thing you see is the wall filled with trophy mounted heads everywhere. The taxidermist must have been able to retire after working on this place. While upstairs, we browse the menu and catch up with Amanda and Brian while we wait. The table is ready shortly and we are seated. We pass on the appetizers of rattlesnake and alligator and choose to start off the meal with a plate of Rocky Mountain Oysters. They are a house specialty and I figured that if I am going to try them anywhere, this would be a good place. Having never eaten testicles before, I wasn't sure what to expect. They arrive deep fried with a side of horseradish cream sauce and a side of traditional cocktail sauce. The consensus as the four of us dig in is that there is nothing gamey or unpleasant about them. They are little on the chewy side- with a texture reminiscent of calamari and they taste like popcorn shrimp. When the sauces are added there is nothing odd about the food. It was a nice introduction to something we have never had. We all order our entrees which come with a soup or salad. I opt for the garbanzo bean and buffalo chili soup which is really fantastic. I have never had buffalo before and it was good- tastes like chicken (strike that, tastes like beef). We order a bottle of Malbec to go with our meats. The selection here is quite unique. We are offered items ranging from Colorado farm-raised yak steak to ostrich medallions to roasted quail. I choose the combo plate of a 12 oz. buffalo prime rib served with au jus and a horseradish sauce and a 4 oz. elk steak served with a garlic butter sauce. A baked potato rounded out the meal. I have never had elk before and my forée to bison came just ten minutes earlier in the chili. My quick review of the dinner is that the elk steak was very decent with no gaminess to it. The buffalo prime rib, although decent, I thought was wrong for the cut. One of the appeals of eating buffalo is the leanness. It is so much leaner than beef and can be easily substituted for beef in almost every way...including prime rib. However, the reason to order prime rib is for the rich flavor which comes from the fat content within the meat. Being a bit short on fat, I thought the rib lacked just a little in terms of flavor that I would have gotten had I ordered the beef prime rib. It was certainly good enough and the taste was fine. I will be happy to try buffalo again, but will probably get it in a burger or meatloaf instead of a prime rib. I pass on dessert and my dining experience is finished off with a cup of coffee. We wrap up and head back to the house to do some more catching up and enjoy Amanda and Brian’s hospitality. We put together a basic plan for tomorrow (which being Memorial Day will include places that are not affected by the holiday closings). We head in to bed around midnight and work on our journals for a little while- then call it a night.

Observation: the term Columbine is very common in this area and was long before the school shooting incident. Being an outsider, you can’t help but take pause each time you hear or see the term used. As we passed the Columbine Medical Associates building and the Columbine Plaza strip mall, you realize it was and is a common name for any number of things.

Monday 5/25/09 (Memorial Day)

We wake leisurely and get ready for our day. We don't have any solid plans, and as El lies in bed, connected to the house Wi-Fi connection, she confirms that the Celestial Seasonings tour and the U.S. Mint are both closed for the holiday as expected. While we get showered and dressed, Amanda makes bacon and eggs for breakfast. They both agree to join us today, and our first stop is Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado which is near their house. We make the short drive to the actual school. It looks somewhat different than I remember from television, especially the back side, although it looks like any other high school in any other city in any other state. Being Memorial Day, obviously the school is closed and we are the only car in the parking lot. We drive around and make conversation revolving around the incident here which has now been 10 years. We see that the name of the library has been named Hope Columbine Memorial Library. On the way out of the parking lot, I stop by the school sign to get my photo with a piece of history. Then, we head to the memorial park. It is located near the school, put purposely not on the school grounds. It is located in a sprawling park and once we got there, I don't think there could be a more fitting placement for such a memorial. As you enter, there is a plaque that explains why the memorial exists. Then, as you somberly make your way through the walkway you come into a circle that gives each of the victims an individual remembrance. As you continue, there is a wall with anonymous quotations from students and teachers who were affected by the incident in some way. It is as emotionally necessary and historically important as the national war memorials in the country.

quote from Columbine Memorial

quote from Columbine Memorial

Columbine High School

Columbine Memorial park

Amanda and Brian in the park

The setting is peaceful and a fitting tribute to those who perished on April 20, 1999. One of the poignant aspects of the memorial is that at no point is there ever a mention of the two teenaged perpetrators of the massacre. The memorial is strictly dedicated specifically to the "innocent victims" including 12 students and 1 teacher who perished. The wounded and otherwise traumatized are also remembered in some of the collective verbiage. Life is fragile. After spending a few moments of reflecting time, we press on. We head back to Amanda and Brian's to change into our walking gear. El and I decide to walk around the area of their home and set out for an aimless walk. They live in a planned community where there does not appear to be much of a leisurely stroll path. They do point us in a direction that we hope to find some walking paths. The game plan being that El and I will give them a chance to get caught up on some errands that the wanted to complete during the holiday weekend. We will go out to dinner with them tonight and try to see the "5280 step" at the capitol building. They are both in the LoDo area and that is our evening plan. El and I start to formulate a plan for tomorrow. I think that we will try going to the U.S. Mint in the morning, hoping to get into the tour. If that fails, or afterwards, we will then head to Boulder for the Celestial Seasonings factory tour. In the afternoon we will head back to Jim ad Jenn's place and go to the Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails show tomorrow night. I do not think we will need to make any more trips out of the city and will just wind down on an easy note before heading out on Wednesday afternoon. Finally today, just to see if I've missed anything urgent, I was able to check my email. I sadly learn of the death of an acquaintance these past few days. Her funeral is today. I take a moment to reflect on my time with her. Brief, but good times. She was my age and again I am reminded that life is fragile. As El and I walk around, we spot a second location of the Tattered Cover bookstore. This one looking larger than the one Jim took us to in LoDo the other day. El goes in for a browse while I sit outside in the breeze updating my journal. This part of Denver reminds me a lot of the area of Dallas that I used to live in. Even though there are sidewalks, it is not necessarily a "walk around" part of town. You would need a car to get anywhere in this town, and even though we live in a scaled down version of a development like this, I like the environment of the downtown area better than the suburbs. We walk around in a complete circle and make our way back to the apartment. We have gone about 3 miles and find an activity path that is a paved trail through the development across the street from Amanda's development. As I sit down on a bench to rest and update my journal, it looks like there are four distinct subdivisions that each radiate from a central courtyard-like park. There is a basketball court, a dog park, baseball diamond, and trails that serve as bike path, walking path, and dog walk. The trails seem to go off in every direction, winding around and eventually leading off into each of the different housing developments. I wish we had something like this where we live instead of having to share the road with the autos. El and I sit and enjoy the scenery and update our journals. It starts to rain, but luckily we are prepared for it with our rain gear. It's not hard enough to discourage the basketball players or dog walkers, so we stay put and enjoy the downtime. We will leave shortly to go back to the apartment and get ready to leave for dinner. When we get back, Amanda and Brian have a plan. Because of a basketball game in town, we will take the commuter rail into the LoDo section to avoid parking hassles. They have made dinner reservations at a place that they like for us. Our first stop in the downtown area is the capitol building. There is a landmark here called the “5280 step”. It is so named because one of the designated steps leading up to the building has been measured to be exactly one mile above sea level. Actually there are three steps with that designation. When the height was originally measured, they inscribed a step with the words “one mile above sea level".

El and I on the "5280 step"

Denver statehouse

Then, it was remeasured in 1969, and a small brass plaque was installed on a higher step that says "1969: this step is one mile above sea level". It was remeasured again and a second plaque a few steps down was installed that says "2003: this marker is one mile above sea level". The plaques are small and the etching is difficult to read. The original step is much more photogenic, so we opted to take our pictures with it. So, technically, our pics are on the “5282 step”, but they look good. Many people get their pictures taken there, and we were no different. After a few minutes we were on our way to the restaurant which turned out to be in LoDo just where we had been with Jim and Jenn two days earlier. We arrive on time for our reservation at a place that says "look for the pig" when they are giving you directions. As we walk up to the door and the pig is pointed out to me, Brian explains that the small hoisted statue of the pig had eluded them for a while the first time they came here. The place is called Osteria Marco. We all order a before dinner drink, and I start with a martini. It was fine, nothing special. After a brief look at the menu El and I go for the "Monday special for two". We start with a salami and cheese plate. It comes with slices of beef salami, pork salami, a dollop of fresh made ricotta; a small wedge of house made mozzarella drizzled with a house made grapefruit jelly. Some toasted ciabatta bread and two ribbons of fried dough tossed with salt and cayenne pepper. Everything on the plate was very tasty and the red wine marinated beef salami was my favorite on the plate. The next course was individual salads. I was going to choose the Caesar salad, but when I heard crumbly bleu cheese was an option on the house salad, I changed my mind- and a good choice it was. The salad came pre-dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and some sliced, marinated strawberries. Included in the meal was a bottle of house wine. We chose white, which was fine. Then the menu allows us to split one wood fired pizza with toppings of our choice. There were about ten varieties to choose from and we opt for "carne", a thin crust pizza with sausage, pepperoni, and dollops of fresh ricotta. The crust turns out to be a little soggy, but the sauce and toppings are well flavored and make for a good pie. In addition to this "Monday special for two" (for a very reasonable $40), we also get one entree plate of seared sea scallops to split. The plate arrives at the same time as the pizza, as requested, and El divides the plate. Two scallops each, half of a fried risotto cake and some field greens for presentation. The scallops are about 15 seconds underdone for my taste, but the taste was fine (it is the texture that is affected but the short cook time). The risotto cake was good and we were glad we got the dish. For dessert, which is not included in the dinner price, we each get a butterscotch bread pudding and a coffee. The bread pudding is fantastic, and the coffee a nice compliment. An excellent finish to a great meal with great company. After dinner we head back to the rail stop and take it back to the car. We get home and do a little more chitchatting and eventually Amanda and Brian have to go to bed. They are both working tomorrow and need to go. We are planning to try to get to the U.S. Mint for a tour and will hit the Celestial Seasonings tour before trying to meet up with Jim for the concert. We decide we need our sleep to and say our goodbyes as we may not see them before we leave.

Funny moment: we visited the "5280 step” on Monday. It is a single step leading up to the capitol building. It is a free thing to do and a good photo opportunity. As we arrive, there is a family already there taking their own pictures. When they are done, we jump in to take our own pics. El and I together with the step, then Amanda and Brian with the step, then we ask one of the people there to take the four of us. We all take a few minutes to gather around the step and strike our best collective pose. We thank her for the picture and we head down to the restaurant. When we get some time, we review the pictures that we had taken over the day- we see the one from the steps, a nice result with one small flaw...she cut the "one mile above sea level" step out! It's kind of like going to get your picture with the Statue of Liberty and cutting her head and torch off. I guess some people are oblivious to life- even if they are in the same place as you for the same reason.

Tuesday 5/26/09

We wake and update our journals. El checks in with the office and I think about the day to come. We have had a good time here so far and look forward to the concert tonight. We open the window to reveal our first raining morning. We have seen some measure of rain every day, but it is usually in the afternoon or night. This is the first morning with no indication when it will let up. Luckily, it does not last long and is clear by the time we get ready and leave. Our first stop today is the Denver branch of the U.S. Mint. All indications are that the tours are sold out months in advance, but that standby tickets are available and sometimes you can get in on them. We go to the Mint and find a parking space nearby. We find the tour gate and inquire about the tour. The guard explains that the tours are booked for three months solid and that booking online is the best way to reserve a spot on a tour (presumably in three months). I jokingly say that it sounds like our chances for getting on the 12 o'clock tour is closer to slim or none. He replies by describing the stand-by procedure and gives us the tickets. He reiterates that most stand-bys get in and that we need to be at the gate at 11:40 for our 12:00 tour. This gives us about an hour to kill. I realize that when we went to the capitol building yesterday for the “5280 step”, we neglected to photograph the actual building as a whole, just getting the step. Luckily, the capitol is right around the corner from the Mint. We head back to the car, get the picture of the building, and put everything back in the car as the Mint is very specific about the items that can be brought inside (almost nothing, really). We then walk a few blocks to find a cafe or some other Wi-Fi area with hot drinks. Unfortunately, Starbucks fits the bill and we grab a coffee and check email. Afterwards, we head back to the Mint to see if we get in. We do! Our stand-by tickets work, and in fact every stand-by gets in. Since the tour is free, I expect that many people who sign up online neglect to cancel their reservations if need be. We are let in and led through a metal detector. Our wallet, keys, and watch qualify as acceptable and we make our way to the waiting area. The tour starts and is conducted by a gentleman who is competent. He tries to be funny which results in more groans than laughs, but he does seem to know his stuff as he tells us about the Mint. Unfortunately, the Mint is not minting today so we walk through watching the employees clean and polish the equipment. The need for minting coins is based on the economy, so, since March there have only been about 15 minting days. It's fine, we get the history of the Mint and learn about minting coinage (no paper money is made in a Mint (that’s done in D.C.) only coins) and he tells us about future coin series', like the state park quarters and U.S. president dollars. The tour lasts a half hour and was good...for free. We agree that it would not have been worth it to have paid for the tour. Afterwards, we jump in the car and head to Boulder (about 25 minutes away) to go to the Celestial Seasonings Tea factory (located on Sleepytime Drive no less). We sign up for the free tour and wait in the lobby for our tour to leave. There are teas to sample while you wait and the obligatory gift shop to spend money in. I take the time to update my journal and wait to be called. The "tickets" for this tour are actually bags of tea. We are in the Raspberry Zinger tour group which starts out with a film presentation. The film just goes through the history of the company, which looks like it was an independent company for many years until it was bought by a big corporation. Sounded to me like when the independent Ben and Jerry's got bought by Unilever. The film concludes with the safety rules of the factory. This is one of the only tours that I know of where you are taken right on to the work floor. Because of this, we are all issues hair and beard nets and told not to touch anything. They take us through the stops and the guide explains what we are looking at and answers questions. He is not as entertaining as the Mint guide, but does the job. The first stop in the factory is the milling room where they process flavoring. Today they are sifting cinnamon and it smells nice. Tomorrow, they may process vanilla or other ingredients. Next is the tea room. Tea is very absorbent, so they keep it in its own room until needed. Next is the mint room where the store the peppermint and spearmint. The smell is overwhelming as if you inhaled directly from a bottle of mint extract. Then we walk through the area with the packaging machines and watch the boxes get filled and sealed and boxed for shipping. The last stop, of course, is the gift shop. You can buy every flavor of tea they make here, some of which are not available in some stores. A store may sell several of the 100+ flavors, but not all of them at the same time. The tour only lasts 30 minutes after the 15 minute film. It is now, 3:00pm. We will head back to Denver and meet up with Jim to go to the show. Before heading back into Denver, we ask for a decent place to get a bite and are turned on to the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery in downtown Boulder. This place has a good selection of local drafts and a great sense of humor. If the food is decent, I would recommend this place for sure. The concept here is that every employee can and does do every job, from cooking to serving to managing. The manager got me napkins and the cook served my food. An interesting concept. There is also a wall with customer comment cards and the brewery’s response to the comments. They are pretty funny. Food is here...the consensus is that this is a good place. Not the best, but I like the philosophy and love the people, so I would recommend this as a food stop if you are in the area. Not worth a specific drive from Denver, but absolutely if you are in the Boulder area- to support the local business if nothing else. I get an 8 oz Bitburger pilsner and a spicy chicken wrap with salad. The wrap is good, but thought it needed more cheese and could have stood to be a little spicier, given the name. El orders a basket of fries that I eat a few of. Hand cut fresh fries with a little malt vinegar. Nice. We are heading back to Denver now. We drive right to pick up Jim and head to the concert. He has never been to Fiddler’s Green and there is a possibility that I may meet up with a friend who is going to the show, so we leave as soon as we can. It turns out Fiddler's Green is about six miles from their house and we are there in good time. It is closer to 5:30 now and we have plenty of time to park and get to our seats. As we leave the car we grab our sweatshirts and little else. The rain clouds are looming, but I assure everyone that our seats are close enough that we will not need to lug rain gear since I have been to amphitheaters like this before and we will surely be seated under a pavilion. We get through the gates in no time and go to find our seats. Of course, I was wrong. No pavilion at all. Every seat is under the stars. We look to see the clouds continue to roll in. There are hawkers offering up rain ponchos for $5 which will no doubt go to $15 once the rain actually starts. We choose to be optimistic and do not make the purchase. El offers to see if the gate people will let her run back to the car to get our rain gear, but they decline. We are forced to see how the night unfolds naturally. The first band of the evening is Street Sweeper Social Club- a band I was not familiar with. When they hit the stage at 6:30pm exactly, they introduced themselves and I am reminded that this is Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine's new band. They blast through a 30 minute set that by all accounts was pretty decent. The crowd was into it, the band was into it, the songs were good and they were tight. I would actually go see them again if they play closer to home. Next up I expect Jane’s Addiction, wrong again. In the bright light of late afternoon reminiscent of the Lollapalooza experience that was the last time I saw these two bands on the same stage, the indistinct notes leading to the in-your-face intro of Pinion ushers Nine Inch Nails on to the stage. Trent Reznor has always been a man of few words. Pausing only a couple of times to thank the audience for their support, band intros and the night’s obligatory chastisement of the Denver Nuggets. At one point he said he would shut up just to be able to cram as many tunes into the time allotted. And that they did. Whipping through a virtually non-stop set that sounded more like something from the breakthrough 1994-95 tour and less like the mildly disappointing set of the summer of 2007. They just ran through song after song and there was no way any pre-superstardom fan of Nine Inch Nails could have been disappointed. They sounded great. The song selection was excellent. And the band was very competent. What more could you ask for? They took a 30 second exit from the stage, presumably to towel off and change guitars before the encore, before coming back to wrap up the 94 minute "opening" slot. Nine Inch Nails: Pinion/Wish/Last/Heresy/March Of The Pigs/Something I Can Never Have/Metal (Gary Numan cover)/Reptile/Burn/Gave Up/Non-Entity/The Way Out Is Through/Mr. Self Destruct/Survivalism/Suck/Dead Souls (Joy Division cover)/The Day The World Went Away/Hurt/The Hand That Feeds/Head Like A Hole. At this point we are relieved to see the skies have cleared and it looks like we are in the rein clear for the night. As the skies clear, though, so goes the warmth. We are very happy to have made the decision to bring the sweatshirts. All efforts to connect with the friend who was at the show fail and we just wait patiently for the main act to hit the stage. I had seen some setlists from previous shows and sort of knew what to expect. I knew, but did not hold out much hope for the opening song of “Three Days”. A great song, but I did not see how it would work as an opener. We stand in the chilly Denver evening awaiting the answer of whether it would work or not. About 9:15 we get our answer. It did, in a strange way. I think back to other times I had seen Jane's and they never did open with pyros and flash, they were always about setting the mood and this song certainly sets a mood. It comes on very low key and works itself into a frenzy by the end of the 10m48s. The show sound is great as with the other bands. The bands performance is fantastic. Perry's voice is in top form and everyone else played it perfectly. This tour marks the return off Eric Avery on bass. The first since 1991. They all make the songs sound as good as they did back then. Beside the updated hair styles, they really haven’t changed much since then in terms of the show. In the late 80's, Perry's rants were legendary, some in terms of content, some for length, and some for their lack of cohesiveness. By the early 90's, they had become less legendary in favor of moving the song and the show along. Tonight, we get a smidge of the early days, nothing classic, but the Denver Nuggets jabs (who are in a playoff against Los Angeles this week) and the local beer make for good banter. Although their set only lasts about 80 minutes, they too pack in everything they needed to play. Sure, I could have listened to hours more, but some things never change. The 1991 tour was generally, 75-80 minute shows and with tonight’s setlist ripped directly from that era, it was to be expected. Jane's Addiction: Three Days/Whores/Ain't No Right/Pigs In Zen/...Then She Did/Mountain Song/Had A Dad/Ted, Just Admit It/Been Caught Stealin'/Ocean Size/Summertime Rolls/Stop/Jane Says. This tour and this show in particular was the sole impetus for El and I to make this trip to Denver and in every way we are glad it did. Having seen the setlist of previous shows, I was pretty sure what the last song of the night would be. During it, we made our way out of our seats and headed to the exit. The show ended around 10:30. As soon as the last notes rang, we hustled to the car and were on the highway minutes later. A great getaway if I do say so myself. We dropped Jim off at his house and said our final goodbyes. El and I then headed back to Amanda and Brian's. On the drive I remarked that at some point on this drive I was going to need fuel, food, and a restroom. The plan is to stop at food, use the facility, and then get gas afterwards or even tomorrow on the way to drop off the rental. Sadly, the gas light comes on and I need to find gas first. But at this hour almost everything is closed. We eventually find the gas station and do my other business. Now comes the challenge of trying to find a place that is not McDonalds, where I can get something to eat. First attempt is an aborted trip to Sonic that takes us back towards where we just came from. We make our first stop, at a Dairy Queen that has lights on and employees inside, but closed just 10 minutes earlier. Next stop, closed altogether, even though it looks open. Geez, it is only 11:15 on a Tuesday. Next stop is a bistro and pub. Sign says open until 2:30am, with customers inside, all good signs. We go in and are informed that they have already called last call and that the kitchen closed hours ago. So much for that one. The waitress points us in the direction of a few places that may help us. We drive to the first one called the American Pub. With a parking lot full of cars, the door specifically states that the kitchen is open only until 11:00pm. Next, is a sports bar and when we go in the bartender tells us the cook just left. I am now so frustrated I contemplate just calling it a night and heading back to Amanda's. El sees one more place and says that should be our last try. After literally getting lost in a parking lot (it was like a maze, complete with dead ends!) we pull up to a place called Boston: The Gourmet Pizza. We go in and ask if we can get food. "Of course" was their reply! I am thrilled and I think El is just happy to not be driving around this city at midnight looking for food any longer. Anyway, we order a beer, a basket of chips and queso, a small whole wheat crust Hawaiian pizza. The whole thing hits the spot and I am quite content. We head back to Amanda’s and call it a night.

Observation: In Boulder there do not seem to be any crosswalk lights (at least where we are). The traffic is just instructed by state law to stop for pedestrians. This feels odd as a pedestrian as you wait for the one car to pass before crossing, but at the same time the driver is stopping for you. This adds a new element to driving in an unfamiliar area where you are trying to read signs and avoid pedestrians at the same time. Luckily I didn't drive there much.

Wednesday 5/27/09

Today is our departure day from Denver. Our flight leaves around 3:00pm, but with our drive to the airport, return of the rental car, and standard airport checking-in process, we allowed several hours from house to gate. The drive is quicker than I thought it would be, the car return is quicker than I thought it would be, the shuttle is quicker than I thought it would be, and check-in and security check are quicker than I thought they would be. We arrive to find our plane is delayed by about a half hour, giving us a few hours to kill in the airport. Better safe than sorry of course, so I would do the same plan again if given the same circumstances. El and I, knowing we will have no time to get food in Chicago if we are able to make our plane, decide to grab some lunch here. We weigh the options and settle on the Mile High Grille. I get a Reuben sandwich with a salad and a beer. The whole lunch for two comes to about $30, which, I think, is reasonable for an airport. The food is decent enough and we head back to the gate for boarding. We hope to make our connector in Chicago bound for Albany. We have a scheduled flight from Chicago at 7:05pm. We land from Denver at 6:40. A little late, but not enough to cause worry. The captain makes an announcement for the passengers who have Chicago as their final destination to please remain on board and let those with connections off first. We take advantage of this and as the plane arrives at the gate, we get ready for the line to start moving. After several minutes, oddly, it looks as if no one has made any progress towards the door. At about 6:50 the captain comes on again to tell us that the jetway is broken and cannot be hooked up to the plane to get people off. Now I start to worry a little since I think I remember that gates usually close 10 minutes prior to take off, so at 6:55 if the plane is on time, it should be closed. Also, at this point we don't even know our gate number, so we need to find a departure screen, get our gate number, orient ourselves to get to the gate etc. The jetway gets repaired and we disembark at 7:03. We find the departure board that tells us that the gate is C31 and that the gate has closed. Our only options are to go to the gate to see if we can get on the next flight at 8:55pm or go to the United counter to get rebooked. I opt for the gate, just on the slight chance they are aware we have landed and are holding the plane for us. As is always the case it seems, C31 is the farthest gate in this terminal. El and I are in running mode and get to the gate as fast as we could (a la OJ Simpson in the Hertz commercial). Contrary to the screen we get to the gate and the doors have not closed yet. With no time for small talk to find out if they are just running late or if they knew to wait for us, we are assigned new seats and are able to board the plane. Once on, we are fine. People are still putting stuff in the overheads and taking their seats. Unfortunately, our new seats are not together, but fortunately we are on the plane and are thankful for that. I wonder if our luggage will make it. Ironically, due to high volume air traffic our plane does not take off until close to 8:00, putting us 55 minutes behind schedule. At least we made it and the run didn't hurt me too much. The flight itself is uneventful and we should arrive in Albany around 10:30 tonight.

In conclusion:

Jim and Jenn at Red Rocks

Wyat Stephens and I with a T Rex jawbone

I cannot ever recall anyone saying a bad word about Denver...and more often it is in the context of people's favorite places. After being out here a few days, I asked our hosts what they thought of the city. Some are in the "love it" group and some are in the "it's OK" group. My observations, some of which may have had seeds planted by said hosts, are that I understand the weather is really good (we had some rain every day, but are repeatedly assured this is a freak anomaly). I did notice that the air quality seems really good, especially in the non-downtown areas like Morrison, Boulder, and Colorado Springs that we visited. This city is proof that urban sprawl is alive and well. The amount of new housing construction reminds me of an early 1990's Las Vegas. The city does not feel congested which was an observation I made when comparing it to my experience living in Dallas, Texas, a very congested city. At least it seems like the urban planners are taking the traffic into consideration and making it easy for people to get around. This makes for a more tolerable commute and contributes to a more positive look of the city. There are bike lanes on almost every road we saw, which is a good thing. It looks like Denver has a lot of redeeming qualities, but I think our love for New York City makes entertaining the idea of moving to Denver impossible. I think I will just enjoy hearing why other people like it, rather than trying to come up with my own reasons. El and I are lucky to have so many great family and friends in our lives. Not only in Colorado, but everywhere. This trip to Denver reconnected us with some of those people that we love dearly, but see far too infrequently. We have been saying for years that we would make it out here one day and the concert last night was the catalyst for this trip. If that hadn't been scheduled, or if the tour was announced to play at Saratoga or some other closer venue, we might still be saying we will make it someday. I think we spent some good, quality time with all of our hosts, saw everything we wanted to see, and stuff we didn't even know was there. As we leave Denver, I am confident that we did everything we needed to do. Would I return? Sure, the next time Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails play at Fiddler’s Green. Otherwise, I think we can both cross Denver off of our list of places we need to go.