Homeward Bound: Charlie & the Redheaded Stepchild

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Saturday, October 15, 2011

In a small college town, the differences between closing time on a Saturday night and 9 AM the following morning are astounding.  Overnight, some great alien race (perhaps called Alcoholians or Ganjites) completely eradicates all that was existing and replaces it a anew.  The smells are different, the sights are different, as are the sounds and, of course, the inhabitants.  Where hours earlier dozens of swaying, noisy, alcohol and hormone fueled bodies poured out of narrow doors in obscure recesses, there are now quaint sidewalks and sapling trees with colorful flowers deliberately planted amongst their roots.  Where there were empty buildings and dark, uninviting windows there are now delightful tables, cheery townspeople, and the smells of fried eggs, greasy bacon and fresh baked goods.  Where there was a tipsy student waving a cigarette and looking to get laid, shamelessly uttering phrases at every female passing by - most of whom ignored his plea, there is now a middle aged man robed in rags and a knotted beard flying a cardboard sign, hoping to get a dollar, shamefully averting his eyes from any passerby.  The only similarity is that his plea, too, is mostly ignored.

He must have been cold sitting in the shadows, for even being in constant movement and frequent sunshine my skin was chilled by the autumn air.  I passed him on my walk to the coffee shop at the end of the main drag and read his sad sign that spelled out "Trying to get home to family".  Though I did not completely ignore him, neither did I take the time to engage with him.  On my return, I decided that I would offer him a ride as far as Denver.  It was a long drive and I could use the company, anyway.  "Where you tryin to get to?"  "Houston," he said.  "Well shit.  I'm leaving in a few minutes for Denver and was gonna offer you a ride, but I guess that doesn't help you much, does it?"  He chuckled in agreement, "No, it sure doesn't!"  Ron.  I could immediately tell that he was a kind man.  He had been stuck in Lawrence for a short while, trying to raise enough money for bus fare to Texas.  I gave him a few dollars to help remedy his situation and wished him well with a firm handshake.  He beamed with appreciation.  Often it seems that looking in to a man's eyes, asking his name, and treating him like an actual human being and not some festery plague can do as much or more good to his spirit and predicament than anything else.  Sometimes (really - all the time) we are no different than Charlie Brown's Christmas tree - all we need is a little love.

Though I had never done it before, I'd heard horror stories about driving across Kansas and had been dreading this stretch of my journey for months.  "It's just so flat and there's nothing to look at and you don't turn for hours!"  To my surprise, and to that of everyone I told my experiences to, I quite enjoyed it!  The road was not nearly as flat nor straight as I had expected.  I was expecting literally hours of driving with not a single turn.  Yes, there were stretches of a good 20 or 30 minutes with no turns, but I have made drives through the barren, dry deserts of Nevada that make them look like a walk in the park.  And true, there was not a whole lot to look at, but having completely unobstructed vision from the horizon far off toward Mexico, one hundred and eighty degrees completely up and over my head, all the way toward Canada was something I had never experienced before.  I found myself looking closely, attempting to see the curvature of the earth's crust.  Pure, true, complete, honest flatland.  (Nebraska came close, but it was either dark or I was half delusional for that stretch).  Like a father opening his arms wide to welcome home his prodigal son.

The further west and the closer to Colorado, the straighter and flatter the roads became, leaving me a little less ecstatic about the new experience.  Another observation is that the country dries out somewhere in Kansas.  The eastern side was still green and lush (at least for my western standards), but the grasslands had turned to all but tinder as the state border approached.

I honked my horn jubilantly as I crossed in to the great rectangle.  My six years in Colorado had always been spent in or near the mountains - Boulder, Denver, Estes Park, and Avon.  Though I had never been to the eastern third of the state - the flat third - I presumably despised it.  "Who would want to go to Fort Morgan or Lamar or Limon?  There is nothing there but grass and decrepit windmills."  On the lines of being racist, sexist, or ageist, I suppose I was geographyist - prejudice about something that I did not even know or understand.  Eastern Colorado, I found, is like the redheaded stepchild - forgotten, abandoned, despised, yet embodying a beauty and magic of her own that the mountains, though magical and majestic and powerful in their own right, simply do not have.  I found her lovely (perhaps because I have a weak spot for redheads... especially feisty ones with big noses and tattoos - know any?)

With only three hours and less than 200 miles till Denver (come on clutch!) I was giddy with excitement!  The redhead continuously impressed and charmed me with her alluring elegance - the vast, cerulean blue sky, rich golden dried country grasses stretching for endless miles, bursts of yellow and orange islands of trees, touched by winter as she crept down from the mountains and into the central plains.  Lone farmsteads plotted here and there, surreal and picturesque in the midst of the surrounding masterpiece.  Around Limon, the first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains came into view - Pike's Peak.  More frenzied honking of the horn.  Each minute drew me closer to the Front Range, every mile sending them a little higher and making them a little more real.  When the entire range was in view, though still at a distance, the mountains were the exact same shade of blue as the sky.  Were it not for the clouds between them, they would have simply blended and disappeared into the heavens, giving the illusion that in my time away they had fallen away or eroded into the earth.

Before I knew it I was passing the exit to Pena Boulevard and DIA.  From here on, it was all familiar territory!  More honking ensued.  Though only a Saturday afternoon, I25 was a parking lot (no big surprise to any who know it) and I was concerned for the health of my clutch.  Not now, not with only a few miles to go!  I exited early to take the back way down Federal Blvd, which was torn up from construction (also not a surprise to Denver residents) and encountered more stop and go traffic, so I took even more back roads through the residential area.  I eventually turned on to Alaska Place, pulled in the driveway, up the small rise, killed the ignition, took a deep breath as if I hadn't breathed in months, and let out a sigh that could have relieved the world of all her cares.  Content and at peace with and within my faithful companion, the corners of my mouth slightly turned upward into a canny smile.

We made it.



For anyone who is still following these posts, first of all - thank you!  You are amazing and it means so much that you have been on this journey with me.  I will only have one or two more entries (I think!) in which I will wrap things up and write down some stats and final thoughts.  If there's anything you would like to know (like favorite place, best meal, failed pick up lines, number of this, worst that, whatever), please make a comment below and I'll do my best to fill you in.  Stay tuned.
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Dan on

Favorite place? Will you go back there or somewhere new?

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