The Green Door #17
I made it out to Colorado again this year. Here are some thoughts/observations from my trip. I expected this to rather brief, it turned out to be rather lengthy.
I bought my tickets through Priceline again. Again I saved 33% off the seemingly lowest available price. Once again I go through my choice of airports both coming and going. However this time, I am not scheduled for 3+ hour layovers in Phoenix coming and going. I also get $40 added to my offer by agreeing to apply for a charge card, which I fill it out haphazardly in hopes of being denied. One credit card is enough. Since Priceline now allows you to rebid without a penalty, there is no reason to bid conservatively. I keep low bidding until I pay $25 less than I did last year. With the $40 added by the credit card people, my tickets actually cost $15 more than last year although I paid $25 less.
I download some new games off the Internet into my Palm Pilot. It's a smooth combination of organizer, planner and game boy.
Philadelphia International Airport
I arrive at the airport as suggested - one-hour early. It goes smoothly and I have time to check out changes at the airport. Philadelphia International used to be one the ugliest and most impractical airports in the US. After much work and money, it is now rather pleasant and somewhat unique. As I am wandering around, my attention is attracted to a solitary rental luggage cart labelled Smarte Carte. How smart can it be? It can't even spell correctly. Being a systems guy, I am curious what type of electronics make it smart, or smarte. There appears to be nothing electronic on board the cart. The brains must be at the dispensing unit.
The most frustrating part of traveling cross-country is trying to feed yourself. The givens are 1) you will be sedentary for about eight hours so don't want to eat too much, 2) if the flight doesn't have real food, all that will be available is unsatisfying snacks, 3) although odds are one will have a much longer layover than one wants, one cannot count on having a long enough layover to eat at the connecting airport. I ask the counter person if either of my flights will feature real food.
She checks her screen and says, "No." Forewarned, but now without enough time to search too far, I buy a burger and fries from Burger King. It actually costs more to buy a burger and fries without a soda than with. This I suspect may be due to the caliber of counter help.
In the Air somewhere between Philadelphia and Atlanta.
As expected, food service consists of a bag of snack foods. The Jargon column in Wired has a great one, Generica: The ugly architecture common to American sprawl. "We drove through two miles of Generica to reach the hotel." What a great word. Living and working in a big, old city, I manage to keep my interaction with Generica at a minimum.
Atlanta Airport - Landing
Landing, I am underwhelmed with my only glimpse of Atlanta. The Generica surrounding the airport consists of low rise hotels and office parks just like those that have sprung up outside the Philadelphia airport. It's amazing how homogenous our country has become and continues to become. Several times during this trip, I get a glimpse of what is likely in store for my hometown.
I have an hour and half layover. The connecting flight is several terminals away. The long walk would be good exercise and an effective time passer. The Atlanta airport is very large and seems to mostly date from the 1970s. The tunnel connecting the terminals is a very ugly, windowless, bunker-like, concrete construction. The terminals themselves are unremarkable, neither ugly nor attractive, both anywhere and nowhere simultaneously. A singing Russian cuts me off as I board the endless escalator. Singing Russians never sing short (or quiet) songs. I make a point to remember to ask someone who speaks Russian what all the singing is about.
On the Tarmac, Atlanta
The flight is fully booked. My seat is at the very back. A woman next to me starts asking if anyone will swap seats. Traveling solo, I don't really care, so I offer to switch. She signals her man friend and I find myself sitting at the very front of coach. I don't seek a premium for my seat and keep quiet my concerns about a relationship in which people can't spend a few hours on a plane separated.
My two pleasant seatmates are also flying solo. As usual I brought plenty of stuff to occupy me. I have the window seat allowing them to converse without too much participation from me. These types of forced, random, short-term relationships fascinate me, and usually wind up being pleasant parts of the journey. The counter person was wrong. The food is real food, a hot roast beef sandwich with cheese, not real good, but real food. It was a nice chummy flight.
Spotting a smarte carte dispenser loaded with smarte cartes, I take the opportunity to check it out. Not only can smarte carte not spell, they have no smarts. The smarte carte dispenser is merely a machine that releases a cart, or carte, when you put a dollar into it.
Qwest, a Denver based long distance company, was making a bid to acquire US West, a Baby Bell, also based in Denver. The newspaper text box gave the details of both companies. Qwest had sales of $2.9 billion and a LOSS of $0.8 Billion. US West had sales of $12.6 billion (500% more) and a profit of $1.5 billion. Guess which company had a higher market capitalization on that day. Hint: It wasn't the profitable company with higher sales.
Not far from Doug's house is a combination Dairy Queen and Nail Salon. And we in Philadelphia thought the combination doughnut shop/Chinese restaurant was strange.
Somewhere in Colorado
In the town just before the rafting place, I spot a place called Burger Time, one of my favorite video games back in the day. We have 18 minutes before the next rafting trip leaves so we hurry back over for lunch. An unpleasant family who favors lots of handwritten signs runs Burger Time. One notes: UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. In front of the counter is a three-foot high wooden shelf thing. The sole purpose of which is to hold up a chalkboard listing the daily special. The shelf thing had it's own sign, NO LEANING. While waiting for the food I was fascinated that rather than discard this purposeless and annoying piece of junk that customers kept leaning on and knocking over, they put a sign on it. The warm fuzziness I felt for their name was replaced with condescension. The food was fair. You pick up your own food and bus your own table, but that didn't prevent another sign from being posted, TIPS ACCEPTED; I passed.
Floating Down the Arkansas River
After signing the possibility of death waiver and getting the state mandated safety/scare-the-crap-out-you speech, we are floating calmly down the Arkansas River. Behind us is a big mountain, that will be the image that sticks with me when I sit in the windowless cubical in a week. Our raft has interesting, intelligent people. I've yet to meet a disagreeable Dutchman or woman; maybe the Dutch government doesn't give passports to jerks. I discover the difference between Holland and the Netherlands (Holland is the largest and wealthiest province in the Netherlands). Still no explanation why, in English, the natives are called Dutch; they seem to call themselves something like Netherlanders.
We take the guide's directions well and work the rapids effectively. Maybe next time the rapids will be fun rather than just stressful.
Besides the mental image of floating down the river looking at the big mountain, I also take home a sartorial discovery. I am very impressed with the wetsuit shoes. I decide to buy a pair when I get back to Philadelphia. They should make very warm slippers in the winter and perfect beach shoes.
Aspen is not at all as I expected it. I thought it would be some gaudy Rodeo Drive orgy of excess. It's a small town with bad beer and pleasantly strict sign laws. Stripped of their typical garish exteriors, Generica institutions Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood have even less appeal. They are like peacocks without feathers. To Doug's disappointment (although I forewarned him) I refused to eat in either of those places. One Hard Rock Café is enough for this lifetime (and I'm already one over my limit). We agree on giving a local place, Little Annie's, a try. Doug had the best pork chops ever and I had some incredible flounder. Doug is no longer disappointed at our passing over Planet Hollywood.
I did not spot any famous people or even any ordinary people that look like famous people. One notable feature is that Aspen has almost no pay phones.
We spend the night in Silverwood. The area where we are staying is basically a multilane road with numerous linked parking lots on either side. These parking lots connect various randomly plopped businesses, strip centers, and condo complexes. The short walk to a 7-11 from the hotel involves walking through four parking lots and crossing a multilane road. It left me thinking how nice a grid system of streets would be. Silverwood is ugly and a pedestrian nightmare, in short Generica. The next day, we learn that Silverwood is only 29 years old. It was built to house workers building a nearby tunnel.
These are twin towns (their downtowns abut) where gambling has been legalized. Unlike Atlantic City, which only has a handful of very large casinos, here they have dozens of small ones. Virtually every building in both towns has been turned into a casino. The rest are churches. Most of the casinos are rinky-dink, with a few big ones on the edges. I had been neutral about the legalization of casino gambling in Philadelphia. Seeing this place easily makes me an opponent. We have a good $3 steak with the added shrimp for $1.50 extra. It is all very strange, and sad.
Just as Philadelphia has billboards advertising Atlantic City, Denver has billboards for Blackhawk/Central City; one features Bill Cosby, who appears to own one of the casinos. While in Blackhawk/Central City, it doesn't occur to me to look for Bill's casino. My thoughts are of going someplace else, anywhere else.
The Coors brewery is quite a sight, huge and ugly. To tour the brewery, you hop on a free bus in the parking lot. The bus gives you a nickel tour of Golden before proceeding to the brewery. Golden looks like a nice little town, but since it was raining we don't do any pedestrian exploring.
The brewery is very impressive. The brewhouse is very similar to smaller breweries, just with more, not larger brew kettles. As big as it was, it was smaller than I was expecting. Mid tour, we were given a choice of either Original Coors or Coors Light. For some reason, Coors has decided to strongly advocate the age 21 drinking law through advertising and carding everyone under 40 at all Coors facilities. I guess since they can't advertise great taste and that Rocky Mountain water theme can only be flogged so much, spending ad dollars on such a message makes sense. At 34, I no longer keep my driver's license in an easy to remove section of my wallet. Fresh Coors is as uninteresting as canned Coors.
The later half of the tour where they process the grains and hops was quite fascinating. At the end of the tour where you are allowed three glasses of beer, I had to dig my license out again. The Extra Gold was as I remembered it, pretty good. The Killian's Red was as I remembered it, really bland. Another Coors beer didn't interest us so we passed on the third and final glass of free beer.
An Old Gold Mine outside of Colorado Springs
Our miner tour guide gives an enjoyable tour. After dreams of quick riches poured into our brains, the tour ends with an opportunity to pan the creek for gold and other minerals. Not having any idea what to look for, I lose interest quickly. An added free attraction is the old cowboy that sells tickets who has tamed some local humming birds. He is an interesting contradiction with his holstered pistol and holstered cell phone.
This is a great old town. The main street was returned to it's historical character a few years ago and is a minor tourist attraction and stop-over on the way to Vail. For lunch, we pick a non-chain place, the Buffalo Café which dates back to 1903, and I finally get to try a buffalo burger. It also has an excellent selection of Colorado microbrews on tap. They have cool bathrooms, which are painted to look with caves with cave paintings. Doug thought it was stupid, but I liked it. Turns out Doug's landlady ate there the day before. Later it turns out that Shawn ate there last time she was out in CO. Small world.
Outside Vail (also outside of Golden)
There are highway signs pointing to lookouts featuring Big Horn Sheep. I decide the phrase Big Ass Sheep is more fun. I don't see any Big Ass Sheep, or actually any wildlife except for a lone deer. Quite a difference from last year when there were elk in your face every time you turned around.
One of the Mexican restaurants has a warning sign out front. It says, "Clown Tonight 5pm - 8pm." One can only hope that someday all business will be so brutally honest.
Coors Field, Denver
This is a surprisingly large stadium, much bigger than Camden Yards in Baltimore. Coors Field is shaped as a rectangle with grandstands on three sides. Since baseball is played on a diamond shaped field this is a really strange configuration. At the Coors owned brewpub, I have to dig out my ID once again. In the dozens of bars I've been to in Colorado, the only time I have been carded was by Coors. The selection wasn't very intriguing so I tried the red beer, which was bland and uninteresting. While not as unpleasant as Veteran's Stadium, Coors Field is pretty much charm-free. Not only do the current generation of ballparks have mega luxury boxes, they also have about 500% more concession area than older ballparks. I expect the new ballparks for the Phillies and Eagles will, like other new stadiums, basically be food courts with ballfields attached.
I bought a case of Colorado beer to bring back to PA. Instead of lugging as carry-on luggage like I did last year, I boldly decide to send it through baggage handling. I pack some newspapers in it and seal it with an entire roll of duct tape. The anticipated breakage of 1 or 2 bottles will be an acceptable loss.
While searching for duct tape, our curiosity draws us into something called H2O Depot. Not believing that it could possibly be a store that sells water, we investigate. There is one guy working there. It's their third store in the chain. The chain puts tap water through a multi-step filtration process. In addition to selling 5 gallon and smaller containers of water, they were in the process of setting up a cyber water bar. We are given samples, which taste like cold water. We give polite praise. In addition to straight chilled water, they have syrups, and fountain soda that uses the processed water.
The manager/minority-owner thinks it is a good long term business because as the Earth's population grows, water will be rarer. I don't point out the obvious that as water gets rarer, there would be less of it for them to sell. According to him, some people travel an hour to buy their water there. He gets talking about the various sizes and prices and how the 10 gallon size was incorrectly priced compared to the 15 gallon jug and how one could save $1,800 a year buying the larger size. I don't tell him that tap water is less than a penny a gallon. The nicest thing I can think to say is "One can never underestimate the stupidity of the American public. You have good reason to expect this to be a minor success." I don't say it. We leave him alone again with his water and his wet dreams.
Yes the infamous Littleton. We don't pass the high school, which doesn't interest me anyway. Littleton mostly consists of gated communities, busy surface roads and shopping centers. All of the gated communities have signs announcing they are covenant controlled, voluntary mandated bland conformity. What a difficult place to be a kid.
Due to weather problems, the incoming flight bringing the stewardesses for our flight is an hour late, pushing our flight back an hour and a half. I ask the person at the Delta counter if they will be serving real food on the flight. If not, this would a great opportunity to get some in the airport. He points to Delta Sky Deli bags sitting at the gate. To me the word Deli implies meat, especially meat filled sandwich. I decide to wait to eat. Ninety minutes later we each grab a Sky Deli bag as we board. No sandwich. I must remember never to go to a deli in Atlanta, Delta's hometown.
In the Air from Atlanta to Philadelphia
My seat is in the very back on a mostly full flight. I have the aisle seat. A business-suited blonde woman has the middle seat. The window seat is empty. As I take my seat, she gives me a how-dare-you-share-this-row-with-me vibe. After finding no reason for her attitude, I suppress my desire to say "Chill out bitch." When it becomes obvious that we would be the only two sharing our row, instead of moving to the window seat, she stays in the middle seat with her back to me the entire flight. Not only is she miserable, she's an idiot as well. Out of the four flights, she is the only asshole. I'm glad I'm not her.
The beer arrived with all 24 bottles intact.
Philadelphia - One Month Later
The credit card company sends me six (6) rejection letters, identical but with different case numbers. I guess I filled it in too well. I call up for my free credit report.
The Green Dooris a mostly monthly zine published by Scoats. E-mail: scoats at greylodge dot com. (c) Scoats 1999. All rights reserved. Most wrongs unintentional. Reproduction permitted as long as it accompanied by this entire paragraph. If you do reprint something, please let me know.
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Last updated on 08 January 2003.
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