One of my favorite pastimes, outside of plotting what to eat next and furtively watching my neighbors from my windows, is sorting out what exactly makes a given place different from other places. There’s climate and topography, sure, but there’s also dialect, food, culture, and retail. During our UK trip I was so excited to go into a Tesco for the first time that I still have the plastic shopping bags, which uhhhh is probably more enthusiasm for different experiences than strictly necessary.
Let’s not talk about what I did the first time I saw a Piggly-Wiggly.
Since moving to Colorado I’ve been trying to get a handle on the local flavor; what makes this region unique. I have to admit I haven’t yet fully figured it out. It seems so obvious with other places I’ve lived. I can easily recite, for example, a roll call of Michigan-centric delights such as Hockeytown references, party stores, cabins “up north,” paczki, pasties, Coney Islands, and Friday fish frys.
But here, I don’t know. The roots seem murky. Or maybe it’s just that it’s many roots all tangled together. Denver is somehow Midwest, Plains, and Mountain West without quite being any of them. It’s a city that manages to feel both urban and small town. It’s also a city that manages to feel more cowboy “old west” to me than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and that damned oversize statue of the bronco with burning red eyes that stands outside the airport doesn’t help.
I may not know exactly what makes Denver “Denver” yet, but I’ve put together a list of what makes it different, at least to me.
A sporting life
Having never lived in a city with an NFL team I have no useful measuring stick, here, but: Denverites seem fanatical about their football. On game day everyone from animals to the elderly are out wearing Broncos jerseys. It wasn’t enough that the contractors we hired to help remodel the house were proud season ticket holders, so they went out and got tattoos, too. In case I have forgotten that football exists during the day I am reminded at night when I catch a glimpse out my bedroom window of the tower lights downtown, which have burned a steady Broncos orange since the playoffs began.
There’s something about brick
California has few brick buildings because earthquakes. But where the Golden State is slacking, the Centennial State more than picks it up. Denver is a veritable brick paradise. A brick smorgasbord, if you will. Oh I will, and I do, sir. Up until this point of my life brick has only been something I see on the east coast or in the Pacific northwest, so imagine my cognitive dissonance every time I go out for a run and everything is awash in warm rusty red tones. My eyes make me think I’m on vacation! Then I go home and do work, and they cry.
Even my house is made of out brick! I don’t recognize my life anymore.
An altitude problem
How many stoners in Denver have turned to their buddies, broken into slow grins, and said: “Dude, man, we’re a mile HIGH right now.” All of them, apparently, because every smoke shop is named “Mile High.” Actually, everything from churches to stadiums to car dealerships to bakeries are named “Mile High.” Somehow people still know where to find things? Not sure how they manage.
Some facts about my altitude experience:
- I haven’t noticed a difference in how quickly my water boils.
- I haven’t noticed a difference in my baking.
- I am noticeably more thirsty.
- I acclimated quickly to exercise here, but when I go back to lower elevations I’m disappointed that it still feels like running and not, say, lying on a couch sipping a mimosa and softly chortling at a joke you just thought of.
- Sometimes I wonder if less oxygen to my brain has made me dumber? But then I get distracted by a blank spot on the wall and stop thinking about it.
If you are the kind of person who is interested in Instagramming yourself at exactly one mile above sea level, note that the 13th step of the Colorado State Capitol building is exactly the right height.
Dry, it isn’t just for names of PJ Harvey songs anymore
It’s dry here. It is so dry. I know you want to tell me a story about one time when you went to some desert place and it felt dry and I am about to silence you with a finger on your lips. No. That wasn’t dry. What you thought was dry was actually something more like a crotch in a pair of lederhosen on a summer’s day. No. I’m sorry, but that wasn’t at all dry.
Yesterday I glanced at an air molecule from across the room and my knuckles started bleeding. I know dry.
There are so many churches here. SO MANY. CHURCHES. In my neighborhood there’s a different church on every block. Sometimes two. They range from popular assemblies housed in stately stone and glass to shakily hand-painted signs on what looks like a crumbling windowless garage (“Holy Ghost Gospel Bible Church of the Emmanuel John Paul Jehovah + Brimstone BBQ Jerk Chicken”).
Yeah, in Denver you can have a church on every corner, but a market that sells both booze and food has to keep them in separate rooms with separate entrances because apparently booze is a bad influence on food? Or something. On the other hand, here in Denver there’s also a brewery-slash-distillery on every other corner, so. I guess Coloradans just like to cover all their bases.
One person per sidewalk, please
Now that I live in the city this is almost a non-issue, but when we were living in the suburbs we noticed that the sidewalks were REALLY SKINNY. I thought two people abreast was a pretty standard sidewalk width, and then I came here and had my damn fool mind blown. When the beau and I tried to go on runs together someone either had to trail behind or limp along in the gutter, dodging parked cars. Why? I was baffled then, and I remain so now.
Like any other state which has experienced a population surge due to the misfortune of being ranked on a “Top Places to Live in the US” list, the folks who were born and raised here like to mark themselves as the chosen ones with strategically-placed “NATIVE” stickers. I sometimes feel bad admitting to a Coloradan that I’m one of the foreigners who rolled up in a moving truck to tromp all over their beautiful lands, from CALIFORNIA no less. Ask Oregon, they know all about stupid entitled ex-Californians ruining their 55-mph-limit roadways with dangerous 60-mph-plus driving. But then I remember that I was not a native of California, either, and that I’ve never actually been a native of anywhere. Perpetual leeching is my thing and always will be, I guess.
Wither the produce
No joke, back in California they had banned any food with sugar, salt, “bad” fats, GMOs, “slightly suspicious” fats, calories, and flavor (this is totally a joke). In California every grocery store is just one single aisle of celery, kale, and dried seaweed, lit by an a lone Edison light and presided over by a stern white-robed blond woman named Mother Emily. You had to sneak around to the back alley, knock slow four times and fast three times, and ask for Hector just to get your tofu and hemp milk fix. Once I was spotted by five-o and I had to drop the contraband and run, jumping fences, and I ended up in Tom Cruise’s backyard — well, I’m getting off track. Let’s just say I was shell-shocked the first time I walked into a grocery in Colorado and Cheetos started raining from the ceiling. A smiling clerk thrust a stack of boxed frozen pizza rolls in my arms and a powdered donut in my mouth and the next thing I remember is waking up the next day at home, head pounding, covered in Velveeta cheese and crumbled Mother’s pink and white circus animal cookies.
For real though, you go into a chain supermarket here and the “organic” section is one withered zucchini. Also, I tried to go to a farmers’ market last summer and it was 90% food trucks? I appreciate an artisan grilled PB&J as much as the next lady but I am just kind of at a loss for where to get local produce or, I mean, if they even have any here? They probably don’t. Living at the epicenter of agriculture spoiled me for other states forever. It’s like a WHOLE NEW FOOD WORLD out here in the old cowboy west.
That’s Emperor Supes to you
Speaking of new food worlds, I think Colorado’s regional chain supermarket takes the “weirdest name” prize. Are you ready? King Soopers. King! Soopers! What the fuck is thaaaaat! One of the beau’s bosses unwittingly calls it King Scoopers, so my pet name for this store is Pooper Scoopers, which I’m sure would thrill their marketing team immensely.
No really, my new aesthetician is from Wisconsin
Since I’m still going on about food, a good hint that Colorado is Midwest Redux is the ready stock of cheese curds and saurkraut in the grocery stores. Oh and outside of Denver, most of the state calls carbonated sugar water “pop,” not soda. SO CUTE. It’s like going back home to visit family except with fewer questions about my life choices.
So what’s different in your city or state?