Boulder, CO – Day 1 (Friday, May 13, 2016)

A Different Kind of Suburbia

The flight to Denver International Airport (DEN) was relatively uneventful compared to other flights. It being a Friday evening, I anticipated a throng of end-of-the-week long distance commuters, but Dulles International Airport (IAD) wasn’t particularly any busier than usual. This was a welcome surprise given the TSA’s recent bad press about long security lines and missing out on the complimentary “random pat down search” I receive almost every time I fly (though the TSA accommodated me for my return flight). The only significant notes about my flight were 1) I was snuggled between two older passengers – a very tense woman who looked as though she might have a mid-flight aneurism and a perpetually-shifting man who didn’t bring anything to keep him occupied, and 2) though the plane offered entertainment, none of it was free, forcing anyone too cheap or broke to “enjoy” a repeating one-hour loop of a mildly-funny New Girl episode, GoPro infomercials and a reality show about an Alaskan outback hick family that made Sarah Palin’s clan look like a Rhode Scholars by comparison.

I was on an evening flight, so I couldn’t really take in and feel out the Denver metropolitan area or Boulder during daylight hours (my preference at new destinations). I landed around 10:00 PM, so the basic-services-shut-down-for-the-evening state of the airport left me to my own devices for finding baggage claim and the rental car facilities (the flight was jam-packed, with flight attendants “volunteering” passengers to claim their carry-ons – I was hoping to avoid this). Deciding that the absent rental car counters and vague direction signs were useless, I sought a little advice from an information desk attendant, who had no qualms with expressing her acute annoyance of my taking her away from filing nails and texting whomever. May was unusually chilly this year, and probably one of the more recent Springs where enough people were still wearing jackets and sweatshirts to mistake it being closer to Thanksgiving than Memorial Day. Tired, hungry and anxious to get up to Boulder on this dark and stormy windy and rainy night, finding the correct car rental shuttle bus and arriving at the registration annex felt like a much greater achievement than it probably was.

As a former child of East Coast suburbia, I’m accustomed to metropolitan areas being…metropolitan. Looking at the Washington, DC area on Google maps, it’s nearly impossible to tell where one suburban town ends and another begins. Driving around Denver’s beltway (E-470) the only way of knowing I was near a major U.S. city was glancing over to the left and seeing city lights on the horizon. Whereas driving around DC’s I-495 Capital Beltway means a constant, seamless urban sprawl of bedroom communities and town centers, Denver’s commuter interstate could’ve been in the middle of nowhere. Each town I passed was a solitary, illuminated island in a sea of darkened prairie.

A Brief Encounter 20 Years in the Making

I underestimated how long it would take to exit the airport and motor over to Boulder (roughly 30 to 40 minutes), so I didn’t arrive at the hotel until shortly after 11:00 PM. My room was unusually large and complete with a kitchenette and a…cooler? Granted, hunting and fishing are favorite past times out here and you can’t throw a stick without hitting a craft brewery, but I never checked into a hotel with a cooler ready and waiting for me (or else there’s a thriving organ trafficking black market in the great Southwest).

Stay classy, Boulder.

I texted the gang and Alex responded that they were finishing up a meal at the nearby Ted’s Montana Grill, just up the road in downtown Boulder. Hungry and anxious to see everyone, I sped over, only to find them inside and the doors locked. Steve and one of the wait staff let me in and I joined them to catch up for a few minutes. This included an old college (Virginia Tech) friend of Keith’s, Erik’s and mine – Bryan (in fact, he was Keith’s freshman year roommate – hence, how we met him). Bryan is currently living in Colorado Springs and drove up to see us – and this was the first time he and I were in the same room in more than 20 years. We hugged and chatted for a few brief minutes as everyone settled their checks – Bryan and his wife gave birth their first baby together last year and I talked to him about my girlfriend and I expecting ours later this year. The restaurant was shutting down for the evening and everyone was tired (myself especially). Bryan parked a short way down the road and asked if I wanted to walk with them down to his car, but I was parked literally across the street and just wanted go back to my room – and more importantly, hop into bed. What I wasn’t aware of until the next day was Bryan left to drive back to Colorado Springs that same night, so our brief few minutes was all I had with him (I thought he was visiting for the weekend like the rest of us).

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