I gave Houston a shot. A hell of a shot.
I moved back home to Houston three years ago, which in itself was a difficult enough decision, as the previous eighteen and a half years I had dwelled in its suburbs were, well, nothing to write home about. But I’d finished grad school, my then-girlfriend had accepted a four-month gig on a cruise ship, and I wasn't making enough money at my dead-end, $8 per hour library job in the Austin suburbs to justify staying.
Six weeks and several cat videos later, I found a full-time library job in an altogether different suburb than the ones I’d grown up in, signed a six month lease at the apartment complex immediately across the street, finished Infinite Jest, made a couple more cat videos, et cetera. My then-girlfriend moved in and shortly thereafter became my then-fiancé. We got a second cat. She found a job on the exact other side of the county, and we moved into the city to even out our commutes a bit — cutting hers in half, and making mine approximately thirty times longer.
As fate would have it, we fell in love with the city. Restaurants, coffee shops, museums, food trucks, bars, and tennis courts all within walking distance of our reasonably priced garage apartment. We were particularly drawn to the mobile community. There were periods where we’d eat at a different food truck every day of the week. We became so inspired that we decided to start up our own mobile enterprise – a bookmobile, purveyor of food for thought. We decided on a name (The Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library) ran a crowdfunding campaign, spent that and some of our savings on traveling to Ohio to purchase the truck and driving it back, and had our Grand Opening in February of 2013.
We moved into a house in a new neighborhood with a driveway long enough to store the bookmobile. I moved to a position as a part-time Reference Librarian in order to focus more on our venture. My then-fiancé became my now-wife. Our food truck friends started giving us free food. Our cats stopped having fleas. Things were going pretty well.
But lately, or maybe gradually, I’ve been experiencing something of a falling out with Houston. Part of it has got to be career-related. Underemployment. In the three-plus years I’ve lived here since finishing grad school, I have yet to find full-time work that requires my Master’s degree. There are plenty of studies that’ll tell you that Houston is thriving in all kinds of ways, and they’re right. But that doesn’t really help me find what I’m looking for here.
Things started showing through the cracks. Like how nobody uses a turn signal. Or how summer in Houston is basically a five month long sauna. And how every other national news story is about some horrifying, tragic murder in the Houston suburbs. And since when does it rain every single Sunday? And why the hell are there so many cockroaches?
Life had reached a sort of level of peak monotony. We were both bored with our jobs. We’d committed the vast majority of our previous seventy-five weekends to the bookmobile, having never properly honeymooned, and I’d come to accept the fact that the BPTL would never turn into a full-time gig. I’d written about six pages of that book of short stories I’d intended to write. We’d finally finished The West Wing.
We really had no choice but to go to Denver.
Denver had been on the radar for a while. Several months ago, I applied for what I might call my “dream job” (or anyway, that’s how I described it in the cover letter) — coordinator of a brand new outreach program for a county library which, among other things, involved driving a bookmobile around Denver. Not entirely surprisingly, I was granted a phone interview. And not entirely surprisingly, I bombed that phone interview, to the extent that I am still, to this day, embarrassed when I think about it. Least surprising of all, I did not hear back from them.
I applied for that job on a whim (because bookmobile) without, I think, being mentally invested in the process – the phone interview, the in-person interview, the traveling to Denver for the in-person interview, the moving to Denver once I got the job, the telling my family I moved to Denver after the fact, et cetera. That isn’t to say I would have gotten the job if I had been mentally invested, but it almost certainly would have helped.
This failure, and the malaise that surrounded it, made Denver somehow more real to me, and more necessary. I took those faint, twenty-year old memories of vacationing in Denver with my folks at age eight and ran with them. In the weeks leading up to our trip, I researched the neighborhoods and restaurants and food trucks and museums and libraries and bookstores and markets and breweries and dispensaries (!) of Denver. I’d developed such an idealized vision of Denver that by the time we got to IAH I was already daring Denver to prove me wrong.
And in the four days that we were there, it continuously and stubbornly failed to do so.
It was something of a trial getting there, though.
Spirit Airlines. Have you heard of these guys? If you have, there is absolutely no way it could be in even a remotely positive light. Sure, the tickets are cheap, but they nickel and dime you all the way to whatever bank Spirit Airlines does business with. A ticket buys you a randomly selected seat with just (and only) enough leg room to be able to maintain circulation throughout your body for the flight’s duration. You could pick your own seat, but you’d have to cough up an extra twenty bucks. You are allowed one free personal item of a ridiculously specific and anxiety-inducingly small size. If it is too big, you either have to pay a $50 checked bag fee or a $100 carry-on fee. Water? $1.75, and you have to pay with a credit card. Didn’t print your boarding passes at home? $10. Need a floatation device? That’ll be $1,000!
So we’re waiting to board our flight, sitting at our gate. I’ve just gotten a grande Blackberry Mojito Tea Lemonade from the IAH Starbucks (because with a name like that, how could I not?), and the barista charged me $2.30 when he should have charged me $3.30, and so I’m feeling pretty good.
We’re sitting in the row closest to the windows, facing the windows, staring at our phones, when this family of six, either Australian or the least charming Brits you’ll ever meet, arrives and sits in the row of seats directly behind us. One of them (maybe the mom?) is explaining to another (let’s say her daughter) the steps she’ll need to take, now that they are at the departure gate, in order to smoke a cigarette at the airport. The daughter belligerently rants about how hypocritical it is to be able to drink but not smoke inside an airport. A third, more rational but no less loud member of their party postulates that it probably has something to do with secondhand smoke.
We sigh. We roll our eyes at our phones.
There’s another family of six on our row, two parents and four children under five, the kids sprawled out on the floor and drawing to pass the time. The parents had apparently packed four clipboards for this very purpose. One of the girls comes and sits in the seat right next to me to do some drawing and in the process, totally obliviously, knocks over my grande Blackberry Mojito Tea Lemonade. I pick it up and in the nicest possible way, say to her, “Don’t worry about it, that’s just my drink.” The girl remains completely oblivious and shifts her attention to a stuffed bear, untying and retying the bow attached to it.
“This magazine doesn’t have anything about the Kardashians,” I hear from behind me. The stuffed bear starts playing a lullaby, jack-in-the-box style. Then it does it again. Then again. I take a break from my game of Minesweeper to break into a minute-long fit of maniacal laughter. When I’ve finished, the girl and the stuffed bear are no longer in the seat next to me.
The Aussie family decides it needs to take a series of selfies at the window, which for whatever reason requires standing in the now-vacant seat right next to me and repeating the word ‘selfie’ over and again. “You wanna go stand over there?” my now-wife asks.
So we’ve boarded the plane. Miraculously, our two randomly selected seats are next to one another – my now-wife has the window seat, I have the middle seat. Maybe you see where this is going.
Moments later, the cigarette rant girl from the Aussie family plops herself down in the aisle seat next to me. Shortly after settling in, she drops everything that had been in her lap onto the floor, proclaiming, “My mac and cheese!” She then eats some of her mac and cheese with the fork she’s just dropped on the floor, then after a few bites, seals it, gets up, and puts it in the overhead compartment.
The flight itself was mostly without incident. The cigarette rant girl played various children’s games on her tablet the entire trip. One of the bros a couple of rows back, at the volume he’d spoken for two hours straight, misidentified Colorado Springs as Denver. Spirit Airlines tried (one might say desperately) to sell me a credit card during our descent.
My now-wife’s brother (my now-brother-in-law) picked us up, and Blucifer, that magnificent, laser-eyed creature, welcomed us to the city of our future.
We’d arranged to stay in a condo in Capitol Hill through Airbnb. After settling in, the three of us walked a half-mile or so to grab a bite to eat at Steuben’s. We sat on the patio, because that (not to mention walking outside) is something you actually want to do during the summer in Denver. Steuben’s struck me as an establishment that carried draft beers, and so, in accord with my resolve to sample as many different local brews as humanly possible, I ordered a Collette, from Great Divide Brewing Co. The waitress carded me and I said that I was flattered, because why wouldn’t a twenty-eight year old say they were flattered by being carded? She came back with a twelve-ounce bottle, so I guess $5 bottles of beer are just a nationwide plague. Meanwhile, the now-wife ordered a Zombie, which on the menu says you can only have two of in one outing, and the waitress came back with an eighteen-inch tall glass of dangerous deliciousness.
Unaware that it would be a menu item at each succeeding restaurant at which we’d eat that trip, I ordered the Cubano, which was quite good. We introduced the now-brother-in-law to Brussels sprouts, of which he politely ate a couple, and we generally had a good time.
On the way back to the condo, we grabbed a couple of six-packs (including Left Hand Brewing’s Good Juju) at the neighborhood liquor store, found the ram horn bottle opener in the kitchen, settled into our borrowed living room, and called it a night.
Sleeping that first night was not without its difficulties. Summer in Denver has this odd quality where it is actually nicer outside than it is inside. Because it’s so nice, open windows can justifiably serve as a substitute for central air conditioning. The only downfall to this, particularly if you’re staying in the center of town, is the noise pollution. Cars passing below, an ambulance in the distance, a group of drunks stumbling home. You can hear all of the groans of city life. It was something we adjusted to over the course of our stay, but earplugs were integral to even a remotely decent night’s sleep.
We never quite adjusted to Mountain Time, though, since the sun seemed to rise an hour earlier than usual. It wasn’t until mile seven or so of the near-half marathon we walked on day two that I, having not even given a thought to sunscreen that morning, was informed that Denver was among the sunniest cities in the U.S. This information was stored away for later use.
We started our first full day in Denver by walking to Jelly. There was a half-hour wait at Jelly, so we walked to Thump Coffee. We ordered a couple of iced lattes and a couple of pastries, and found a table at a window facing the street. There was a sign on the table stating that we were in a “social area” of the café, asking us to please refrain from using our phones and other antisocial devices. I hadn’t noticed the sign until I’d covered the table with sticky bun detritus. I assume this policy is so that the café looks more appealing to passersby — that they’ll want to come into Thump to do all of their socializing for the day. In hindsight, Thump management might have preferred that I had my nose in my phone than to have struggled so visibly with that sticky bun.
Afterwards, we strolled towards the Civic Center. Though the three days that followed tried their damnedest to outdo it, this stroll was the part of the trip that spoke to me the most – the part that really revealed Denver, home of the first Quiznos, as the city of my future.
We stopped by the Colorado State Capitol building, admired its gold-plated dome, contemplated the statue out front commemorating Colorado’s involvement in the Civil War, which consisted primarily of the contentious (to say the least) Sand Creek Massacre. We moseyed over to the Colorado Judicial Center, sat on some “bench-style sculptures.” We circled the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library, took in their awe-inspiring architecture and massive public art installations. We passed a 24-hour ballot drop-off box that said VOTE on its side, considered how something so simple could encourage civic responsibility so profoundly.
This was what a civic center was supposed to look like. This was what a city was supposed to be built around.
We doubled back to tour the Denver Public Library, and its insides proved to be as spectacular as its exterior. After exploring five of its seven stories — the Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs display, the RFID-fueled return system, the exhaustive reference collection, the entire floor dedicated to public computers — I left with the distinct feeling that this was the library I would grow old in.
From there, we hiked over to Tattered Cover on the 16th Street Mall, then on to Riverfront Park, where I was able to take a moment to look down at my arms and realize how pink they’d become. My NBIL picked us up and drove us to the River North Art District (RiNo) for the grand opening of The Big Wonderful, an aptly named, open air, food, craft beer, and urban farmers market.
What I mostly saw at The Big Wonderful was potential, of which it has plenty. It promised fifty local vendors, but it was really closer to twenty-five. And it didn’t seem particularly busy, which made it pretty awkward when an older couple asked if they could join me at the table I’d staked out for the three of us. I said sure, gave it a minute, then left for one of the several remaining open tables. It actually reminded me a lot of a Houston market we parked the bookmobile at earlier this year, Watershed Market – conceptually fascinating and something I’d want to be involved with, but with its fair share of growing pains.
Which isn’t to say that I’m not glad to have gone. For one, it was our only Denver food truck experience. There were three food trucks (and one smoothie truck) there, and we each ordered something from a different truck. I got a generous portion of pulled pork pierogis from Baba & Pop’s Kitchen, along with an Apricot Blonde ale from Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewing Co. And the DJs were surprisingly great.
The Big Wonderful seems like something that will grow organically, especially since it’s a weekly market (as opposed to Watershed, whose second market was postponed, makeup date still TBA), and I look forward to visiting it again in the future — perhaps even to parking a bookmobile of some sort there. But as it was, we halfheartedly played cornhole while finishing off our drinks and went out to explore more of RiNo.
It was at about this point in the trip that I became over-eager to visit a dispensary. Y’know, just to see what they were all about. Coming from Texas, I thought finding a dispensary would be like spotting a unicorn in the wild. As it turns out, it was more like spotting a normal horse on, like, a horse ranch. We’d glimpsed quite a few of these horses during our first eighteen hours in Denver, but hadn’t, to take a metaphor to its brink, stopped to pet one just yet.
The door from the outside leads us to an 8’x4’ room. We’re greeted by a security guard who, from the other side of a bulletproof (conjecture) glass window, needs to see some ID. It’s a familiar setup, like at a bank or a movie theater or a sports venue. Except it takes place inside a holding cell, and you are about to commit a federal crime. We slide our IDs through the slot. He slides the now-wife and me each an enumerated orange card, the tourist’s card color. He tells my NBIL that he can’t let him inside because, while he is 21, and while his ID is not expired, it is a minor-issued ID (portrait, not landscape), and for whatever reason that’s supposed to make sense. The guard buzzes us in through the second door; my NBIL goes and waits outside.
The second door leads to a waiting room, where five more orange carders, one blue carder (recreational residential), and zero red carders (medical) already sit. We text our apologies to my NBIL. The blue carder hypes this dispensary as the best and cheapest dispensary in the Mile High City. He and the New Yorker next to him openly discuss weed consumption for the next fifteen minutes or so. A group of customers appears from the back hallway with three large bags full of product. On their way out, one of them looks at me and says, “Have fun.”
About twenty minutes in, we’re next in line. An employee greets us and takes us into a back room, which is, quite literally, a cannabis candy store. We have $34 and some change in cash and three days to consume what we buy. We end up with two chocolate bars (one mint chocolate, one with coffee beans) with 80 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol ($11 each) and one fat sativa joint ($7). Factor in the 21.12% marijuana retail sales tax rate and I had just enough in my wallet to pay for it all.
Walking back with my hardly inconspicuous large white baggie, I lamented this tax rate a bit, not because it made the cost of my purchases unreasonably high (hardly the case), but because it made the price tag deceptively low. It is actually rather brilliant for the state of Colorado to impose such a large tax on recreational marijuana sales and to funnel the revenues (estimated to be $130 million for the next fiscal year) into improving public schools and infrastructure. Legalization has created this new strain (if you will) of “cannabis tourism” for Colorado, and it is thriving because of it. But claiming something, particularly in this industry, is $7 when the actual cost is one and one-fifth that wasn’t something I was fully prepared for. Our visit was pretty low stakes, but I can’t imagine how much tax that three baggie group ahead of us paid.
Back at the condo, consuming some THChocolate. The guy at the dispensary had said about 25 mg ought to do the trick. Each bar had been divided into ten 8 mg chunks, so I broke off three for each of us. A late afternoon storm rolled in while we sat in the living room and posted photos to Instagram, waiting. Thumbing through other photos that had been tagged with the #denverstreetart hashtag, I came across a picture of a sofa sticking out of a dumpster. I lost it. I showed the photo to my now-wife and NBIL, and they lost it too. None of us would find it again until sometime the next morning.
The storm passed, and for whatever reason, we were hungry. After twenty-four hours in Denver, a brewery was pretty much the only thing still unchecked on our Denver checklist. So we found one that served food nearby and started towards it.
For whatever reason, I had a series of epiphanies on the way there. I thought about how legalization had made it acceptable to be high in public, and how because it’s acceptable you feel less paranoid about being high in public, and how because you feel less paranoid it is generally a more enjoyable experience to be high in public. I thought about how accessible dispensaries were and how economical and worry-free the whole process was – how you could just nip in whenever you wanted and not feel obligated to buy in bulk, and how that actually contributes to a healthier lifestyle. I thought some more about how brilliant that sales tax really is, about how well the state of Colorado is covering its bases by pumping the money from something thought to make you dumb into public education. I took in how green it was everywhere, thought about how difficult it must be for something to not grow on land so lush and fertile, considered how relatively effortless it would be to farm in the middle of the city. I thought about how pedestrian and bike friendly, and just generally friendly the city was, and how enjoyable it was to explore it in the middle of July, sunburnt but without a drop of sweat. And these sidewalks! Why weren’t there any trees growing out of them? Why didn’t I have to look down the entire time I was walking for fear of tripping?
What was this place?
We were seated at a high top next to the brewing tanks at LowDown Brewery + Kitchen. “I’ll Make Love to You” was blaring overhead. I ordered their 1927 Brown Ale, and the now-wife and I got a pizza and a side, for the second consecutive dinner, of Brussels sprouts to split.
While we waited, a vehicle rounding the corner outside caught my eye. It was a poo-brown van, with off-white lettering on the side that read, “STANLEY BRITISH PRIMARY SCHOOL.” Somewhat alarmed and infinitely curious, I reported my findings to my tablemates. They were equally puzzled. Was Stanley British someone’s name? Was a British Primary School something that existed today, here in Denver? Did we need to call the police?
The now-wife consulted her phone and discovered that the Stanley British Primary School was in fact a Denver-based British Primary school. Their website offered plenty of information about the differences between traditional and British Primary classrooms, but the van had told enough of the tale for me. “Does any of the marijuana tax revenue go to British Primary schools?” I asked. “Because that van would suggest otherwise.”
From there I moved to a rant about the size of our side of Brussels sprouts. LowDown has a Brussels sprouts appetizer, Kurt Brussel, and a $3 side Brussels sprouts, which were just called Brussels sprouts, on their menu. The plate of Brussels sprouts we received certainly seemed generous for a $3 side of Brussels sprouts, and I voiced my anxieties as to whether we had received the side or the appetizer, stated that the waitress probably brought us the appetizer, the Kurt Brussel, quote-unquote “by mistake,” that we should only eat three-eighths of the plate and say, “We didn’t order this,” et cetera. When I was finished, my now-wife informed me that the waitress had come to check on the table while I was saying all of this, which in retrospect explains the somewhat curt responses she had given.
Anyway, we were charged $6 for the Brussels sprouts. Who knows where that number came from. We paid for all of them, and even took some back to the condo with us, where we watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix until all three of us passed out in the living room.
Sunday was technically our anniversary, but we didn’t change things up much.
My now-wife and I were up first, and so the two of us ventured over to Voodoo Doughnut, were greeted by a line out the door (a brief glimpse at the menu will show you why, and why it’s well worth the wait).
While waiting outside, I noticed a woman standing on a nearby street corner, throwing her hands up at each car that turned right in front of her. A late-middle-aged man, in not great shape, stood in the middle of the road, pushing his walker across the street. Surely as a result of her deft crossing guard abilities, he eventually made it across, and they planted themselves on a bench at the bus stop directly across the street from us.
The man lit up a cigarette. Why not? The woman tried to engage another man at the bus stop, frequently gesturing across the street and, with all the disgust she could muster, screaming, “Voodoo Doughnut!” I was too far away to hear most of her diatribe, but near enough to observe her belligerent gesturing, and to note that she placed particular emphasis on the phrase “Voodoo Doughnut!” This lady seemed to have it in for Voodoo Doughnut, or the people in line for Voodoo Doughnut, or, probably, both, though I can’t say I understand why. There’s nothing particularly extravagant about spending $1.30 on a donut. Everyone in line that day seemed nice enough. Maybe there was a history there, or a medical condition that prevented them from enjoying Voodoo Doughnut? Maybe she was just batshit.
The couple in front of us played “Which parent do you like more?” with their daughter, which I, a child of divorce, had no idea was a game, as we were herded closer and closer to the front of the line. We ordered five donuts and I asked about the sunglasses, which were spinning around the display case with the donuts. The pair I’d brought had broken the previous day, so I was in the market for a new pair, and these sunglasses had donuts on the lenses. The girl taking our order apologetically said, “The sunglasses are sixteen dollars.” So we paid for the donuts and left.
That lady was still across the street screaming, “Voodoo Doughnut!” Was their bus ever going to come? Were they even waiting for a bus?
We stopped by Thump on the way back to the condo, drawn in by the people socializing at the tables by the front window.
After breakfast, the three of us strolled through Cheesman Park, where three guys were tossing around two Frisbees. As we passed, one of the guys got clocked in the mouth by a Frisbee. Maybe there was a lesson here. Maybe that guy won’t toss around two Frisbees at once ever again.
There was a farmers market going on in West Highland, but by the time we got there everyone was taking down. We explored the area a bit anyway and dropped into Julia Blackbird’s New Mexican Café to grab a bite to eat. It was a quaint little hole-in-the-wall type, buried away off the street. It’s one in the afternoon on a Sunday, and we are the only customers at Julia Blackbird’s. And while this was the most underwhelming meal of our trip, it is a travesty that that place was empty when we got there, and that it was empty again when we left.
But as it was, since we were the only ones there, we were treated like royalty. Our waiter told us that the queso might take a while and brought us some complimentary chips and salsa (ordinarily $2) to hold us over while we waited. The queso arrived two minutes later. I hadn’t ordered an adult beverage, while my accomplices had. The waiter conspiratorially asked me if I’d like a Corona, on the house. I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t. We ate our queso and tacos and elote, took in the bric-a-brac. I watched the little girl who’d been floating around (presumably Julia’s daughter) take a glass off a shelf, blow whatever had been in her mouth through a straw into the glass, and replace the glass on the shelf. With our check, the waiter handed us each a card for a complimentary margarita the next time we come to Julia Blackbird’s. I suggested we go outside and then back inside Julia Blackbird’s right then, then handed my card to the NBIL. He’ll make good use of it, I’m sure.
After a brief stop in Regis at the NBIL’s place of residence, we made the fifteen minute jaunt to Golden, at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains, to visit a couple more breweries. First up was Golden City Brewery. We ordered at a window — a pint for the NBIL, a six-beer flight for the now-wife and I to split — and joined an older couple at a long picnic table in the beer garden. Jessie’s Smokin’ NOLA food truck was parked out front, serenading us with zydeco and the blues. Then we headed down the road to Mountain Toad Brewing. We ordered inside — a pint for the NBIL, a five-beer flight for the now-wife and I to split — headed out to their patio and seated ourselves in a place ripe for people- and dog-watching. East Coast Joe’s food truck was parked out back, with no discernable sound system. An afternoon storm rolled in. We finished our paddle of microbrews and beat the storm back to Denver.
So we’re back in Cheesman Park, sampling the sativa. After finding the gazebo to which we were heading was taken, we’ve staked out an inconspicuous spot on the grass in front of a small patch of trees. We’re passing it around, minding our own business, when the man we were trying to avoid from the gazebo approaches us. We know the end-game here. He tells us we don’t have to be so secretive about it, that we should have just joined him in the gazebo. We laugh nervously and not impolitely. He introduces himself as Melvin. Nice to meet you, Melvin. He asks if he can “get a hit of that.” I weigh this question for, I think, an inconsiderate amount of time, apologize to Melvin for taking so long, and pass it over to him. He hits it, hands it back, and heads back to his gazebo. I stub it out and pocket the other half for later. We head back to the condo, where I posit, to two neuroscientists, that rocks have life.
Later on we went for dinner at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. I can’t say I remember too much about our experience there (see also: the twelve different beers and one Melvin I had encountered that day). The guy at the register wasn’t really interested in helping me decide which of their many intriguing rare meats to pair with The International toppings. I ended up going with wild boar, no thanks to him. It does seem like a place that’s got it figured out, though. You could go there once a week for a year and never order the exact same thing.
The NBIL dropped us off at the condo. We took two pieces of chocolate apiece for good measure and watched Food Network until we passed out. Somewhere in there we ate some leftover Brussels sprouts and pizza.
We got kind of a late start on Monday, our last day in Denver. We figured the Monday late morning crowd at Jelly would be smaller than it had been on Saturday. We figured wrong. But this time we stuck around. We ordered a couple of coffees and found a window seat facing the restaurant while we waited for a table. A guy was sitting at the end of the bar, consumed by his book. A girl sat down next to him and opened up a book of her own. Soon enough, we were seated at a booth in front of a Rainbow Brite cereal box. It seemed like our waitress was playing her own little game of good waitress/bad waitress with us. She asked the now-wife if she needed any more iced coffee, to which the now-wife replied that she was drinking a latte. “Oh, she drinking a latte,” the waitress said, at once mockingly and charmingly, to no one in particular. She slammed our waters down on the table and walked away. We thanked her, and she turned and, quite pleasantly, said, “You’re welcome!” She slid in next to the now-wife to take our order and approved each choice. She danced and sang as she rung up our order at the register next to our table. She was good waitress enough. And the food was exceptional. I had the Red Flannel Hash. Beets in a hash. Who knew?
Afterwards, we explored the rest of that block. That phenomenal block. The main draw for me, for possibly obvious reasons, was Kilgore Books & Comics. As a proprietor of a fellow Vonnegut-inspired establishment, I couldn’t help but feel that Kilgore and the BPTL were kindred spirits. Before even making it inside the store, I had concocted a plan where the BPTL would forge a partnership with Kilgore and reinvent itself as Kilgore’s bookmobile. Pairing with Kilgore is really the only sensible way to relocate the BPTL to Denver to join the Greater Denver Area’s fleet of bookmobiles. I imagined returning to Houston with a deal in place, with the future of the BPTL and my future in Denver decided in one fell swoop.
Kilgore was closed. They’d put a sign on the door saying they were out to lunch, that they’d be back “in fifteen minutes.” But how long ago had the sign been put up? How close to the end of this fifteen minute break were we right then? If we stood around and waited, would we be waiting for fifteen minutes in perpetuity? This was markedly anti-Vonnegutian – the exact opposite of becoming unstuck in time. We were stuck inside of this indefinite fifteen minute period.
Fortunately for us, Kilgore is sandwiched between two different stores called Wax Trax Records. One’s a vinyl record store, the other a used CD store. We went in the vinyl store first, but then remembering all of the Spirit Air nonsense we’d have to deal with for the flight home, we moved over to the used CD store. I browsed the new arrivals and found the latest WHY? LP, Mumps, Etc. for six bucks.
Near certain fifteen minutes had elapsed, we walked back over to Kilgore to find that damn fifteen minute sign still up. There was a cart of clearance books outside the store (which, of course, you couldn’t purchase until these fifteen minutes passed), so we browsed those for a while, and found a few that we wanted. Impatient, and out of books to browse, I tried to hide the ones we wanted behind some other books on the cart. We went back to the condo, waited, oh I don’t know, fifteen minutes or so, then headed back to Kilgore. Finally, we had become unstuck from the fifteen minute lunch break. The books I’d hid were still hidden, and we took them inside.
Inside was your traditional indie used book store fare, perhaps better curated, and with a substantial science fiction section. More books than shelf space, the top shelves just within reach. A shelf marker for Vonnegut, but no Vonnegut books on the shelf. We browsed a bit, but I stuck with my original three clearance cart selections. I told the guy behind the counter that we ran a Vonnegut-inspired library in Houston, but failed to convey my new business plan to him. He seemed mildly interested in what we were doing with the BPTL, but the conversation didn’t get very far.
After dropping the books off at the condo, we decided to venture over to the Art District on Santa Fe. It’s about a two mile walk from where we were staying, but I’d heard good things, it was another beautiful Colorado summer’s day, and we both had on sunscreen, so we made our way over.
What we found was a ghost town. There was a single art gallery open. The artwork was interesting enough, but it was the two of us, two employees, and a couple who were deciding whether they should have their wedding inside of it. One of the employees asked us what we were up to today, and we told him we had hoped to check out the Art District, but it didn’t look like there was much open. He informed us that the area typically shut down on Mondays, since none of the museums were open on Mondays. We thanked him for the information and went outside to figure out what the hell to do now.
And it was at about this point in our trip that my left foot completely gave out. In retrospect, I probably should have packed more than just my boat shoes for such a perambulation-heavy trip. Really, I should be blaming those sticklers at Spirit Airlines for this injury. I’m not sure if it was a bone bruise or wear and tear or what. It wasn’t entirely debilitating, but I wasn’t going to get anywhere very quickly, and I wasn’t going to enjoy the journey at all. And I was gonna look pretty friggin’ stupid in the process.
We walked back towards Speer and stopped in at this café called Gather, mostly just to rest my old man bones. Turns out it was more of a co-working space that happened to sell food and drinks, connected to “digital startup hub” Galvanize. The NBIL had agreed to meet us there, so we sat at a high-top table, drank iced drinks, and tried to will my foot back to health while we waited.
He took us to South Broadway to explore. I assured them both I was fine to walk around, but my gait told a different story. We stopped in a couple of stores and that was about all I could take.
Back at the condo, I sampled some more of the sativa. Y’know, for the foot.
Sometime later, we walked to Park & Co for our last meal in Denver. I’d figured out by then (probably thanks to the sativa) that if I walked exclusively on the toes of my foot that walking would be considerably less painful. So that’s what I did. And I’m sure it was hardly noticeable.
Park & Co is two businesses down from where we’d had our first meal in Denver, Steuben’s, and likewise had preferable patio seating. Our waiter greeted us by shaking our hands and asking each of our names, which he mostly accurately used to address us for the rest of the meal. Jeopardy! was on the outside TV, but the TV was muted. What was the point of watching Jeopardy! on mute, I asked. Some guy in not great shape walked up to the patio gate, gestured towards no one in particular and exchanged words with himself. He may or may not have been saying, “Voodoo Doughnut!”
Afterwards we walked/hobbled over to Prohibition for a cocktail. We sat down in a semicircular booth facing the bar. The Home Run Derby was on the TV. A family of five walked by to leave, which I thought was strange, bringing three kids to a bar, but I guess it’s actually more of a restaurant we decided to have drinks at than a bar that happens to serve food. But, I mean, it’s called Prohibition. They never prohibited food. Kind of a misnomer, really. So we had our Monday-night-cocktails-at-a-restaurant, then called it a day.
Back at the condo, we said our goodbyes to the NBIL. He’d dragged us around this great city for four straight days, and we were grateful. We gave him the book we’d bought him at Kilgore and a to-go baggie with our leftover chocolate and sativa to show our gratitude.
The next morning we Ubered (am I doing this right?) a ride to the airport. Blucifer was there. He looked sad to see us go.
But maybe I was just projecting.