I love Denver. I was born in Denver. I lived there until I was 8 and returned to Denver at least twice a year to visit my Aunt Martha when I was a kid. When we moved back to Colorado, I took every opportunity I could to stay with my Aunt Martha in her apartment in Capitol Hill in Denver. I moved to Denver for college, left for three years to study in Boulder and returned to Denver. Denver was my home and also the world from which I fledged.
I also hated Denver. It was small. The world I wanted was so much larger and I wanted it so badly that I had to get out of there. I left for good in 1984 and didn’t return often. But it was always Denver whether I wanted to go there or not, and as long as my Aunt Martha lived there, I had a reason to return.
I haven’t really been back since I returned to Colorado five years ago. I have had a couple of peripheral jaunts to the general area, but not to see the personal sites that are engraved on my heart, places where I lived, where my family lived, streets that were my home streets. For some reason Denver felt like an alien place and I didn’t feel welcome there. I don’t know why. It had changed? Of course it changed, and somehow it felt like a betrayal (as if I had not changed? Ha ha)
So, having arranged to have lunch with a very old friend and his awesome wife, having found a spot on Colfax (America’s Main Street) that looked like a good spot, and The Who having cancelled and the whole trip suddenly becoming much simpler, my friend Lois and I went up there today.
We didn’t take the freeway (which Coloradans call “the Interstate”) we took the old back roads and our drive was peaceful and beautiful. We arrived at the suburban periphery and I began to recognize landscapes, though now covered with houses. Lois was subjected to a lot of that, “This used to be” and “We used to go” and all that stuff we humans do in the throes of nostalgia, and she was patient.
I still know Denver. It’s still Denver. I drove to my places as if I had never stopped driving to them, routes as familiar to me as the palm of my hand.
I have a lot to process and cannot write well about it yet, but we went past many of my old apartment buildings and my Aunt’s townhome and saw Mt. Evans and had lunch on a street that really defies description, still. I’ll probably write a post sometime about Sundays on Colfax, but not now.
Some of you might know Denver as a city where Kerouac hung out with Neal Cassady and on the building where we had lunch was a mural of Jack and Neal. It reminded me of a mural that used to be on one of the outside walls of City Lights Bookstore in North Beach in San Francisco. So… Colfax is mentioned in On the Road.
I used to walk to work every day (because, you know, air pollution and global warming and stuff) and every day I passed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. But back then I didn’t enter Catholic Churches.
It happened that today the church was right across the street from our restaurant and after eating, we all went into the cathedral which was an oasis of cleanliness, peace, light and gentle baroque music on that strange dingy street that is Colfax on Capitol Hill. I thought to myself how much life has passed since the days I walked home past this church without ever entering and how now, among other experiences including writing about Catholicism in a very friendly way, I have heard mass in Latin at the Basilica San Ambrogio in Milan.
It turns out that the first Monsignor of the church was originally from Milan and educated in Switzerland. My friend’s wife brought this to my attention and I felt a chill, as if a circle had closed and I could not have entered that building before that moment.
And then I thought of how we begin — how I began — and decided a life spent overturning biases and ignorance is a pretty good life. And it’s a pretty good life that allows you to return with your sister/friend down country roads to visit your deepest personal roots on a sunny Sunday. To have lunch with a man you’ve known for 52 years and his soul mate, all wrapped up in the city of your heart.