Saturday, December 03, 2016

Searching for 1919 Denver

The lakeside promenade in Denver's City Park, 1919. From the Colorado page on the Penny Postcard web site. 
After driving around Denver for five days, on an errand of mercy, I have to ask: "What was this city like in 1919?"

Not many people can supply first-hand answers. They would have to be more than 100 years old, a rarity even in this era of increased life spans.

Even though we now live in a post-factual country, I must turn to the facts for some perspective.

Denver's population in the 1920 census was 266,491, roughly the 2015 population of Greeley, a sister city with Cheyenne along the Front Ranger Urban Corridor or FRUC which has led to more than one wag asking: "Who gives a FRUC about Denver?"

Denver does. It cares very deeply about itself. During the past decade, it has ended up on every "best cities to live in the U.S." list, sometimes along with neighboring FRUC cities of Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. Sometimes Cheyenne makes the list. but only for those reporters who fail to notice the city's infamous nine-month winter with accompanying hurricane-force arctic winds. Not to mention the loony far-right Wyoming Legislature that parks its retro-ass in Cheyenne every winter.

Suffice to say, Denver has a big head, abetted by mass quantities of Purple Haze bud and daily infusions of Trippel-Dubbel Imperial Black IPA with 17% ABV.

But what was it like in 1919-1920? I ask because I'm writing a novel set in Denver during those years. All of my grandparents migrated to Denver then. This fascinated me as it seems oddly coincidental. It seems to be one of those waves of in-migration to Colorado, such as 1859 gold-seekers, the post-World War II infusion of veterans and the 1960s-70s invasion of the Baby Boomer hippies for Rocky Mountain High in Colorado. In 1919, World War I was over and veterans were restless, having left the Iowa farm for Paree and gas attacks in the Meuse-Argonne. Prohibition was on its way into law as was universal suffrage. Cars were replacing horses and buggies. Jazz was in as were flappers and their beaux. The Ku Klux Klan found a welcoming audience in a Denver concerned about an influx of Mexican workers and the plague of marijuana.

Doesn't sound too different from 2016. Except for the people and the traffic. Car has always been king in Denver and remains so, even though the city is beginning to build mass transit and invest in higher-density living spaces. Downtown is in after the post-war rush to the suburbs has died down. But flying into Denver, with lights twinkling as far as the eye can see, you might wonder about the so-called death of the suburb. The burbs are alive and well in the Denver metro area.

I can read Westword to get a snarky take on present-day Denver. Or scores of different blogs. But I am looking for info on 1919. I want to know why my ancestors came to Denver and what they brought to the city. I knew my grandparents but never heard them utter one word about why they came to Colorado. They might have been from Iowa or Maryland or Ohio or Ireland but were damn glad to now be Coloradans. They worked hard, loved the mountains, had kids and fought the good fight when it came time to die. Only one kept a journal, my maternal grandmother. It began and ended with her service as a nurse in World War I. Since I am a fiction writer, I am only using my relatives as a jumping-off point to a bigger story. Not sure what that story is. I will find out as I write.

Meanwhile, this Wyoming retiree will try not to be a burden to Denver's go-go motorists. I am looking forward to conducting research at Colorado History and the Denver Public Library downtown. I would welcome any comments from my loyal readers, or even not-so-loyal ones. I might even preview chapters-in-progress on these pages or on Facebook. Never done that before.

First time for everything.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

In the Denver Public Library, remembering a Florida Thanksgiving

Convened with family on Thanksgiving and nobody mentioned Trump. Maybe it was Trump Fatigue Syndrome (TBS). Maybe we all were cognizant that if the subject came up, it would be like venturing out into the ocean in a too-small boat searching for Jaws. All hell would break loose. Trumpmania would batter the boat, eat one of the crew and close in for the kill.

It didn't happen. Maybe that's because my niece Erin, who was getting married on Nov. 21, urged all of us not to talk politics anywhere near the wedding. She had witnessed the post-election bloodletting on Facebook, Twitter and real life and wanted no part of that on her special day. We were all good do-bees that day, and it carried over to Thanksgiving Thursday at Disney.

The truce is over. But I will save my good shots for later as I have to catch up with the last two weeks. When last I posted, I was in the midst of Trumplandia in Kissimmee, Florida, the strip of Hwy. 192 that circles Disney World and leads into it. It's an endless array of  motels, fast-food joints and timeshare hucksters. Chris and I survived it, although there were doubts along the way. Once we got over to Daytona Beach, our old hometown, life took a turn for the better. We saw people we knew, imbibed some drinks, watched the ocean and eventually got into the wedding groove. My assignment, one that I had gladly accepted a year ago, was to fill in for my dear departed brother Patrick and give the bride away. I took the honor very seriously, even breaking the tuxedo out of mothballs for the occasion. I walked the bride down the aisle and handed her off to the groom, Michael. I did this in the name of all of my brothers and sisters, Pat's siblings, who were all in attendance, save for Pat and brother Dan, both deceased. I felt Pat's presence. He would have loved to be on hand for this day. He drank himself to death or, more accurately, drank himself into bad health and then caught a virulent strain of pneumonia and that's what killed him. We loved Pat. We also are angry at him. That sums up family life. Angry one moment, glad the next. My brothers and I had some of the craziest fights. But when challenged from the outside, we responded like the 300 Spartans at the Gates of Fire.

Pat's spirit was there. I look at some of the old photos, such as the ones we have from a backpacking trip we took to Colorado in 1975. He is young and happy and long of hair, and so am I. Over time, he changed. His brothers, for the most part, were able to leave the heavy drinking behind. He did not. He grew more aloof and somber. We talked often but saw one another seldom due to physical distance. I have nothing else to say about that.

I spent Thanksgiving with family at Disney's Fort Wilderness. Many of them camped while I went home to my sister's condo at night. I may have more camping experience that anyone else there. But it's a different kind of camping. We were always tent people. Sleeping bags on a pad on the tent floor. Cooking by campfire. You know, camping as it exists in the Rocky Mountain West.

Disney camping is more like Celebrity Camping. My friend Dave in Denver insisted that Celebrity Camping was camping out of the back of a car or truck. You might sleep on the ground. But you were equipped by coolers and beer and ice and music and food easily dispensed from a package or a can. This sort of camping was done in lieu of real camping, which involved planning and carrying things and erecting tents or other shelters. That kind of camping took time and patience. For Celebrity Camping, you just had to grab your stuff, throw it in the trunk and go, baby, go -- get out of Denver!

Disney Camping during Thanksgiving is part real camping and part Celebrity Camping. It takes planning to reserve a campsite a year in advance, put down a deposit on a gigantic camper and then actually plan the meals. Rent a golf cart, can't forget that, as each campsite has a charging station. You'll need decorations, too. One of my sisters said she often wondered who buys those giant inflatables at Wal-Mart. Wonder no more -- it's my friends and family from Volusia County, Florida. Also the guy from New York who comes down to Fort Wilderness every year with dozens of holidays inflatables, including a big one that recreates a scene from "Frozen" in a giant snow globe. He spends three months at Disney with his inflatable phantasmagoria. It even has a lighted walkway that encircles the exhibit. A group of campers come every year from Georgia and South Carolina to erect a teepee village. They are not Native Americans but former Scouters who got bit by the BSA's pseudo-Native mythology and practices, such as Order of the Arrow. The teepees, patterned after those used by the Cheyenne, were gorgeous, I have to say. I also wondered what the Standing Rock Sioux might think of them.

Mant creative campers. Many Disney inflatables on display. Also, many banners and displays for favorite sports teams. Many FSU Seminoles and Florida Gators, as the two teams were set to square off in the upcoming Rivalry Weekend. I saw entire sites given over to University of South Carolina Gamecocks, University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and other assorted large southern public universities whose main function seems to be sports merchandising. Some of you may believe the stories about big-time college football and the NFL are on their way out due to mothers who won't let their babies grow up to be linebackers because they might dent their blunt skulls. Au contraire, mes amis. I personally witnessed the FSU/UF match-up. Each team fielded about 500 players and a quorum of coaches. UF itself arrived at Doak Campbell Stadium with a fleet of team buses, escorted by police. This annoyed swarms of tailgaters who were delayed, sometimes by minutes, from reaching their favorite keg. Tailgating is religion in the South. Actually football is religion and tailgating is a sacrament, if I may use a Catholic reference. The food and booze flow freely. Many toasts are made to the old alma mater. Many games of cornhole are played as it, unlike big-time SEC football, can be played successfully drunk. I myself witnessed several bean bags go into the cornhole when the thrower was imbibing.

My sister took me to the football game. She is a dedicated Noles fan, as FSU Seminoles fans refer to themselves. I am a dedicated fan of the Florida Gators, although I haven't attended a game in person since 1977.  The Gators lost that game too, also to FSU. If this keeps up, I may have to skip the 2055 game. They may be playing it on Mars by then.

I covered a lot of territory during my Florida trip. I sojourned to Kissimmee and Winter Park and downtown Orlando and Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach and Gainesville and Tallahassee. If you get a chance, visit the Proof Brewing Company's beer garden in Tallahassee's Railroad Square Art Park. Great beers, fun atmosphere and (of course) a cornhole court. I certainly liked Proof's La La Land IPA and its Mango Wit. Met the brewmaster, too, a big galoot wearing Florida Gators colors while he tended his vats. "Most of the beer here is brewed by Gators," he told us. I also recommend the Osceola County History Museum. Great displays and it's free. The beach, as always, is invigorating. Family is worth seeing again, especially if they buy the football tickets. Writers Block is a great bookstore in downtown Winter Park.  I would not recommend driving in Orlando during peak times, which seems to be from 12:01 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. Florida's voters don't believe in rapid transit so they are stuck with extremely slow transit from one place to the other. I did look longingly at the sleek Sunrail train as it pulled into the station. You can take the train a few miles in Orlando, and Amtrak runs up and down the east coast. But the Republican Congress has starved rapid transit in the same way it did Obamacare.

Right now I'm writing this in Denver's cool downtown library. I look over Civic Center Park. I'm waiting for the Christmas lights to flicker on at the Civic Center. We always liked that when we lived here. They have the Parade of Lights this weekend but not sure I want to venture down into the maelstrom to watch it. It's a family outing kind of thing. The Griswolds may be there.

See you soon.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Welcome to Trumplandia

Greetings from somewhere to the south and east of Trump's America.

Florida went for Trump. One of the Nov. 8's first disappointments, In the beginning, Florida goes for Hillary Clinton and then for Trump and then to HRC and then.....

I'm in Central Florida, home of Disney World and Wide World of Sports World and Camping World and Universal Studios and Sea World and all the rest. The Holy Land Experience, alas, has gone out of business. This weekend they are having a big garage sale to get rid of Biblical relics such as couches, statues, fountains and a Harley. Not sure which Holy Land saint rode a hog, but he doesn't need it anymore.

Kissimmee in Osceola County is where we're staying. It used to be home to cattle ranches and cracker cowboys. Last night I learned a bit of history as I quaffed a can of Cigar City Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale. The story on the label says this: cracker "relates to the whip these 'cow hunters' used to herd cattle in Florida's Palmetto Prairies." This used to be one of those prairies. Kissimmee was home to cow hunters and ranches and one of the South's largest rodeos.

That was before Walt Disney bought up 43 square miles of palmetto prairie and forest and swampland at $200 an acre. The rodeo still exists. Tough to spot a cowboy along Hwy. 192 on a November afternoon. in post-Trump America. You see some pedestrians braving the six-lane stretch of asphalt that leads to Disney in one direction and, in the other, a seemingly endless line-up of strip malls and motels and dreary resorts.

Let me stop for a second and insert a caveat. I love Florida. Many of the people I care about live here. Old friends live here. The schools that I care about -- Father Lopez Catholic High School and the University of Florida -- are here. I spent hundreds of hours in the Atlantic Ocean off of Daytona Beach, surfing and swimming and just walking in the sand.

But I'm pissed off about Trump and Florida's role in electing this person as president.

Not that Wyoming did us a favor. But WYO has three electoral votes and Florida has 29. WYO helped elect Trump but wasn't crucial to the debacle.

This area is every new urbanist's nightmare. Suburban sprawl. Too many cars. Ugliness everywhere. Disney's planned community, Celebration, is also in the vicinity. It should be a new urbanist's dream -- walkable neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, quaint cafes, pleasing architecture -- yet it seemed weirdly lifeless, a "Stepford Wives" feel. Kind if like a theme park version of a real neighborhood. Not many sentient beings about, although a few older folks sat at cafe tables near the waterfront. I don't think they were droids.

Chris and I went to a pitch session for nearby resort properties. When in Florida, you feel obligated to hear a sales pitch. Think of Trump clones everywhere. I wandered over to the 7-11 to buy some snacks and a guy met me at the door and asked if I needed tickets.

"Tickets to what?"

"Disney, other attractions."

"I just want some cashews."

The man named Doug was not deterred. He looked and acted a bit like Freddy Prinz in the 1970s sitcom "Chico and the Man." He asked if I was interested in a resort, and would pay me $150 to listen to a sales pitch. I told him I already had a pitch session scheduled. That animated him. "I can tell you exactly how to act." He went on to say that I should say very little, don't be friendly and don't ask questions.

"Can I smile?" I asked.

"Don't smile."

I told him I would take him up on his offer if my session didn't work out.

Later that day, Chris and I went to our resort pitch session. Randy The Pitchman told us that he wasn't selling timeshares, which had gone out of fashion. He talked about points that can be used for week-long stays at properties all over the globe.

"In Antarctica?"

"Not Antarctica." He looked slightly annoyed. Think Dustin Hoffman in "Death of a Salesman." "Where's your dream vacation," he asked.

"Ireland," Chris and I said in unison.

He asked us how we would like to go to Ireland for a week for $169.

We were stone-faced. No smiles. No laughter. No convivial Irish-American banter. Randy went on to show us how we could go to Ireland for $169 plus airline tickets. If we also joined the Travel Club we also could get discounts on airline tickets.

"Go on," I said.

Randy went on. He jotted down a series of facts and figures and seemed pretty pleased with himself. I was getting hungry. He showed us the Travel Club website, He showed us the ownership units. All of it was very nice.

"In some of our units, you can see the nightly fireworks from Disney."

Wow. This property abutted Disney property and was only going up in value since everyone all over the globe wants to come to Disney World. Except for me.

We didn't buy anything. Received a $100 gift card for our efforts. Should have told him that Doug over at the 7-11 kiosk would give me $150 to listen to his pitch. But I was just glad to get out of there.

BTW, the Florida Cracker Ale is damn good. Made with coriander, which reminded me of New Belgium's Trippel Ale, although lighter. Florida may not be as well-known for its beers as Colorado but it's getting there. I had another Cigar City beer the other day. Jai Alai is an IPA aged in white oak. Not sure if I could taste the white oak but it is a great beer. Oskar Blues in Longmont recently did a collaboration brew with Tampa's Cigar City. Keep reaching out, craft brewers! We love you, especially the ones in WYO.

Now it's time to find a free arts event in Sales Pitch Land. Trump would definitely be at home here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Calling all suffragists -- and supporters of suffragists

Democratic Women's
Suffrage
Celebration

November 13, 2016

2-4 p.m. ~ Laramie County Library
Cottonwood Room
Cheyenne, WY
The Laramie County Democratic Women invite you to a Suffrage Celebration on Sunday, November 13, 2016, from 2-4 p.m. at Laramie County Library’s Cottonwood Room.

The Thanksgiving Pie Social will honor women who have carried the banner of the Democratic Party by running for office locally and nationally.  This event is open to everyone. Our featured guest will be former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan.


FMI: Contact Barbara, 307-634-0309 or Jackie, 307-638-6529.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Readings begin Nov. 18 for Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers

Made in Wyoming (and published here too): This new anthology from Jackson's Sastrugi Press features a great line-up of the state's writers,
Attached is the latest info on readings and book signings for Blood, Water, Wind and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers. My story, "George Running Poles," was selected for inclusion by editor and poet Lori Howe. Sastrugi Press is the publisher. Great to have a Wyoming-based press (Jackson) and a Laramie-based editor. The rest of us are scattered all over the state. 
I will read with others at the Dec. 8 event in Laramie. Not only that -- goodies will be served. And Night Heron is a great place to buy Christmas presents for those readers in your life. Order now at Sastrugi Press.
Cody Opening: Friday, November 18, 5-7pm. Legends Bookstore, 1350 Sheridan Ave. Cody, WY 82414. Ph: (307) 586-2320, website: www.legendsbooks.com.
Casper Opening: Saturday, November 19, 6-8pm. Backwards Distillery, co-hosted by Wind City Books. Hosted by Backwards Distillery at 158 Progress Circle, Mills, WY 82644. www.windcitybooks.com or www.backwardsdistilling.com, (307) 472-1275.
Sheridan Opening. Sunday, November 20, 2:30-5pm. Sagebrush Community Art Center, 201 East 5th St. Sheridan, WY. Ph: (307) 674-1970. website: www.artinsheridan.com
Cheyenne Opening: Saturday, December 3, 3:30-5:30pm. Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave. Cheyenne, WY 82001. Ph: (307) 634-3561. Website: http://laramiecountylibrary.org.
Laramie Opening: Thursday, December 8, 6-7:30pm. Night Heron Books, 107 E. Ivinson St., Laramie, WY 82070. Ph: (307) 742-9028. Website:  www.nightheronbooks.com.
Jackson Opening: Saturday, December 10, 5-7pm. Valley Bookstore, 125 N. Cache St. Jackson, WY 83001. Ph: (307) 733-4533. Website: http://valleybookstore.com

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Those long drawn-out arguments among Baby Boomers brought us Trump

"Wow, so disappointed in America right now."

That was my daughter Annie's reaction this morning on Facebook.

I said similar things during my 65 years, even before the arrival of social media. I said it in November 1972 after Nixon clobbered McGovern. I was 21 then, even younger than Annie. I lived in Massachusetts, a little bubble of Democratic blue among all the red. We thought McGovern would stop the war and make the U.S. a kinder and more peaceful place. I worked the graveyard shift at a Boston hospital. While all of us orderlies and nurses and techs walked around like zombies, one of the physicians made the rounds and said that Nixon is the one now, suckers, and all of you lefties are in trouble. We were, but somehow we made it through. Most of us anyway. More than 22,000 more Americans and another million Vietnamese died between November's election and the declared end of the war in April 1975. Many GIs returned with wounds to the body and the soul. The rest of us moved on, or thought we did.

Despite the election landslide, Nixon won by less than 1 percent of the popular vote. As always, it was the Electoral College who clinched the win. And the southern strategy, which counted on turning all of those white middle class Democrats into Republicans. He used their hatred of civil rights and college activists to stoke the flames of hatred. Fear and hatred can work, as we just rediscovered.

Nixon went to China. He resigned, which made us lefties all warm and fuzzy. Jimmy Carter won the election over Gerald Ford. Carter was a Southerner but we thought he had warm and fuzzy feelings about America. He would usher in a new progressive era. Instead, in 1980, we go the shining city on the hill with Reagan. I lost friends over that election. Many arguments with family members. Those arguments continued into the presidencies of both Bushes.

The arguments continue. It has been important to act, to be involved. It's a life's work, not something you do for a couple weeks every four years. It helps me get out of bed in the morning. I continue to live my life as the best possible human being I can be.

One thing is clear. The arguments of 1972 continue. They will continue as long as the cohort of Baby Boomers remain upright. The scared ones will continue to be fearful and to vote those fears. Liberals like me will keep open minds and welcome the new, including those children who make up the Millennials. We've left them in the lurch. Perhaps it was the argumentative nature of our generation, caught in the whirlwind of civil rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, and the changing demographics of immigration. We never quite resolved all of those differences. And now they have emerged again with the presidency of Donald Trump.

Presente! Keep on making trouble.

Monday, November 07, 2016

ProPublica's ElectionLand project to cover Nov. 8 polling problems in real time

To update previous posts on possible voter intimidation at the polls...

ProPublica is sponsoring ElectionLand which, according to Sunday's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle,
will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election.  
If you have trouble on Election Day with long lines, intimidation or machine breakdowns, text ELECTIONLAND to 69866 or visit www.propublica.org/electionland to submit a report.
Data from voters across the country will be pulled together to document problems in real time. 
"Real time" is the important part of this as any violations can ostensibly be addressed while the polls are still open. ProPublica has already posted instances of voter intimidation in early voting. Some southern states, freed from Voting Rights Act laws, have decreased the number of polling places, which resulted in huge lines to vote in this year's Arizona primary. In Cheyenne, we have fewer polling places as we now go to voting centers (find one here). This enables us to vote at any of these places instead of our own precinct. So, if you live in Pine Bluffs but work in Cheyenne, you don't have to rush home from work in a snowstorm to cast your ballot (remember 1992?). You can vote in Cheyenne at the Community House in Lions Park (where I used to work as a judge) or at the Berean Church on Powderhouse where I usually vote. Poll workers are friendly and helpful, even when encountered at 6:59 p.m. and the clock is ticking.

Poll watchers may be on hand, too. Sometimes these are precinct committeemen or women, sometimes they are assigned by the county party. Not just any Tom, Dick or Harriet can show up to observe. If you see any shady characters lurking about, report them to the head election judge.

Along with two of my fellow Democrats, I will be giving free rides to the polls on election day. I would like to say that I will drive you in style in my stretch limo. Alas, I have but a modest gray Nissan Sentra. I do provide door-to-door service. I will not harangue you about your vote, although I have strong opinions on the liberal side of things (see previous post). Leave a comment here with address and/or phone number and I will give you a ride. Or call 307-241-2903.