Saturday, January 14, 2017

Past and present meet in my old Aurora neighborhood

Last week, I stood on the disappeared foundation of my old house in Aurora's Hoffman Heights. I thought about the past but gazed out upon the future.

First, the past. I was a pre-schooler when my father bought his first house in 1954 for $8,000 with no money down and a low interest rate. Like thousands of other World War II vets, he received benefits from his grateful government. He was a college grad, thanks to the G.I. Bill. My dad had a job as Denver's businesses boomed, thanks to an influx of GIs who trained in Colorado and had discovered its possibilities.

Hoffman Heights was one of Denver's first suburbs. First called Hoffman Town, after developer Sam Hoffman, it consisted of 1,700 houses on 44 acres between Colfax and Sixth avenues. Many Baby Boomers were born in the neighborhood, flooding into new schools such as Vaughn Elementary, which is still there and looking much as it did when I started kindergarten in 1956. In September 1955, residents were excited because the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, recuperated from a major heart attack at Fitzsimons Army Hospital across Colfax from the neighborhood. You could walk out on your front lawn, if grass seed had sprouted during your first summer, and see the lights of Room 8002. The president was in the house! The supreme allied commander who had led us to victory over the Nazis and now was whipping up on the commies. You had a job, a house, a car, and a growing family. Your neighbors were white like you with similar backgrounds. There were exceptions. The guy next door was kind of a redneck. He kept rabbits in a backyard hutch and slaughtered them while children watched in horror. We shared a fence with the mother of Jane Russell, the Hollywood star. My mother's hospital co-worker, Jeep from Alabama (I swear that was her name) didn't come over any more because my mother insisted on being civil to the black nurse who recently joined the staff. There was a "funny" kid in the neighborhood, an older kid who our parents didn't want us to play with. He insisted on hanging with us little kids, which made him more creepy than funny.

Memory is an odd thing. Only some parts of this may be true/. My memory center is aging and isn't what it used to be. My parents are both gone. My brother Dan is gone. My sister Molly doesn't remember much, as she was a baby during most of the years we lived on Worchester. The Internet helps me look up old stories about the neighborhood. But there is no section in Cyberspace called "Mike's Memories." I'm on my own.

What can I say about growing up the 1950s suburbs in Middle America? I felt safe and loved. I walked to school with a zillion other kids. I walked the neighborhood with the same kids on Halloween. We collected candy and the parents collected cocktails and were pretty looped by the time we all got home. Nobody thought of taking X-rays of the collected candy. Christmas brought coonskin caps and hula hoops. Summer brought games of tag and kick the can.

Memories are similar for millions of American Baby Boomers. I am retired, alas, and many conversations I have with fellow Boomers at the YMCA or the coffee shop, harken back to those halcyon days. They are mostly white, too, as Wyoming is overwhelmingly Caucasian and conservative. Many of them voted for Donald Trump in an attempt to "Make America Great Again."  What they wish for is a return to the reality that exists only in their flawed memories.

Cut to the present in Aurora. Some of the houses, including mine, and old strip malls have been leveled for hotels, such as the Hyatt Regency Conference Center and Springhill Suites at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.. The latter is the one we stay in when visiting our daughter, who lives in an adjacent neighborhood. Across six-lane Colfax is the medical campus, which employs 21,000 people. It is home to one of the country's premier children's hospitals, the CU Medical Center, and a number of research facilities. Located in their midst is the old Fitzsimons Army Hospital, now the complex's administration building. At night, you can look to the east and see the lights of a new RTD light rail stop that spans Colfax and is adjacent to I-225. Also to the east, on the fringe of the old neighborhood, rises the skeleton of a brand new condo complex that features an interior parking garage. Nearby brick apartment complexes, other relics from the 50s and 60s, now bill themselves as "apartment homes" and advertise "move-in specials." Houses in the old neighborhood are again selling, a relief to the old-timers who thought that they never would sell their houses in this now-seedy enclave. The city of Aurora even offers grants for fix-up and clean-up projects in the neighborhood, getting it ready for future resident who may even be hospital residents or physicians or nurses or researchers. They come from all over the world, so the new neighborhood will also be a mix of Kenyans, and Syrians and Chinese and Brazilians. The multi-ethnic mix that makes up any American city.

Aurora is not Denver, where only 18 percent of residents voted for Trump. Aurora is more suburban and conservative, but still part of the Denver metroplex, which is blue, and Colorado, also blue. As a state, it will be an outpost for resistance to Trump's extremist agenda. It will be a battle in a state known for its legal marijuana and craft beers but also for its Sagebrush Rebellion and long-time distrust of big government.

Wyoming is what Colorado was. Some Denverites have had enough and are moving to Laramie and Cheyenne. Or even north along the I-25 corridor to Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins. Cheyenne is growing. Many Wyomingites refer to it as "north Denver," consider it way too liberal for The Cowboy State. Our county will soon be home to 1000,000 people, about one in every six Wyoming residents. The legislature meets annually in Cheyenne. Legislators are here now, crafting regressive bills that embarrasses us progressives and makes our fellow Dems in Denver shake their heads.

A rural Republican from Baggs, Sen. Larry Hicks, offers SJR 4 which would roll back equal protections for people based on "their race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin." You could call this resolution "Make Wyoming White Again" which, of course, it already is. But just across the border in Colorado, swarthy liberals wait to snatch your state job or your entrance slot to the University of Wyoming Law School. This effectively closes the border to all of those well-educated ethnic minorities who energize Colorado's economy. Hicks and his Know Nothings' co-sponsors also want (in SF 71) to "penalize electricity providers if they continue to sell power to consumers that is generated by wind or solar energy in Wyoming," according to a staff editorial in this morning's Wyoming Tribune Eagle. It goes on: "To suggest charging utilities...a penalty for using renewable energy where the sun shines more than 300 days a year and the wind blows constantly is just insane." Yes it is. My subtitle for this bill: "Make Coal Great Again."

Monday, of course, is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. It is a national holiday. Wyoming must not be part of the nation as the legislature insists on working this day while it recesses for Presidents Day on Feb. 20. This not surprising in an august body that turned down Sen. Liz Byrd's bill to recognize the MLK holiday eight time before finally caving in, but only if "Wyoming Equality Day" was added to the title. Even then, our rural legislators were concerned about hordes of ethnic minorities streaming across the border and claiming seats in the Capitol that properly belonged to white folks.

Other rural Repubs are offering bills to allow people to carry guns everywhere, even into college classrooms and sporting events. It would allow guns into all government meetings including those of the legislature. Rep. Biteman of Ranchester is point man on these efforts. I suppose he will be the first one to carry a sidearm into a legislative committee meeting next year, as these people never seem to be voted out of office.

I am used to reporting on the nutty things that Republicans do in our one-party state. You can read some of my earlier columns by going here and here. Now I have to keep up with happenings on the national scene with the dawn of Trumplandia. This story is from the New York Daily News:
A conservative Arizona lawmaker, Rep. Bob Thorpe, is proposing a far-reaching law in Arizona, House Bill 2120, banning virtually every college event, activity or course which discusses social justice, skin privilege, or racial equality. Violating the law would allow the state of Arizona to levy multimillion-dollar fines and penalties against universities. 
A few years ago, Arizona enacted a law that eliminated ethnic studies courses. I blogged about that here. And now this

Just the beginning, folks.

No comments: