Thursday, October 25, 2018

Part IX: The Way We Worked: Things To Do In Denver When You're Alive

Where do you look for work when you're new to Denver?

Ski shop? Sure. Colorado was crazy for skiing in 1978 and it was affordable too. Every Friday, Denverites piled into their big American cars and raced up the hill to big American ski areas such Vail and Breckenridge and Aspen. These skiers needed gear and there were plenty of places to get it. People flocked to the Gart Brothers Sportscastle on South Broadway. You could get anything sports-oriented there. Buy a new tennis racket and try it out on the rooftop tennis court. Test drive golf clubs at the driving range or skis on the ski machine. Gart Brothers always was hiring but preferred sales people with a sports background.

So, instead of working at a castle, Chris worked a few blocks down Broadway at a storefront selling ski equipment from a failed business. Neal, one of my father's Regis College buddies, owned the store. He put her to work, even though she had no ski experience, had lived most of her life in semi-tropical army bases in exotic locales such as Atlanta and Ethiopia. Colorado's Rocky Mountains were new territory as was sizing ski boots for bargain hunters with stinky feet. 

Colorado, then as now, was a place where young people came to mingle with other young people in the great outdoors. Denver, especially, was and is a sports town. My cousins were crazy for the Broncos, a formerly hapless NFL team that had played in its first Super Bowl in January '78. When they weren't cycling or kayaking or hiking or jogging or skiing, Denverites watched the Broncos. 

No surprise, then, that Chris and I both found ourselves in the sports biz. I covered high school sports for The Denver Post. I was part of the crew of correspondents that traveled the state, reporting on the exploits of the Brush Beetdiggers, Fort Collins Lambkins, East High Angels, and Monte Vista Demons (Colorado high schools go way beyond "Bulldogs" when it comes to mascots). Our charge was to chronicle each game, get the score right, and spell correctly the names of the standout athletes. This last one was important. Upset parents usually went right to the sports editor with complaints. He didn't like complaints. Check spellings, he'd say. And spare me the deathless prose -- save that for your novel. The joke was the every reporter had a novel a-brewing in his bottom drawer, right next to the pint of rotgut whiskey.

One night at a staff party at the downtown Holiday Inn, Denver Nuggets General Manager Bob King chatted with Chris and found out that she was looking for a new job. The conversation probably went something like this:

Chris: I work at a ski shop. I don't know anything about skiing.
Bob: What do you know about basketball?
Chris: Nothing
Bob: How would you like to work for the Nuggets?
Chris: When do I start?

Chris worked in the Nuggets front office for two years. She had the use of a pair of season tickets. I couldn't make much use of them because I worked most of the nights that the Nuggets played. My cousins were free on weekends so they went to the games while I watched 5-foot-4 girls play roundball in Evergreen and Colorado Springs. I sometimes filed my stories on ancient fax machines. When those didn't work, I called and dictated my stories from remote locations to meet the 11 p.m. deadline. On other nights, I covered hockey or wrestling or anything else that might sell newspaper subscriptions. I covered racketball, tennis, cycling, baseball, and motocross during my three years at the Post.

Meanwhile, Chris assisted the Nuggets through a winning with future Hall-of-Famers Dan Issel, Charlie Scott and David Thompson. It was a pleasure to watch Issel mix it up with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Kareem was the superior athlete. But Issel made up for it in sheer grit. Nobody could fly like "Skywalker" Thompson. In a search for other highs, he almost sabotaged a brilliant career with his yen for cocaine.

In 1981, I landed a job as managing editor of a lifestyle weekly called Up the Creek. Chris grew tired of the sports world and switched to banking. Two of my sisters moved to Denver and worked as nurses. The cold got to them and they returned to Florida. Chris and I both entertained thoughts of moving back to Florida. Friends and family lived so far away. Chris's mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1980 and she made many trips back to Daytona. We were young and didn't mind taking cheap red-eye flights out of Denver's Stapleton for weddings and reunions and eventually funerals.

In retirement, we ask ourselves many questions. Looking back, what would I have done differently? There were scores of alternative lives I could have lived. One of a fiction writer's jobs is writing about alternative worlds, lives different from mine.

I still write fiction. Making stuff up satisfies a need in me. While I worked through various jobs, I kept writing. I have journals going back to 1972. I've published one book of short fiction, published a number of stories and essays in magazines and anthologies. I have posted weekly on my blog since 2005. I have written thousands of words, maybe millions. I am sure that I spent the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers said I needed to be an expert in my field. Expertise did not lead to Stephen King-style publishing success. Still, I write. 

I had a number of jobs in the second half of my working life. Two of them managed to consume 30 years in the blink of an eye. I will write about them in upcoming posts. 


RobertP said...


I remember visiting you and Chris in Denver and feeling the whole building shake when the Broncos were playing. Did not know that Chris worked for the Nuggets and and though I love my work at the Bank, can't imagine leaving the Nuggets for that.

Have a few pictures of you and Chris in Denver. That was a while back.

Keep the story going, it is interesting. I have also thought of writing about some of my old (and current) jobs. Like my stint at Rapp's Deli in Gainesville. I am able to loop back now and see some of the business lessons and principles that apply to my current job.


Michael Shay said...

I have learned a lot writing about these jobs. Even the supposedly inconsequential ones came with their own set of consequences. I would love to hear about your jobs, especially the ones in G-ville. That place was filled with unusual characters, some right in our own neighborhood. Have you heard the recently released boxed set of Tom Petty songs? I like some of those versions better than the ones released earlier. He has a song called "Gainesville" that was never released. I still have the book you gave me on the Gainesville music scene. I read the first two chapters and then got sidetracked doing research for my book. I yearn to get back to it. I have a scene from G-ville in one of my published stories, "Water People on the Shore." I did write some local stories in my UF writing classes. I will have to look through my files and journals to see what I have.