10 nov 1999         

- a wing and a prairie -

I spent all of last week in the eastern half of Colorado, the flat half.  Things are different there.

We flew out of Burbank on a warm Monday morning.  That airport is a favorite of mine, as it used to be the site of Lockheed's Skunk Works, the super-secret development arm of aviation's greatest technological innovator.  Kelly Johnson and his boys did some amazing things there, making flying machines invisible and fast.  Some of the buildings are gone now, but I still get a sense of Cold War spooks haunting the place.

I love flying.  It's my first and greatest passion.  If I can fly the plane myself I've reached Nirvana, but I'll take flying wherever I can get it.  If that means being an airline passenger, that's okay by me.  My enthusiasm has been passed on to Amy who is now the beneficiary of my greatest sacrifice: giving up the window seat.

While I have been farther east, it was my first time across the Continental Divide.  I know this comes as a shock to many of you who view me as an urbane and well-traveled raconteur, but alas, it is a ruse.  At heart I am a homebody, a simple man of the Pacific Suburban Peoples.  

The main reason for the trip was a reunion of Viv's family to celebrate her parents' 50th wedding anniversary.  As luck would have it, Viv had some business to conduct in the region and this allowed us to spend the first half of the week exploring the towns in the central part of the state, so we saw Denver, Colorado Springs, Westminster, Broomfield, Boulder, Estes Park, and Ft. Collins before settling back in Westminster for the anniversary festivities.


The reports of America's sameness are true.  Media, architecture, infrastructure -- there's an awful lot of homogeneity out there.  Seeing new places, and being unfamiliar with a resident's understanding of their character, I was struck by how much we are a culture of commerce, in the cities and towns, anyway.   

While you could say that familiarity breeds comfort, it may be more accurate to say complacency is what we've given birth to.  Mom & Pop stores are quaint anomalies now.  We want what we know and save adventure for places that charge admission.


Are small towns small for a reason, or are they places whose time has simply not yet come?

We spent a couple of days in Platteville.  To get there you exit I-25 and drive east for a while until you get past the fields ripe with the essence of bovinity, almost past them anyway, and turn left just after the river.  The old houses there are being bought up by monied Denverites who see what's happening to the American Small Town and want to get in on the ground floor.

The town is small enough so that when a stranger drives around in a rental car to check out the atmosphere the townsfolk check the stranger out as well.  I turned many a head as I cruised down the main drag one morning.  I'd like to think it was my fetching jawline, but it was probably due to the fact that I was driving something other than a muddy truck.  What, no rifle rack?  No antler hood ornament?  

I got the feeling that, for the most part, the residents there are either fleeing something about America that they can no longer cope with and so seek solace in withdrawal, or they're in search of a holy grail brimming with wholesome goodness, a myth about American values and character.

Okay, maybe I'm playing fast and loose with the Plattevillians.  Search and withdrawal are common to us all, I suppose.  I should probably get off my high donkey and admit that all the folks I met were pretty darn sweet and hospitable.

But still, there does seem to be something afoot in the grasslands.  Watch your step.


The fact is I had a wonderful trip.  We were so busy that I didn't have time to write much.  I've lost what little momentum I had, which accounts for the disjointed nature of this entry, but hiatus season is over and there is much to chronicle.

I'll be living in the darkroom and at the keyboard for the next several days, mining film and memory.


  today's music:

"Across The Great Divide" -- Nanci Griffith -- OTHER VOICES / OTHER ROOMS


today's wisdom:

"The new American finds his challenge and his love in traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the townlets wither a time and die... As all pendulums reverse their swing, so eventually will the swollen cities rupture like dehiscent wombs and disperse their children back to the countryside."

- John Steinbeck