Durango has turned me into a city wimp – which is kind of weird since I grew up in Los Angeles. Traffic and billboards and aggressive strangers used to be part of my everyday life. In my more deluded moments, I like to think I got a little street smart, too: my freshman year of high school, a friend and I took a bus to a dangerous section of the city, and we protected ourselves by loudly declaring, “Have you seen my new gun? I have it here in my purse ” and pretending to brawl.

I moved away when I was 17, and now, it turns out, I can’t even handle being in Denver. I came to this realization a couple of weekends ago when my boyfriend Bryan and I made a pilgrimage to Denver to see the Steve Kimock Band.

The trip didn’t start well, since we didn’t leave Durango until 5-ish. A few hours later, Bryan was pulled over for speeding by a state patroller who eventually let him go with a warning, but not before asking, “Your eyes are glassy and bloodshot. Have you had anything to drink or smoke?” Of course he hadn’t, and she was finally satisfied that his eyes were strained from driving for several hours.

But getting pulled over makes for slower driving, and we didn’t make it to Denver until after 11 p.m. It seemed like there was road construction everywhere. We spent some time driving around in circles before we found Federal, and the discounted hotel we’d booked on the Internet. It was the cheapest hotel in Denver, and we soon found out why.

As we pulled into the parking lot, it was hard not to notice all the loitering going on, just as when we got out of the car, it was hard to miss the man standing in the doorway of his hotel room eying us in his underwear.

A few minutes later, we were thrilled to discover that the room we’d been given at reception was the same room the creepy underwear guy was in. We were smart enough to figure that out before bursting in on him in wearing even less.

Luckily, the next key she gave us opened the door to an unoccupied hotel room. This one featured a brand new, unpainted doorframe, presumably because someone had kicked the door in recently. The ripped and stained bedspread complimented the stale odor of smoke, and Bryan decided to sit on our cooler instead of the bed.

Despite the room’s condition we decided not to venture out, and ordered a pizza. As we handed the delivery woman the money, she said, “Anyone who stays here and tips me, I gotta give them something back: lock your door when I leave. I was carjacked at this hotel last year.”

The next morning, we felt fortunate that our car was still parallel parked in front of our room, right where we’d left it. But that feeling vanished as Bryan pulled out and a large man in the room next to us bellowed, “Don’t hit my car, mother$#@&!” Unfortunately, the lot dead-ended and we had to turn around and go past the man, who was standing over his car with his chest puffed out.

“Everything ok, man?” Bryan asked.

“You hit my car.”

There were some paint scratches at the base of the lowrider, probably from going over a speedbump too fast, and the license plate was dented.

“What, I dented your license plate?” Bryan asked.

The guy was trying to pin preexisting damage on the car we hadn’t touched, so Bryan said, “Sorry, man,” and started to drive away. The look the guy shot us said there would be retribution later – this was not over. I had visions of our car with slashed tires, key streaks in the paint, smashed windows needless to say, we fled.

We went looking for a new hotel, and finally found one that was clean, and downtown, and only cost $6 more than the normal rate for our hotel on Federal. A quick swipe of my credit card, and we were back to Federal to collect our bags as fast as possible. We managed to avoid another confrontation, and the clerk even gave us $10 off our room for the key mix-up the night before.

It was time for vodka. We dumped our stuff in our new room, and headed to Denver’s pedestrian mall. We wound up in one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants – credit card in hand – for screwdrivers and more pizza. It was like being in a different world. There was a spoiled child riding his bicycle around the restaurant, while just outside, the mall was teeming with affluent shoppers streaming in and out of Barnes and Noble and Starbucks, and lining up to lunch at an overpriced panini wagon. The economic contrast was jarring.

My experience in Denver provided a much needed reality check. Here in Durango, lots of people – myself included – complain about the cost of housing, about having to work so much or so many jobs, about not being able to get ahead financially. As a general rule, we’re not as rich as the people in the snooty pedestrian mall. But we’re also not trying to frame our neighbors for money.

It’s hard to ever say, “I have enough.” It would be nice to go to the dentist once in awhile, to replace the tires on the truck, to eat out when it isn’t a special occasion. But even those of us who complain of being poor still have gear – even if it’s second-hand – to go cycling or camping or paddling or other fun stuff. I know I’d only lived here for about a month before a new friend gave me a pair of skis that I still use.

So while it’s true that we all work a lot and it’s hard as hell to save money, it’s good to remember once in awhile that we aren’t stuck in Denver or some other city – we’re here in Durango, and for the most part, we’re doing ok.

-Jennifer Reeder



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