Out ot pasture

Out to pasture

I’ve watched many friends go off in search of greener grass.

The excuse is always the same – it’s time to cut the losses, go back to the city and get a real job. Blame top ramen burnout, pressure from mom and dad or images of televised glamour, but fallout is a universal in Colorado mountain towns. At some point, the blue sky is no longer rich enough, and many of us go crawling back to the outside world

My friend and ice climbing buddy Jeff typified the trend. He was making strides as an apprentice electrician, had a steady girlfriend and was spending three to four days a week getting lost in the mountains. By most mountain guy standards – $8.50/hour with perks like a weekday pass and a scrip to Playboy – Jeff had it made. The guy was pulling down a handsome paycheck for Durango, had defied the odds of the breeding pool and was recreating as much as he worked.

But Jeff was also discontent and ready to call it quits. In spite of the paycheck, the companionship and the backcountry, his hefty rent bill mixed with unattainably high mortgages had his eyes wandering.

“I’m just sick of it, man,” he told me as he tied up for a pitch of ice. “I don’t feel like I can go any higher here. I hate to say it, but I think it’s time to leave Colorado.”

Another friend, Julie, hit the same wall. She was gainfully employed, making good money as a legal assistant. Julie skied powder a couple days a week, partied enough to boast a cute, mountain town tummy and saw every band worth a shake that passed through the Four Corners. On the one hand, she was the prototypical “mountain chick,” out-pinning most male telemarkers and unashamed to hoist a few after the lifts closed. On the other, she had it together, excelling at her 9-to-5 and bringing home a nice chunk of loot. But it was still not enough to lock into the Durango dream – 700 square feet of south-side fixer upper complete with coal smoke ambiance – and behind her easy smile, there was always an air of unhappiness. “It’s like an itch I can’t seem to scratch,” she told me. “I don’t know why, but Durango just isn’t doing it for me.”

Jeff and Julie both left La Plata County for greener pastures around the same time. Jeff transplanted his climbing rack to the Bay Area with his mind set on higher education and a potential return to a comfier local berth. Julie heeded the ever-present and strong call of the Front Range, hoping to find a larger piece of the pie and a niche in need of less fixer upping.

This is the part of the story where two happy endings – the so-called pots of gold at the end of the rainbow – should show up. Unfortunately, our two intrepid adventurers both fell a little short of their dreams. At last report, Jeff hadn’t climbed in three years, had stopped taking his night classes and had settled into his routine at Chili’s (yes, that Chili’s, the casual family restaurant that’s spreading like a rash everywhere west of the Mississippi). His life as an electrician behind him, Jeff proudly worked the fry-grill, preparing “Awesome Blossoms” and “Quesadilla Explosions” for the hungry West Coast masses.

“True, it’s not really what I had in mind,” he confided. “But at least the rent and weed are cheaper out here.”

Jeff was less than eager to mention his new car payment (“When did Geo Storms get so friggin’ expensive?”) or the double-digit poundage bonus he’d picked up backstage at Chili’s. Instead, he suggested I should come for a visit and a little big city club time.

Julie, on the other hand, enjoyed a slightly happier ending. After unsuccessfully pushing her resume at law firms throughout the Denver metro area, she locked into a dream of her mother’s and started flying the “friendly skies.”

Initially, she did the puddle jumper circuit, serving up bloodies and ginger ales on the bumpy out-and-backs between Denver and romantic locales like Casper and Laramie. At last check-up, she’d upgraded to a 737, was navigating the thin air at 30,000 feet and exploring La Quintas and Quality Inns throughout the greater Midwest. Unlike Jeff, Julie had managed to land a mortgage payment – a cool $1,250 a month for a two-bedroom efficiency. “I never thought I’d live in east Denver,” she chuckled. “But, what the hell, it’s nice and new and close to the airport.”

You might be asking why Julie didn’t wake up, smell the burnt convenience store coffee, sell up and come back to La Plata County. “I love Durango, and it will always be home for me,” Julie confessed. “But to tell the truth, Denver and I-70 look a helluva lot better out of my own windows than Perins ever did from inside that rental unit.”

–– Will Sands



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January 11, 2024
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