The reunion

We were the lost children of Town Park – the sons and daughter of the hippies, ski bums and anarchists who jumpstarted a mining town gone bust. We grew up in run-down shacks and dated Victorians and spent our spring vacations in the backs of Volkwagen campers. We sold lemonade and chocolate chip cookies at early bluegrass festivals, brushed shoulders with Taj Mahal and Robin Williams on Main Street and almost “got it” when the Grateful Dead played our town in 1987. And we spent our summers exploring every contour and drainage on that other side of the San Juans, and our winters knee-deep in Rocky Mountain fluff.

Two decades ago, that handful of Telluride kids tossed their mortarboards in the air, snatched their diplomas and rapidly left the local landscape behind, scattering to the far ends of the earth. Each of us turned our backs on that small town and set off in search of a fabled place where the grass might just be greener.

Two weeks ago, much of that original handful returned to Telluride’s Main Street. More get-together than “reunion,” a couple dozen Telluride kids took a seat not far from our original wanderings, raised a glass to those good old days and bridged a massive span of time.

As it happens, most of those children of the San Juans are no longer “lost.” There were investment bankers, systems analysts and anesthesiologists. The son of a local artist had found his niche as a top producer at a real estate firm in Tucson. A daughter of one of Telluride early import/export artists was plying her trade as an associate television producer in Atlanta. The stepson of a cattle rancher was knee deep into a career in hedge funds in the Bay Area. And most ironically the offspring of a Mountain Village developer was doing time as an assistant manager at an airport Outback Steakhouse in Phoenix.

But there was one thread connecting each of us “kids” – a powerful desire to return to those same mountains from whence we came. Each and every one wanted nothing more than to retrace their parents’ steps, turn their backs on the real world and recolonize the Southern Rockies. However, the mountains had changed in their absence. At some point, the rest of the world had caught on, bought 35-acre chunks of paradise and driven the price of admission way beyond the means of your average Outback shift boss.

“We’re trying to make it back,” they all slurred in unison. “We just need our portfolios to mature, our 401Ks to pop and our real estate investments to blossom so we can get back through the front door.” (Mr. Outback skipped the chorus in favor of an eighth Pabst Blue Ribbon.)

I’m happy to report that I also skipped the refrain, counting myself an early failure. You see I tried the outside world, and something about the air beneath 5,000 feet just didn’t agree with me. My own path once pointed out of the San Juans to the East Coast. Just a few years later, my moment of truth hit as I was trapped in the heart of an ice storm and trapped inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C. Stunned, chilled and bitter, I arrived at my desk job, gave notice and vowed never again to trade powder for ice, dirt for asphalt or peaks for skyscrapers.

Breaking back into Colorado, however, was easier imagined than accomplished. Since my fabulous return, I’ve been a sheet metal technician, a sod layer and a caretaker/ranch manager for the über-wealthy. I’ve scrubbed the man-sized ovens at Rudy’s Bakery and even served a one-day shift as the towel boy in a high altitude spa (what can I say, the town’s crack climbing far outweighed that day of viewing obscenely long crack). During those nearly 20 years (including the last seven at Telegraph central), I’ve made a maximum of $18/hour and lucked my way into my first mortgage. But unlike many of my childhood chums, I’ve always spent at least three days a week getting lost in the mountains.

“You finally got lucky,” my old compadres once again slurred in unison. “We’d move to Durango in a blink, if we could only make it work financially.”

Somewhere and somehow many of my friends’ old dirtbag values had fallen by the wayside.

Right on cue, my daughter came up, tugged on my shirttails, and it was off to a nearby grocery for some 7-year-old sasparilla. Holding a juice box in hand, I anxiously approached the checkout, itching to get back to my motley get-together. That’s when the lightning bolt struck. There, tending the cash register (just a few yards away from the big reunion) was another member of our lost generation (Apparently, he got neither the call, e-mail nor the memo).

“Whoa, what are you doing back in town?” my old friend, classmate and fellow Tellurider said as he laid a hug on me.

“Just passing through,” I lied, hoping not to hurt any high-elevation feelings.

As it turned out, that chance encounter offered all I needed. Appearances aside, that native of the San Juans had also spent the last 20 years putting the pieces together. My fellow son of the circus was checking produce a few evenings a week and making strides toward his teaching certificate by day. At the same time, he and his girlfriend were chipping away at a deed restricted mortgage and picking up an occasional odd job to fill the gaps. Most importantly, they were doing 20 to 30 hours a week out in the wild, earning turns in the winter and pedaling and climbing their summer days away.

“It’s just like the old days,” he said as we shook hands and parted. “We’re broke but happy and going nowhere fast. The sorry truth is, I feel just like our parents.”

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows