Top Shelf

Trailer living, Bootleggers and free skiing

by Chris Aaland

I’ve never been high on trailer parks. It’s not a snobby disdain for the working class, mind you.

Rather, it’s the personal hell of living in a castle on wheels as a child in the late ’70s and early ’80s. My first experience was on my grandpa’s ranch on Silt Mesa for a couple of years with my parents and little sister. The second was a few years later after my parents’ divorce. Stephanie chose to move to Denver with Mom; I opted to stay in Rifle with Dad, his future second wife and her annoying daughter. During that year-long stint, we lived in a trailer park closer to town. I never fit in, neither with my soon-to-be step-family, nor the other kids in the park that I rode the school bus with.

This Thanksgiving week, I’m back in a park. My brother Billy and I made our annual trek to Norton, Kans., on Sunday for a week of pheasant and quail hunting. This time around, my step-dad and mom aren’t part of the show. For the first time ever, we’re hunting as a duo without our 65-year-old folks who are opting to winter in the warmth of Arizona.

Fortunately, a family friend owns a small trailer park in the middle of Norton, and he offered up an empty trailer for us to crash in. There’s no furniture. We brought an old TV of Billy’s to plug into cable. This accomplishes two things: first, we can get our ESPN fix. Second, by leaving the TV on overnight, it dulls the constant sound of 18-wheelers rolling by outside our front door. Nothing like hearing jake brakes every 10 minutes or so to remind you that you’re sleeping on the floor.

We’ve already made some home improvements. I had two lawn chairs in the back of my pickup that we sit on. A couple of foam pads that Mercy Medical Center let me sleep on when Otto was born have now been converted into hunting mattresses. We’ve stocked the fridge with beer, water, tortillas, limes, cold cuts and a bag of lettuce. Empty beer cans and Jim Beam bottles decorate the kitchen. And there’s the usual clutter of shotguns, ammo, tobacco cans, spittoons and dirty laundry. Even as I type Top Shelf, my computer monitor sits atop a stack of coolers fashioned into a desk.

But there’s plenty to be thankful for. It’s free, after all. The heater works. We have running water, both the hot and cold variety. The refrigerator door won’t shut, but if you jam rolled up newspapers between the freezer and fridge doors it manages to keep things somewhat cold. The freezer works great and is already getting filled with birds. There’s a shower, plus mini soaps and shampoo bottles in our travel bags, giving us the option to bathe (we haven’t yet). The bathrooms each have a roll of toilet paper. And we’re right next door to Ebke’s Liquors and Love’s General Store.

So, it’s 7:52 a.m. on Day Two of our trek, meaning I should wrap this up, tidy the trailer and wake Billy from his hangover and set out into the fields in search of game. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

One thing we can all give thanks for is the Durango Bootlegger’s Society, the local consortium of our four award-winning breweries. Not only do these brewmeisters craft up tasty suds, they happily assist numerous local causes. Case in point: their recent “Pint for Pint” blood drive on Halloween added 74 pints of blood to United Blood Services’ reserves. Launched in 2003, this unique drive exchanges vouchers for a free pint of beer in exchange for a pint of blood. The brewery that draws the most blood gets bragging rights (this year it was Durango Brewing Co.) Spencer Roper, of the losing Steamworks team, has died his hair a rosy shade of red just in time for the holidays. Good fun, great cause. Thanks to all.

Another thing we can be thankful for is Music in the Mountains, the classical music festival each summer that brings world-class performers to the region and encourages music education. In recognition of its 25th anniversary and partnership with Durango Mountain Resort, the festival is holding a raffle and an auction for a pair of 25-year passes to DMR. Purchase a raffle ticket for $25 and be entered for your chance to win free skiing and boarding through 2037. Only 2,500 tickets will be sold. The drawing will be held at noon Jan. 21 at DMR’s Bear Bar. You can also participate in the online auction for the other 25-year pass. Visit to find out more.

Ska hosts a post-Thanksgiving reggae party with the DJ Denver Vintage Reggae Society from 5-7 p.m. Friday. There will be $2 pints of True Blonde on tap for Jah’s faithful.

Moe’s lineup includes a disco party with DJ Mateo from 8 ‘til close Friday, dancing with DJ Treazon from 8 ‘til close Saturday, Musica del Mundo at 9 p.m. Sunday, and Tuesday’s open mic night.

Also of note: Pete Giuliani plays acoustic happy hour at El Rancho Tavern from 5-8 p.m. Friday; and Black Velvet is back at the Derailed Saloon at 8 p.m. Saturday.

This week’s Top Shelf list recaps three of my favorite Thanksgivings:

1. 1999, San Francisco. Shelly, her brother and I drove to the Bay Area to visit their sister and her boyfriend. Chef Drew was just completing culinary school, and made us a meal for the ages – seven courses paired with wine. The highlights were a pumpkin and garlic bisque served in roasted pumpkins and a turducken that he spent days laboring over in the California Culinary Academy kitchens.

2. 2002, Rafter J. Shelly and I prepared our first Thanksgiving dinner together, as we usually traveled out of town. Countless cookbooks, magazines and phone calls to relatives helped us get the bird and trimmings to turn out perfectly. We haven’t replicated the feat since. Call it beginner’s luck.

3. 2004, Colorado Springs. Our last Thanksgiving with my grandpa, John Otto Aaland, who died the following June after 86 wonderful years. He was surrounded by his wife, daughters and grandchildren and glowed with pride. Three years later, a new John Otto Aaland – our son – celebrated his first Turkey Day.

Just a half a mile from the railroad track? E-mail me at