It’s Sunday, August 10th, as I wake up to a misty morning, the 14,000 feet peaks enshrouded to their valley base by a gray vapor…quite unusual for this time of year. I’m up and over Trout Creek Pass and into South Park, the highest valley in the state. Through Fairplay and on to Jefferson, where I pass Como, the tiny town that outlawed soaring machines over their pleasant pastures. It’s true. Three years ago cuz John treated his daughter and son-law and me to one exhilarating experience …”winging it” up and around and down through the Colorado stratosphere in a metal bird, as silent and effortless as migrating geese. Now the soaring ship species have been banned from its original habitat like nature’s flocks ostracized to another spawning ground. In the absurd sense, I contend it was noise pollution that killed our “birds!”.
I stop in Jefferson just to gawk again at the “restored” railroad station (now a historical museum like so many other depots). Up here, I feel like the high plains drifter. Just another 500 feet upward and I’m at Kenosha Pass at 10,000 feet elevation. A plethora of memories penetrate my mind. I’ve camped out up here in this place for all seasons many, many times over the last 18 years, the most memorable being the early Octobers when the aspens were at their peak fall colors – unbelievable! I have the entire afternoon to just relax, build a small fire, and sit in my easy (passenger side) chair watching horseback riders and hikers ascend the slopes. It’s so peaceful. I descend from the summit to Bailey and ascend Crow Hill (on this stretch of Hwy 285, you have to go up to go down, and vice versa) and then take the turnoff to Jerry and Vivian Rosso’s house (John’s son-in-law).
It’s a relief to get off the highway. I’ve been tailgated all the way by buzzbombs and belchfires in a harried hurry to get from point A to point B. It is no longer the relaxed, pleasurable excursion of bygone days. Route 285 is now commuter alley. These inane-headed habitués actually live (?) in subdivisions above Jefferson and drive 60 or 70 miles to work in Denver. They exist with the Great American False Pretense of building a house to “get away from it all”. Most of the “exclusive” lots have a view of the neighbor’s A-frame, or whatnot. It’s downright scary to think about the possibility of a 4 or 6 lane expressway linking the Mile High city with South Park.
Whatever happened to Zero Population Growth? These concerns are reinforced by Jerry at the dinner table which, by the way, has been plated with Vivian’s incomparable taco recipe. Jerry notes that land values adjacent and near to “the highway” have gone ballistic, which only bodes of a development frenzy. I congratulate John on having negotiated the steep grades and tight turns in his RV on a 25 mile trek up from Denver and offer an initiative handshake into the “fan-belt set”(as opposed to his accustomed “jet-set” status). He balks momentarily at this approbation, so 1 render an explanation as to the origin of this phrase: I coined it myself while traversing the U. S. of A. 150,000 miles over the last 16 years, whereupon divorcing myself from the dependency of jet travel. Most of the next day, John, with his inimitable concern for detail, is consumed with his owner’s manual, perusing page by page all the data relating to the essential operation of his new mobile home. The scenario was tantamount to a NASA checklist before liftoff.
Hey, I really admire his prudence, which was so beneficial during the design development phase of his domicile. At my last visit here, Jerry notices the altimeter on the dash of Ol’ Baleau. I can tell he’s covetous. So I find one in Dallas and mail it to him, surprise-like. Now I ask him how he’s enjoying it, and he has to admit he’s having trouble adhering it to the dash, but he’s going to work it out. Perseverance is the Rosso family password. Which leads me to add that I admire the two of them, raising two beautiful children (Rachel and Randy) while both work at their respective professions. And, of course, they have their dreams of a larger house with more land. Jerry is a native of the Pittsburgh area and loves hunting (a handsomely restored rifle is his treasure). He’s a good-lookin’ guy with black hair and beard. I can’t help but envision him as one of the characters right out of that classic movie set in the mountains of Pennsylvania,”The Deerslayer”. No, he’s not a Robert De Niro, but maybe John Savage.
John offers to treat everyone to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants in the entire country – “The Fort”, which specializes in buffalo cuisine. No babysitter’s available, so the job is relegated to papa Rosso. I’m tempted to eschewthe dinner in favor of just relaxing and throwing back a few Coors with Jerry. Butthen I remember he and his pickup are pulling out before first light, so it’s earlysack time for ol’ Jere. He and I concur that I should don my dudes one more time(I thought I’d seen the last of my dress-ups back in Albuquerque). The four of us pile into the Suburban as I jest with Vivian about their big Chevy being an imported”Official Texas State Motor Vehicle”. We meet another of the Farris’ daughters, Jo Ellen, and her manfriend Pat, and are sated with another moveable feast. Here’s one more correlation: as the altitude increases, so does one’s appetite. John’s formula for enjoying his epicurean experiences is “discovering” new delectable dishes.He is truly a man who “lives to eat”. I, on the other hand, am quite the opposite.
The next morning, Vivian, the kids, and I wave goodbye to another launching of the Battleship Itasca as all systems are “set to go”. I sense a small wave of depression as I watch my dear friends slash clients depart for an extended and unexpected leave of absence due to the circumstances that erupted in Albuquerque. After coffee and toast, I depart the Rosso Ranchero, wishing her good fortune. I was wishing I had the power of The Pope.
Fortuitously, I was downgrading Route285 into Denver after the frenetic rush of the commuters had subsided. I slide down into the metromess, slightly numbed by the same skyline that has subsisted since I left town backin 1984. Now the highlights of my Denver visits are “doing lunches” with the principals of Tilly and Johnson Architecture, Inc.
The planets are lined up just rightagain. Tom R. is available for an “exclusive” lunch date. Seems like one ofthe few times he has time to take a noon-time break is when ol’ Billy Bob comes ramblin’ intotown, as he tells it. This upstart firm, a spin-off from our former employer, RNL, has generated tens of millions worth of design commissions for the construction of Colorado State Correctional Institutions! R & J are the epitome of untethered free-enterprise system … two individuals severing ties with the mother lode and literally “stealing” (better design) work from the titan. We have another reunion at anoutdoor restaurant a block away from the governor’s mansion. “Young” Bob Johnson joins us at halftime and proceeds to catch up.
We regurgitate (bad choice of words)over the best of times with RNL, especially the five-day on-site design charretteswe consummated in Santa Fe, Crested Butte, Cheyenne, and Wichita. Those were reallythe best of times. I’ll never, ever forget them. I guess you could call us thedinin’, winin’, designin’ dynamo from Denver. We were the best in the west. From my start with RNL in 1978, Tom Reilly was my mentor. Soon after, we became a design/delineator tandem nonpareil…I would take his plans and elevations and transposethem intostudy perspectives from which we would build a design.
I loved working with Tom. It was an imperceptive meeting of the minds. Besides being as unpretentious and straightforward a person as I’d ever want to know, Tom is a private person. Years ago he confided in me about his divorce (evidently, a long time in coming), and his new lady companion whom he had known for quite some time. Of course, I was traumatized by this unabashed outpouring, but then it began to register that he was spilling his guts out to me. After assuring me that he was happier now than he had beenfora long time, I felt honored that he had entrusted me with this privy information. He left and I climbed into Ol’ Baleau …and wept. Well that’s my short story about my best friend in Denver. He has been one special person in my life.