Vacation Time with Joe and Elvira Part II

Wow, wake-up call was at first light, thanks to my cellular “freebie” phone from Radio Shack (I turned it in after my one-year contract had expired). Their modus operandi was for a one-day saturated sightseeing tour of all remaining attractions. Our first port-of-call was the Grand Slam Breakfast at Denny’s, whose establishment was currently under close scrutiny for discriminatingly seating customers according to race. Well, we sure threw the receptionist into a state of involuntary traction when we asked to be seated. I thought to myself, “Was there a special area for a “Black, White, and Brown Combo”? Fortunately, she pretended to be naive about the touchy situation, and seated us as if there was “no problem”. We looked at each other as if to say, “Is this the 1990s or the 1950s?”. Anyway, we had a great slam-bam, thank you ma’am $1.99 breakfast, and then took off to catch the 8 AM express up to Pikes Peak. The whirlwind tour had started.

As the cog railway started grinding its way up an almost indiscernible 10% grade, I sat there wondering what in the wide world of vacations had I gotten myself into. The fact that I was locked into someone else’s schedule left me a little disoriented at first, but as we ascended higher into the Colorado stratosphere, and the panoramas became more breathtaking, the few trepidations I had soon dissipated. Seize the day, I thought. When we reached the 14,110 ft. summit, everyone scurried into the souvenir shop, except this abnormal tourist. I was literally running from one side of the summit to the other in order to grasp all the unlimited vistas. We had been blessed with a crystal clear morning. I found Joe, and led him around the perimeter of the “flattop”, gesturing to geographical points of interest in a 360 degree are.

Frankly, I don’t think he was absorbing much of what I was trying to convey to him, but I was having a ball. “Look over there”, I said, pointing to the southwest. “You and Elvira were just there yesterday. That’s the Royal Gorge”. Then I ran him over to another edge, and said, “See all that? That’s the eastern half of Colorado spread out below you …all that wheat, grain, and barley…a bunch of which goes into making Coors beer”. I dragged him over to the north edge, and pointedly said, “There’s Woodland Park right down there, and way off to the northwest is Kenosha Pass, and beyond that is the Continental Divide where you see that sharp outline of a mountain ridge”. Well, Joe had just about enough of my running the gamut of scenic overlooks. The conductor’s call for “All aboard” saved Joe from any more of my panning the horizons.

On the way down, we passed a tram on its way up that was crammed full like seven sardines in a size-six can. I apologetically said to Joe, “I can see why you wanted to catch the sunrise special. This train is only a third full, and we have all this freedom to move about. You did good, Joe”. And then he replied, “Thank you, Guerimo, for the tour on top of the mountain”. I thought what a great day it had been, and it wasn’t even lunchtime. Before we reached Ground Zero, I cornered the conductor to ask a few questions concerning the marvelous piece of machinery on which our lives were entrusted.

The mechanics of a cog railway were basically the same as a cable car, the only difference was that instead of a continuously moving cable (to which the trolley attached itself by some sort of hook), there was a stationary center rail with teeth, to which a motorized cogged wheel on the underbelly of the driving car engaged. Hey, not a half-bad description for an architect, huh? My next question was what everyone on the train wanted to know, but was afraid to ask: “Was there a back-up safeguard system that could be employed just in case the teeth didn’t quite mesh?” Keep in mind, the grades at some points were as steep as 20%. He assured me that there was a secondary cogged wheel that would automatically engage itself. I felt relieved. After all, the cars were built in Sweden, so I figured they knew what they were doing. I related my scientific discoveries to the Rodriguez twosome, and they pretentiously exhaled a sigh of relief. “Everything is copasetic goin’ down”, I said, and added, “Enjoy the view”. Where were all the ursine creatures that roam the Rockies? We had seen a bunch of mountain rams just below the summit.

I had to tell my friends that this was like an anniversary trip for me (the 40th or 50th. I couldn’t remember). Anyway, it had to be back in the Dark Ages, when Dad drove a ‘48 Olds up a hairpin, gravel road with water bags tied to the hood. I did remember it was one scary drive – there were no guardrails. And when we got to the top, it was cold and cloudy (it was summertime). Well, that was Dad’s strict vacation regimen – it was Tuesday, we must climb Pikes Peak. Joe empathized with what I was saying (coincidentally, both he and Dad were CFAs), since their vacation itinerary was pretty much on the same uncompromising time frame.