I headed east on a stretch of I-70, then through the “mix-master” and south on a log jammed I-25. Welcome to 5 o’clock rush hour in the big city. Actually, I had time to spare and the 25 mph traffic flow gave me a chance to absorb the dramatic Denver skyline with the impressive Coors Field in the foreground. Quite a sight! I exited at 20th St. which took me through downtown and eventually to my old haunt, King Soupers on Capitol Hill. I patronized their superb deli for a take-out dinner. You know, I’m one of the 35 per cent of Americans who do not own a cell phone. Therefore, I was resigned to call a number of my old Denver buddies via the old fashion way – the payphone. Believe me, in the not too distant future, the telephone booth will be a Smithsonian artifact. I made my usual check-in with the King Soupers security patrol to insure that it was okay to spend the night in their ancillary parking lot. Everything was copasetic. I nestled under the cottonwood in the far corner of the lot. It had been a great day – Colorado revisited.
The next morning, I called my best friend in Denver, Tom Reilly. He said, “C’mon over. I want to show off our remodeling job.” I scurried over to his house at 920 S. Gilpin, a couple of blocks from Washington Park. As I observed the latest renovation, the white-washing of the living and dining room walls, I had to ask, “Where are you going to hang my framed portrait of the Chrysler Building?” He replied, “We haven’t decided yet, but it will definitely be in a showcase spot in the living room.” We sat at the dining room table as I shared with him my drawings of my son Ted’s house design. He thought it was a great concept, and that was all I needed coming from a man whose design criteria (as a co-employee at RNL Architects) I had always admired. His lady friend Fran was at an Italian speech class, and I told Tom I thought there was very admirable of her. I had parked in the next door neighbor’s rear drive, so Tom accompanied me back to Ol’ Blue. He proudly pointed out his semi-open wooden fence work and the supplementary landscaping he had provided – a two-foot wide strip between the alley and fence consisting of various flowers and an ivy vine. I had to say, “This is great alleyscape.” He replied, “My neighbor across the alley told me, “Tom, you’ve raised the bar.” As I sat in the van ready to back out, Tom said, “I can remember when Ol’ Blue came in back in 1981.” I said, “Yeah, and she’s still purrin’ like a kitten like the day I drove her off the lot.” What a great time with my old friend!
I took Colfax Ave. west to merge with I-25 and then north to the I-76 exit. Denver was getting as bad as Houston and Dallas in terms of 100 yard-plus wide swaths of concrete being laid for freeways. It’s a fact that ten percent of this country’s land is now covered with concrete. To put that in perspective, 100 years ago that figure was zero percent. It was a wild drive through the northeastern plains of Colorado with intermittent rain showers pelting the windshield. I was very thankful that I had just replaced the wiper blades. It was getting late in the afternoon when I exited at Julesburg. Right there was the Budget Host Motel. I had never seen that particular motel brand, but it looked good to me. I checked in at the very reasonable rate of $42.00. I kind of perceived that the lady proprietor was a native of the area. I asked, “Wasn’t Julesburg the site of some major battles between the U.S. Calvary and Indians?” She replied, “Yes it was. Julesburg was only an outpost and its location moved several times because of Indian raids. Then a branch of the Trans-Continental railroad came through and made it a real town.” I thanked her for a very informative conversation and retired to a pleasant room.
The next morning, I drove through what remained of Julesburg – an eroding little town, but still on the Union Pacific three-track main line to Denver. I was now on U.S. 138 and shortly crossed the state line into Nebraska, eventually merging with one of my favorite roads – U.S. 30, also known as the Old Lincoln Highway. Just east of Ogallala, the train spotting started. One by one, coal and intermodal trains were headed west, the former to the rich fields of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and the latter to the shipyards in Oakland. At times, I would catch up with an eastbound carrying coal to Chicago to fuel their power plants. I stopped in the small burg of Overton and pulled up near the tracks. I walked over and stood between the rails, peering down the endless straightaway when I finally caught a glimpse of a headlight probably two or three miles down the tracks. It was magical. Then I heard someone shout, “Hey buddy! You okay?” Two truckers walked over from their rigs parked nearby and one said, “Shouldn’t be standing in the tracks. That train could be on top of you before you know it.” I raised my palms outward and said, “No problem. I’m just an addicted train lover.” I was thinking they had in their minds that I was suicidal. As the impending “rush” of power approached, we took refuge behind the lowered grade crossing arm. The draft of whirling air buffeted us, the deafening sound of rolling steel on steel went off the decibel scale, and the earth trembled beneath our feet. I walked away saying, “Well, I got my fix.” I could hear them in the background laughing.
Not far down the road, I noticed in my outside mirror a patrol car make a U-turn and was sticking to me like a cobweb. All of a sudden, I became the world’s best driver, with both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock, using my turn indicators, and keeping a straight and steady course. My ruse didn’t work. In my mirror, I saw the dreaded red, white, and blue party hat flashing. Oh, what a horrible sight! The patrolman’s initial reason for pulling me over was for inching over the white shoulder line. In short, it was a 45 minute ordeal of sobriety tests, interrogations, and van search for alleged illegal substances. I sat in the patrol car keeping my cool. In the meantime, two more patrol cars had pulled up. Judas Priest, you’d think I was on The Ten Most Wanted List. What a sham! I was feeling very violated. The officer was finally convinced that I was not driving under the influence and not transporting cocaine.
Back on the road, I was thinking what a trumped-up cause to stop and search. In many cases, pullovers are perpetrated purely on suspicion. It has happened to me a number of times – a single guy driving an old van with out-of-state plates. It’s like I was driving with a red flag tied to the back. Thirty minutes later I was in Grand Island where I headed south on the main drag, otherwise known as Motel Row. I passed by The Regency House which had a marquee flashing a $29.95 single rate. When I noticed there was only one guest auto in the parking lot (it was six in the evening), I figured I could afford better. On down the street, I found a familiar Holiday Inn where I had stayed on my Last Blast of Winter Trip back in 2001. I found my rest area for the night. It sure beat having to spend the night in jail (a farfetched assumption).