Summer Odyssey – 2002 IX

Through the vastness of eastern Utah I was able to pick up a Giants game on KNBR out of San Francisco. There was something romantic, almost cosmic, about listening to a ballgame a thousand miles away. In Grand Junction, I found a safe parking space in a “neutral zone” between the Holiday Inn and a Texaco station. It was about 90 degrees around sunset (the warmest since Lubbock), but the humidity was a dry 17 per cent, so I figured the temperature would be dropping after dark like the New Year’s Ball in Times Square. And I was right. By ten o’clock, the thermometer had plummeted to 68 degrees, making for one more good night’s sleep in Ol’ Blue.

The next stop was Glenwood Springs to photograph one more outstanding train depot. I always liked that town because its main street was replete with honest-to-gosh stores, not chockablock with antique shops. It was what I like to call a real working town. I drove up Glenwood Canyon, glancing up now and then through the skylight to see the pinnacles on top of the canyon walls. They seemed to be pointing to Heaven. I passed the exit to Hanging Lake which once had been one of my favorite overnight stops when it was simply a wayside area off the old U.S. 6 highway. Now, because the final link of I-70 had been completed on the other side of the Colorado River (by means of a mile-long tunnel), the erstwhile idyllic pull-off had been replaced by a sanitized interstate rest area. Another slice of scenic America was gone forever, just for the sake of saving a few precious minutes of driving time. I cursed the day the interstates were born.

Just before reaching Vail, I stopped in Avon to call Johnny Appleby, an old Tech friend (and frat brother) whom I hadn’t seen since December of 1978 when I was moving to Denver. There was no answer, so I left a message including my e-mail address. I biked around the small community, and it became obvious that a total transformation had taken place. Back in the 1960s and 70s, when Vail was going through a ballistic building boom, Avon, along with Minturn and Eagle, was just a trailer park for laborers living in mobile homes. Now, it was home for the nouveau riche with their gentrified, cosmetic surroundings of condos and offices. There was not one gas station or grocery store. The place wreaked with cleanliness. There was a hint of Lysol in the air. It was so sterile. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

It was up and over two 10,000 ft. summits (Vail and Eisenhower), eventually stopping about 15 miles west of Denver at Genosee Park to call Linda Eddy-Stolte, an old friend from my RNL Architecture days in Denver. I wisely met her at the interstate exit and followed her up a tortuous climb to their mountaintop mansion. Four years ago, Linda had commissioned me to design their new abode. I came up with a low-profile, two-storey, horizontal structure of wood and stone, one that seemed to “emerge” out of the mountain side. I wanted them to have something indigenous to the area. Unfortunately, my proposal was rejected by the Home Owners Association as too “radical”, and the Stoltes were relegated to erect one that “fit in” with all the other “Euro-trash Megahouses”. They could just as well been in Atlanta or Minneapolis. Anyway, we had a great visit which at one point I asked, completely out of the blue, “What ever happened to John Gaudreau (another ex-RNL employee)?” Linda, astonished that I would ask about him, said, “He’s an ordained minister at our church.” I was stupefied. It turned out his church was only a half-mile from my final resting place for the night, the nearby Park-and-Ride parking area just off the interstate where I had called Linda. She had said it was a good chance he’d be at the church Saturday morning. It had been almost twenty years since I had last seen him. I couldn’t wait to get up the next day.

I drove the short distance to the church and rattled the locked door. All of a sudden, John appeared. We were both in shock. We retired to his office which doubled as a splendid gallery for his watercolors and photographs, the latter being black and white portraits of Africans while doing missionary work on the Dark Continent. I was totally in awe. Here was a guy I only remembered as Mr. Wisecracker who as far as I could recall did nothing creative around the office. It turned out that his “turn around in life” came in 1987 when his daughter died at birth. We exchanged tidbits of “gossip” about old RNL friends, one being Jim Toohey who had also “turned his life over to Christ.” I said, “Ever since Jim did that turnabout, I never hear from him. I sent him a drawing I did of their house, but never got a response. It’s like he’s forgotten me, like it’s a hypocritical friendship. Is this what Christ intended?” John calmly said, “Sometimes these people tend to think they are superior.” I took that for what it was worth. I gave him the last of my watercolor prints that I brought along, wishing so much I had a print of the Thorncrown Chapel (I mailed him one as soon as I got back). On departing, we didn’t just shake hands, we hugged each other. I got a little choked up.

As I coasted down the steep descent into Denver, ever mindful of seeing a runaway rig in the rearview mirror, I thought about that wonderful two hours with Mr. Gaudreau, and I got a little misty-eyed. I thought, “Life is not just full of if onlys', but a lot ofwhat ifs’ too, like, what if I hadn’t asked Linda about the whereabouts of John? I never would have had that unbelievable experience, that’s what.” It had been almost 3,000 miles since my great time in Lubbock, but those inseparable visits made every mile in between well worth all that driving. I made my usual beeline to King Soupers on Capitol Hill for edibles and a few phone calls. I biked over to Cheeseman Park, only to find it practically deserted (on a Saturday afternoon!). Can you guess why? I’ll tell you why – the usual verdant sward was now a swath of dirt-brown grass. The drought continued to take its toll. I was remembering seeing the aspens back in Vail that were prematurely turning a pale yellow. Was there any end to God’s wrath?

I turned on my little B&W TV for the first time on the trip to watch OU beat Alabama and Miami beat Florida. Big deal! I called my old buddy Tom Reilly, but no answer (and no answering machine). Gosh, I wanted to see him. I did get a hold of Jerry Perron (cuz Paula’s hubby) and made plans to visit the next day. I got permission from a King Soupers security guard to stay overnight in their ancillary parking lot. That was a load off my mind. About ten o’clock, I decided to bike over to Charlie Brown’s, one of my favorite old haunts. In fact, it was the only one left in Capitol Hill from the halcyon days of the 70s and 80s. My old buddy Paul was still entertaining at the piano bar. He had been playing there since at least 1978 (my first year in Denver)! And he still remembered to play my favorite – Errol Garner’s “Misty”. What a great night that turned out to be. As I biked back, I thought, “My gosh, I had to drive 3,000 miles to have a Saturday night out on the town.” Only in Denver.

After a leisurely Sunday morning spent biking around Capitol Hill, reading a USA Today, and watching the gays stroll by, I headed south on the I-25 Hi-Tech corridor to Englewood. More earth was being moved and more concrete was being laid for more lanes for more cars – there was no end to the madness. Jerry was watching the Bronco game when I arrived. I was greeted at the door with a lot of barks (but no bites) by Norma Jean, their good-size, curly-haired canine companion who Jerry called “the love of their life”. I said, “I can see why. She’s so lovable and the spittin’ image of Marilyn Monroe.” We had a few minutes to talk before he had to go pick up Paula at DIA. I took advantage of some time alone and a “free phone” to call everyone I knew in Denver.