Summer of 2000 IX

I awoke to another misty cool morning that was highly irregular for Denver in August. After a honest-to-gosh breakfast of toast and eggs at the comer restaurant, I used the pay phone in front of the market to call a bunch of friends, most of whom were home being it was a Sunday. My only real disappointment was not finding my best buddy (and former mentor at RNL Architects) Tom Reilly at home. I would have really enjoyed a visit with him. I made my over to I-25 and headed south through a maze of highway construction (more lanes for more traffic). I pulled off in Englewood and made the short drive to cousin Paula’s house to drop off a collection of O. Henry short stories as a gift from her aunt Jeannette Early. Her hubby Jerry greeted me (Paula was still at work at the Total Learning Project for underachieving children) and thanked me for delivering the books. We had a pleasant, but short visit, as he had to get back to work at the TLP Center.

However, there was enough time for me to share with him why the author chose “O. Henry” as his pen name rather than write under his surname, William Sydney Porter. I explained, “Legend has it that while he was touring France in the 1880s, he became enamored with the name of an apothecary in Paris that translated into English as ‘O. Henry’. I’m sure you know that Paula and I are related far down the line to the author who was a distant cousin of our grandmother, (on our mothers’ side), Ethel Porter Brown.” Jerry said, “Maybe that’s where you inherited your creativity.” I replied, “Maybe so, but that’s stretching things a bit. O. Henry’s short life only spanned from 1862 to 1910.” I gave Jerry a goodbye wave and left with a good feeling of having made a very special delivery.

I ventured south again on I-25 until soon reaching the Sedalia exit at State Hwy 67 where I entertained thoughts of one last blast of camping out along the Platte River. But the constant drizzle put a damper on my plans, so I reluctantly continued my southward trek on the traffic-clogged interstate saturated with 18-wheelers and commuters, It’s hard to believe that people would drive 60 or 70 miles between Denver and Colorado Springs from home to work and back, but I knew of one Steve Berlin (an ex-fellow employee at RNL) who daily drove back and forth in his Corvette Stingray. Oh, how he loved driving that beautiful machine, which must have made his commute somewhat tolerable.

Speaking of being tolerable, that’s just what the sun-shielding clouds and awe-inspiring view of the nearby Rocky Mountain Range made the drive feel like despite all the traffic. To add to the pleasantries, off to the east was a spectacular lightning display silhouetting voluminous cumulous clouds hovering over the eastern plains of Colorado. I thought of Lynn Botkin who, having lived in sunny California her entire life, said she wished that just once she could see just such an act of God. A glance at the odometer, which read 186, 212, indicated that I was barely past the 3,000-mile mark into my odyssey.

I stopped for gas in Pueblo at a reasonable price of $1.40 a gallon (as the elevation got lower, so did the gas prices). I stopped in Trinidad at my favorite Safeway Super Market to gather some groceries and then high-tailed over Raton Pass at a modest elevation of 7,834 feet, taking one last look at the Colorado Rockies. I always felt a little sadness when leaving my favorite state. Just before the summit, I passed an Amtrak train churning its way up and over the incline, more than likely several hours late getting into Raton. As a little diversion, I exited I-25 onto the old U.S. 85 for a leisurely cruise through downtown Raton (pop. 8225) and then over to the historic adobe Southwestern-Style railway depot in anticipation of actually watching a passenger train roll into the station, indeed, a rare sight these days. There was a grand total of two people waiting to board Amtrak, one of whom I asked where he was headed. After putting down his reading material, he quipped in pure jest, “I hope to get to Los Angeles before the end of the month.” I replied, “Well heck, it’s the 21st (of August), so I think you stand a pretty good chance of making it.” Incidentally, not one passenger disembarked from the train, which, according to my new friend, was two and a half hours behind schedule.

I headed east on U.S. 87/64 past a group of gas stations at the junction with I-25 where their price-gouged pumps (Raton’s elevation was 6680 ft.) rivaled those at Clines Corners. The skies had cleared revealing a splendid sunset in my outside mirror as the Rockies slowly faded out of sight (another sad sensation). With the sun at my back, the contours and profiles of northeastern New Mexico were vividly outlined, and I was again chasing my shadow on the highway. Some 45 miles later I pulled off at Sierra Grande Rest Area appropriately named after the 8720 ft. pyramidal peak looming on the other side of the highway. It was quickly getting dark, and more often than not there would be several rigs parked for an overnight, but such was not the case that evening. In fact, there weren’t even any travelers pulling in for a pit stop, which overall made for a rather lonely feeling. I relaxed in the easy chair, dining in and watching coal trains rumble by. It wasn’t difficult to fall asleep in the cool night air while watching through the cargo door window a mesmerizing choreography of heat lightning in the distant east.