Closing the Door

Leaving the city I had called home for 17 years was difficult.  Diurnal habits, the roads I haunted to get to the familiar places of business and pleasure, neighbors and other friends whose voices swam through the song of that place, the dwelling in which I raised my children and its quirky brokenness, and even the sense of sky from my front and back yard: all these are gone except as threads of melancholy set free to weave themselves into the growing quilt of memories.

Houston did not want me to leave, or so I imagined. My impending separation seemed to provoke the tentacles of that oil-fattened octopus. As if to keep me in place, everything seemed more difficult.  Dysfunctional.  A trip to Caliber Collision to pick up the car became a chapter from a Kafka novel:  they didn’t accept our cash (who doesn’t take cash?), and when we returned with a money order, Caliber wouldn’t take that either because their check-reading machine didn’t like it.  Fifteen minutes became three hours.  Or Xfinity and Centerpoint Energy, both of which wanted to steal from us in the form of ‘early termination’ fees.  Then there’s 24 Hour Fitness, whose system was unable to cancel my membership (although it worked fine when I signed up), and our short term rental property, the Terra Apartments, which tried to insist that, even though we signed a 90 day lease, we were required to give it 60 days’ notice and therefore we owed it an extra month of rent (we called the would-be thief on its own fine print through its parent company, Knightvest).

Maybe worst of all was the Texas Education Agency.  I had resigned early from my job with H.I.S.D (through their website and procedure, with ample notice) which promptly tattled on me to T.E.A for breaking contract.  T.E.A, being the fawning, obeisant I.C.E wanna-be that it is, sent me an eight-page legal document (complete with those stupid § symbols) outlining the ‘egregious nature of the acts committed” by me, as if I was a child predator or embezzler.  Go ahead and suspend my teaching license for a year, I told them, closing with:

Rather than exerting the amount of legal energy you’ve exerted on my case, you might consider spending that energy on cases that are truly egregious, and remind HISD that although it would enjoy some retribution for my early resignation (that is what this is all about, after all), it should bring its house in order if it would like to keep qualified, experienced teachers in its employ.  For your agency to act as nothing more than a hit man or bully on behalf of HISD is just simply sad.

Not to labor the point, but given the above, I had reservations about returning to Houston last week.  We’d left Cindy’s car in Houston rather than tow it behind the moving van, and I needed to take care of a few other items of business before fully, and firmly, closing the door on Houston, so the trip was necessary.  Maybe Houston didn’t want me back: my flight from Laramie was cancelled because the cargo door on the plane wouldn’t close; my connecting flight in Denver was reschedule to 5:45, and after a four-hour shuttle ride and an additional delay, I arrived in Houston sometime after 9:00 p.m.  To travel 1,100 miles in 14 hours works out to about 79 miles per hour.  Go, airplanes!!

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Another day in Houston traffic

Once on the ground, the second wave of assault began.  Roads, even residential roads, were clogged with traffic and angry drivers with high beams on weaving too fast between lanes.  All errands required a minimum of thirty minutes.  And the heat.  Turning the air conditioning to arctic while cleaning the apartment didn’t help contain the nine gallons of sweat I mopped the floor with.

The two-day drive back to Laramie was tiring, but as I crested the pass from Fort Collins and set eyes again on the Snowy Range and the valley, I relaxed, and reflected.  By moving here, I replaced rats, lizards, and roaches with rabbits; here I don’t sweat when I get out of the shower; my places are five minutes away; getting a driver’s license or plates takes five minutes instead of five hours.  And as much as the song might applaud the ‘stars at night,’ they really are bigger and brighter in Laramie.

The flowers are, too.  On the trail near Happy Jack Road, the wildflowers were at full peak and sharing their nectar with flocks of butterflies.  Now this is living.

Snowy Range Camping . . .and David

It has been an eventful year since our last camping trip: new jobs, leaving those jobs, selling a house, downsizing, and loading up the moving van on a prayer and moving to Laramie.  My son recently flew up from Houston to attend a Python programming camp at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, so we planned a camping trip for the days between his camp and his flight home.  We’d had our eye on Silver Lake campground, near the top of the Snowy Range on Highway 130 west of Laramie, but it was (and still is) covered in snow.  Father west, 20 miles or so east of Saratoga, Ryan Park was snowless and available.  The reservation site recreation.gov stated that guests were permitted to erect only one tent per camp site; the camp host, however, had no such restrictions.

Many of the sites at Ryan Park are shadeless, including ours.  The afternoon sun proved relentless and heated up the site; a tarp we hung between two trees gave us a sliver of comfort.  A three-quarter mile path circles the campsite, following Carroll Creek and the larger Barrett Creek, both of which roiled with cold snowmelt.  Thanks to an informative historical marker, we learned that the campsite had been used as a POW camp during World War II. Prisoners from Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies worked six days a week there for the Crow Timber Company between 1942 and 1946.

After a restless and cold first night on an uncooperative air mattress, we headed to the Little Laramie Trailhead, back over the pass to the Laramie side of Snowy Range.  This was a beautiful hike, one of our favorites so far.  Dense, lodgepole pine forest surrounds a well-maintained, easy to follow path.  Our Alltrails app said we put in 2.9 miles; trail extensions allow for longer hikes.

Last summer, our tents did a great job of keeping out rain.  Not so, this trip.  Along with the faulty mattress, our final night at Ryan Park brought a midnight rainstorm and the slow drip of water inside the tent.  When the sun rose, we skipped camp breakfast (except for coffee), stuffed the wet stuff into the back of the Pilot, and were back in Laramie by 8:00.

The Fourth of July in Laramie was perfect.  In ideal weather, we spent the afternoon at Washington Park with 10,000 or so others listening to Danno & Have Fun Will Travel and The Boogie Woogers.  After a lovely dinner at our new favorite restaurant, Altitude, we brought the lawn chairs out to the edge of LaPrele Park, just south of the University, to watch the fireworks.  In the distance, lightning from a storm over Medicine Bow National Forest lit up the clouds behind the display.  Here we met David and his dog Gonzo.  By his own admission, David had spent too long at the pubs and had consumed too many “Colorado edibles.”  A Viet-Nam Veteran and Texan from sometime in his history, he ranted about Trump, extolled the beauties of Wyoming and its history, talked about Idaho and Oregon and Californians, women drivers, Chief Washakie—whose statue sits on Grand Avenue between 15th and 17th Street—and then said goodbye before the fireworks had ended, wishing us well in our new home.  I hope to run into him again some day.

Colorful Fantasia: Denver Pride

Laramie, Wyoming is quiet.  Calm.  Cool, in both temperature and, like The Fonz, attitude.  From our street I can see the Snowy Range off to the west and the brush-covered hills that border hiking trails and Curt Gowdy State Park to the east.  In between is vast expanse of sky that hosts a diversity of clouds by day and a surprising density of stars at night. Houston’s lights, buildings, and air quality never afforded me either.

On my way to Denver a few days ago, I was reminded of another reason to have left Houston: the traffic.  Interstate 25 was a rage of congestion, construction, unchecked bad driving spawned from the anonymity of vehicles and shared communal anger.  For years I’d blamed myself for my anxiety, my high blood pressure, my imagined need to crush another driver’s skull with a crowbar, but like a bad relationship, the solution was simple.

 

Were it not for an invitation, my wife and I might not have made the trip to the Denver Pride activities,  but our close friends from Kansas were driving in and that, along with the promise of a good party, was more than enough to convince us to make the two plus hour drive into downtown.   We stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel, close to the Fifteenth-Street Mall and the Capitol grounds where thousands of the proud and colorful walked, danced, held hands, walked their dogs, or lounged in the grass.  The pride flag hung above the Capitol steps; the day was gorgeous and so were the people.  Colored hair floated through the crowd like cotton candy; furry animal costumes mingled with the topless and nearly denuded; bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and, I might add, political affiliations made their way through the packed tents of vendors, and everyone was gay. We laughed when a friend said, “Straight couples are welcome, but don’t flaunt it, you know?” I’d like to think that this gathering represents America, its true nature, embracing individual expression and imagination in a Pantheistic celebration of communal love, but I fear this country still has a long, long way to go.

On Saturday evening, between the Capitol gathering and the Sunday morning parade, we visited the Brown Palace’s cigar bar, an opulent leather-bar from well over a century ago.  Framed prominently therein was an original painting by the Italian painter Virgilio Tojetti (1851-1901) titled Colorful Fantasia, but also known as The Sultan’s Dream.  Against the backdrop of a Turkish cityscape, a dark, bearded man sits in a boat while naked, white young odalisques clamor to him like codfish to a fisherman. I couldn’t help but interpret the romanticized ‘other’ as both something barbaric and at the same time (because of its prominence in the room) admired, as if to say, “My God, look at that savage,” while secretly savoring the image as a private fantasy. Inebriant ruminations, perhaps, as I enjoyed my cigarillo.  The Manhattans were superb.

Painting