Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Boulder, Colorado October 12th 
I spent last night in Eagle. It is one of the many settlements that make up Vail Valley, which, along with Breckenridge and Copper Mine are there primarily for the skiing. It is gearing up for the forthcoming season. I got there at about 6.00 and enjoyed my first beer for a few days. I am beginning to tie up a bit with the meeting of locals so a combination of that and the very strict drink-driving laws meant that my visit was necessarily brief. I did get talking to a few people. Andrea and Carol were there with their menfolk, who were engrossed in the American Football. They are both employed primarily in the ski industry, Andrea is an instructor and Carol runs a ski-equipment shop. Their summer activity is breeding horses and they have just sold three foals. Carol’s other hobby is rodeo. Brave. The rodeo season occurs in July and August and she wins several local prizes. Andrea is from Oklahoma originally. She came to Eagle in 1995 for a ski season as a chalet girl and has stayed ever since. They were very chatty and excited at the prospect of snow on the mountains overnight. It generates a huge sense of anticipation. They both agreed that because their punters are principally of considerable means, they are relatively recession-proof. Having said that, they told me that whereas two years ago there were 150 visas available for foreign ski workers, this year there are only 20, so concerned are the local authorities about preserving jobs for US citizens.
I also had a brief and slightly unnerving conversation with a bloke called Mike. He was acting in a distinctly odd manner and, when he went out to the ‘rest room’, the owner told me that he was probably doped up to the eyeballs. He said that he knows Mike well and that he would be ejected fairly soon. I didn’t stay long enough to witness this but in the time I was there it was clear that he found his own conversation more amusing than anyone else in the bar.
I drove the 120 or so miles to Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. It had snowed on the higher ground and, at over 3500 metres, much of the countryside was covered. I had quite a bit of time, for which I was grateful and I am also grateful to be leaving this part of the USA before winter really sets in. It is amazing that 220 miles away as the crow flies is Arches National Park, with a maximum temperature yesterday in the 80s. Such is the range of climate on offer in the mountains.
I didn’t see it at its best. It was cold, the cloud base was sufficiently low to cover the mountain tops, the road that goes up and over the best bits was closed because there was too much snow and it just wasn’t the weather to walk anywhere. I did stop to take some video of grazing elk. They are just at the end of the rutting season when males make their presence felt by bugling ( trumpeting, to you and me ). I wanted to try to get this odd noise as background on the video and so I waited around for a bit, standing beside the car, the door of which was open. This is a habit I have forced myself into after the lock-outs. What I didn’t know was that if the door is left open, after 5 minutes the alarm goes off. So in peaceful scenery the entire body of photographers and sound recorders are treated to the sound of a car horn blaring. Jubbly. I didn’t know where to hide. I did feel marginally less embarrassed when one of them said that he reckoned it was as good an imitation of a rutting elk as he had heard in ages.
I spent the night at some friends of friends. Jeff and Theresa are ex-members of a church run by the brother of a friend from Crowthorne. It was very good to be in a home and I enjoyed supper much more than fast food grabbed between stops. They live in Boulder, which struck me from a very brief acquaintance as being quite different from many of the places I have seen. It is a big university town and possibly because of that, has a transport system that is student friendly. This includes a well-developed local bus network and cycle lanes along all the main roads. Driving through, I also noticed that the pavements were much more crowded. I have been very surprised by the almost total lack of pedestrian traffic in places like Cedar City and Blanding but this is not so much the case in Boulder. They are just very normal and, in common with everyone else I have met. except the immigration people, very friendly. Jeff is an IT whizz-kid and his good offices have enabled me to attach some photographs to previous posts, which I hope you enjoy. I left my mark by elbowing a shelf to the floor and breaking an ornament. I don’t think it was of the same antique value as the plate I destroyed in the Headmaster’s House at Lambrook Haileybury but it was a fairly typical spongly effort.
I am writing this in downtown Denver, where I am spending the morning. It is very  clean ( another common factor in US cities ) but, again, there is nobody on the streets. There are also very few of the sort of stores we would have in our city centres. Starbucks on every corner, lots of fast food, banks, hotels and occasional specialist shops but it doesn’t seem to exist except for those who work above the ground floor in the offices. That, and the free shuttle buses, would probably go some way to explain the lack of pedestrians.
This will probably be my final piece. I am not going to go all navelly and nostalgic but the following may help to sum up. I have learnt much. I have seen lots. I have a deeper understanding and tolerance of the American people. I have been wonderfully protected, without a mobile phone, in some very remote environments. I have been quite comfortable in my own company, save for a brief spell in Cedar City. I could live in Portland.
But I am going to be very glad to be back in Blighty.

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