When people speak of the East-West divide, I’m convinced they mean the division between the eastern and western United States. Plenty of my East Coast friends had never been west of the Mississippi River (except to go to California, which, in my totally unbiased opinion, does not count), and vice versa for many of my Denver-based friends. I don’t hear a lot of weird questions about the East Coast out in Denver, probably because so many TV shows are set somewhere out east. Really, the only question I get on that score is: “Is Baltimore really like The Wire?”
The answer being: “Pretty much.”
So most of the odd questions I get from one half of the country about the other are East Coasters asking about Colorado, which has featured in such pop-culture icons as South Park and Red Dawn. For all those who were still curious about these points, here are the verbatim answers to a few of the more common questions I’ve received over the years.
Q: Did you ski to school?
A: (Sigh) First of all, we have these things called snowplows, which perform the amazing feat of scooping the snow off the road and piling it on the side. Revolutionary, I know. If we had a raging blizzard, we might have had a snow day, or if the roads were dangerously slick, there was a delay while we waited for the ice to melt somewhat. Secondly, it doesn’t snow all the time (see later questions for a more detailed explanation of that shocking phenomenon). Thirdly, most of Denver is flat. The area around Capitol Hill is, well, a hill, but everything east of the mountains is flat enough to have reliable roads that we can, you know, drive or walk on. Like just about every other city.
Q: So…you don’t ski to school, then?
A: (Deeper sigh) NO.
Q: How’s the skiing in Denver?
A: A side note: I was never sure if this question belied a basic misunderstanding of geography, or if people just used Denver as a stand-in for the whole state of Colorado. Either way, I usually had to give a fair bit of explanation to address both issues.
Every picture taken in Colorado features majestic mountains in the background somewhere–I get that. Even pictures of downtown Denver are taken facing west. Since these pictures are usually taken on a clear day that puts the mountains in sharp relief, they do tend to make it look like the Central Business District simply arose from the same material the mountains came from.
However, only about half the state is mountainous. Towards Utah, you have the Colorado Plateau, which is gorgeous country–but it is mostly flat. Denver and other cities in the Front Range actually sit on the edge of the High Plains, which, as the name indicates, are flatter than a pancake. For about an hour after you cross the Kansas-Colorado border, you could be confused as to whether you actually left Dorothy’s home state, since the mountains aren’t even visible until about a hundred miles in.
And finally, yes, I did say “other cities on the Front Range.” Sure, Denver is the largest city in the state of Colorado. The city itself combined with the suburbs and towns surrounding it contain half of Colorado’s population, or about 2.5 million people in that area alone. If you throw Boulder and its surrounding towns in as part of the Greater Denver Metropolitan Area, you have three-fifths of the state population (three million people, for my fellow humanities majors). But the other two million live elsewhere–some in towns up in the mountains, but a lot in cities like Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Trinidad, all of which sit next to mountains as well.
So to wrap up all this exposition at long last: The skiing in Denver? Non-existent. The skiing in the Colorado Rockies? Extreme. To the max.
Q: So do you-all have indoor plumbing?
A: Okay, to be fair, I never got this as a question. I did, however, once manage to keep a straight face as I told a few of my college classmates that my family had updated to one of them newfangled flush toilets just in the past year. They believed me, and I spent about the next half hour convincing them that it was a joke.
Again, Denver is a city. It might have a different character than Baltimore, DC, or New York, and we have a different sense of fashion entirely (more on that in another entry, but suffice to say that freshly washed jeans and non-muddy hiking boots constitute formalwear in most cases), but we do have modern conveniences. We even have Nordstroms stores, something that continually amazes my Albuquerque-born-and-raised boyfriend. So yes, the toilets flush, and yes, you can even put toilet paper in them.
Q: Isn’t there snow year-round?
A: This question isn’t as dumb as it seems to some of my Denver friends. I have gotten snowed off hiking trails in June, July, and August, although this only happens in the really high peaks. And there are places in the mountains where hardcore skiers can find patches of snow on which to practice their skills even in the dog days of August. Again, though, this is just in the 11,000+ foot range.
The part where I smack my forehead is when I get the rephrasing of this question: “You mean it gets hot in Denver/Colorado?!”
Yes. Yes, it does. At a mile above sea level, we’re usually at least ten degrees cooler than the coastal regions, but you do the math on what that means when you’re sweating through 105-degree weather. Our 95-degree weather is still preferable, especially since the climate is so dry that sweating actually works, but it still makes going out in the daytime a dismal proposition. The mountains are better still, but at best, there will be a fifteen-degree difference between the city and the valleys. Either way, those who pack their long underwear for a July visit are in for an unpleasant (but hilarious for the locals) surprise.
Q: And finally, what the hell happened to the Broncos?
A: (Sigh). Lemme get back to you after I kill the Jack Daniel’s.
Alrighty. First Elway retired. Then Pat Bowlen got his undies in a bunch after a spectacularly awful playoff game in 2008 and canned Mike Shanahan who, it was noted two years later, at least managed to *get* the damn team to the damn playoffs. Then last year, Bowlen finally noticed that Josh McDaniels sucked more balls than a golf course vacuum cleaner and canned him before the season ended. Then the temporary head coach actually put in a lineup that could intercept passes while scoring touchdowns of their own, thus using the last few games to utterly fuck up Denver’s chances at getting first round draft picks. So yeah, it could be a while before we see another playoff season. Now I have to go out and get another bottle of J.D.