Oregon Trail: Boulder 1

Day 3: An Uncanny Self

Date: April 20, 2012
Journey: Fort Collins, CO to Boulder, CO
Total miles: 1,079 miles (39.6 mpg)

Continued from part 1

III. Age, Race, & Class

My time with Krista ended at the tasting room of the smaller, but still popular, Odelle Brewing Company. There I had the much talked about 90 Schilling (amber ale) and a taste of Krista’s $15 chemistry set of beers they called a taster tray. My personal favorite was one of the darker ones, but alas, I forgot.

Meanwhile, she, her roommate and I made some conversation over our beers. I had mentioned how much I liked Fort Collins so far, but that it felt almost too cozy. It was too white and affluent for me… what a thing to complain about! Her roommate was several years older than us and didn’t feel the same as Krista and I about wanting a more diverse home. She mentioned how she had already explored different cultural experience, had gotten her taste, had been transformed, and now wanted a comfy place to settle down. She wanted comfort and security, a home, a family, and maybe kids. Something didn’t jibe with me about the way she was addressing multiculturalism, and I had a feeling Krista felt the same, but Krista was a courteous, kind friend and a diplomat. I was a philosopher.

“I don’t want to live in a perfect bubble. I feel responsible to transform the world, and I cannot do that from a bubble. To change the world, we must work with, not for others, and that means dwelling with them. And who am I to advocate changing the world if I am not also willing to risk myself? Not necessarily my life, but my identity. I grow bored and sick with myself when I stagnate. I want transformation. I don’t see unsettlement as always a threat. Often it is a promise for liberation.” She patiently listened as she bit down on her artisinal cheese. Krista said she felt similarly. She wasn’t looking for security either. Her roommate said she used to feel the same way, but attitudes change as one gets older. Would we feel similarly when we were in our thirties?

By the time we returned to their home to pick up my car, I had a lot to drink, but my filling lunch tapered-off the affect of the alcohol. Too their extreme delight, more alcohol awaited us. Her roommate’s father from the Northshore of Chicago had shipped her two boxes of wine from his wine cellar. Thirty bottles laid inside each box, each worth–according to the roommate–an average of $30. Some were decades in age. I figured after the shipping, the whole shipment cost $1,000… just for wine. I was irritated, angry, and a little disgusted.

They were both so giddy with glee, but that’s not what scratched underneath my skin. It was the second day in a row that I found myself confronted with my class privilege and guilt. I was disgusted with myself, my situation. Back in Chicago and Texas I hung out with people from more modest means, but the people from my past were wrapped up in the same social networks of private higher education as I was. It was a revolving door one gets swept up into, but one is fooled into thinking one got inside because of one’s fine skill. It was not so much accomplishment though as it was privilege–the otherside of class oppression. My situation was inescapable, I knew that; but finding myself more aware than ever before of privilege made me feel guilty by proximity. I once lived with gleeful ignorance. I was like that. And now that I was a different person, what had changed. What had I done to bring justice besides “raise consciousness”? I felt just as guilty of the omission of action, more unaccomplished and fake. I couldn’t wait to leave for the next stop on my itinerary.

IV. Boulder: First Impressions on 4:20

I

Galaxy directed Catbird and I down CO-119. When we passed through a buzzing, affluent strip of a town, I thought I had arrived in Boulder, but it was actually another medium-sized city called Longmount. Fort Collins had already impressed me with its vistas of the foothills of the Rockies, but as I continued south-west, the foothills grew closer and larger. The higher-grade roads felt like roller coasters. Catbird accelerated down the slopes with ease, veering toward the sharp contrast in the horizon of puffy white clouds, deep blue sky, and green textured mountains. Entering town and taking a right onto Alex’s street, my lips curled into a smile. The grandeur of the beauty brought instant joy. I was in the mountains. I was in this legendarily awesome city. I was hanging out with awesome people and eating great food. Le sigh.

Alex welcomed me into her apartment. She had just returned from the campus square, eaves-dropping on the annual 4:20 celebration. I originally planned on arriving early to report on it and it’s history on campus as well as its contemporary suppression by the police, but I was bourg-ing on microbrews and I, as a foreigner, was not allowed on campus during the event. This year, Alex told me, was more dispersed. The loom of pot smoke wasn’t nearly as large as it had been in previous years. I hadn’t missed much. With that said, Alex took me to Pearl Street, a cosmopolitan strip of cute, locally-owned shops and restaurants. This section of Boulder immediately reminded me of Ithaca, a mountain college town in the glaciated hills of upstate New York along Cayuga Lake.

She was leaving in several weeks to start her summer job as a tour guide for an American travel company that took young Europeans and Japanese folk on an adventure across the American West through our National Parks. I had already planned my own trip and was doing it solo, but Alex had always been an inspiration and a bit of a trip adviser. If it weren’t for her, I probably would have passed through Page, AZ and Kanab, UT and missed out on their grand beauty. After she completed her summer, she had just a little bit of school left and then another 6 months or so “training” microorganisms to eat toxic and man-made chemicals in the southern seas around Antarctica.

If it isn’t obvious, Alex has pretty good taste and it was this taste that drew her to Boulder to attend school. Boulder: a city hording gorgeous people, shops, bike lanes, and foothills. It was almost too good to be true. Almost. My friend Emma who had attended school here was able to articulate my sentiments exactly: Boulder is a retirement home for hippies–white dudes in dreads in the haughtiest eco-fashion, women flashing their brilliant, perfect white smiles, and  children running around as free spirits without threat of any disciplining. In appearance, it’s as close to a utopia one can imagine a non-intentional community/development could be. The happiness was contagious, and although I wasn’t immune, I became adverse. Boulder had struck a chord. But why?

V. Attack of the Clones

Along our stroll down Pearl Street, a young scrawny man with a scraggly beard was smiling, extending a “Free Hugs” sign towards passing pedestrians. The gesture was not new to me (I had seen these signs before during the last Fur Free Friday in Chicago and one of my dear friends from D.C. had once participated in this generosity exercise), but the guy was, although he was not new to Alex. The young guy was, like Alex and I, a Couchsurfer who attended local gathering to meet other fellow travelers in and out of the area. During small talk I asked him what I later learned is the most anxiety-inducing question: “why?” Why are you giving out free hugs? I asked, “what ‘s your motivation, your reasoning?” He froze up and shrugged.

Alex and I continued our walk down Pearl only after she gave him advice on his travels to Spain and northern Africa. I asked Alex if he was always so strange and what he did other than give out free hugs (he wouldn’t answer that question either). Apparently, he had a drug addiction and dropped out of school. Rather than aiding their son in finding some employment or practicing tough love, his parents footed the bill for his apartment and food, even giving him a stipend for travel just so long as he stayed off the dope. “Well, at least he’s off drugs,” I said. Oh, Silver Lining.

Soon after, I found a human-sized plush black bear to take a photo with. “Be sure to bring this photo to my funeral if I’m killed and eaten by a bear during my trip,” I laughed while absorbed in a bear hug. (This was my version of cathartic release over my worries of being attacked by a bear while solo backpacking in bear country).

We had only gone another hundred feet before Alex recognized another Couchsurfer. This guy was older and shaggy and had just moved out here from the east for the location. And what a location to be at on 4:20! His eyes were bloodshot, his reaction time slow. Still, he had more character than the last fellow and a lot more assertiveness. He attempted to steer us toward the stores he wanted to check out–specifically, Beat’s Books, which he complained was never opened. I figured this would be a good opportunity to find a used copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity, a book I was first introduced to on an online dating site. I was hooked after reading the title. I asked the cashier where I could find books written by Beat authors. Unamused, he pointed to every shelf in the store. I told him I was looking for this particular book by Alan Watts. He  said it was written by someone else. I second guessed myself and exposed my music illiteracy by pointing to a book of Tom Waits’ lyrics. “I’m pretty sure its written by him.” “I wish I could say he was part of the Beat generation, but Waits could have been Kerouac’s son.”

Frustrated by the man’s arrogance and humiliated by lack of cultural capital, I searched upstairs where the curly-blond-haired couchsurfer scanned around. “Oh man!” he shouted, “are you looking for a book to read? These aren’t for reading; they are for putting on your shelf, stuff to take up space and look smart.” He started to laugh at the titles of books and mock them. I was becoming agitated, but not before a creeping, dreadful realization overcame me. Is this how others perceived me? Am I just as weird and annoying to “normal” folk as he was to me? I hadn’t encountered anyone weirder than myself in a while. I felt simultaneously embarrassed of my weird self and hypocritical for judging him as I hated that others judged me without giving themselves a chance to know me. All of a sudden, I was empathizing with those who mocked me. My self was in limbo.

Someone had previously asked me if I left on this road trip to discover myself. I answered no, disgusted by the idea that I would do something so cliche. Nonetheless, I confessed to myself that this was indeed part of my journey: to pick up my string and sew myself together again in a more brilliant, crafty, and sustainable form. Now I was discovering how terrifying of a process self-discovery could be. Rather than stumbling upon a pot of gold at the end of a double rainbow, I was trudging through a haunted maze of mirrors. I would walk forward and crash into myself, an obstacle, and a frightening one at that. Was this some cruel trick? Two couchsurfers in one day. The first, scrawny, privileged, and unemployed like myself triggered guilt. The second, dirty, weird, and aimless compounded my anxiety and embarrassment. (When I later confessed my frustration to Alex about the people in Boulder, she pondered whether I was really just frustrated with something about myself. Is this what urked me: that I was afraid I was just another affluent, white hippie privilegedly walking around town, emptying my ego as the world around me flooded with injustices?) The perfect city for treehuggers was quickly becoming a safe-haven for my clones.

I began to wonder: Are these my doppelgangers? Am I so narcissistic that I am only capable of seeing myself in others? Why can’t I appreciate their independent beauty instead of dissecting them and abstracting from them things I dislike about myself? Why am I so negative? Am I really my own worse enemy? Am I merely a cliche?

VI. Just Desserts

REVIEW: Fortunately, Pearl Street offered a taste of culinary escapism. Alex and I headed toward Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, a slightly high-end, gourmet restaurant. Although vegan, I felt out of place in my wrinkled, ripped grey plaid shirt, Target skinny jeans, and “lesbian” Teva sandals. Further, we were significantly younger than all the others in the restaurant. I was also struck that this was one of the few vegetarian restaurants I have eaten at with not one person of color in sight. Our waiter was a tall thin man with a lisp and a bit of an attitude. Upon ordering the Raw Thanksgiving Plate ($14)–a dish I had predestined myself to eat–, he advised me to order otherwise. (I just checked the menu, and indeed he was correct: they did take it off the menu). After I began to eat some, he inquired as to whether I liked it, I told him I enjoyed some for the sauces, but that overall some for the portions were small and bland. He smiled. “I’m not going to tell you I told you so,” he sneered as he turned for the kitchen. I assumed he was offended that I did not heed to his advise on the special. Even so, I was agitated by his sassiness toward me, yet sufficiently amused and habituated to give him a twenty percent tip (plus he was impressively informative about the food–a rare experience when ordering vegan food at a restaurant). Before exiting, I ordered a raw flax-cacao cookie filled with a mango-coconut creme ($4). I enjoyed the food, but I didn’t jibe with the atmosphere and heavy price tags. 3/5 stars

We ended our night at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery where I tried their Isadore Java Porter… but not before bumping into a third couchsurfer! This man was more impressive and handsome than the previous two. There seemed to be something in the air between him and Alex. He would tease her in the most flirtatious way and she would blush, but I wasn’t so sure if she took the teasing as a sign of her charm. He was hosting someone from Atlanta at his pad and took him out for drinks. There, for the first time on my trip, I found myself in an moral discussion over the National Parks. He didn’t believe so many people should have access to them. They ought to be places of wilderness, not mini Disney Lands. I countered that setting a higher fee for admittance would discriminate against the poor and conserve bourgeois control and use of these national treasures. He agreed. We played with the idea of mandating that people stay a certain number of days in the park to discourage those just passing through for a quick photo to brag about, but that presented its own problems. Somehow that led to a diatribe on overpopulation at which point Alexa and I decided to leave before getting deconstructive on his ass. In any case, we had to wake up early to see Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow.

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Categories: Food & Drink, Oregon Trail 2012, Review, Travel Narrative | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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