Monday, October 3, 2011

Denver and The Last Minute

On my very last day in Denver, I met with Elaine, a woman who showed me a side of the city I had not yet seen in the 24 days previous. A friend of mine from high school introduced us at the last minute. I am so happy I got to spend a bit of time with her in Denver before my four day train ride to Austin. As great as I think Denver is, this little tour made me believe it is even greater.

The whole thing started at 8 am at Common Grounds Cafe in LoDo, or the historic lower downtown district of Denver. I met Elaine there and drank a delicious house-made Chai as she told me why she loves Common Grounds.

"This is my favorite place because it is so vibrant in the mornings. When the rest of us are barely waking up, this place is humming. It's easy to meet people here. Part of it is that I work in the suburbs, and I love coming down here. The energy in the city in the morning is so different from any other time of day. Everybody is starting fresh. It's just great. It is good energy. The woman who owns this is very welcoming and inclusive. In here it's cowboys, people in suits, workmen, artists, it is very diverse."

Elaine brings people to Common Grounds for meetings and meets the students that she teaches at CU at the cafe all the time. She says a lot of it has to do with the welcoming and creative nature of the owner.

"She treats everyone like family. It's great. This is where everybody meets. If you have a business meeting early in the morning or something, this is where to do it. They serve beer at night. On Veteran's day she dressed in her father's flight suit, and she had medals, pictures of him wearing his medals, and she told everyone that her hero was coming in that day. She was so excited about having her father come in and see her coffee shop. It was a big deal. She had it all decorated for him. She gave Veterans free drinks. It didn't matter what it was that they wanted. She treats people like people, not customers."

After we finish at Common Grounds, Elaine offers to walk me around LoDo and show me the sights. Elaine has a background in historic preservation and sustainability and she has worked on or been privy to many building projects in LoDo.

Elaine takes me to Larimer Square, and we walk up and down the street, under the strings of lights. We walk through The Market at Larimer Square, look at some of the original buildings that have been restored, and then she takes me to a place that I would have to call a game changer.

The Tattered Cover
As we walk, the old floor boards creak and moan beneath our foot steps, the smell of creativity, books and coffee fill the air. The Tattered Cover, a bookstore on the corner of 16th and Wynkoop is not Elaine's favorite place, but it is one of the best places I have seen in Denver. We walk up and down the stairs, looking at the shelves and tables full of books. In every corner and open space, comfy looking chairs and coffee tables invite browsers to sit down and read if the need arises. This is a bookstore; one to rival Portland's own Powell's Books, even. It's welcoming and clearly pays tribute to authors and the craft of writing. Though I must leave soon to pack, I want to stay all day in this wonderful place and see what bubbles up.

As Elaine and I walk toward my bus stop and her car, we talk about the potential for Denver. She sees great things on the horizon, and has a keen understanding of where the city has come from in order to say so. Though she grew up in Nashville, her father grew up in Denver.

"My father grew up on Zuni,(street), and he told me that the sounds of Denver used to be so different. You would wake up and you would hear roosters all day long and church bells pealing. It was how he would know where he was in the city, from listening for these sounds. Now, roosters are outlawed and the churches have turned off their bells because they annoy people. Now you hear indecipherable music and sirens. It's really different."

I ask her about why she moved to the city, and if she is planning to stay. She tells me that she moved to Denver for a job, not planning on staying, but ended up falling in love with the city and the potential that it holds. She adds that it is not uncommon for people to find themselves living in Denver.

"A lot of people come here, or to Boulder for school and never really think they are going to stay, but they end up staying."

I have to say, my experience of Denver has been similar. I came to the city due to temperature issues in Phoenix. I found a city which is investing in its future and in its people. The people Denver draws to it are interesting and more diverse than in other U.S. cities of similar size. I have been surprised over and over again at how much I like it here, and have to say, if I weren't on a mission for science, I might just cool my heels a bit here myself, and see what bubbles up.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful last day in Denver. The Tattered Cover LoDo is pretty wonderful! I've never been to Common Grounds in LoDo, but now am inspired to go.

  2. It was really a great day. I miss Denver.