Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hey There Colorado! (You Both Can, and Can't, Go Home Again)

Most definitely not in Florida anymore! Visiting Red Rocks amphitheater, in Colorado, July 2019

Exactly one year ago we went back to Colorado for a short visit, the first time we've been "home" this century. For so long after college, my best friends worked in New York and Philly and longed to live in Colorado as we did. They held that dream, it would be so cool to live near each other again, and finally after retirement they were able to move west ... though we had so sadly moved away, back to the East Coast and the boat. So it was phenomenal to go back for a visit to see them in their new digs. They indulged us with a tour down memory lane.

I expected the visit to be weird and disorienting ... and it was. After all, we're different people than the people we were when we lived there - older, weaker, slower, and we hope wiser. And the place itself is different too - more developed, more crowded, maybe less wild.  So in that sense we couldn't go home again because "home" didn't exist. But the mountains - the thing that drew us to Colorado from the beginning - the mountains were wild and steady and reliable and unchanging. Draped over them was this grid of human development trying to tame and flatten them.

The days before we left were a mad scramble, as we prepared Cinderella for storage and ourselves for a summer of adventures. All of our possessions, save for one backpack and one duffel bag each, were removed from the boat and boxed in storage. Somehow in the chaos I'd managed to pack the camera to bring along on the trip, but lost the charge cable. Typical -- I've never yet had "enough" time to organize things properly for a move, so books, spices, and tools all shared a packing box, one of 46 (!!) filling every last available cubic inch of our storage unit. A pair of earrings and a flashlight were misplaced, and a laundry bag we hadn't seen for years came to light.

We needed to turn in our rental car by midnight (like Cinderella!) and be at the airport by 4 AM. We really couldn't talk ourselves into paying $100 for a motel room we could only use for half the night, so we planned to just cat nap in the airport lounge until check-in. Which meant that we were technically homeless for one night. We spent the afternoon hanging out in the public library, one of very few places in the city other than work or home where people are free to hang out without the expectation of buying something. We were not hungry and didn't want to get drunk, so that ruled out restaurants and brew pubs, we aren't movie people, and didn't want to go shopping.  When you think of it, there just aren't that many options. We did in fact cat nap at the airport, along with a surprising number of other people, until time for our flight.

Our friends met us at the airport and all tiredness was forgotten as we caught each other up on our news, and we eagerly looked out the car windows at all the changes Denver had shown after 20 years away.

First stop - hippie college town of Boulder

The Boulder Flatirons, from the redundantly-named Table Mesa, a.k.a., the hill behind our townhouse. 

View from the top, looking back down over the city.

The downtown pedestrian mall. A lot more polished suburban touristy spot than the hippie hangout it was back in the 1970s and 1980s!

We visited our old home town of Boulder. It both was, and wasn't, the place we remembered. Could we visualize living here again someday? The rocks haven't changed, lots of new development so the human landscape has changed quite a bit. Most of all, we've changed. Some of the nostalgia I feel isn't really about the place, as much as its about who we were when we lived in this place -- younger, stronger, broke-er, dumber. And our futures stretched before us, wide and green and forever. All in all though, if losing that optimism is the price to be paid for gaining amazing experiences, long durable friendships, and some wisdom, patience, and empathy... I'll take aging, creaky body and all. I still have love, health, money, and time enough to enjoy them, yay retirement!

A very very special curry dinner

Then and now: the crew posing for this group photo behind the bar of the original India's Restaurant, ca 1985. (We all had so much hair back then!)

Still the best curry in Denver. 

Thirty-odd years ago, we helped some friends build an Indian restaurant. We have so many stories from that time. No money, but Dan came home from work every night with fabulous curry; we didn't cook at home for months. Every time one of the staff went home to India on vacation they came home with artwork to decorate the new restaurant, or specialized cookware, or whatever. They weren't allowed to store any food on premises until the health department okayed the site, so we kept the spices in our guest room, including a 50-pound (!!) bag of cinnamon. (Can you even imagine how delicious our house smelled?) I remember the executive chef sitting on the floor during construction, shaping an asphalt floor tile holding it and the knife in exactly the same pose as he would peel a potato (and looking just as comfortable). We went to the restaurant's new location; they have moved twice since then but still have behind the bar, the framed dollar bill we gave them for luck when they first opened. We still have aboard Cinderella (part of) the thali set they gave us - we use the small dishes for snacks and nuts when we host happy hour or for mise-en-place, though the engraving on them has been worn smooth. (The rest of the set is not gone, just too big for the sailboat, is in storage with our other treasures, for "someday" when we move back to land.) Still the BEST Indian food in Denver! The owner's son, now a charming 30-something and working at the restaurant also, mentioned a funny memory he had as a 7-year-old, pulling out one of our measuring tapes to see how far it could go, and then not being able to get it back into its case. How remarkable that that stuck in his head, so many years later.

Old friends

In addition to the fellow college alumni, we had two other sets of longtime friends in the area. We would much have preferred to get with them one-on-one but there just weren't enough hours in the day, so we all got together in a trendy microbrewery in south Denver. The shortest of these friendships, is still over 25 years.

Our old workplace

Before and After - image from an EPA summary of the site history

On our way to drop us at the airport, our friends took us to visit our old workplace, Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  Chemical weapons were built there during WWII, Dan worked there in the 1970s after returning from Korea, while it was an active installation; Jaye worked there in the 1990s as part of the environmental cleanup after the place was decommissioned. (Probably my favourite job of my entire career.) All the buildings are gone now, their frantic and desperate history preserved only in a few educational plaques scattered around the site, and the buffalo literally roam. Of course, turning a Superfund site into a park is the definition of success; and it's the nature of environmental cleanup that it's a good thing if you make your job unnecessary. But still, when I worked there I would sometimes drive through the old plant area, the pipes and tubing and enigmatic buildings, and feel like I could almost, almost sense the camaraderie and shared sacrifice and archetypical American pluckiness of the workers there then, and leaving every evening, driving past the billboards that said "Thanks for the help!" on my way out the gate and I'd always smile a little internal, "No problem! You are welcome any time!" and wonder how modern visitors such as our hosts could ever understand the scope of what had happened here. 

All in all, an awesome visit, over way too fast. We promised to return for a longer time next year (this year, hah!) which of course can't happen now. So instead, it's just a lovely thing to look forward to, some future year.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Hard Aground

I always thought that the sailors' slang "on the hard" to describe a boat stored on land was a bit poetic -- boats would rather be floating and rocking gently. But in this case, it's safe and secure (and bonus! we get to attend to some maintenance.) 

We've packed up to leave the boat before, numerous times. Last summer we packed Every. Single. Thing. off the boat and deep cleaned the empty lockers before storing it on the hard through the hot Florida summer while we went working and traveling on the Santa Maria. A few years before that, we packed our valuables, left a friend in charge, and flew off to Aruba for 3 months. So we're no strangers to leaving for a while. But this time felt different. It felt desolate, and it felt … permanent. The end of an era, or at least of a phase of our lives. We expected the virus to have changed our cruising, we planned less ambitious seasonal treks, even welcomed the idea of staying in one area for a year or two and feeling the rhythm of the seasons again. But I didn't expect to feel like this was the end of our full-time living aboard.

Maybe, it was because all those other times, we were packing off to go to an adventure – sailing on El Galeon or visiting friends and family in Colorado and Alaska or scuba diving the Caribbean or hiking the Rockies. This time we were going from something – hiding from the awful summer heat and humidity since both our first choice way to spend the summaer (sailing El Galeon in Europe) and our second choice (bringing Cinderella to explore the Chesapeake Bay) and our third choice (road trip to the American West) all were quashed by the combination of virus and Dan's diving accident. And the very thing we loved about living in the marina in the middle of downtown St Augustine, the visitors, the vibrancy, the crowded narrow historic streets, was the thing that made the city so dangerous for us now with the risk of infection while we were trying so hard to stay isolated.

The boat had always felt like freedom, and our route to possibility. Now it felt like a constraint, a tether. I felt trapped, chained to a place I didn't want to be. Florida wasn't taking the virus seriously, I didn't feel safe, and I couldn't figure out how to leave. And hurricane season was coming. Next best option: store Cinderella on land, safe (or, statistically safe-er than any other option – nothing is guaranteed when it comes to hurricane season) and we rent a place with a little more space, isolation, and air conditioning until we can move back aboard.

In one of the magical ways networks of cruising friends lead to win-win situations, we rented a lovely townhouse from some friends-of-friends who were planning to spend the summer traveling in their rv. Close enough to come back easily to check up on, or work on, Cinderella where she would be safely hauled out on land for the season; yet calm and quiet and away from the city hustle.

As we wheeled the final load of packages away in a dock cart, I heard behind me the chimes of the ship's clock striking 6 bells, 3 pm. Tugged at my heart, as though Cinderella was saying, “I'll be faithfully waiting for you to return.” I miss you already.

Last week my word of the week was “squander,” – as in, let's not squander all the financial sacrifices our local businesses made during the shutdown, by opening back up too quickly (which Florida likely did anyway). This week it's “wistful” – I miss walking the cobbled streets, the historic Spanish architecture, the gentle rocking of the boat and the view from the cockpit, and I wonder when/if I can go back.

Wistful: almost everything I like, and am missing, in one photo -- portraying living history with friends, sailing, Spanish culture. The photo is of the Santa Maria docked in downtown St Augustine. If you zoom in you can just make out the stern of Cinderella off the upper left corner of the foredeck.