Day 36: Rocks and bars in Pueblo

by James

I know updates are becoming more and more infrequent. We’re entering an extremely demanding leg of the trip, with long rides across windy, uninhabited desert. I’m on a rest day right now and I’ll push as many updates as I can while in civilization.

Updates from here on out may be sparse until we’re through the majority of Nevada. This is dependent on signal, time, and whether or not I’m still alive. In any case, I’m not abandoning the blog.

My legs were bent at the knee when I woke up on Patti’s downstairs couch. Day 36, June 22nd, Pueblo, CO: a rest day.

Mike had been stirring for sometime and I had listened to the sounds of his motion in a half-daze. After a few minutes, I rose and dropped my contacts in, regaining mid- and long-distance vision.

I sauntered to the upstairs and took stock of the midlevel. Nobody up. I didn’t need to check the garage because I figured by default that Mike was in it working on our bikes.

Patti passed in and out of the kitchen quickly wearing a blue bathrobe. Her brown hair was dark and weighted with water. I might’ve taken a picture, but then she might’ve smacked me.

I lingered in the kitchen awhile and eventually Lisa showed up looking for coffee. I voiced sympathy and so we made plans to meet Patti at a coffeeshop in downtown Pueblo. Mike wandered in from the garage and the three of us piled into Lisa’s white Dodge and drove downtown listening to The B-52’s and Blondie. We passed a huge, modern-looking library that looked great for lounging.

We arrived at the coffeeshop, a place called The Daily Grind, after Lisa had taken a scenic drive around Pueblo. Mike ordered a breakfast burrito and I did the same, supplementing with a hot coffee.

We took a wireframe table outside and our food was delivered. Up came Patti, touching feet to pavement casually as Mike and I gorged. Patti took a seat and we watched cops on horses and ate breakfast.

Patti ordered a burrito and had eaten about a tenth of it by the time Mike and I were through with ours. After breakfast was done and the coffee finished, we returned our dishes to the coffeeshop and left.

Patti took us on a stroll down the street and she ran into friends, Inaiah and Mo. They sat perched outside a graphic design studio. Mike and I got acquainted with both and found out that Mo owned the shop, Lastleaf Printing. I quickly got talking with Mo about his business. We were invited inside and went.

Mo in his shop.

Mo told us about how he had inadvertently gotten into the graphic design business and had opened the shop’s doors with $100 in his bank account. His two-man firm had gone on to design a variety of posters and brands for bands and events around the country, without Mo sinking any money into traditional advertising.

We said goodbye to the two artists and walked to Patti’s black Honda. She drove us to a bike shop, The Great Divide, along the way pointing out an automotive service center turned bar owned by a friend of hers. We arrived at the bike-shop and purchased tubes after meandering around a little.

Sunny Pueblo street.

We drove back to Patti’s, sat her barely-touched burrito in the fridge, and split for Red Rock Open Space, a park just outside of Colorado Springs. We planned to meet Josh Snyder, our rambunctious friend from the GMU math department now stationed in UC Boulder’s applied math PhD program.

Patti guided the Honda out of Pueblo and onto I-25. We blew threw the arid dust surrounding the interstate and I gaped at the mountains to our left, snapping photos and videos like a real tourist. The snow-capped Almagres loomed to the east, Pike’s Peak jutting up stoically into the blue afternoon sky. The roadside environment fluctuated wildly between greenery and beige, sandy desolation.

Patti played music over the stereo from a Colorado Springs-native musician and friend. The songs were soft arrangements and they amplified the loneliness of the mountainous desert around us. I looked out the window at the ethereal landscapes and asked Patti if she’d ever gotten used to seeing mountains like these. She said she had.


In under an hour, we made it to the outskirts of Springs. Patti landed the car in the parking lot of Red Rock Open Space, an old quarry that had been donated by the owner to the county under the condition that it remain an open space. We opened the doors and stepped out into the dry heat. Within the first few steps, my flip-flopped feet had a coating of sand.

Since Josh, our math buddy, wasn’t yet in the area, we decided to take a walk around Red Rock. We stared at a trail map for a while. Mike wanted to hike something called The Contemplative Trail, which was rated as difficult. I told him I’d give him something to contemplate.

We began to meander into the park and down one of the trails that Patti often takes. We saw a sign that fiercely prohibited “Rock Scrambling” and so for the rest of the walk I was sure to remind Mike frequently that he couldn’t do any Rock Scrambling whatsoever, despite the burning inclinations he undoubtedly had.

Three amigos.
Walking through Red Rock.
Descending from a light climb.
Something about the austere, severe rocks complimented Patti's features. The park seemed to belong to her.

Finally, Mike received a call from Josh, who’d arrived at the Garden of the Gods, a park just down the street, so we returned to the car.

Back through the dust.

After some driving and wandering through the Garden of the Gods’ gift shop and parking lot, we found Josh. I gave him a big hug; it’d been a year or so once we’d seen one another. Josh was a founding Fustilarian in the GMU math department1 and he remains a good friend of mine, so I was happy to see him. He immediately started in with his brand of outrageously boisterous humor and had us in stitches.

Josh next to rocks.

The three of us were hungry after the walk around Red Rock and so we commandeered Josh and his incredibly-clean Honda to take us to a barbecue place nearby. We all ordered sandwiches and deserts in large quantity; we ended up coaxing each other into bites out of a vat of peach cobbler in an attempt to finish it off. A notoriously “homely” buttermilk pie went almost untouched.

We finished off lunch and went back to Garden of the Gods to walk around the monolithic red rocks. Patti and I were more or less bored of the rocks and were gunning for a turn-around to crawl local breweries, but Josh’s company and our recollecting of the GMU days led us to one particular rock face where climbers were ascending the harsh, steep stone.

What a lunatic.

We watched them, fascinated, for a while and made comments ranging in timbre from wonderstruck to irreverent. At one point, a climber was making a transition from one rock face to a much steeper sheet above it. In order to do this, he had to spread-eagle himself on the face of the rock, hugging the face with legs almost completely in splits.

The guy was obviously struggling (it was a tough sell), and made a few attempts, each time returning to this awkward position. I noted that if he happened to raise a boner, he was dead. Josh responded, “that would certainly put him between a rock and a hard place.”

Watching the climbers.

We finished up at the Garden of the Gods after taking a band photo beside “the balanced rock.” We watched tourists come and go. Patti tried to scramble a rock but found no good route.

The band photo; Josh and I aren't angled obliquely enough.
Next to balanced rock.

After Garden of the Gods, we went into Springs proper and Patti led us around to local breweries. Josh took Mike in his car and I rode with Patti. She played indie cowboy music as we talked, stuff like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

We stopped at a few places, notably Bristol Brewing Company and ultimately Trinity Brewing. Josh doesn’t like beer but Mike and I do (emphatically), so we kept trying to force our tastes on the kid. He played along, providing hilarious responses to timid sips, eventually describing one IPA as “what you get when you take the strings off of bananas and grind them up into a juice. Disgusting.”

As we sat in Trinity, Patti ran into some friends: Seth and another guy whose name I don’t remember. Seth was a wiry, animated guy who looked to be in his early-thirties.

After a few drinks in Trinity, we decided to get a growler of beer and go up to visit Lisa, a friend of Patti and Seth’s, in her house nearby. We gained a few hundred feet of elevation in Patti’s Honda and found ourselves outside of a large house on an incline. We walked into the spacious house and met Lisa, a bubbly and welcoming blonde. We sat on her back deck for an hour or two watching dark fall on Springs, which was spread out below us.

I talked with Seth awhile about a business plan he had to utilize abandoned urban areas to grow boutique vegetation for local, upscale restaurants using hydroponics. The plots would be mobile so that whenever a given area was bought for development, the crops could be moved easily.

This, of course, led into a conversation about politics which ended up being involved and rewarding. Seth was in the corner of big government, so we had a lot to talk about.

You can’t ever expect to change anyone’s mind in a political discussion at dusk on someone’s deck, but you can usually expect to have your reasoning prodded, which is useful for self-examination. We traded point for point and I think we both came away with some new insight23.

Night fell and the city lights radiated below us.

Seth got to talking about the local bike polo league and Mike bludgeoned him with questions, all of which Seth was more than happy to field in his eloquent way of firehosing the conversation with information. We promised to show up to a game tomorrow. Mike was excited.

Patti shuffled us off of the deck and out of the house, onto our next appointment: a writer that Patti had just met wanted to interview us. She’d told us at lunch that all she knew about this guy was that he was a mostly-academic writer and wrote about the effect of medium on communication4. The only other thing she knew was that he had gone to Sweden for a conference and had missed his own talk to drink liquor and watch porn in his hotel room. Mike and I were both morbidly curious, so Patti, Josh, Mike, and I split back to the Trinity parking lot to drop Josh off at his car.

We arrived at the parking lot and said goodbye to Josh. He gave us a giant paper bag of baked goodies for use on the road. He drove away in his SRV and the remaining three of us hopped into Patti’s Honda. She guided us through dark roads and into the quiet streets of Manitou.

We parked in an empty street full of soft light and wandered down an alley to a wine bar, where the writer was allegedly waiting for us.

The alley leading to the wine bar, Swirl.

We walked into the wine bar, taking our steps with uncertainty, to find a lavish, European interior that looked like the setting of one of Van Gogh’s wet dreams. Slow, cool trip-hop5 dripped from the bar’s stereo and bathed the scene in bluesy sophistication. Five or six people were seated at the bar. My first thought was that a few drinks here would blow a day’s food budget in very short order.

We walked up to the bar and found Dave, the writer, and an artist friend of Patti’s. Patti introduced us to both and began talking to the two. Mike and I looked on as Dave and the other guy dipped into an expensive-looking plate of cheese.

In tie-dye and shorts, we were way out of our element.

Nonetheless, Dave ordered us all a round of Estonian beers that were probably fermenting while I was incubating and asked us questions. Patti left with the other artist to recover a dessert from his apartment a few blocks away.

Suave, Mike, suave. Dave is far to the right chatting up some defenseless barfly and Max, the bartender, is visible second from left.

After the typical round of questions about the trip petered out, I began to ask Dave questions and we moved from the bar to couches a few feet away.

Dave was slightly squity-eyed and looked to be in his early forties. He was born in Kentucky and had moved between there and Colorado over the years, working academic gigs. He is finishing a book called The Funeral Must Go On, a black comedy. I asked him if he could recommend me a book and he responded with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance6.

Dave ordered another round of the Estonian fare and we sat talking about Bukowski and writing until a new, sort of cozy woman appeared at the bar, whom Dave gravitated towards immediately. I’m not sure if he was running game or just making friendly conversation, but it looked like the former. Mike was perched on the couch opposite me, leisurely dazing.

I approached the bar to return Dave’s favor with another round and heard Dave make a stab at the woman’s phone number. With some hurried conversational positioning, she escaped without giving Dave her contact info (”I’ll get your number through a friend,” she says).

Patti returned and so the two of us sat on a couch, watching Mike do a glassy-eyed, mental walk of The Contemplation Trail and Dave socialize with the only other couple remaining at the bar.

The two of us enjoyed the arcane ’80s hits7 that played over the stereo. We watched the bartender, a man we later found out was named Max, tear jokes out from under the couple he was playing Trivial Pursuit with. Max seemed like the cool drama kid from high school; he had mutton chops, was slightly pudgy but wore the weight well, and donned plaid. He had a clear, fast, loud voice that commands laughter and he came across as worldly and tough.

He had great taste in music; Patti and I called out artists, guessing as new tracks streamed over the stereo.

Patti and I ended up closer to one another and reminisced about ’80s movies8. I had a solid buzz and so didn’t have trouble exclaiming about the strange, optimistic, and otherwise-wonderful zeitgeist of ’80s teen movies. We watched Max, Dave, and Mike, making commentary about all three scenes just between the two of us.

Max closed the doors, since he thought it was later than it actually was and didn’t want to attract cops or additional clientele.

After some time, the Trivial Pursuit couple left and Patti, Mike, and I made steps for the door. We said goodbye to Dave, who was properly soused, and Max walked us out. He asked his round of questions about the trip and I happily responded. I asked a few about the bar, which he ostensibly owned. He wished us luck, shook our hands, and Patti snapped a picture.

Outside of Max's Swirl.

We walked a block back to the car and started home. Patti and I alternated choosing music and Mike fell asleep in the back. We drove fast on the interstate, cutting through the thick dark, south towards Pueblo. Patti passed her phone to me so I could cue up a track and our hands brushed on one another’s for a little longer than necessary.

We got back to Patti’s after midnight. Mike went to the basement immediately while I hung around in the kitchen.

After a little talk, Patti said she was going upstairs to work on an article for the local paper. On her way out of the kitchen, she signaled for an embrace. I took her and, on a hunch, pulled back and kissed her. That could’ve landed me on the lawn for the night, but it didn’t.

We parted and I went downstairs to the couch, a little short of breath.

  1. the Fustilarians were a group of unruly math researchers who annexed the math computer lab and turned it into an office for themselves, along with rooting and disassembling various computers, undertaking time-lapse photography projects, stealing surplus whiteboards, and generally making sure that the lab was in good working order (god knows the sysadmin Dwayne couldn’t handle that). The original group consisted of Tom Stephens, Jeff Snider, Josh Snyder, Mike Atkins, and myself.

  2. for myself: If someone has a coal plant down the road and I cough three more times a year because of it, should I be able to get the government involved? In other words, to what degree does a negative externality have to be harmful to constitute “force” and therefore government intervention?

  3. for Seth: if he thinks people should be able to screw themselves up on heroin if they like, it is a contradiction in thinking for him to simultaneously hold that the government should enforce fiscal protections from self, like minimum wage and social security.

  4. i.e. OMG WE CAN’T COMMUNICATE ON THE INTERNET, according to this dude

  5. a track I recognized as Groove Armada’s Inside My Mind (Blue Skies)

  6. a book my father had given me a while back. I never got beyond the first few pages, but I was pretty young so I’ll have to give it another shot.

  7. The Human League, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Alphaville, etc.

  8. John Hughes flicks and Real Genius, with Val Kilmer.

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