Monthly Archives: April 2013

Among the Gods

Once upon a time, in 1859 to be exact, two surveyors were wandering through the countryside not terribly far from the newly minted city of Denver.  They were headed south, with plans to create a new city – Colorado City.

On their way, they stumbled across an extraordinary formation of rocks.  Red sandstone jutted up out of the dry earth like shattered glass, dusty red against the black slopes and white peaks of the front range of the Rockies.  Enormous slabs of rock, hundreds of feet high, soared towards the sky.  Their knife-edge peaks leaned towards each other creating spectacular silhouettes against the bright blue western sky.

The two surveyors set down their packs and looked at the grandeur around them.  “This,” one said to the other, “would be a capital place for a beer garden.”

A capitol place for a beer garden

A capitol place for a beer garden

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            Of course there’s more to the story.  The other one said something prudish and sufficiently awestruck about how this landscape is not for drinking beer but rather for a gathering of the Gods, and they called it Garden of the Gods, and Colorado City became Colorado Springs.

But I like it best left off before all that.

rockies

Colorado Springs still sits on that knife edge, teetering dangerously between the surveyor who saw it as an ideal place to get drunk with friends, and his pious colleague who fell to his knees in prayer.  It is known as the home of Brady Boyd’s New Life Church (congregation: 8,900), the Air Force Academy, and that state’s right wing politics.

But then, I was there to see an interfaith ceremony in a Unitarian chapel, followed by a reception featuring finger puppets, stick on mustaches and a giant statue of a rooster.

On Saturday afternoon, two of my favorite people stood up and told each other that they’d stick it out side by side for the rest of their lives.  And everyone else cried.  The whole time.  Just absolute floods of tears.  Really silly, overwhelming amounts of tears.  I was told on two separate occasions that this not being, after all, my own wedding, I really had to hold it together.

I didn’t hold it together.

I cried twice more during the toasts, once during a dance, and a little just because the sunset was pretty.

See?  Wasn't lying about the finger puppets.

See? Wasn’t lying about the finger puppets.

I can’t say I saw a lot of the megachurch side of Colorado Springs.  My family’s history is in Denver, and with a natural Denver chip on my shoulder I expected to be overrun with street preachers the second I arrived.  Somehow I thought they’d be in the hotel lobby, handing me bibles with my breakfast burrito. (I hope that Colorado Springs takes no offence.  I just really believe what movies tell me about places.  When I was 12 I told my mother how surprised I was there weren’t potholes on the runway at JFK.)

But watching these two wonderful families toast their son and daughter, sing, dance, and make s’mores, I did feel, at least a little bit, that we were at a gathering of the Gods.  Also, without a doubt, at a damned fine beer garden.

megmark

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A Friendly Town

Madison is a friendly town.  At least, Madison should be a friendly town.  It’s in the Midwest!  It’s full of people from Wisconsin!  They love beer!  They’re called cheeseheads, for God’s sake.

And of course it is.  People open doors a lot, and give directions handily.  They’ll joke with you on the street about weather.  They compliment your boots and let you pet their dogs.

But they don’t, actually, make friends with you.

The last time I traveled alone I was in Israel.  There were scores of us: young people, many of us on our own, out to see a foreign culture.  We exchanged phone numbers, hopped on busses to Bethlehem and went drinking together.  We took each other’s pictures, and met outside the same cafes.  It felt like a movie montage.  It felt great.

But no one travels through Madison.

Everyone is here for a reason – mostly because they live here.  There’s one hostel and it’s filled with a ragtag bunch of us – law students attending conferences, me to do my research, and an unusually large population of women in their seventies here for no clear reason at all (more on that later).

There’s no exploring a foreign culture.  No Bethlehem.  No learning to ask for beer in Hebrew.   .

So I go to bars.  And I go to them alone.

I know there just must be a trick to finding a bar where you can make friends.  But I don’t know what it is.  So I go into them, one a night, and order a beer.  The Tipsy Cow, The Great Dane, The Weary Traveler, El Dorado, The Old Fashioned, on and on and on.

I sit down.  I order beer in a way that makes clear I am a fun person just in town who would like to know Madison.

One time this initiated conversation.

Then I pull out my book, sometimes making some comment on it.

This has succeeded never.

I order food, and ask someone near me what I should order.  I attempt to make this one question convey my entire, happy-go-lucky, mysterious-person-on-her-own personality.

This once led to successfully talking to another human being for a whole 40 minutes.

Eventually I get as far as commenting on the game.  It’s a stupid starter for 10, really.  I will have at best one sentence to say about it.  I once tried to start talking about the Brewers and it immediately became apparent that I didn’t know who they were playing.  In fact, I didn’t know what league they were in.  (National League, in case you’re wondering.  Or, if you use my accounting a leagues “the Mets/Nats league, not the Yankees/A’s one.”)

Baseball has led to three separate conversations.  One lasted 15 minutes.  If it sounds like I am recording this with a near manic meticulousness, that’s because I am.

But none of them have made me any friends.

Now, I will not pretend to be particularly socially apt.  I am not.  I am awkward as hell, furiously shy at first, and immediately thereafter uncomfortably garrulous.  But I’m not awful, not really terrible.

So I have to wonder – would this happen in every city?  Or is it Madison?  What makes a city really “friendly”?  Is it the opening of doors, and meaning it when you say “have a nice day”?

Or is it a stranger at a bar – someone who takes an interest in you, someone else who is on their own.   Someone who would never open a door for a lady, but who might, just maybe, say hello.

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