Making a pilgrimage to city of memories

In my mind, Denver was a place of myth long before I ever actually visited. I read Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” as a teenager and dug the word jazz he made: “I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised land, way out there beneath the stars ….”

I was young and adventurous and itching to leave my known universe and get out on the road myself.

In 1972, two college buddies and I on not much more than a whim piled in Tim’s Mustang and left to visit a mutual friend in Denver. A muscle car was probably the wrong vehicle for three young counterculture warriors to take. To us it was a given that Indianapolis to Denver was a nonstop drive. Eighteen, 20 hours? Piece of cake.

Unfortunately somewhere between hour 14 and 16, we got stopped by a trooper because a state police helicopter clocked us at 90 mph. The officer was very polite and pleasant as he invited us three long-haired hippies to a nearby courthouse to pay a fine. He chatted with us and seemed like an interesting guy. It was a moment of realization that the prevailing assumption of the era that hippies and cops were adversaries was questionable.

We drove a more reasonable speed the rest of the way to Denver. I will never forget the first view of the Rockies: clouds on the horizon slowly morphing into mountains.

The next year, a friend and I decided it was time to make a pilgrimage to the West Coast a la Kerouac, so we scraped some money together and headed out in his car. The insignia on the hood read “Porsche,” but it drove more like an VW Beetle with some rust and iffy brakes. We drove all night and made it to Denver until we could no longer ignore the car’s problems.

We spent two nights in a Denver motel we couldn’t really afford while the car was made as road-ready as we could pay for. We did make it to the Pacific Ocean, although we bled the brakes all the way there and back home.

In 1978 I played bass in a band that procured a three-week gig in Denver. Singer and guitarist Sally had an aunt and uncle who lived in and ran a large boardinghouse nestled in the mountains outside Denver. We stayed with them and practiced in a large room with a window looking out through the pines at the city.

Her uncle was a peace activist and had a newsletter with an excerpt from a new book by essayist, novelist and poet Wendall Berry. It was fascinating. After that, Berry joined Kerouac in my pantheon of admired writers. I still can’t quite believe I got paid to play music while living in the mountains.

The next time I visited Denver was in the late 1990s. I was a bit less of a carefree hippie and a bit more of a responsible middle school English teacher. Our team of teachers presented a program at the National Middle School Conference. We didn’t get stopped for speeding, nor did we have car trouble; but we did manage to have a good presentation and a couple of adventures, as I recall.

Now I find myself in Denver again, this time to witness the marriage of Scott and Sarah, Scott being the son of one of my wife Becky’s longtime friends. On Sunday we friends and families will gather to celebrate the beginning of this young couple’s own experiences and adventures together.

I am sure Denver will always have a special place in their memories. I hope so. It has been a good city of memories for me.