Denver, Colorado

In order to leave Salt Lake City I had to wheel my suitcase down a number of blocks from the smart district to the Greyhound Bus Terminal. I couldn’t help but notice the lack of Latter Day Saints outreach amongst the poverty stricken down and outs who clustered around the Vincent de Paul Mission and its surrounding streets. On the subject of St Paul, this bus station was certainly a revelation and while I waited there I encountered the usual shambling drug addicts and alcoholics but a few sights that shocked even me. There were severely mentally disabled people, people so obese that they could barely walk, people so thin that every bone could be counted, a man with an uncovered tracheostomy tube, a woman with open facial lesions (presumably some sort of cancer) and a couple of misplaced, middle aged women from New Zealand. The latter dressed in jaunty pink cowboy hats and obviously out looking for a good time.

Anyway, I made it on the overnight bus to Denver without incident. Of course, I had miscalculated the scale of American City blocks again and the walk, or more accurately “suitcase pull”, to the youth hostel (no upper age limit) was quite a trek. I was straight away admitted to the amazing world of the “Women’s Dormitory” and it was there that my education began. The 2014 legalization of cannabis use in the state of Colorado has helped to bring a lot of people here from all over the country and some of them are not going any further. Denver International Hostel may once have been a haven of healthy, outdoorsy backpackers like its equivalents in Stockholm or Prague but it is now decidedly run down. It is home to many unemployed or low paid workers who service the needs of a city centre whose regular accommodation costs far more than they can actually afford.

I commented on how nicely the girls kept their dorm (emptied bins, shared toiletries, communal cook-ins – and bongs, of course) and compared it with the “down and out” look of a lot of the men. “We’re all down and out, honey, we just keep it together better than they do”. Black or white, young or not so young, these women were on the run from relationships gone to bad or the big hopes that had gone sour. A couple had had children somewhere along the way and this was probably a tragic reflection of the damaged relations some of them described with their own birth families.

But let’s not get too down about it all. As I sat outside for the best wifi signal, avoiding the fog of cannabis-laced cigarette smoke and expletive-laced conversation coming from the men’s dorm, a passing dog walker handed me a huge container of fresh ground coffee, “I bought this brand but I don’t like it, maybe you could use it?” I made an executive decision to keep it all for the female dormitory and when I left I donated a small amount of money for some dollar store crockery. It seemed only right, after all I had enjoyed their hospitality and received the honour of being called “sister” by a black girl.

When I got out and about to see downtown Denver on foot I was very taken with its commitment to the Arts with a capital “A”. Not only museums, galleries and public parks display a genuine commitment to keeping the city looking good, but commercial buildings and public spaces are attractive as well. Alright, there are a few bronze statues of cowboys riding steers and bucking broncos but for the most part it is all remarkably tasteful. Put that together with the crisp air and complete lack of biting insects and the Mile High City makes a very pleasant stopping place. The Denver Art Museum contains probably the best collection of Native American arts and crafts in the country, if I spent most of my available time there to the detriment of the other wonderful collections, then who could blame me?

I don’t know whether the Colorado cannabis experiment will hold out but I am glad to have had the opportunity to see it unfolding. I think I can expect to find a very different atmosphere when I get to St Louis, Heart of the Midwest.

Categories: North America

1 Comment

  • Sandy says:

    You have confirmed our preconceived notions about the bus and hostel life. We’re just glad you survived it. Do you carry a badge from the past that you can whip out if needed?

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