Backtracking a bit, when I planned my Denver move in 2008 I pictured myself in a cute duplex, the kind I remembered seeing in my past life here. I’d have my own washer and dryer, ample street parking, and a backyard. I was surprised and felt ripped off when I landed in a garden level apartment (we didn’t even have garden level in Detroit) for $675 a month in an awesome neighborhood. I was constantly defending that I didn’t live in a basement. “It’s garden level, like, true garden level. With windows as big as the ones upstairs.” I did have a dishwasher and free laundry across the hall from my front door, but I’d been living in a veritable palace in Detroit for $400 a month, (even though I did have to use the laundramat, something I swore I’d never do again). Everything was more expensive, and I was making less money. But, I had parks, and the Cherry Creek bike path, and the sun. It seemed like a reasonable trade off. I also didn’t have vagrant crackheads ringing my doorbell at 11am on Sunday asking for money for their AIDS medication.
I lived in that garden level apartment, with the exception of part of 2010, until 2013. When I moved, the rent was raised to $800. The apartment was less than 500 square feet, with a family of three above it. I was making a lot more money, had gotten an Ambien prescription due to my upstairs neighbors, and had ample spending cash I was willing to let go of to make the jump to a small two bedroom place on the fringe of Potter Highlands. A place I realize I am very, very lucky to still be paying the same rent on over two years later.
I’ve pretty much engineered a perfect Denver life for myself. I live 12 blocks from my office and 6 blocks from my boyfriend. I go home at lunch frequently to eat and let my dog out. I don’t ever have to leave my neighborhood if I don’t want to. And I often don’t want to these days. Where could I go that I won’t feel constantly assaulted by too many people, noises, and events? It’s all creeping up 38th Avenue to me now. I figure I’ve got a couple years before the nice amount of things to walk to in my area becomes too many things too close to my apartment, but I actually can’t leave my rental. Where would I go without paying rent I find against my religion of being a sane person who doesn’t like to get ripped off? I recognize myself being in the position of having a perfect Denver life that will fall apart the moment I move out of this apartment or neighborhood.
This trend towards Denver becoming an increasingly unaffordable city brings me to another topic – the city’s culture reflecting its economics.
For several years people have been trying to get me to go to the Denver Cruisers. I remember sitting outside at Root Down a few years ago with my sister (mother of three visiting from rural Wisconsin), and the Cruisers were going by with their costumes and noisemakers. My sister was like “what the hell is that?” Feeling disgruntled, I told her it was the epitome of this town… “It’s like, an adult playground. It’s where adults come to work to live and not the other way around.” At the time I felt like I would never fit in here, as passionate about my media career and intellectual as I am, though active, I’m not a mountain climber or mountain biker and I’m fine with skiing just a couple times a year.
And I have a major problem wearing a costume if it’s not Halloween.
Over the past few years, the invitations to things like a “color run” and kickball games with beer and costumes keep coming, and I keep declining. I felt like a buzz kill but maintained “not really my thing”. Friends who visited from Detroit marveled at the slackline at my office – “that’s illegal in Detroit” – and two of the “Carrots Five Ways” at The Populist being a gel and a foam. And these are people who travel internationally, go to different cities frequently, etc. In Detroit you just don’t get too fancy, it doesn’t make sense in that environment. Or didn’t when I lived there.
On the most recent Kentucky Derby day, I walked my dog at night and felt the strength of just the last year’s change. The neighborhood was dotted with young men and women, teetering drunkenly in their finery, having discussions about who was holding the cocaine on porches while sharing a cig. Derby parties were another thing I’d never heard of until a few years ago. Why did I have such a problem with these things, I wondered? I like to have fun and I love parties; ask anyone! As a single person a few years ago, I bought tickets to events I thought I should attend to be the young urban professional on the town that I was, as well as to potentially meet men. I often regretted wasting the sixty dollars on a ticket because, usually, I was bored, and I’d had to scrounge up something to wear to an event that ultimately felt like another work function.
A few days later I was jogging at Rocky Mountain Lake Park and passed one of Denver’s ubiquitous kickball games, complete with costumes, tube socks, and micro brews. It hit me: “this is just so WHITE.” People I mentioned this to were offended. Other white people like me had a problem with me using white to mean “privileged,” like, in the “white people problems” way. I mean, I’m obviously white and I’d be lying if I represented myself as anything but an upper middle class girl whose parents put me through college. I am lucky and feel grateful every day to not have student loans.
I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone here that Denver is mostly white people. Take this from someone who lived in a city that was 75% not white for many years – I can tell the difference (you can also look at median incomes from census data if you need any information about privilege as I’ve described it being white). The whole thing – the kickball/fun run/derby thing – just smacks of privilege. Buying a costume, not even for something you HAVE to go to, like a wedding or something, but just the act of buying special clothing for theme events and parties, or just to celebrate a horse you haven’t even met in person and are watching on TV. It’s just so fucking privileged.
When I ran in Detroit people would occasionally stop and ask me why I was running. I don’t think I’m equipped to even comment on why someone would think that (because I know I can’t begin to fathom how different it is to grow up in inner city Detroit than in Chelmsford, Mass., where I’m mostly from), but my perception is that when you have bigger things to think about than muscle tone like working more than one job or caring for your children you’re not sweating working out. It doesn’t even occur to you.
I’m all for fun but it irks me in a “first world” way that people dress up to ride bikes or play kickball. Or that they willingly run in a 5K where people are going to throw paint on them. What the fuck.
It’s just not what I signed up for when I came back to Denver. I’ve experienced different flavors of American metropolises as an adult – New York, Los Angeles, Detroit. In the coastal cities, I always had this feeling like, “this is a place for rich kids”. Kids that could afford rent in those cities while making $275 a week – therefore they were able to take the plum jobs working for Brian Grazer or someone like that. Detroit was, of course, a very different experience, and a very inclusive one for me that I valued greatly. I came back to Denver thinking, the weather’s better, it’s not too much more expensive, and it’s still a city, but not so gritty. And, I won’t run into any of my ex boyfriends here! Denver had this sleepy quality and just enough things to do along with its old identity, the kind I associate with the vintage signage on Colfax, Lakeside Amusement Park, and “Gennaro’s” on South Broadway (a place that let me sit in the bar and drink cokes when I was nineteen… they had a Guns ‘n Roses pinball machine).
Now I’m not sure what the identity of Denver is – it’s just growing too fast to have one. I’m just one person, but I fear it’s more costume kickball than stock show. (I love the stock show and to me that’s classic Denver.)
I always wanted to live in a city. My adolescent fantasies were built on CBGBs photos from the seventies, and, later on, the type of urban bohemian living I imagined Sofia Coppola and Chloe Sevigny to maintain (I now know this was rich white kid stuff.). I thought it was about being immersed in the kind of culture you can only find in cities – not stuff that had to do with playground games and beer and “basic” stuff I was trying to escape when I left my hometown. Stuff that had to do not only with seeing great art and music but meeting people different from me.
I know it’s not just Denver – this is happening everywhere. It’s great for cities to be modern and it’s great that people are moving back into them, except when we’re shutting out the people who made them interesting to begin with. And, though I’m not a native (I have lived in Colorado for longer than any other place at this point in my life but I’m an admitted nomad), I still think I am one of those interesting people. Like, an around the way girl and a neighborhood girl. I never thought I’d feel shut out of Denver like I did in Los Angeles after a couple years. Like I always did in New York. But it’s happening – only here it’s not just about price – it’s about culture too.
Read Part I Here.
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