Denver, where’d ya go?
The monstrous building going up across from my office of the last five and a half years.
I was never a voluntary Denverite – this is crazy when you live here because people are obsessed with either moving to this place they love with youthful fervor, or putting “Colorado Native” stickers on their cars to show they didn’t move here. Online dating profiles, when I read them, were full of people defending their native status. “I didn’t grow up here but I chose life in Colorado fifteen years ago, so I consider myself a native.” That kinda thing. It’s this weird pride because of the huge influx of other East, West, and Middle Coasters. You know, the ones we all wish would stop moving here and driving up our rent. A few years after moving back in 2008 I understood why we wanted to keep it all a secret.
I grew up all over the country – but mostly in the northern suburbs of Boston. Not close enough to be on the T line (how I qualify being “from Boston”, even if you are from a suburb), but close enough that my existence as a youth was in a tree-crowded, densely populated world, where the buildings were mostly old and the highways were two lane and the sides of many roads were lined with low piled rock walls that have been there for hundreds of years. Mall shopping was either twenty minutes across the state border in Nashua, New Hampshire, or forty five minutes away in Burlington. Boston was a twenty one plus town with some exceptions, and I didn’t even turn eighteen until I was in college. I remember, sadly, missing the Ramones. I wasn’t savvy enough to have some kind of fake ID.
In addition to age limitations, Boston wasn’t super accessible. People were scared to drive there. You get your license and sixteen and a half in Massachusetts, which makes you even more captive to the suburbs as a high schooler, so once we could drive it was a huge deal to park at Alewife station and take the T to Harvard square where we could shop at URBAN OUTFITTERS. This was major in 1994.
My first concert, when I was sixteen, was a free Green Day concert on the Esplanade in Boston. They expected like, ten thousand kids and literally every high school student from New England came. There were something like sixty thousand people there and a riot after seven songs. I’m not a Green Day fan anymore but it was pretty punk at the time. The revelation for me was that I wasn’t the only starved adolescent in my town – everyone at school the next day were wearing the concert tees. At any rate, it was a big thing for me to drive into the city with a couple girlfriends and actually park my 1987 Ford Escort. We weren’t city girls. And one of the other girls even drove because I was chicken and had failed my driving test the first time I took it just a few months earlier.
My parents moved when I was a freshman in college in Poughkeepsie, New York. I lasted only a semester in New York and spent the next nine months living in Parker, Colorado, working various jobs such as a waitress at Village Inn, Cherry Creek Sneak staff, and a sandwich shop counter girl. I was culture shocked, to say the least, and incredibly lonely.
The access of Denver was beautiful to an oppressed New Englander and I began to blossom as a young adult. College, so far, had not been the colony of people “like me” I thought it would be – and in my new life as a drop out I was able to find the places those people hung out. I drove to Denver frequently and shopped at thrift stores and pawn shops (where I got my Kramer electric guitar, long since pawned away), something I’d never done in Massachusetts except for infrequently in the next door bad city of Lowell. Even better, our house’s massive satellite dish magically came with MTV and MTV2. I delighted in indie music videos and attended many all ages shows solo or with the one friend I’d made waiting tables (my first Goth – yet another thing we didn’t have in Chelmsford, Mass.).
The young people had a freedom here I didn’t know was possible when stuck in small town Massachusetts. It seemed like everyone at alt rock shows back then were teenagers and everything else going on here revolved around KYGO. I met many bands at the Bluebird and Ogden theaters as a pimply eighteen year old. They were my saviors in a dark time living in a rural area with my parents and with no friends.
The Makeup in that time in the 90s when “wig” hairdos were cool.
I continued my college education at CU Boulder, and continued to branch out more into the kind of things I’d always felt unable to do in my hometown. In regard to Denver, this included more shows at the Bluebird and Ogden and the Mammoth Events Center (now Fillmore), meeting Beck in addition to many less famous musicians, and, once I was more ingratiated with hip locals, attending underground shows at “The Warehouse”. I have vague memories of this space – a skateboard ramp inside a huge warehouse somewhere around Arapahoe and… 30th? (I don’t remember any landmarks from the old cowtown Denver as it doesn’t resemble 2015 Denver at all.) I saw The Promise Ring there and an unforgettable show with The Makeup. It was summer, and when the band finished my friends and I went outside where I sat on a curb. Someone ran outside and not three feet from me bent over that curb and let a waterfall of vomit out of his mouth. I think that was the last time I went there.
All the Colorado kids I knew spent their high school years hanging out at Paris on the Platte – an extremely smoky coffee house I once visited over winter break and was shocked to realize still existed years later. I was just as shocked to realize it recently closed. Sometimes we’d go to parties and it seemed like everyone lived near Wax Trax. Our Denver friends who didn’t go to CU were all into Pulp and the Cure. When I got older we went dancing at the Snake Pit, and they had a Britpop night. And when I would come back to town, for a while, the P.S. Lounge was the spot. These places, even after living in several large cities in my adult life, seemed very unique to Denver.
Closer to when I moved back, I’d visit Sputnik or the Hi Dive or The Forest Room and had friends in town who worked at those spots. I was living in Detroit and Denver seemed like it had about as many places to go. But maybe I’d be less inclined to party a lot and the weather was better and there was a light rail so that was cool. It reminded me of a mini Los Angeles in many ways and I liked how it was progressing. Oh yeah, and I broke up with a boyfriend, turned thirty, and missed my parents.
I made the move back in 2008 and could never have predicted what would happen over the next seven years.
I spent much of 2008 and 2009 not really living in Denver, as my boyfriend at the time was in Morrison. In 2010, we had moved into Northwest Denver together and then broken up, and I was out on the town again, living back in my old apartment in Alamo Placita. For a while it seemed like I was doing the same stuff I had been in 2008 – The Forest Room, The Rock Bar, the occasional night at Don’s Club. Lost Lake was a nice addition to my rounds. It seemed like everything was getting better for a few years even as rents rose. This issue was poignantly obvious to me when I moved back to North Denver in 2013. Though my neighborhood thus far is free from too much rebuilding – it quickly creeps our way. Suddenly this progress feels like a horrible trend. Suddenly neighborhoods I enjoyed hanging out in last year are devoid of parking, lacking a stretch of sidewalk that isn’t populated by full to the gills restaurants and bars, and full of people who seem to be… gaping tourists? Recent college graduates? Bros?
This post will be continued next week, thanks for reading!
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