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A Declaration of Independence

By Hal Walter

I am not exactly sure when Independence Day, or “Fourth of July,” became an 11-day weekend but never had it been more apparent than this year, when the rush for the hills began the week prior to the actual holiday.

The entire orgy of summer revery was in full swing by the third of July when I was trying to get my son Harrison to his first behavioral therapy session in Buena Vista. Despite his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, it had taken about two years of frustration, legal hassles, and paperwork to actually get this appointment. It was a hot day and now I was stuck in traffic trying to make a left-hand turn off Third on to H Street in Salida, the plan being to grab a quick lunch at the local burrito place.

The oncoming stream of vehicles on this backstreet seemed never-ending, and I was astonished when a woman actually edged her car out of the Safeway parking lot onto the street before me, blocking my chance to turn while she made her wrong-of-way left out of the grocery. I can only assume she was frantic to get back to the set of the new made-for-TV drama called “Desperate Funhogs of Chaffee County.”

At last there was a break in the traffic. I zoomed left and found a parking spot up the street from the restaurant. Once inside we encountered a line of customers which Harrison immediately set about protesting loudly.


I’d previously eaten at this burrito shop and know the epic portion sizes, so when it was at last our turn to order I inquired about a kid’s burrito for Harrison, who, at 15, weighs just 85 pounds. I could not have seen the tantrum coming as he started screaming, grabbing at me and striking the counter insisting he was not “a kid.” When at last I convinced him we were getting a “small” burrito rather than kid’s version he calmed down, but this soon gave way to another outburst over French fries. I’d seen on the menu board that the “California-style” burrito had fries inside. The friendly burrito builder asked if he wanted fries and when he realized they were going inside the tortilla he completely lost his mind.

I was losing mine as well but ordered the salad with chicken and guacamole. We chose a table and then there was another minor uproar when there were no straws for his lemonade. At last we were ready to eat lunch and when he took his first bite the burrito, still quite large for a kid’s size, literally exploded into a pile of chicken, beans, cheese,  rice and lettuce. The cartoon continued. I went in search of a plate and fork as he melted down in his seat.

As I ate I tried to digest how I’d just spent $27 on a kid’s burrito, a salad, and two drinks. Then I remembered the $45 lunch Harrison and I had at Amica’s this past winter, the moment I realized Salida had succeeded in channeling its inner Aspen.

When we’d finished eating, we got up to leave and a gentleman approached us. He introduced himself as a reader of Colorado Central and said he recognized us from my column. I am always happy to meet someone who still reads anything, much less someone who reads my column, so I did my best to exchange pleasantries while being entirely distracted by Harrison’s exit antics and my need to get back on the road.

As we drove on to Buena Vista I reflected on how much everything has changed. How Colorado has changed. How Salida has changed. How my own life has changed and how my writing has shifted along with it. Writing what I know and feel has always been my way. These days I seem to be writing more answers on standardized forms than actual essays.

We arrived at Colorado Autism Consultants where we were greeted by the friendly therapist and I was handed yet another pile of paperwork despite the forms I’d already filled out weeks prior to the appointment. It took me almost the duration of Harrison’s session to answer the questionnaires, and soon we were on our way home. As we passed the junction of highways 24 and 285 the line of westbound SUVs, cars, trucks campers, RVs, extended past Johnson’s Corner for as far as the eye could see, and we merged with the flow just like we were on the Front “Strange.” Colorado, I thought, is completely done.

We stopped back in Salida at the Natural Grocers, and besides the question of why such a store came to exist here, how is it that I can’t quickly buy a few groceries without running into a half-dozen friends, and without my son causing major disturbances? The last private man died more than two years ago and I still miss his brotherly guidance.

I drove away with a small cooler of food, utterly deflated and resolute in my notion that it would be much easier to pick up dog food back in Westcliffe. I considered the prospect of writing about the day’s experience, but the process of organizing words has become quite painful, and the point seems largely to have been lost in the blur of life. Not to belabor the point much further, and as difficult as it is to type, let me just say this is my farewell column.

It started so many years ago that I’ve lost exact count. In all, I believe I’ve written close to 300 columns over nearly a quarter century. As I recall, the late Ed Quillen phoned and asked if I’d be interested in writing for a new regional magazine he and Martha were starting. He described the enterprise as a way for them to make extra money on their kitchen table. I was skeptical but honored. Then he told me how poorly he’d be paying, a nickel per word. This was all fine with me as I wanted to be a writer and wasn’t in it for the money.

Within a few months I was assigned this monthly column. In the early days these mostly consisted of me disparaging real-estate developers, prompting calls of “Send him back!” way before the racists seized the phrase. This soon became boring and frankly ineffective and isolating enough that I transitioned to writing a more personal column, typically exploring my own Central Colorado lifestyle. Though it was anything but typical, and remains so to this day.

Then along came Harrison. As his challenges became more apparent, I began writing about the experience of parenting a child on the spectrum here in Custer County. Often this has been raw. It was at once a form of therapy and sharing of emotions with readers. Sometimes I think I’ve shared too much. In doing so I’ve perhaps stolen a part of his private life along with my own – I am always amused that so many people only recognize me only because they know of him. On the flip side I do believe this has helped raise awareness if only on a small level, as evidenced by the kind reader in the burrito shop.

I probably won’t quit writing altogether, or about Harrison. Because I still can. I just feel it’s time to do something different. My responsibilities as his dad, as coach for the school’s distance running teams, not to mention the demands of my real job and my own self-care, make it increasingly difficult to adhere to a monthly deadline.

So these are the final words of The Final Word. It’s been a remarkable experience to be a columnist for Colorado Central. I wish to thank Ed and Martha, as well as Mike Rosso, for supporting and providing this opportunity for so many years. I especially would like to thank my readers. I hope you all have enjoyed this ride as much as I have.

The Last Word will be opened up to guest columnists, including Hal, in future issues. Meanwhile, to keep up with Hal visit his blog at

One Comment

  1. John Peleaux John Peleaux August 5, 2019

    Thank you Hal.
    I understand, and wish you well.

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