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For the fortunate few, it’s a great `quality of life’

Letter from Ray Shoch

Colorado Life – May 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Ed and Martha:

Yep, there are a couple of typos, but #74 is still a fine piece of work, and yes, I could have sent this via e-mail, but as I’ve said before, I like to see type on paper. Besides I have this new Macintosh, a 1200 dpi HP printer, and a huge font collection, so I might as well use them all.

I couldn’t agree more with Mary Sojourner’s piece. Change the name of the state to the one immediately to the northeast of Arizona and her comments would still be dead-on. Much is made in the Denver media — and by every real estate salesperson I’ve encountered — of the “quality of life” in Colorado, and although I vacationed in the foothills west of Denver for 15 years, I’ve lived here for less than 3 years, so I try to keep my mouth shut and observe the locals in their rituals lest I be bashed, literally or figuratively, for being yet another ignorant tourist. Still, it seems more and more apparent to me that the “quality of life” in Colorado they speak so highly of requires, more often than not, a rarely-achieved combination of youth and wealth, not to mention an environmental insensitivity that’s truly jaw-dropping.

I haven’t seen any evidence yet that Wal-Mart (or, to be fair, any retail or other “service-based” industry) is paying its hourly employees enough that they can take part in very much in Colorado’s renowned “quality of life.” I’ve encountered quite a few of these less affluent Coloradans since moving here, and none of them has the financial wherewithal to buy a new Ford Behemoth to put in front of the 3-car garage of a 3500-square-foot home they’ve just purchased in a gated “community” somewhere between Fort Collins and Pueblo, or between Denver and Glenwood Springs.

Most of the new vehicles I see on Denver-area roads, and most of the new houses being built along the Front Range, and many of the developments I’ve seen spring up in just the few years I’ve been here, unfortunately fit those parameters, but they’re far, far out of the reach of most of the hourly employees whose acquaintance I’ve made. Since those hourly employees certainly make up the vast majority of the work force along the Front Range (and likely throughout the state), whether they’re working for a big-box retailer, Ski Resorts ‘R Us, or Ray’s Lawn Care, I continue to wonder where all the money to buy these vehicles and houses and “ranchettes” — and there’s obviously lots of it around — is coming from, and why a relative few seem to have so much of it.

For those relative few, the quality of life here is excellent — hell, it ought to be damn near orgasmic. For the bulk of the population, though — those many, many thousands of hourly workers whose incomes take 4 or 5 years to accumulate to 6 figures — it seems to me to be more and more as Mary suggests. Facilities that “back east” are financed through local tax initiatives, or are just plain subsidized by communities (including the wealthy, whose support for similar public endeavors here in Colorado seems at best, skimpy) so that all can enjoy them, are more often “user-financed” here, which means, also as she suggested, that those entry fees that are hardly worth mentioning to the affluent are at the same time high enough to prevent the less-affluent from using the facility at all.

To cite just one example with which I’m familiar, the St. Louis art museum — certainly on a par with Denver’s in terms of quality, and far larger — is free all day long every Tuesday, and has been for decades. The St. Louis zoo, one of the best in the country, has never charged admission. Similar facilities in Denver have admission charges of several dollars per person. As discrimination goes, it’s not very subtle.

I hope you can — and will — publish more about the Custer County report regarding rural subdivisions. I admit that the conclusions so far seem to fit my biases, but it would be nice if the details corroborated those biases as well. That whole issue of housing developments springing up in the middle of nowhere — and for no apparent good reason — is somewhat more relevant to me now that I’ve paid off a huge debt to an ex-wife, and can finally really retire.

I’ve even been considering leaving the Front Range megalopolis for a smaller town like Salida, figuring it might be a place with a few amenities, and some housing that hasn’t yet been entirely gentrified. “We know who’s not in charge” has dampened my enthusiasm for such a move quite a bit, however, and you guys don’t really want a curmudgeonly retired history teacher from the east (who still has a few shreds of the politically liberal) moving to Salida, anyway…. Besides, I’m going to continue to refer to that nearby community as “Bwayna Vista,” as opposed to the “Bjuna Vista,” which would grate on local nerves, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed Hal Rothman’s treatment of his rhetorical question, and the counterpoint of Chris Frasier’s defense of the modern cattle rancher.

I’m still puzzled by Ed’s fascination with license plates, but I didn’t realize you were that desperate for letters to include (“Finally, we’ve received some letters.”). If I’d known this was something that was reaching crisis proportions, I’d have said “Go ahead and print it,” regarding the e-mail I sent to Ed about the license plate issue.

ON THE OTHER HAND, while I’m a bit bemused by license plate mania, I share your (or perhaps it’s just Ed’s) fascination with the census. The population changes themselves are very nearly mind-boggling (and it seems Jefferson County has nearly reached the point where it ought to have its own Congressional representative — a really scary prospect, I assure you). I find that the causes thereof and ramifications therefrom really are interesting to an old, broken-down history teacher. What I don’t understand at all about the census this time — with the hysteria among some about the “long form” questions, as if their demographic profiles hadn’t already been noted in exquisite detail by corporate entities far less benign than the government — is the reluctance, even resistance on the part of some, to taking part in it.

I share, by the way, Ed’s bias that place matters. I lived in suburban St. Louis for 50 years, and that’s pretty much how I thought of myself — as a St. Louisan more than a teacher, or aging white male, or even Missourian, or masochistic owner/driver of a series of mechanically undependable Chrysler Corporation vehicles. While it’s true that I, too, belong to a number of groups that cross county and state lines, and one or two that are even national in scope, it’s also true that I knew when I first visited Colorado 25 years ago that, if I had a soul (I’m a determined atheist, but reason suggests that I also allow for the possibility of being wrong about this…), that soul lived in the Rocky Mountains.

At the moment, the physical part of me lives in Lakewood, which, if I subtract the magnificent 2700 acres of prairie that make up Hayden/Green Mountain Park near my apartment building, could just as easily be a suburb of any city anywhere in the country. It’s 75 years newer and 7 times larger than the suburb I left behind in St. Louis, but the tract homes, while much bigger, are just as ugly, and most are even more pretentious.

I didn’t move to Colorado for Lakewood. Nor did I haul my Neon behind a truck filled with my few measly possessions for 968 miles just so I could meet more Coloradans. Some of the ones I have met seem somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, and they frighten me. What’s special about Colorado — and it is very special, indeed — is the landscape. I like high prairie, and have spent many enjoyable mornings and afternoons in Weld and Baca counties, among others, but even though — after hundreds of nights of experience — I truly loathe camping, I will hike all day in the high country. The mountains of Colorado are spectacularly, heart-stoppingly beautiful in the summer. As I wrote to the National Forest Service in my own comments on their management plan for the White River National Forest, it’s not the people that make Colorado special, it’s the land.

I’m an enthusiastic amateur landscape photographer and John Fielder is someone whose image-making eye and success I greatly admire. I shoot 35 mm instead of the huge 4 x 5 format camera he has Llamas and “sherpas” to carry around, and I also have neither the interest nor the ability to market myself or my images, so I feel certain I’ll be safely obscure when I finally have to confront those atheist doubts for a final time, but with all that, Mr. Fielder takes magnificent photographs of this state’s landscape, and I was happy to see you review his latest effort.

The book is far too expensive for me to actually purchase, though many of his neighbors in Greenwood Village wouldn’t think twice about dropping the $85 retail cost on the counter of their local bookstore. Personally, I hope the Jeffco Library buys a copy, since I’m eager to see both the photos, which I skimmed while loafing in Barnes and Noble one day, and the text, which I haven’t read at all, but which interests me even more now that I’ve read your comments.

An old history teacher, of course, I enjoyed both pieces about Central Colorado’s military installations. As Ed suggests, the area was on the fringe of the more highly-publicized action and activity, and the Utes didn’t build forts.

I also enjoyed the spirit of Hal Walter’s piece at the end of the issue. The cliche is that no one ever died wishing they’d spent more time at the office, and Hal’s friend Lance seems finally to have understood that. Still, I think Hal paints the Front Range with an overly-broad brush in the little declaration at the end of his essay. The Front Range community has urban parts just as tacky and ugly as you’d find anywhere in the developed world, and I might agree with him about those, but there are also many, many places in the Front Range that are simply beautiful. I also have news for him – as a recent immigrant and frequent traveler in Colorado, it seems to me that there are already places in Central Colorado that resemble some less-than-pretty places along the Front Range.

Best wishes, Ray Schoch