More tales from the Stupid Zone

Essay by Lynda La Rocca

Tourism – November 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

THE CURMUDGEON IS BACK! And after enduring another tourist season in the “Stupid Zone,” I’m crankier than ever.

Regular Colorado Central readers already know that a Stupid Zone, a phrase coined by none other than this magazine’s publisher, is a place where the misguided and denial-prone insist on putting down roots (i.e., in avalanche chutes, on crumbling hillsides, within toe-dipping distance of the ocean, next to international airports), only to spend the rest of their lives whining about the adverse conditions that define these sites (i.e., snowslides, mud slides, floods, noise).

Some readers may even remember my rant from a year ago (see Colorado Central, October, 1998), in which I expanded the Stupid Zone to include homes — specifically, ours — fronting the sole major highway in Central Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley.

For the second straight summer, our abode has maintained its status as a high-country black hole sucking in souls seeking: a) shelter; b) a scenic overlook; c) directions; d) a pit stop.

After dealing with last year’s annoyances, I was tempted this time around to post a sign reading, “No Water, No Phone, No Nothing. This is not the Red Cross, an auto-repair shop, or a roadside rest stop.” But I relented. It would have detracted from the ambience — and blocked our view of sightings that put us in league with Area 51.

Take the stormy afternoon when I glanced out a window to find seven Hell’s Angels using our porch as a dressing room for donning rain gear. Once adequately protected, they busied themselves by covering the bikes they’d parked alongside our house.

Then there was the white van which pulled up in front to discharge some half-dozen camera- and camcorder-toting passengers, one of whom headed straight for our back yard. Anticipating a showdown, my husband Steve stepped out onto our tiny deck. To my surprise, Steve then turned, pressed his hands together as if in prayer, and bowed solemnly. Then he bowed again. And again.

I peeked out and saw an elderly Asian gentleman smiling broadly and bowing furiously. Without saying a word, the man backed around the corner of our house and, bowing all the while, climbed into the van to await his companions, who were still wandering around recording the mountain vistas.

Next came two guys in a pick-up truck who stopped by shortly after 5 p.m. seeking directions to “Poncha Street.” After a lengthy discussion and a flurry of cell phone calls (theirs), we determined that they were really looking for the town of Poncha Springs, about 60 miles south. Their plan was to get from Poncha Springs to Gunnison (another hour’s drive) by 5:30.

Shortly thereafter, we were overrun by a caravan of Christian campers with a flat tire on one of their vans. After using our phone to call for a tow truck, this group lounged around out front, sunbathing and picnicking. When one young woman knocked and asked to use our bathroom, I showed her in. Heading back outside again, she paused at the door to express her gratitude, adding, “I have a really bad bladder infection, so I have to go a lot.”

Thank you for sharing.

Sunday, 8 a.m. I’m still in my bathrobe, and I’m rushing around frantically, trying to prepare for company scheduled to arrive later that morning. A young man bangs on the front door, shouting, “Anybody here?”

His demeanor jump-starts my New Jersey paranoia gene, which reminds all onetime Garden State residents that serial killers lurk everywhere. Keeping the door locked, I ask what he wants. “Where’s the Mount Elbert trailhead?” he bellows. “I’m late.”

I suggest that he drive to Leadville and buy a topo map or ask at the Chamber of Commerce office. “You mean I have to drive all the way back into Leadville?” he yells. “Why can’t you tell me?”

WELL, IN A WORD — make that four words — I don’t want to. My paranoia gene has just nudged a normally-dormant neighbor which controls the “Do-I-look-like-someone-who-cares-about-your-poor-planning-skills?” response. Shouting back, “I don’t have time to plot your route,” I return to my work. Obviously no New Jersey native, the man stomps off without taking a baseball bat to our windows.

A couple of weeks later, another man knocks to ask if he can photograph the ranch next door. Steve advises him to check with the resident rancher, whom he describes as a quiet, solitary individual.

“He’s not violent, is he?” the man asks.

“Not any more than I’m about to be,” Steve replies, flashing his best impression of Jack Nicholson’s psychotic grin in The Shining.

No, wait a minute. I’m making that part up. What Steve really did was chuckle and say, “No, he’s as normal as you or I.”

The thing is, what made this total stranger decide that we were not axe-wielding maniacs? All I can figure is that axe-murderers probably wouldn’t live this close to the highway. They’d be found out too soon after answering one too many questions from the Stupid Zone.

When she’s not dealing with unwelcome visitors, Lynda La Rocca teaches in Leadville and writes from her home that is close to Mt. Elbert but too close to the highway.