The Stupid Zone Expands

Essay by Lynda La Rocca

Mountain Life – October 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

I knew it was just a matter of time before the “Stupid Zone” grew beyond the borders of our property to engulf our neighbors.

As regular Colorado Central readers know, a Stupid Zone (a description coined by the male half of this magazine’s publishing team) is an avalanche chute, a sandy beach, a plot of land within throwing distance of an international jetport, or any other place where the terminally muddled choose to live so that they can then whine ad infinitum about snowslides, hurricanes, the recurrent, earsplitting roar of jet engines — you get the idea.

Three years ago, I expanded the concept of the Stupid Zone to include our house, which fronts the sole major highway in Central Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley and has become a summertime magnet for strangers seeking directions, restrooms, a telephone, drinking water, a Kodak moment — again, you get the idea.

This year our neighbor, who I’ll call Bill (mainly because that’s what he calls himself), was unwittingly sucked into the Stupid Zone.

While trying to drive home with his two kids, Bill found his way blocked by a spewt with Texas plates. The SUV, its driver nowhere in sight, was parked directly in front of a closed gate on a private, unpaved, one-lane road which parallels prime fishing spots on the Arkansas River and also provides the only access to Bill’s house.

After waiting three hours for the vehicle’s owner to return, Bill crossed over to our side of the highway and called the county sheriff. The responding officer located the culprit, who was absorbed in fly fishing, and obtained this explanation.

“He [the spewt owner] says that in Texas, you don’t drive through closed gates.”

You’ve got to get up darn early to fool those Texans. They obviously know that opening the gate first is a whole lot easier on your vehicle.

Having grown up in New Jersey, where a gate is generally considered the break-in point at the impound lot, I’m abysmally ignorant of Texas barrier etiquette. But based on this incident, I figure the Lone Star State awards good conduct medals for blocking gates.

Continuing to pour on the charm, this Zoner neither rushed to move his spewt nor apologized to Bill, who was standing in plain sight beside the officer’s cruiser. For some reason, though, before finally driving off, he opened the gate. Is this Texas code for, “I’m sorry” or “Up yours”?

No wonder the Colorado/Texas war still rages.

BILL’S ADVENTURE compensated for what proved to be a rather slow year in our immediate Stupid Zone. Sure, we had the usual hordes of distressed motorists seeking Independence Pass as if it were the Holy Grail. But the standout was the lady who knocked on our door to obtain our permission to drive onto the adjacent property (which we don’t own, not that that means anything).

“Is this your house?” she inquired when I appeared in my regulation freelance-writer-who-works-at-home uniform of bathrobe and slippers.

No, I wanted to shout. I just sleep here.

“Yes, it is,” I replied through clenched teeth.

“Do you live in it?” she asked.

To be honest, what I do more often during tourist season is hide in it.

Then there was the spewt that sat parked in our driveway for over 30 minutes, its front end facing the highway as if poised to exit. Trying to get out of the driveway, my husband Steve pulled our car behind it. When the spewt showed no signs of moving, Steve drove alongside it to make a left turn. In that nanosecond, the spewt operator, who’d been watching him intently through her rear view mirror, felt compelled to make her own left turn.

Fenders did not bend, but fingers were pointing wildly as the spewt driver continued inching her vehicle forward. Finally, Steve waved her on and followed her out. The spewt flew north for two miles, then screeched to a halt at a fishing-grounds parking area, proving once again that what strikes one person as urgent, strikes another (in this case, me) as merely stupid.

But hey. I’m in the Zone.

Lynda La Rocca sleeps in a house by the highway at the foot of Mt. Elbert, and occasionally gets some writing in when the tourists aren’t knocking at the door.