Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Return to Colorado Springs, Part 4

The penultimate chapter of an #emophotojourno series I should have put to bed a week ago, and very text-heavy. Look, Ma, I coined a hashtag!

Colorado State Road 115 north to Colorado Springs from US 50 rushes you through the town of Penrose before sending you around and up, then down and around the foothills rolling and bumping up against the Front Range. It’s quicker than driving all the way out to I-25 in Pueblo, but it feels long enough. At least I was ahead of the worst of the weather when I got into Colorado Springs.

Still, even as I smiled to see Cheyenne Mountain, my heart sank. This was the wrong angle to be looking at it. 

It meant I had yet another 12 miles to go to the US Air Force Academy exit, and more miles of driving after that to get to the commissary. So I drove. I fell easily into the rhythms of the increased traffic. I had my ID ready for the guard at the gate as I had done thousands of times before. 

It was all familiar. But the closest thing I had to an emotional reaction to it all was a sense of weariness. When I got to the commissary, I noted it opened at 9 a.m. If I had left at 6 a.m. and taken the La Veta Pass route, I’d have been long since done here. Now it was already 1 p.m.

My wife called while I was shopping to tell me our daughter had been trying to get in touch. (I can’t hear my phone ringing over the noise of the Jeep while I’m driving, and generally prefer to ignore it anyway.) I was stiff, tired, and feeling under siege—dammit, can’t I go grocery shopping without people yanking my chain? I internally reminded myself that no one was doing this to deliberately annoy me.

Still, I was feeling hassled on top of tired. I got a nice haul at the commissary, though. After loading the cooler and setting the six large bags of chips we could only get in Colorado Springs into my front seat, I called my daughter. I would meet her at her place for a short visit, but first I had to swing by the gas station.

The gas station in question wasn’t on the base, and was indeed out of my way. My hunch proved correct, however, and my son was working the kiosk that day. The look on his face when he saw me coming around his booth made me feel much better about things. A brief lull in business allowed him to come outside and talk about what’s going on with his life, which boils down to work, his girlfriend, continuing bodywork and mods on his car, and what he wants to do next, of which he’s not sure.

As always, I reminded him he has a job, a girlfriend, and a car. The job could use an upgrade, but the game is his to lose. He seemed grateful for the reminder, as always, and I left wondering if I shouldn’t apply this count-your-blessings strategy to myself. My 19-year-old son is entitled to his uncertainty by virtue of his age and relative inexperience. Me, I’ve been a bitchy old ingrate stewing and railing at ancient resentments when I need to be pushing forward.

My son’s workplace is near our old neighborhood. I decided to spare a few minutes to drive down the old streets, past the old trails I had walked for nearly a decade.

It’s a strange feeling, but just as well that I experienced absolutely no sentimental frisson driving around the loop and past the house where I raised two children, wrote two novels, etc. The overall feeling I had was one of claustrophobia, with all the cars parked along the side of the street. Like going back to your old school, and everything looks so small.

Our yard looked as it always had, no changes save for a new and brightly colored U.S. flag in the flag holder we hadn’t used since 2008. But it was clearly someone else’s yard. 

I’m not at all altruistic, but it felt proper that we move aside to let someone else begin their story in this house. Someone else with children needs to avail themselves of the superb schools. That is, before the population boom overwhelms and degrades one of the finest school districts in the state.

These are just the few snaps I took while blazing eastbound up Research. This development looks as if it’s designed to house over a thousand people. Maybe thousands. I’m lousy at estimating such things. What I can tell you is that what were once vast, empty fields of waving blonde grass tucked between Research Parkway and Chapel Hills Drive are now row after row, block after block of apartments.

This place is going to become insufferable in another four to six months. There will be at least one car for every one of these units. And how many people per unit? They’re going to have to divert some serious money into building schools for all the children who must surely come. 

More to a real ugly point, how long until all of this turns into rundown tenements? Few apartment complexes—especially ones of this magnitude—keep their shine for long.

This much is certain. Traffic on Research and nearby Voyager Parkway is going to be wall-to-wall at rush hour. Exits 150 and 152 on I-25 will become choke points to back up traffic from here to downtown Colorado Springs on one end, and from here to downtown Monument on the other. 

What was once a pleasant, more-or-less quiet north side neighborhood—a genuinely great place to raise children—is on its way to crowded, cluttered hell. This isn’t the only place high density units like these are being built, either. Another mass of apartments are under construction on the corner of Vickers Drive and Union Boulevard. Others are going up throughout the city as I write this.

I feel sad for Colorado Springs. It’s no longer the same place it was two years ago, let alone the sleepy “Evangelical Vatican” it was when we moved here in 2007. The following photo, taken as I resumed driving towards my daughter’s apartment, sums up everything I miss and don’t miss about Colorado’s second largest city.

What I don’t miss is obvious. What I do miss are the sights and views I enjoyed even in traffic. Pikes Peak and the mountains to my right are obscured by the descending storm, but here I see Union Boulevard rolling like a SATA ribbon cable in a straight line over the hills. There is a view to be had from nearly everywhere, especially on the north side where the ridges buckle dramatically before flattening into the plains less than three miles east from where this photo was taken.

I’ve remarked before (and likely will remark thus again) how “Monte Vista” means “mountain view,” but I don’t see many mountains from where I live here. In Colorado Springs, it takes an effort to escape them. You’d have to go downtown and stand behind a tall building.

At least people will have something to look at when the traffic in the above photo fills all six lanes wall-to-wall, and over the hill and far away. That is, until the accumulated smog blocks out the view of the mountains, as in Denver.

NEXT: Epilogue
(all of two photos, and way too much text)