The first week of summer vacation finds me in Boulder, Colorado where hubby John is taking a class for IBM. Boulder, with its reputation as “the happiest town in America” is a shock to my system. Boulderites merrily bike along paths that are an integral part of the city layout. They bike as transportation as well as exercise. They not only bike into the mountains, they bike to class, they bike to work. Their bikes have baskets on them. Women in dresses on bikes with baskets remind me of pictures of World War II women in France. The French biked because there was no gas. Bouderites bike to save the environment. And they look happy. I, on the other hand, arrive with an East Coast scowl on my face. An East Coast-just finished the school year-beaten down like a work mule-weary of traffic scowl.
I feel the scowl every time I am surprised at the smiley-friendliness of the hotel staff and wait staff in restaurants and the equally relaxed attitude of the customers. I make a mental note: Smile. You are not dealing with road rage or teenagers in the classroom. I am reminded not to scowl when I see my reflection in the fully-mirrored elevator. That is not easy because I am seeing my relection in a fully-mirrored elevator. From every angle. I do not at all look like a woman who rides a bike to work in a dress. I look like a woman who drives hunched over a steering wheel hoping there will be treats from the parent association when I get to school.
Boulderites look relaxed. They don’t seem rushed. Boulderites wait patiently for the walking signal before crossing a street. Really. And drivers really do give right of way to pedestrians in walkways. They drive the speed limit, too. Even during “rush” hour, which is more like 11 a.m. traffic on the Baltimore Beltway. So Boulderites don’t get quite the “rush” that Baltimoreans do when someone tailgates us on I-83 when we are already going 80 mph. But then again, they don’t need to rush around at 80 mph because they don’t risk a traffic jam that will net them 30 miles in an hour and a half. Maybe that’s because so many of them are biking to work. I even saw a mass transit bus with a bike rack on it.
When they sit with one another in cafes and restaurants, they aren’t obsessed with checking their cell phones. (My family wishes I were a little more obsessed with checking mine, but…whatever.) A sign at a check-out register thanks customers for not using their cell phones while checking out. On the whole, Boulderites seem a little less distracted by constant multi-tasking, a little more present in the moment, a little more connected with people around them.
Maybe it’s all that Celestial Seasoning tea. I took a tour of the factory. It’s one of those companies that makes the list of “best companies in America to work for.” They’re very relaxed. The plant (get it? factory? plant? tea?) looks out on the Rocky Mountains where the company’s origins began in the hey-day of hippiness by picking local herbs to make herbal infusions. Now it imports ingredients from all over the world and exports its blends around the world, but it is still a low-key operation existing right next door to a residential neighborhood. The neighborhood popped up around the factory, maybe because the air smells so nice. I bought a box of the Tension Tamer tea. I think I need it.
The park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park must drink a lot of Tension Tamer. There we were at 12,000 feet in a tundra area with winds whipping the temperature down into the 40’s (while it was 79 in Boulder). The ranger very nicely requested that tourists get off the tundra vegetation, which might need years to recover from their footsteps. I personally might have threatened to drop-kick them off the mountain, but he was very nice about it. If it wasn’t the Tension Tamer, then it must have been the high altitude. There wasn’t enough oxygen intake for yelling.
Boulder sits at 5460 feet above sea level. (Compare that to Cape May or Ocean City, altitude 0.) T-shirts here have sayings like “Dude, I think everyone is high in Boulder.” Some people look like they have been high since the ’60’s. Even on the bike trail you can see what Easterners call “bums” riding bikes with silly vacant smiles on their faces and no clear destination, on the trail or in life. Some are old hippies with long gray pony-tails and scraggly beards. Others are, sadly enough, young. Of course, there are plenty of people getting a natural high from all that exercise.
As much as I long to shed my hyper multi-tasking to-do list driven life-style, I’m not going to move here and locate a unoccupied street corner to sit and play guitar. For one thing, John is a little afraid that I’d let my hair go au naturel, which out here means long, gray, and stringy. (And in this dry air, my humidity loving hair would be flat and dead.) But more importantly, as much as I love to see the majestic Rocky Mountains, I could never bear to be so far away from the beach. Give me a choice between stately, eternal mountains and the constant yet ever-changing sea, this non-hippy will go with the flow of the ocean. Nothing gets rid of a scowl like beach week–while pondering lessons on living gleaned in Boulder, Colorado.
Next post: good eating in Boulder.