In A Gadda Da Vida

Going through a bitter divorce has its advantages. Granted, those advantages are few and far between but are there if you know how to look for them.

While still in the house in Coppell, the daily crusade across north Dallas every day to get to my client site at MCI’s Richardson office would normally take about fifty minutes each way. Taking a few days off to visit my uncle Mike in Parker, Colorado, was a greatly needed reprieve from the heat of an infernal divorce that had been dragging on for several months. Upon returning, my boss mentioned the possibility of my transfer to the Colorado Springs facility which was staffing up their National Leads System project at that time. It sounded like a perfect situation especially under the circumstances, so I accepted a technical interview over the phone with the project manager at the Colorado Springs site, impressing him enough with my flashy use of tech jargon, to extend a contract offer. My Richardson supervisor put in a vote of confidence for me which also helped. I quickly accepted the offer and was to report to that office the following Monday morning. Thus, I had four days to pack the house and put everything in storage except for what was needed at my immediate avail, drive to Parker (a suburb of Denver), check-in to the Denver regional office before reporting to my new contract position in Colorado Springs.

With the help of some trusted friends, Rod, Joe and Bea, I was able to pull it off and get on the road to Colorado by early Saturday morning. It was a twelve-hour journey to Parker from the metroplex. Stopping once for gas near Salina, Kansas, I arrived at Mike’s spread Saturday evening. After spending a relaxing Sunday with Mike, his long-time soul-mate Carol, and a few of the tribe, I was well-rested and able to make the downtown Denver appointment early Monday morning and ultimately to the client site by 9:00 am. The commute was exactly one hour, which was only ten minutes more than my daily excursion through the traffic and train hindrances of north Dallas, but the scenery made it all worthwhile. It was utterly gorgeous, especially at that time of the year when the aspen trees were just starting to show their silvery leaves. It was late September, but the difference in climate between Dallas and the Denver/Colorado Springs area was as if it were late October in north Texas.

The early evening of my first day at my new office which, consisted of half a cubicle that I shared with Bev from Denver (most of the contractors commuted from Denver, arriving and leaving early to beat the traffic on Interstate 25), I looked out of the floor to ceiling windows at the stunning scenery. Our office was in what was formerly the IBM/ROLM office building at the foot of the mountain range. Only a couple hundred yards separated the parking lot from the base of the mountain which formed a wind tunnel. Often times, people’s vehicles were blown into a different location by the time they were ready to depart back home, especially those driving manual shift vehicles. There were big-horn sheep dotting the mountainside, foraging on the vegetation as the colder regions further up the range forced them down to the lower lands. What an awesome site that was. Just over the ridge was the Garden of the Gods park area. In fact, the office complex was located at the western end of Garden of the Gods Parkway.

Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs

The locals talked of how avid rock climbers would get half way up the face before realizing how high the “Kissing Camels” really were and many times had to be rescued via helicopter. Colorado Springs has much going on with the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Air Force Academy, Rodeo Hall of Fame, Peterson Field, Colorado College (always tops in college hockey), The Broadmoor Hotel, Antlers Hotel, NORAD inside of Cheyenne Mountain, Fort Carson and much more. It was kind of like going back in time to the sixties with all of the VW microbuses and psychedelic graffiti all over the place. Also in the area was of course Pike’s Peak with its cog railroad and the old Miramont Castle originally built by a French Jesuit Priest as his residence. Cripple Creek on the west side of Pike’s Peak is an old gold mining town turned into a gambling resort, one of three old mining towns turned into gambling spots – Central City and Blackhawk being the other two. Also, the little town of Manitou Springs at the foot of the peak is like going back in time a hundred years. I’ll never forget my first experience there as I sat down at a bar that occupied the street level of a three-sided downtown building. An old drunk that looked like he’d just rolled down the mountain, stumbled in the door to get himself a libation. The bartender refused to serve him, saying that he “appeared to have had enough already”. About ten minutes later, that same sot stumbled through the southeast door of the establishment where he was once again refused service due to his inebriated state. Finally, as I was about to leave, the old codger found his way into the third entrance on the west side of the place. The man walked in, stopped, stared at the bartender, and exclaimed “Well I’ll Be Damned! You work at every bar in this town?” That time the old man just turned and headed out without the need of being refused service.

For the next three months, I made the trip to and from Colorado Springs to Parker. First snow appeared during the first week of November and a couple of times, I would take Parker Road which is State Road 83 down to the Springs. It was only two lanes and added another fifteen minutes to the drive, but it was a far more scenic route than by way of the Interstate. Parker Road turns into Academy Boulevard as you cross the Palmer Divide near Monument, Colorado.

Castle Rock, CO with the Christmas Star.

Castle Rock, CO with the Christmas Star.

Traveling to and from my place of employment became routine, as I did it day in and day out for over three months. A couple of times, I stopped at Khaki’s restaurant on I25 in Castle Rock and ran into golf professional John Daley who lived in Castle Rock. I had just read an article about his dedication to sobriety in Sports Illustrated and the multitude of problems that he had to deal with, but there he sat at the bar, pounding the brewskis. At that place, Khakis, I met an elder businessman who discussed a business venture with me that involved challenging derogatory credit marks on people’s credit reports. It apparently was a lucrative opportunity at that point in time, because the government guidelines allowed the originator of the derogatory only a short period of time to support their remark, and rarely if ever were they able to rebut by the deadline, thus having to remove the bad credit from the consumer’s file. I came close to getting involved with it, but didn’t pursue the venture.

Mike, Carol, Carol’s daughter and her fiance’, as well as a group of friends would go out on the town in Denver every now and then. We went to the “Grizzley Rose” country/western club from where they broadcast live every week for CMT (Grandma would watch it every week from hometown Muncie) and another time we dined at a great ranch style restaurant in Littleton. The name of the place escapes me, but I’m sure it’s well known to the local Coloradans. One of our regular haunts was a little restaurant that specialized in pies. We would all congregate there on weekend nights before heading back to our respective homes after a full night of weekend type activity. Again, the name of the place escapes me, but I’m sure that any local could name it.

The winter set in full throttle by mid December and there were times that the Interstate was actually closed and I had to use the alternate route. One morning as I was winding down State Road 83, a coyote walked to the edge of the highway (which was difficult to discern due to the blowing snow), sat at the side of the road and looked both ways, then proceeded across the road after I passed by. The local livestock owners had problems that year with wolves and coyotes coming down out of the highlands to feed because of the snow accumulations. No matter what the weather conditions, it was always the opposite on the other side of the Palmer Divide. One morning, I got snowed into the house and had to call a tow truck to get me up the long driveway to the road.

On weekends, Mike and I would occasionally mosey into one of the local Parker joints such as “Buffalo Bob’s”, the “War Horse”, or end up playing pool at “Sweaty Betty’s”. For his birthday, I presented him with a two-piece custom pool cue that he took a great deal of pride in. I think he figured out what the gift was before it was un-wrapped, it was kind of obvious. Mike loved his beer more than it did him (it must be genetic!). One Saturday morning after he’d celebrated his return from a long flight schedule, Mike’s pounding headache was enormously intensified by a wood-pecker hammering away at the top corner of the roof right above his loft bedroom. This wood-pecker had been a nuisance for several weeks, but this time Mike was determined to resolve the issue. He grabbed his double-barreled twelve-gauge and proceeded to walk outside and blow the corner off the tip-top of the roof. He apparently nailed the wood-pecker as evidenced by the floating feathers but blew a huge chunk out of his property. The damage was soon repaired and the wood-pecking problem completely resolved.

Christmas brought about a reunion of epic proportions with Grandma flying into Denver from Indiana. She brought a large “Royal Feast” from Pizza King (a hometown tradition), wrapped in foil and frozen in her compact carry-on case through the flight. And the really amazing part was that Brian, who was working over the holidays at Breckenridge ski resort, was able to visit his father, Mike, after having been separated for over a decade and a half. We all had a memorable time together, even Grandma loosened up quite a bit, but the time just seemed to fly by and before long, everyone had to return to their stations in life.

Kissing Camels at Garden of the Gods

“Kissing Camels” at Garden of the Gods

By the middle of January, I had decided to book into the Ramada Inn – Garden of the Gods, just a few blocks from the office, which eliminated much of the commuting difficulty but marked the beginning of the truly adventurous portion of the entire ordeal.

Having developed a love of beer since middle teenage years and managing to rise to a fairly respectable position in life for the amount of consumption I engaged in, my luck was beginning to run out and my love was becoming my curse – I was really “putting them away” during that phase of life. Right across the lobby from my room at the Ramada was a bar/restaurant that was just re-opening after being re-acquired by it’s previous owner, Scotty. When they had “Grand Opening” at “Scotty’s Place”, the billboard advertisement out in front read “Grand Opening – Under Old Management!”. Scotty was a retired Viet Nam era B52 pilot whose lovely wife was the Mayor of Manitou Springs. As a part of his Grand Opening activities, Scotty and his wife assembled all of their local friends into a sing-along choir, dubbed by Scotty – “The Manitoids”. Scotty’s partner was a retired Nam F4 Phantom pilot that chalked up a lifetime accumulation of 22 DUI’s – 2 while I was out there (that had to be some kind of Guinness Book record or something). Many of those incidents occurred on various military bases around the globe and long before the big crack-down began. Needless to say, Jonesie’s life was pretty well ruined by any standards. He couldn’t even sign an invoice without first sipping a beer to steady his hand.

Going Up Pike's Peak

Going Up Pike’s Peak

Most of the acquaintances made were made at Scotty’s place after business hours since 90% of my colleagues lived in Denver. The mainstays were Stefan, the welder, James, from Missouri, with whom I almost mastered the art of digital darts, and a lovely local gal named Anne (sic) that had some American Indian genetics, which rounded out their trio. We got to be very close since we spent so much time in the joint. The manager of the Ramada, Jack and his wife Sylvia, also became good chums. Jack was a retired Army big-wig whose father was also an Army big-wig involved in the hunt for Pancho Villa in the early 1900’s while serving under General John “Black Jack” Pershing. Jack’s wife Sylvia was Welsh, and would talk about her conversations with the likes of Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole back in the old country (Wales) at the local watering hole. To this day, I still get mileage out of Jack’s library of jokes.

At Scotty’s, I befriended a lady named Lynn Sullivan who was old enough to be my own mother but looked quite a few decades younger. Lynn was the operations manager at Pike’s Peak Meadows, the horse racing track half-way between the Springs and Pueblo. Lynn became my “Sugar Mama” and would furnish me with tickets, affection, transportation, food, affection, beverages and inside information at racing events. Pike’s Peak Meadows was owned by the same group of investors that started Trinity Meadows outside Weatherford in Parker County just west of Fort Worth, Texas, which was one of the first Texas racing spots after the state sanctioned parimutual activity down there. Both establishments soon went under due to intense competition.

Navajo Hogan's

Navajo Hogan’s

One of my Springs buddies was an auctioneer in addition to his regular trade. Whenever he’d have so many cold ones, he would go into his auctioneering bantor. It was a riot. We would go around town and hit up some of the local places like “Navajo Hogan Roadhouse”, “Tam O’Shanter”, and so many others. I kind of miss those folks, though I doubt if they would even remember me being that they were half-cocked most if not all of the time. One morning, I25 was backed-up as far as the eye could see. During the morning traffic, an incident of road rage occurred when a retired Air Force Full Bird Colonel motioned for a fellow commuter to pull to the side of the road. The retired officer proceeded to shoot the other driver dead along the side of the Interstate for apparently cutting in front of him during the rush. The victim was an Air Force Academy cadet in a hurry to make his classes on time. The following weekend, another violent incident occurred at a well known biker bar, where a disgruntled customer who was asked to leave, returned with automatic weapons, opened-fire and killed the bouncer, wounded several bar patrons and mortally wounded a young pizza delivery boy in the establishment next door with a stray round. The bouncer was a well-known, well-liked, biker leader and when his funeral was held a week later, a huge turn-out of bikers from his hometown of Longmont, beheld the longest biker procession perhaps of all time.

Tam O'Shanter

Tam O’Shanter

Since my social life pretty much centered around Scotty’s and it’s patrons, most of my off-work activities were conducted with those I met there. Two truckers from Dallas that were staying there, talked me into going to the local dog track one evening. I had never been to the “dogs” before but I had always enjoyed the horse races. Nevertheless, they talked me into going and we all had a great time. Dog races occur faster and the ordeal doesn’t consume an entire day as in the horse races, but adequately fills an evening with enjoyment. The last event of the night featured a long-shot that had odds of 40 to 1 and the pay-off was huge. Since it was the last race of the night, I’d had a few beers and was feeling pretty good and really had nothing to lose, I placed a fairly sizable bet on the 40 to 1 dog to win. Not place or show, but win. My dog was leading by a good thirty yards from the rest of the pack all the way til the last turn, where it simply rolled off of the track in a cloud of dust. Many oohs and aahs came out of the crowd but I don’t know what ever happened to that dog. He didn’t finish the race and I presumed he either had the big one or someone shot him from the infield hedgerow. Oh well, it was fun and really didn’t cost me too much since I had won a couple of picks earlier.

One quiet night at Scotty’s, I over-heard a couple of guys talking down the bar and thought I recognized the voice. Sure enough, it was my old volleyball team-mate from Valley Ranch in Irving, Texas, that slipped out on his wife after supposedly “running to the 7-eleven to buy a gallon of milk”. Steve Whatley and I had a joyous reunion as he proudly introduced his new fiance’ who was the daughter of a high ranking NORAD commander. I pulled Steve aside and asked him about his marriage to Cheryl back in Big D but he quickly dodged the issue. It turns out that when I returned to Dallas a few months later, he had gone ahead with the filing process. I think that he was reminded and perhaps motivated by our run-in. We ended up “doing Manitou Springs” that night but only saw him once more after that.

The MCI facilities were the pride of Colorado Springs at that time and provided the area with high hopes of other high-tech establishments moving in. At that time, the entire region along the foot of the mountains between Colorado Springs all the way to Fort Collins (Rush Limbaugh conducted his famous “bake sale” in Fort Collins the week I returned to Texas), was the most rapidly growing area of the country population-wise. One morning, the local news was broadcasting live from within our office complex and caught me walking into my sector, running late of course. That evening back at Scotty’s, we all got to watch me on TV news “sneaking” into my office area from what I thought was an obscure entry point.

As I write this, the memories just keep coming to mind. For the sake of not over-loading the reader, I guess I’ll just keep them as they are, memories. It just wouldn’t be realistic to try to re-cap everything that happened during that time period, but it is truly a joy to write this piece.

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs

One of the things that was a true benefit of working at MCI in Colorado Springs, was the food service facility. It was top-notch and completely provided by Marriott Hotel food services. It would have been a nice place to take a date, it was so nice. The things that occurred day to day in the office would be enough to fill a tome, but I will just bring up the one guy that caused a great deal of gossip around the office place. It was a nephew of Walt Disney who had been transferred from the Sacramento California site. Many of the personnel had come to Colorado via California as part of the push to staff the project. The Disney nephew was gay as a three and a half dollar bill, and every time he was seen heading towards our sector, several of the forward looking guys would start blurting “hands, hands!” because the Disney guy always made such a display of using his hands.

One morning as I entered my office, the phone rang and it was my divorce lawyer calling me with information about mine. He was out of breath and when I asked him why he was out of breath he told me that an incident had occurred in the courthouse that morning where a client going through a divorce shot his own lawyer and the judge. He then told me that the house had sold for about what was paid for it and that he would send me the paperwork package for me to wrap-up the sale. I finalized the sale of the house from a fax machine at the office after having certain documents notarized by one of the MCI staff that was a certified notary public. That was a load off my shoulders and provided a ray of hope that the agonizing period of my life may eventually pass.

As the summer months were approaching, Jack the Ramada manager told me that he would have to raise my rates due to the summer tourism business in the area. I felt that I had pretty much moved on in my life and that I was ready to get on back down south. My contract ended at the last of May of that year. It took me exactly thirty minutes to pack-up, load the car, check out, and get back on the road towards Raton Pass.

Pike's Peak and Comanche Peak

Pike’s Peak and Comanche Peak

Looking back on those times, it appears like a surreal paradise, but at the time I was going through a personal hell. I guess life is like that, your psyche filters out the undesirable feelings and allows you only the pleasantries to reflect upon. As soon as I crossed the Texas state line, I stopped the car, got out, and literally kissed the ground – that’s how glad I was to finally return to what I then felt was my true home. I settled back into my old ‘hood in the Las Colinas area and quickly got on with Andersen Consulting, who had been holding a position for me since the year before. Arco Oil & Gas was to be my client, and they said up front that I would probably spend the rest of my career there. Three months on that job, I got a call from my stepfather Don who informed me that uncle Mike died. Mike succumbed to the same affliction that got my mother (his sister) at candlelight services on Christmas eve back in 1987. She was fifty, Mike was forty-seven. They both had the same congenital aortic weakness that they received from their father Glenn, who passed at age fifty-three (in his day, it was documented as heart failure). Hopefully, I didn’t inherit those genes – I’ve already outlived both of them (knock on wood). Now I guess I’ll look forward to either some other form of coronary disease or colon cancer from the other genetic lineages. Within a month after returning from Mike’s funeral, word trickled down that Arco Oil & Gas was laying-off all of it’s employees in the Arco Tower and selling the property. We consultants were the last group to leave, but were out by the first of the next year. After idling “on the bench” with AC for a couple of months, I was put on the Ryder Trucks project in Miami, FL. Our vehicle component system project eventually led to the pinning of the Oklahoma City bombing on Timothy McVie, as our tracking system tied him to the leased vehicle holding the explosives because of the serial number found on the axle at the scene. The Miami ordeal in itself will be a future post on this weblog.

Life’s many twists and turns can be impossible to predict. That I could go from working a mile high to sea level in one year, with a seven month stretch in between, blows my mind as I reflect back.

Uncle Mike ca 1978

Uncle Mike ca 1978

In the first line of this post, I alluded to discovering the advantages of going through life’s crises if you know how to look for them. It doesn’t really take much “know how” for one to see that the “advantages” that sprang from this ordeal are quite obvious. We all got to spend quality time together with Mike while we all still had the chance – that makes it all invaluable.

The powers that be, do indeed work in mysterious ways!

Steve D.

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