After a very lengthy hiatus from blog posts in particular, and also from any sort of prolonged relaxation, I made plans this past May for a trip out West with my friends Richard and Sophia.
We discussed options (Phoenix AZ; Portland OR; and Denver CO) and we settled on going to Colorado. Tickets for the plane, and a room an at an extended-stay hotel, and we set up our 7 day escape to the Rocky Mountains and surrounding wilderness!
A quick flight via Southwest and the attendant red-eye hours (we woke up at 3:20am to catch our flight), and the trip was off to a sleepy and relaxing start. Which, surprisingly, was exactly what we all wanted and needed. Continental breakfast, and then naps for my companions; I dove into some paperwork and phone calls that needed completing. Quickly, we found out that our carefully-laid plan (to rent a car and drive around) was greatly endangered by the weather – prior to our arrival, severe hailstorms across the state had damaged thousands of private vehicles. In many cases, the cars were written off by insurance as totaled – and so, every single rental car company was tapped out. Empty. Used-up. Incapable of renting us a car. So a good part of the early trip I spent on the phone trying anything to get us a rental car.
A long story short – we found out about a company called Turo, which is like AirBNB but for cars. In other words, private parties rent out their vehicles; Turo provides the liability insurance in case the renter hits someone; and then the renter can elect to purchase insurance for the vehicle they are driving (as we assuredly did). In our case, we had two options meeting our prerequisites: All Wheel Drive, and a built-in GPS. There was a Subaru CrossTrek which looked nice; but there was also a 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class for a mere $97 per day.
As you can imagine, our choice of rental car was pretty easy to make:
But before we got the car, we did spend the second day of our trip, Friday, in Denver doing a couple of fun things. We got there using a combination of Lyft/Uber (more on these in a future post) and then the light rail system, which was actually quite fast and easy to use:
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science
The main event for Friday was the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We did not have a car yet; we did want to see some of the things Denver was well-known for and we looked forward to the air conditioning and (we presumed) the relative quiet of the museum on a week day. It turned out to be a madhouse of school kids as the school year had not yet started up yet.
The Museum’s main attraction for us was the visiting “Robot Revolution” exhibit, put on by Google and Boeing. The large exhibit hall was packed to the brim with all manner of robots for different purposes, some of which I have included below.
We enjoyed many of the exhibits, because they showcased an uncanny set of skills for automatons to possess – and in some cases, they demonstrated the ability to do tasks that human beings cannot or should not attempt to do safely (especially the robots designed for examining hazardous waste sites).
Some of the robots were more of a showcasing of clever motor controls and games (like the ennui-stricken tic tac toe bot, below) – but some of the industrial and research applications of these mechanized minions was astonishing.
The balance of the museum was interesting in its own way, with excellent fossils (many of which were pulled from the soil in Colorado!) and wildlife exhibits,
We made our way out of the museum and over to our next destination using Lyft, and a young lady who was an interesting mix of interests (a self-described homebody who knew all about which bars to avoid; someone who had heavy metal blasting on the radio but wore clothing which was not in any way the typical metal-head’s clothes) named Honor drove us over to…
The 16th Street Mall
Many people in Colorado advised we spend time on the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian-focused series of store fronts in the midst of Denver, and so we did so. None of the stores were especially noteworthy per se; but with wide sidewalks and constant free shuttle bus services up and down special streets on the mall closed off to normal traffic, it was clear that the municipal government was rather strongly interested in people spending time and money alike on the mall!
We did enjoy the walk, and most assuredly felt the effects we were warned of time and again – that the elevation (~6500 feet) was going to quickly and thoroughly dehydrate us. We stopped into the famous Tattered Cover used book store and were accosted by some rather committed Occupy Denver types who were illegally using the steps of the shop to feed homeless folks (and, they explained, they choose to feed the homeless from the steps of the bookstore weekly because the bookstore’s owners voted to outlaw “urban camping” as a way of kicking out the homeless). It was an interesting juxtaposition of doing right while also breaking the law to make an additional point.
For comparison purposes: a private individual on a bike purchased several dozen bagels from an Einstein Bros and balanced them all on his bike. We then watched him slowly stroll down the 16th Street Mall and approach homeless folks, and offer them free food. No preaching, no political message – just a normal guy doing a good deed with his spare time. My preference, of the two acts of kindness we witnessed along that Mall.
Our meal was at Marg’s (as in margaritas), a trendy urbanish taco place with a series of very loud local drinkers and delicious food. We tried our hand at Uber to take us to a board game store (as we didn’t have time to see anything else that night and a game sounded fun) and again our Uber/Lyft luck was hilarious. First: we had an older guy whose ride-giving app (Uber in his case) didn’t correctly “pick us up” and so he advised me to “just CANCEL” the ride, multiple times. I explained, truthfully, that I had never previously used Uber, and asked how to cancel – to which he just insisted further that I JUST CANCEL IT – and then he offered to just drive us for free. At least, until, we advised of our far trip to the game shop.
Instead, we got a total surfer dude transplant from California who complained of how expensive the cost of living in the Denver area was becoming; and told us of how even with marijuana being legal, people in Colorado REALLY liked to party hard (eg with hard drugs) like in southern California. He dropped us off to the poorly-named Denver Central Games, which was located far to the southeast of the center of town, and it was again interesting to approach a local person and hear an earful and a half about how truly horrible weed tourism has been for the area… and how much more awful all the people moving in to get access to weed have been, driving up costs and making jobs and housing scarce. This is an echo of my taxi driver polling while I was in the Middle East – but in my experience, the people least expecting to be asked their opinion on something can often have a delightful flavor of genuine truth to their off the cuff responses!
I snagged a copy of the excellent game Suburbia at the shop, we started to sit and learn it there… and then our exhaustion from the time zone change + busy day kicked in, and we got another Lyft driver with his interesting stories about the area (and how to properly speed in certain areas with impunity) as we drove back to Highlands Ranch and our comfortable beds at the Home 2 Suites there.
All told: a successful beginning to a grand trip!