Denver: The Good, the Bad, and the Surprising

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Tomorrow, July 1st, marks the one year anniversary of my move from Chicago to Denver.  And, well, since I have not really been traveling ever since returning home from my back-to-back-to-back trips on the 16th, I figured I would write up a little something about Denver itself.  Or, at least my impression of it after a year of living here.

Keep in mind the background that I come from.  I was born in New York, on Long Island, but fairly close to Queens Borough, and New York City.   Most recently, I lived in Chicago, more accurately Logan Square.  So, I come into Denver from a pretty urban point of view.  A lot of my impressions of the city of Denver, and living here, may be quite different than someone who may have moved here from a more rural environment.  Still, I came into this without unrealistic expectations.  I knew Denver would not be another Chicago or another New York.  So, I am not about to chide downtown Denver for not having the energy level of Midtown Manhattan or Chicago’s north side.

I titled this blog “The Good, the Bad, and the Surprising”.  It is traditional to title something of the nature “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, but that title would imply that the writing would be 2/3 negative, as ugly is pretty universally a negative word.  I want to make this blog entry a roughly even mix of positive and negative.  So, I decided to label it as such, as there are things I find good, bad, and surprising about Denver and living here.  The surprising stuff in this blog could be good, bad, or neutral, but on the balance this entry should be an even balance of what I have liked and not liked about living in Denver so far.

Activities:

The Good:

All of the outdoor activities nearby

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In both summer and winter there is plenty to do in the vicinity of Denver.  This is one area where Chicago is pretty lacking.  The mountains to the West in particular provide anyone living in Denver, or anywhere in Colorado (except maybe some of the areas in the far east discussed in some of the storm chase entries in this blog), with a plethora of fun outdoor activities to enjoy, from skiing/boarding, snowshoeing, and sledding in winter to hiking, biking, rafting, climbing, and other river activities in summer.  In fact, I am overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities in the great outdoors here in Colorado.

The Bad:

The traffic on I-70

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It is surprisingly bad.  Worse than anything I could imagine happening in Colorado.  Denver is 1/5 the size of Chicago.  So, where are all of these cars coming from?  Every Sunday afternoon, regardless of season, traffic coming back into town from the mountains on I-70 will delay you roughly an hour, possibly more.  During ski season, Saturday and Sunday mornings will delay you unless you leave prior to 6:30 A.M.

The Surprising:

The frequency I have needed to wake up before 7 A.M. on weekends.

Okay, maybe I should not have been too surprised by this one.  But, in Chicago, it was quite rare to ever really need to be up early on weekends.  This is probably why 4 A.M. nights were so common.  Here in Colorado, I have woken up earlier than 7 A.M. for a variety of reasons, including beating the aforementioned I-70 traffic to the ski resorts, but also to get in bike rides and hike in the morning before the wind, and thunderstorm chances pick up.  Getting on the mountain as early as possible is like an unwritten law of hiking 14ers (peaks >14,000 ft.)

Going Out:

The Good:

Happy Hours!

Holy shit!  I mean, the amount of bars that have happy hours, and the amount of happy hours they have has made drinking a heck of a lot cheaper in Denver than in so many other places.  I have seen places have happy hour from 3-6 and then again from 10-1.  And, on a Friday.  Having become used to nights out that involve consistently paying $6-8 (or more) per drink and being out nearly $100 by the night’s end, this has been a pleasant surprise.

The Bad:

1:30 Last call!

Sorry Coloradans, but that is not baller.  That is all I will say about that.

The Surprising:

The energy!

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And, I mean this in a good way.  Denver is 1/5 the size of Chicago, but it has three areas where the energy on a Friday or Saturday night will consistently be there; Downtown, East Colfax, and South Broadway (my neighborhood).  This includes some great bars and clubs, rooftop patios, and unique events like the Denver Cruisers (right picture).

Cityscape:

The Good:

Bicycle Trails

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Denver and the surrounding areas have a lot of great bike trails, including the Platte River Trail, the Cherry Creek Trail, Clear Creek Trail, and Bear Creek Trail that provide a fairly easy bike route between places around the area.  These trails generally bypass all traffic lights, which has been phenomenal!

The Bad:

Uninteresting suburbs and highway traffic

The traffic is not as bad as it is in Chicago, but I expected it to be much better.  I-25 in particular gets pretty jammed up from downtown to the tech center at every single rush hour.  Likewise, highway 36 to Boulder has it’s share of problems that are not bad when compared to New York and Chicago, but seem bad when compared to similar sized cities I know better; namely Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis.

Also, some of the suburbs are just plain uninteresting.  Englewood is fine, and I like saying I am in Englewood to people who are not familiar with Colorado, as, given the nature of every other Englewood in the country, I can get free street cred that way.  And, Littleton is alright.  But they do pale in comparison with places like Arlington Heights, IL which has it’s own comedy club and racetrack and a hopping downtown.

The Surprising:

The airport

It’s too far away.  Remember that line from the classic film “Dumb and Dumber”?  After five hours of driving in the wrong direction, Harry wakes up thinking he is in Central Colorado as opposed to Central Nebraska, and states “I expected the Rockies to be a bit rockier than this”.  And Lloyd, still unaware of his own mistake despite being awake and driving the whole time says, “Yeah, I was thinking, that John Denver is full of shit!”  Well, every time I go to that airport, I think of that line, as it is quite a ways East of downtown.  The one time I had to take a taxi home from the airport it ran me about $90.

Weather:

The Good:

Milder Winters:

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There I am, last December mimicking the standard Bigfoot pose.  A practice I like to call “Bigfooting”, which I started doing two years ago when everyone and their dog was making up a new internet photo pose in response to planking.  I think I came up with a good one, but that is all said and done.  Anyways, this was Christmastime, and I was out in a light jacket- at night!  And, the great thing about it was that this happened quite frequently.  Days where the temperatures would reach the 50s and even 60s occurred way more frequently in Denver than it would in Chicago or even New York.  I very much enjoyed this.  What I found depressing about Chicago’s winters was the consistent cold, the  times where it would be mid-January and you would look at the long-range forecast and see nothing above 30 in sight.  Oh, and I despise sub-0.  In Denver, we do have winter, and it does get cold, but there is a steady stream of periodic breaks, which helped me tremendously get through the winter.

The Bad:

Snow in April

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Seriously.. by about March 15th I am over this.  But, in Denver, it happened like five times this year.  I think the last one was actually technically on May 1st.  All I can say is that I should try to spend next April traveling elsewhere.  It ended up being the dullest month to be in Colorado.

The Surprising:

Slow storm movement

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This storm never even got into town.  The day I took this photo, no rain occurred in Denver!  In the Midwest, seeing a storm pop up in the sky, if it is to the West or Southwest, means get inside.  This storm will come to your location, probably within an hour or two (or even less in some circumstance).  In Denver, this has been significantly different.  On many days, a storm will form that never makes it into town, but can be seen from the horizon for the entire day.  It has taken some adjustment to see a storm in the horizon and not be instantly alarmed by it the way I would need to be in the Midwest in general.

Social:

The Good:

Friendly with a lot of other “transplants”

Unlike in New York or Chicago, people here will say hi to you walking down the street or passing by.  Usually, if you smile at a stranger they will return the gesture.  Particularly women and particularly while I am walking my amazing Siberian Husky, but I have had a lot of great friendly interchanges with people just walking around town.  This also applies to people who help you at restaurants, people who cut your hair, and other random things you typically do around town.

There are also a lot of transplants here.  Colorado has become a common place for people to move to in search of many of the aforementioned outdoor activities and a new life.  I have met a ton of people from elsewhere, particularly the Midwest.  In fact, I rarely go an entire week (that I am in town) without meeting someone that is also from the Midwest.  I can watch all Cubs and Bears games at a bar called Hayters downtown with other Chicago fans.  And, being a Badger, I can chose from Swankys downtown, and Badgers in my neighborhood for their games.

The Bad:

Slower pace of living and less reliable plans

The flip-side of this, at least from my point of view is that the pace of life here is definitely slower than what I am used to.  People here tend to have what New Yorkers like me stereotype as a California type influence, where everything is more relaxed and chill.  Like many New Yorkers (and Chciagoans), I like to always be in a rush.  In fact, at the wedding I recently attended in Northern Wisconsin, I had a conversation with one of the other attendees, who happened to also be from New York, about the desire to basically run on all cylinders and not slow down unless it is time to sleep.  Spending a significant amount of time around people who don’t enjoy packing plans together tightly, and make a lot more plans loosely or tentatively has definitely been a test of my desire to always be moving at something akin to my top speed from one interesting activity to another.

The Surprising:

Slow speed relationships

This has perhaps been my biggest challenge since moving to Denver.  And, this is possibly because I was not necessarily expecting it.  But, it feels that although people here are quite friendly in general, and will gladly be inclusive with people they barely know, they seem generally on guard about establishing good friendships, and establishing tight circles the way we all did in the Midwest.  I will go out and meet people and such, but haven’t gotten to the point I was at in Chicago where I was constantly getting invited to take part in social engagements.  This may be partially cultural, as many of the outdoor activities people like to do in Colorado are best done in groups of roughly four people.  It may also be partially due to my circumstance, and what people expect from someone like me vs. what they get.

City Living:

The Good:

The Mountain Scenery

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This picture was taken along the Peak-to-Peak highway, but from the city of Denver you can see a lot of great mountain scenery.  It looks particularly good in the morning, as the sun rises, before any clouds and dust have developed.  In Colorado, you can see frequently see much farther than you can in the Midwest.

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The views of the foothills are really nice from the higher points around town, such as the Chattfield Reseviour, Cherry Creek Reseviour, and near McCaslin Blvd. on the way to Boulder.

The Bad: 

Apartment availability

The rental market is crazy right now, but particularly so in Colorado.  You see, a lot of younger people desire a more urban lifestyle and setting than their parents did.  And, a lot of people are moving to Colorado.  But, Colorado does not offer too much urban residential property.  Other than the central parts of Denver, and maybe central Boulder and Fort Collins, most other places in Colorado are quite suburban in nature.  They range from places like Littleton and Lakewood, that look more like traditional suburbs, to the hyper-sprawled Highlands Ranch/Lone Tree, to places like Lafayette and Brighton that look like suburbs that are interrupted by large segments of cow fields.  So, those that want urban living in Colorado have little to choose from, creating a run on places like Capital Hill, Cheeseman Park, and Highland.

The Surprising:

The amount of park space

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I am simply blown away by how many city parks Denver has!  City Park, of course, is the largest, but without trying to name them all, there are a lot, and a lot of large ones.  As an added bonus, many of them have events like the one pictured above, and people do commonly have picnics and play games like drop-in volleyball in these parks.  Washington Park in particular is one of my favorites.

Food:

The Good:

Local Chains

Food is less important to Denverites than it is to Chicagoans and New Yorkers, and with good reason, as there are a plethora of great non food related activities.  However, there are several local area chains that I have really enjoyed.  This includes Tokyo Joe’s, Garbanzo, Swing Thai, and Wahoo’s Tacos.  Okay, Wahoo’s is actually from Southern California, but outside SoCal and Denver they are very rare to non-existant.  I have never heard of them until moving here.  Also, with the number of ex-Chicagoans here in Denver, I have really enjoyed going to the Mile High Vienna Beef Stand, which makes a lot of the traditional Chicago food here in Denver pretty much exactly how I remember it.

The Bad:

Some food is harder to find

This was kind of expected.  But, I do love New York style pizza, and some of the places here that advertize New York style pizza are really no good (sorry).  I did find a place in Broomfield I like.  Some other specialty food types are also harder to find.  In particular, as expected, it is tough to find good seafood.  We are not near the ocean.  Denver is a middle American city that seems kind of pre-occupied with burgers and beer.   I do like that stuff, but sometimes I want scallops and rum-and-coke too.

The Surprising:

Numerous 711s

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Woo Hoo!  Is all I can say!  I love slurpees.  There is nothing like the slurpee to pick me up.  For a few years I lived in Wisconsin, where 711s don’t exist.  I do not know if I could ever do that again.  That weekend (Memorial Day weekend when slurpees were 49 cents), I had six.

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