Tag Archives: Denver

The Colorado Classic

71 cyclists, all averaging a speed right around 30 mph, somehow ended up within 12 seconds of each other 2/3 of the way into an 8-lap 72 mile race. The strange thing is, this was the only time for the entire duration of the final stage of the 2018 Colorado Classic where all the riders were packed so closely together. Earlier in the race, a few riders would pedal ahead of the pack, forming what is referred to as a “breakout group”.

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Having not watched too much professional cycling, I am not familiar with the complicated scoring system, or how cycling teams work together. However, in what I have watched, from the perspective of mostly just monitoring who wins each race, it rarely seems beneficiary to form one of these breakout groups, especially early in the race. Seeing a few cyclists pull ahead near the beginning of a race always reminds me of when I used to bet on horse races. At first, I would get excited when the horse I bet on started out leading the pack. Experience would later teach me that that horse that jumps out ahead at the start of the race almost never wins. With rare exception, some other horse, usually one of the ones favored to win, would make a move about 2/3 of the way into the race, while the initial leader would run out of steam, finishing near the back of the pack. I’ll often joke that if I see the horse I bet on in the lead at the start of the race, I can all but throw that ticket away.

That is exactly what I tend to see happen at bike races. The cyclists who “breakout” put themselves at a disadvantage as they face more air resistance than those who stay in the main group, often referred to as the “peloton”. Time and time again, I have watched a breakout group form a lead, sometimes several minutes, just to see that lead slowly evaporate just in time for the end of the race. I would imagine all the riders trying to sprint to the finish line at nearly the same time, but with those that formed the breakaway group far more exhausted as they pushed against more air resistance all day long.

In a depressing metaphor for life, the breakaway group represents those that chose to take a different path, other than the tried and true. Like the 90% of Startups that fail, their path is tougher, and also a lot less certain.

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However, as discussed in detail in Bicycling Magazine, breakaways can be successful, when done…

  • Under the right conditions
  • Intelligently
  • With the right mix of people

The same is true for startups, as well as anyone else trying to “break away”.

Being back in Denver the weekend of the Colorado Classic, I got to witness the final two stages.

Stage 3, I got to watch from Lookout Mountain, which is outside of Golden about 15 miles west of Denver. It is Denver’s version of the mountain that overlooks the city, and is actually quite popular for cycling. The 1800 foot climb is a great after work workout, I have done many times.

Watching professionals ride a road you commonly ride is both exciting and humbling, as they do in 25 minutes what takes me 35-40.

Stage 4 was a very different experience. As is the case every year (for the Colorado Classic), the final stage is a series of laps around town.

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Cyclists rode down 17th Avenue in both directions during each lap, meaning it was possible to see them pass by the same exact spot 16 times! It is here where spectators witness, in person, breakaway groups get slowly caught up to by the pack.

There was even a bike shop, along 17th Avenue, that set up a set of bleacher seats for fans. Pro cycling, obviously has a smaller fan base than major sports like baseball and football. However, smaller groups often feel far more like a community than larger ones, and there is a kind of comradery between cycling fans that does not always exist at other sporting events.

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Watching multiple groups of people try to “breakaway” from the pack, but fail to win the stage reminds me of my own personal struggles. Like many people, I struggle with issues of individuality vs. conformity. It definitely had a negative impact on my high school experience, where there is a lot of pressure to conform. I still feel it now from time to time.

As is the case with pro cycling, there is a time to break away and there is a time to stay with the pack. The same is true in our other life pursuits. We all would prefer to stay true to our individual selves all the time. However, there is a often a cost for refusing to conform, sometimes legal or financial, but often in terms of lost opportunities and relationships. The challenge is to know when that cost can be endured so that we continue to feel like we are living our own lives, while also knowing when we need to be patient and flexible.

Cycling from Colorado Springs to Denver

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It started with a two hour bus ride, from Denver to Colorado Springs, on something called the Bustang. Bustang is a pretty good service for cyclists in Colorado, as each bus has bike racks on the front. It would be a great service with more schedule options. For anyone thinking of making this journey, the only real option is the 7:35 A.M. departure from Denver, which arrived in downtown Colorado Springs just after 9:30.

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Colorado Springs is an interesting town. People who think about Colorado Springs often think about one of two things; its affiliation with Christian conservative causes, as it is where Focus on the Family is headquartered, and Pike’s Peak, the mountain that towers over the city to the west.

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Pike’s Peak is actually only the 20th tallest peak in the State. Yet, it is often amongst the most visited and talked about because, compared to many of Colorado’s other mountains, it is relatively isolated.

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Perhaps most importantly, Colorado Springs is among the most active and fittest cities in America.

This was apparent as I began to pedal north from downtown Colorado Springs. The Pike’s Peak Greenway, was quite crowded for much of the journey, with joggers, packs of runners, and other cyclists.

At the northern border of Colorado Springs, the Pike’s Peak Greenway connects to the New Santa Fe Trail. Both of these trails are part of a long term plan to create what is being called the Front Range Trail, a network of trails that will eventually cross the entire state from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border, through many of Colorado’s most populated cities. Sings for the Front Range Trail have already been put in place here.

For some riders, the New Santa Fe Trail has the potential to be the roughest part of the ride. Much of it is both uphill, and unpaved. It also runs right through the property of the United States Air Force Academy.

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Many sections of it are quite rough, probably more suitable for mountain bikes than road or touring bikes. Along this stretch, there were about half a dozen instances where I had to dismount and walk my bike for a short distance.

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It was still a beautiful place to bike. The trail cuts through fields of Piñon Pines, and Monument Creek creates some picturesque mini-cliffs in front of the mountains.

However, although the journey up the hill is actually quite subtle, with no switchbacks or steep climbs, it did take more time and energy than anticipated to get to Palmer Lake, the high point of the trip, at an elevation of about 7,300 feet (2225 m).

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The next part of the ride was my favorite, north along Perry Park Road. This section is mostly downhill, but with some rolling hills. It was a wonderful 25 mile per hour ride on a smooth road, with bright blue skies, wide open spaces, rock formations popping out on both sides around every turn, and a light cooling breeze.

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There are a few route options at this point, and following Perry Park Road as long as I did, a little over 10 miles to Tomah Road, does bypass the town of Larkspur. I found it worthwhile, as I was enjoying the ride, but it does mean a total of about 20 miles between towns.

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Turning East, Tomah Road was actually the most challenging climb on the entire ride. The total climb is pretty small, from about 6200 feet to just over 6800. However, that climb occurred in less than two miles, and can be unexpected, as Castle Rock is at 6200 feet and this climb came from one of the subtle terrain features east of the Rocky Mountains.

After climbing and descending Tomah Road, the route was follows the Frontage Road along I-25 for about four miles into Castle Rock. Despite it being right next to the interstate, the road was quite crowded, and with no shoulder. It was probably the least enjoyable part of the ride.

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This was also where I struggled the most. It was the hottest part of the day, and after the unanticipated challenges, I began to doubt whether or not I could complete the ride. In these situations, it is usually good to stop and take a rest. The additional time it took on the unpaved trail up Monument Hill had set me back at least half an hour, but I definitely needed a rest, a snack, and, most importantly, I had a coke.

Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the sugar, but the coke re-energized me, and I was back on my way.

Crawfoot Valley Road, the road that connects Castle Rock and Parker was surprisingly crowded. It is a good thing there is a wide enough shoulder for bikes. This area is growing quite rapidly, and seems to get busier every time I ride this segment.

My next burst of energy was actually mental, which is usually the battle we are actually facing when we decide to undertake physical challenges like this. In Parker, the route connects to the Cherry Creek Trail, an amazing trail that is fun, well kept, and mostly flat.

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From here, it is 30 miles to downtown Denver. This sign (the Cherry Creek Trail has one every 1/2 a mile, but this is the first one I saw when I joined the trail) felt like a welcoming of sorts, to the home stretch. The final 30 miles of the trip would feel like a victory lap.

I knew there was only one real climb remaining, the part where the trail goes around the Cherry Creek Reservoir.

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It reminded me of this weird place we often find ourselves in life, where we know some sort of “victory” is coming. We can sense it on the horizon. We are anticipating it. However, it is not there yet. There is still some amount of work that needs to be done, and there is still some things that can go wrong.

Is it too soon to start feeling good about ourselves? Can we start celebrating something that is “about” to happen? Or, do we remain cautious and diligent, understanding that although we feel we deserve this victory, it has not yet happened, and it is still not yet time to celebrate?

That was how the final 30 miles felt for me. The first half went by fast. However, as I got closer and closer, anticipation increased, and this “homestretch” seemed to drag on.

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At that point, there really is no choice but to pound out that final ten miles, with those mixed emotions. I knew I had persevered, ended up having to take on more than expected, and would arrive at home triumphant that I had ridden my bike from Colorado Springs to Denver. However, I would have to keep pedaling those last few miles before I could check that box off my internally kept bucket list.

TEDxMileHigh: Point of Departure

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It’s a mid-summer weekend in sunny Colorado and thousands of people are standing in line, actually various lines that snake all around the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver. They are all waiting to get into the theater to hear a series of talks. These talks will cover a wide variety of subjects. One will be about a big idea, something that may change the world in the coming years. Another may be a personal narrative, and another may even be a musical or poetic performance. The only thing these talks have in common is the main draw. The main reason anyone chose to spend a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in the middle of the summer inside a building as opposed to in the mountains where most Coloradans chose to spend their summer weekends, the association with a brand known as TED.

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Most people have some form of exposure to TED talks, even if they did not purposely seek them out. TED talks are shown at all sorts of conferences and workshops, are shared with friends and colleagues regularly, and are commonly found in web searches. This was the first time I chose to attend a TED event, but I have watched quite a few TED talks in my life. When you are really ill, watching TED talks on YouTube can be the most productive thing to do with your time.

What I notice most about TED talks, both at this conference and online, is the fact that I never get bored during them, despite the fact that I find it quite easy to get bored and antsy during presentations, especially of the standard power point variety. It is quite clear that the people who organize TED events (and TEDx events, which means they are independently organized) follow a formula that takes into account how the human mind works and responds to information as presented. Talks are generally 15-20 minutes, consistent with most scientific understanding of the human attention span. Short videos are presented between talks of wildly differing topics to ease the transition from one topic to another.

Speakers undergo a rigorous three-month long process of preparation to ensure all TED talks meet their standards. As a result, speakers always seem to emphasize the right words, stay poised, and avoiding using filler words. Auditions for speakers for this conference took place in February, and auditions for their next conference, in November, take place at the end of July!

When I think of the brand TED, the first thing I think of is people who think like me. By this, I do not mean people who have the same opinions on certain specific issues or policies. It is more of a general sense of what “TED people” are like. If there is one thing that binds all the people who speak at and participate in this brand known as TED, it is the desire to think beyond the day-to-day routine, the next task or the next purchase. People come here because they want to be inspired. They imagine possibilities beyond what is seen directly in front of them day-to-day. They want to engage their intellectual curiosity. They believe their life will be changed, or even that the world will be changed, by something they hear about and talk about here.

The conference provided a few other perks as well…

Each ticket, regardless of whether it was General Admission, VIP, or All Access, provided a free lunch, to be redeemed at one of many food trucks located in sculpture park behind the Denver Performing Arts Center (which houses the Ellie Caulkins Opera House). There were vendors for many other other organizations too, including ones that focus on environmental activism, sell new flavors of tea, or focus on career development. At the end of the conference, I even got a free pair of eclipse glasses, which I intend to use to view next month’s total solar eclipse.

 

After 22 speakers spread over three sessions, meeting countless interesting people, and a really awesome after-party (there was an after party both nights, but I only attended the Saturday night one due to poor meal planning on my part), I felt something absolutely crazy. I came out of this conference with more energy than when I had arrived. I wasn’t expecting this, as most conferences leave me drained. This one covers even more intellectually and emotionally draining topics than most.

The success of the TED brand seems to run contrary to every piece of business advice I have ever received. I am always told to have a specific product in mind, a narrower purpose, and a specific target audience, like all those blogs that focus on one activity.

Yet, this idea seemed to start with a broader purpose; to inspire and change the world. Then, they thought about humanity and found the most effective way in which to present the information. If TEDxMileHigh Point of Departure taught me anything (other than specifics like how fast a supersonic jet can go) it is to stop worrying about how others achieved, or what status anyone has. It is all about having something to offer that people see as worth-wile, and bringing it to them effectively, regardless of titles or perceived status.

The Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market

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What does it mean to have a “healthy community”?  I am encouraged to see more and more people actively consider their life choices, their environment, associations and just put more thought in general to how they spend their time, energy, and money.  This feels like a dramatic shift from, say, ten years ago.  However, embedded in some of the most high profile public improvement related pursuits in the modern era is an unfortunate residual strand of laziness.  After all, we do want something for nothing.

This often manifests itself in buzz phrases that people use to not-so subtly indicate some form of association with a popular present-day initiative.  Perhaps the one that bugs me the most is the term “sustainability”.  In many of its common present-day uses, the definition of this term “sustainability” has been narrowed to only mean sustainability in the environmental sense, short-changing the term of its full definition, and shortchanging discussions of “sustainability” of their full impact.

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Whenever I ride a bicycle to a Farmer’s Market, I feel as if I suddenly become the personification of the term “healthy community”.  It’s the standard image, embedded in every montage that any health or parks department has put together to promote some kind of health/ community initiative in the past six years.  People riding their bikes to buy pesticide-free produce and meat products from local farmers and ranchers.

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And there are a few booths that sell those products, including one with that cow diagram that just always confuses me.  Why are there like 50 types of beef?.  However, most of the booths at this Farmer’s Market are not vendors selling food.  In fact, I saw a somewhat random assortment of products that made me curious as to how one goes about determining what is appropriate for a Farmer’s Market.

And, as is the case with any other Farmer’s Market I have been to, there were plenty of booths where one can get food that is, well, not healthy.

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In Wisconsin, any Farmer’s Market I would attend would have a good number of booths selling cheese curds.  If the country ever breaks up into its 50 states, and Wisconsin becomes its own country, it would probably stock pile cheese as a strategic reserve, much the same way Canada stock piles maple syrup.

I would say a majority of the food vendors at this Farmer’s Market offer food that is not typically considered healthy; including many different varieties of baked goods, food trucks, and a bunch of stands that sell items like tamales and burritos.

Interestingly, several booths at this Farmer’s Market are operated by Local civic organizations advising residents on how to effectively garden and compost.  This gives this Farmer’s Market somewhat of a unique touch, that contributes to the health and sustainability of the community in a different way.

But, the same way being a successful person is about more than simply becoming “goal oriented”, eating well is about more than just buying things that are “organic”, and having a productive work team is about more than just “synergy”, having a healthy community is not just about initiatives like this.  There are a lot of other factors, culturally, near and far, that make this place what it is.

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Regardless of what we are trying to achieve, it takes time, effort and active participation.  We all want something for nothing.  We want to be able to claim some sort of accomplishment, moral validation, status or belonging by claiming association with some positively viewed buzzword, and maybe taking part in a token activity like going to a Farmer’s Market.  But, to really live healthy takes a much bigger commitment.  And there is more to having a “healthy community” than a video montage showing people like me bicycling to Farmer’s Markets.

What we do every day can be healthy, or it can be not.  For most of us, it is both, depending on the situation.  The intellectual rigor we need to truly evaluate our lives, the journey we are on and the communities we live in, involves respecting the complexity that is ourselves, our surroundings, and even places with divergent outcomes like the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market.  It is at that point, with the understanding of places, activities and concepts beyond buzzwords and vague terms, we complete this transition, elevating our level of intellectual discourse and giving ourselves the tools we need to make the best of our lives and communities.

 

Festival Season

Several years back, I spent a considerable amount of time fascinated with the question; What makes someone an “interesting person”?  I guess it was just the time we were living in (around 2010- but it’s still true now).  People had become exponentially more distracted by social media over the past half a decade.  Every job posting had 200 applications.  To get by in the world suddenly seemed to require the ability to get people’s attention.  It suddenly did not feel like enough to just simply be competent and friendly.  The most precious resource had suddenly become attention, and the amount of time one had to make an impression on people was ever shrinking.

So I took stock of the people in my life, the people I saw, the people I knew, and even people I had just heard about.  I knew that there were some people I found interesting for some reason.  I really tried to determine why that was.  What was it about some people that made their names come up in conversation more frequently?  I went through this quandary in my head about the delicate balance between being “too normal” and not having anything distinct about yourself and being “too weird” and not being able to relate to people.

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In true extrovert fashion, I did not really figure out what it was about until I started asking other people about it.  I asked my friends what people they found interesting and why.  And, I realized what is true for me, as well as everybody else on this planet.  Some people find me interesting, and some people don’t, the same way I find some people interesting and others not.  I even realized that there are people in my life that I had not necessarily found interesting, but could see how they could be interesting to other, different kinds of people.  I actually thought about those people that write those celebrity fashion blogs and report live from award shows.  I seriously still can’t think of anything I care less about than who wins the Oscars.  But, some people love it, and a lot of people love those blogs.

Nobody bores every single person they meet.  Also, nobody captivates everyone they meet.  But, some people do manage to find a way to relate to a larger proportion of the population than others.  We all know that one person that is always talking about the same things, and doing the same things.  And, when we get together with them we know it is going to be the same old same old.

Maybe all they do is work…

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Or maybe they’ve got some cause they just won’t ever shut up about….

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Or, they just really only have one interest.  When that happens, well, you can only relate to people who happen to share that interest.  When one cultivates a variety of interests, they are able to relate to a greater subset of the population.  Not only are more people going to find them interesting, but they are going to find a way to show genuine interest in the lives of more people.

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So, while I love to travel, I realize that it is not for everybody.  The average American works 47 hours a week.  And the average commute is approaching half an hour each way.  Many spend much more than that standard five hours a week in their cars as it is.  So, I completely understand why, for many people, the idea of hoping in a car Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, spending several hours in it, and doing the same on Sunday, just simply does not sound appealing.  I will always find the allure of new places, different experiences, and different cultures worth the effort, but many want to find activities closer to home.

This does not mean they are not interesting people, and this does not mean that I cannot find them interesting.  Last weekend, right here in Denver, I was able to attend three festivals; all within 4 miles of home.

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At the Denver Brew Festival, with over 50 different participating breweries, and unlimited drinks for $35, one is pretty much guaranteed to be trying beer they have yet to try before.

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At the Underground Music Showcase, countless people get exposed to bands, and even musical stylings that they have never been exposed to before.

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And, it is hard to top a free concert downtown with Aloe Blacc and Capital Cities!

But one does not need to even go to crazy festivals to be interesting and open to new experiences.  At the end of the weekend, I came to the realization that everything I had done this weekend, everything that seemed new and exciting, is something that I can really do whenever I want.  And, I live in a medium-sized city, not New York.

If I want to try a new kind of beer, I can go to a microbrewery I have not been to.  I think there is a new one opening up every weekend somewhere in Metro Denver.

Most cities have some sort of a local music scene, with local bands playing at a bar for a $5 or $10 cover.  In fact, I have had some amazing nights out going to some of these shows!

And, nothing is stopping us from changing the radio station, finding a new channel on Pandora, or asking those around us to expose us to new music that is already out there.

Every day is the opportunity to experience something new.  Taking advantage of more of these opportunities is no guarantee that the next time you meet an attractive stranger, a fun potential friend with an active social circle, or that person with the job opportunity of a lifetime, that that particular person will find you interesting.  But, it does make the odds much more favorable.

The New Place in Town

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When we think of “travel”, we usually think of the process of someone physically transporting themselves to another location, and, through that travel, experiencing something different from what they typically experience in their home towns.  And, it is that experience that I typically write about on this blog.  But, travel is actually a two way street.  Sometimes, the experiences of another place comes to us in our hometowns.  If it weren’t for this second form of travel, us Americans would not know about many cultural institutions near and dear to us, like burritos, yoga, sushi, or reggae music.

With the level of mobility in and out of, as well as within the United States of America, our culture ends up being in a constant state of flux.  Case in point, I remember when I was 12 years old going out for Thai food for this first time in my life, and thinking it was strange and exotic.  Nowadays, one can find Thai restaurants everywhere.  It’s become just as standard as pizza, another result of experiences of other lands coming to us, in our diet.

I must admit that last year, I had no idea what Detroit Style Pizza was.  In fact, I had no idea that Detroit even had a style of pizza.  To be fair though, having grown up partially in New York and partially in Chicago, two large cities known for their pizza, it had never really occurred to me that any place other than those two had a style of pizza.  By the time I had reached college, I had pretty much, in my head, categorized all pizza into three different categories; New York style thin crust pizza, Chicago’s deep dish pizza, and everything else, with Papa Johns typically taking the title for the least offensive member of this category (in my head).

But, since then, I had learned that Saint Louis, Colorado, and New Haven, Connecticut, all also have their own style of pizza.  So, when my friend told me about his upcoming business venture, opening up a restaurant serving Detroit style pizza, the concept did not sound completely foreign to me.  And, it helped that he did a really good job of describing it to me.  Through some research on my own, I later learned that Detroit style pizza has been around since the 1940s.  Yet, Denver, like everywhere else, appears to have suddenly become aware of this pizza style within the last couple of years.

Blue Pan Pizza opened 10 days ago in the West Highland neighborhood of Denver, one of Denver’s trendier neighborhoods.  It is a growing neighborhood in a growing city, with a lot going on.  It also appears to be a popular place for young families.  Both at Blue Pan, and at other nearby bars, I noticed a lot of babies and small children in the area.  So, I guess it is a good thing that the pizza turned out to be good, thus giving me no reason to swear in front of the children in the restaurant.

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As a general rule, I try the best I can to go “all in” when trying something new, and get the authentic experience.  So, while Blue Pan also offers standard Italian, and thin crust pizzas, I ordered the authentic Detroit style, as recommended by my friend, and restaurant co-owner Giles Flanagin.  One of the pizza styles is actually called “the 313” which appeals to my love of area codes (I celebrate “Area Code Day” every year).  The other pizza I ordered was called the “Brooklyn Bridge”.

I ended up really enjoying the pizza, as did the rest of my party.  Two other places in Denver offer Detroit style pizza.  I have yet to try the other two, so I have no means of direct comparison.  However, Giles had mentioned to me the importance they place on the quality of their ingredients, which I believe is why I ended up enjoying the pizza.

More than having a good meal, and being exposed to a completely new kind of food, I found myself just genuinely feeling happy that evening.  I was happy for my friend.  I was happy for my city.  I was happy for the neighborhood.  Ultimately, I was happy to have seen someone take an idea, something that starts out as just a bunch of words and images inside their head, and turn it into a reality.  It was right there in front of me, and completely real and completely successful.  Wow!

And, amazingly, although I desire more than anything in the world to be able to create an enterprise of my own, I did not even feel any envy.  Everyone is better off, and one person successfully executing an idea does not preclude another from doing so with a different idea.  In fact, seeing that it can be done should provide hope to all Americans who one day hope to have an impact on the world beyond just doing work and keeping a job.

Who knows what the future holds for Blue Pan, and the entire Detroit Style pizza industry.  American culture is in constant flux.  Some new entries to our mainstream culture stick permanently, while others die off.  In the 1990s, the cultural experience of Seattle’s coffee drinking scene traveled to the rest of the country.  It stayed.  A few years later, the southern cultural experience of Krisy Kreme donuts also came to us.  It left.  Will Detroit style pizza stay with us?  Only time will tell.  But, it appears to be off to a good start.

The Future of the West

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Earlier this summer, the new and improved Union Station opened in downtown Denver.  The station was rebuilt in an effort to accommodate several new train lines that are currently being built in the Denver metro area.  By the time this process, known as FasTracks, is complete, the metropolitan area will finally have an extensive rail system connecting many of the major employment, residential, and cultural institutions in the region.

As not only Denver, but the entire region, grows in population, this facility will serve a significant purpose.  Nearly every major city has one or more central transit hubs.  These transit hubs, such as New York’s Penn Station, often serve as a connecting point between multiple transit systems, making transit in and around the region easier.  Although only one of the new FasTracks lines has officially opened, Union Station is already prepared to serve this purpose.

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The most significant aspect of the construction of this facility, was, of course, the building of new train tracks and platforms.  With multiple tracks, and multiple platforms, Denver’s central train station is, for the first time, looking like the types of train stations I am accustomed to seeing in major cities with advanced transit systems.  In fact, seeing the pedestrian bridge with stairways to each platform actually reminded me of the train station in Jamaica, Queens, where several lines of the Long Island Railroad join, I would frequently transfer trains as a kid.

The new train lines in the RTD system, including the all important line to the airport, which will begin operations within the next 24 months, will all board on these tracks.  However, for now, the only train operating on this set is the AMTRAK (the other trains operate on the light rail tracks on another platform a block away).

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Unfortunately AMTRAK operates only one line through Denver, the California Zephyr, which runs from Chicago to Emeryville (near San Francisco).

I seriously doubt that I will ever ride this train.  There is only one train option in each direction per day.  Each morning, a Westbound train is scheduled to arrive at Denver’s Union Station at 7:15 A.M., and depart at 8:05.  Each evening, an Eastbound train is scheduled to arrive at 6:36 P.M. and depart at 7:10 P.M.

In addition to the lack of additional options, according to the schedule, the trip to Glenwood Springs (on the Western Slope, and a major tourist destination) takes just under 6 hours.  The return trip is scheduled to take over 6 hours!  According to Google Maps, the drive from Denver to Glenwood Springs takes 2.5 hours (without traffic).  Even for those without a vehicle, both Greyhound and Colorado Mountain Express offer bus service to Glenwood Springs in under 4 hours.

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And, of course, AMTRAK’s other issue is its lack of punctuality.  As the day progressed, the station filled with people, not only checking out the new station, but with people arriving to take the Eastbound train scheduled to depart at 7:10.  By quarter after 6, the information board had indicated that the train would arrive at 7:23.  Good thing the schedule builds in that half an hour layover, right?  Well, for AMTRAK, that was not nearly enough.  By 7:30, the train had not arrived yet, with the board now indicating an 8:07 arrival.  That train would eventually arrive at 8:30.

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The backbone of Denver’s transit system remains its buses.  In fact, the Rapid Transit District operates three types of buses; local, express, and regional.  The local buses are primarily for transit in and around the immediate area.  Most of these buses stay at street level.  But the express and regional buses, which connect downtown Denver to places father away, such as Boulder, Evergreen, and Longmont, arrive and depart from an underground bus terminal right below the train tracks that were just built.  In addition to these regional buses, longer distance buses, operated by Greyhound, are now arriving and departing at this bus terminal as well.

 

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And, of course, if there is time between buses or trains, the new Union Station has a terminal with bars, restaurants, a large waiting area, and even an airport-style newsstand shop.

This new centralized transit hub gives Denver something that nearly all significant cities have; a focal point for its transit system.  Currently, the focus is on connectivity within the metropolitan area.  Service to areas outside of this particular urban corridor is limited, and sometimes unreliable.  However, with the tracks in place, and the additional amenities built, it is not hard to imagine a future state where some kind of efficient transit service between Denver and other parts of the West has been established, and functions out of this very location.

Futurists and urbanists often talk about the emergence of “megaregions“.  This is already clearly occurring in the Northeast, with the corridor of cities from Boston to Washington D.C. becoming highly connected and well traveled.  The de-facto capital of this region is New York City.  Other megaregions expected to emerge include one in the Southeast centered around Atlanta (and expected to include Charlotte), and one in the Midwest centered around Chicago (and certain to include Milwaukee and Madison).

With Colorado’s rapid growth, it is not hard to imagine a megaregion centered around Denver, with frequent travel to Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and possibly even places in the mountains (a train to Vail would be great).  With the building of the new Union Station, with more track, more platforms, a sizable waiting area, restaurants, bars, and many other transit-oriented services, Denver is preparing itself for its role as the de-facto capital of the “New West”.