Tag Archives: New Experiences

Cool For the Summer

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People define the season of “summer” in various ways.  Astronomers first defined summer as the period of time from the Summer Solstice (roughly June 21st) through the Autumnal Equinox (roughly September 21st).  Later on, meteorologists developed the term “meteorological summer”, defined as the months of June, July, and August, to refer to the period of time when weather conditions (in the Northern Hemisphere) are typically most consistently warm.  Of course, if you are a kid, or a student of any kind, summer clearly runs from the last day of the Spring semester through the first day of the Fall semester.  In the United States, many individuals, particularly those in the working world, have arrived on a definition of “summer” as the period between Memorial Day Weekend (the last weekend in May) and Labor Day Weekend (the first weekend in September).  In fact, at one of my previous places of employment, “business casual” attire was permitted only during the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  No matter where you are in life, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere outside the tropics, summer is coming to an end.  Tonight’s (Labor Day) sunset, for many of us, feels like the last sunset of the summer.

I still remember an episode of Saved By the Bell where Zach Morris, the main character, calls in sick on one of the first school days of the year.  The entire cast of the show had spent a crazy summer in Hawaii.  It was so exhausting, so emotional, and so full of experiences and memories, that he just needed a day to decompress from everything that had gone on over the summer.  That is very much what this weekend felt like to me.  Although I did not set aside an entire day to do nothing but process events, nor did I physically take a day off from work, school, etc., I definitely dialed it down, and put off some things in order to recuperate and process everything.

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For me, 2015 is what I would consider an “Epic Summer”.

As life progresses, I have come to realize that different periods of our lives mean different things.  Some years, and some seasons in particular, are just more memorable than others.  This does not mean that the other years and seasons are pointless.  It is just easier to remember and ponder the significance of certain periods.  History books specifically point to the year 1776, when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, as a memorable year.  During the previous centuries, an emerging class known as the Burghers were gradually moving society away from Feudalism and towards Free Markets, creating many of the ideals that lead to the revolution.  There are many specific years between 1250 and 1776 that were not memorable, but still important in creating the world of 1776, as well as the world of today.

My life has a series of summers (five total including this one) I would consider “Epic”.  I consider a summer to be “Epic” if it meets several basic criterea.  First, it has to be memorable.  This obviously means experiences that are out of the ordinary.

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Second, in order for a time period, or an event to be considered “Epic”, it has to be one that I consider positive, and enjoyable.  After all, dealing with cancer, a major injury, or depression is memorable.  But, I would not think of it as “Epic”.

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Finally, I believe an “Epic” time period must also be productive rather than destructive.  After all, someone may go on a binge, or a rampage of some kind, and find it memorable, as well as enjoyable.  But, the experience may have been detrimental to their future.  So, I try to think of “Epic Summers”, as only the ones I feel like I am better off for having experienced.

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The first four times I had what I would consider an “Epic Summer”, I did not realize it was happening until it was over.  I later realized that those four summers were time periods I’d think about much more frequently than other times in my life.  Sometime this Spring, I looked back at those summers, and realized that many of the conditions that created the other four Epic Summers in my life were also present this year, and, that the summer that was to come could very well end up being one that I remember for the same reasons.  Now that summer 2015 has come and gone, I can say that the following conditions are what leads to an Epic Summer.

  1.  They are exhausting

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You are doing a lot!  Otherwise, it would not really be Epic.

2.  They involve new experiences

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The summer between my Junior and Senior year in College was “Epic” because I brought travel to a new level (for me) that summer.  Previously, my travel had primarily been weekend road trips in the area to places like Champaign, Bloomington, or Indianapolis.  That summer, an internship brought me to Oklahoma for several weeks and included many more experiences throughout that part of the country. This summer was my first major multi-day bicycle trip, and my first time backpacking.

3.  They involve some amount of planning

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For many types of adventures, logistics do need to be considered.  Where will we stay?  How will we coordinate activities?  I am not saying anyone can plan their way into an Epic Summer, nor am I saying that everything needs to be planned out.  In fact, some spontaneity is also needed.  But, many activities do need to be arranged ahead of time, particularly when they involve a significant number of people.

4.  They build on advancements we make as a person on both short and long time frames

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I would never have gotten to the point where I could complete a bike ride like the one I did in July had I not made steady progress as a cyclist over the years.  This includes the training and completion of my first century ride in Illinois back in 2011, another summer I consider Epic.  Prior to this summer, I worked on myself, trying to improve some of my habits and personality traits that I consider ineffective.  I made continuing to have new and interesting experiences one of my 2015 New Years goals at the start of the year.  The same goes for my first Epic Summer, the summer after my High School graduation.  That year, I took advantage of the maturity, and improvements in my self confidence that actually began to take place halfway through my Junior year.

5.  There is a mix of the familiar and the absurd

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In every Epic Summer I have had, there have ben some repeats.  Like in previous years here in Denver, I attended the USA Pro Challenge and saw the exciting finish of Colorado’s version of the Tour de France.  After attending that race, I witnessed a topless protest on my way to a Weird Al Yankovich concert- quite absurd.

6. There are old friend as well as new friends

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One thing about every time period I have ever considered an “Epic Summer”, is that it is partially about a feeling.  By that, I mean a feeling that my life is just flowing properly.  As a social person, that entails spending time with people that I have known for some time, and become comfortable with, but also continuing to expand my network and make new friends.  In each of my Epic Summers, I have had some sort of influx of new people, through work, organizations, or friends of friends in the months preceding the actual summer.

7.  They are not without conflict

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My first Epic Summer I was always in conflict with my parents.  This summer, I have had a lot of conflict at work.  It is hard to say why, but when you are out there in the world, and following your true moral compass, you are naturally going to have some people that do not appreciate that.

8.  They are often preceded by ruts

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I really do not know why this is, at least not in a logical manner, but every single epic summer I have ever had was preceded by some kind of rut.  This year, a rainy May in Denver combined with career stagnation actually bored me quite a bit.  It feels almost as if the rhythm of life is starting to hint at the need for a much more active period to come.

I come out of the summer of 2015 knowing much more about life, and much more about myself and my own desires than I did beforehand.  I have reached this state because of each and every one of the conditions listed above.  I am bummed that summer is over, but, when mentally healthy, a person can transition from one amazing experience to the next.  When I left college, I was sad, knowing that I had just had an amazing four year experience.  But, I avoided dwelling on it, which would have ruined the last few months of that experience.  Whatever comes next, in fall, may not be quite as amazing summer was.  But, all I can do is take these experiences, and the improvements I have made to myself as a result of them, and use them to help me going forward.

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.

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.