Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Thursday, December 20, 2012


So, I moved at the end of the summer. My commute was too unpleasant (35 minutes to work, 45 to get home), and anyway, I wanted to live in a city. I had never lived in a big city before. While technically in Denver, I was in a very suburban area. And while technically able to ride my bike and walk to a few places from my old apartment, it's not very pleasant walking where a steady stream of heavy traffic is whizzing down the four-lane road at 45 mph.

One of the best things about the move was that it allowed me to escape having to use I-25 to get to work. This is the congested highway that runs north-south along the populous Front Range area. Here's a shot of I-25 during rush hour that I took from an overpass near my old place. The traffic is flowing here, but closer to downtown, for a large portion of every evening, it's simply stopped. I don't think Denver traffic is that bad in general, but the horror of I-25 (and Colorado Boulevard, to name another road that should never be part of your commute) make up for the lack of gridlock in the rest of the city.

My new place is in the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver, in a converted duplex from 1903, and it has large windows and hardwood floors:

And a rickety sunroom off the back:

There is a small backyard, here dusted with an early October snow:

I very much wanted to have an apartment in a house rather than an apartment building, for several reasons. I hadn't anticipated, though, that it would make my apartment actually feel like a home - I have a front and back door, a back yard, and well, the apartment feels like a house because it pretty much was (the bottom floor of) a house up to a certain point.

A view from the back yard, showing the giant apartment building next door.

I had had a particular... and long, now that I look at it... list of characteristics I was looking for in an apartment:

1. On a quiet street (I'd spent the last 2 years living right next to the highway in the first picture)
2. No more than 20 minutes from work
3. Within biking distance of my 2 closest Denver friends, grocery store, library and post office, plus the bar where I go dancing... together these make up 95% of the places I go outside of work
4. Somewhere I would feel safe walking at night
5. A 1-bedroom rather than a studio, the better to have parties, which I do often
6. On the first floor, so I can get my bike in and out easily
7. In a neighborhood with enough parking that I never have to park more than a block away
8. In a house, not an apartment building
9. With hardwood floors, so I can practice/teach dance moves
10. With some character - not built in the last 40 years and looking just like 500 other apartments in the city
11. With my own entrance or with the ability to buzz guests in (not wanting to go all the way down the hall to let in each of my 12 party guests on a given night), and
12. Under a particular budget (cost of utilities included)

I managed to get all of these except for #2 - it takes me 22 minutes to get to work if there's no traffic. Now that I've lived there for a few months, some things turn out not to be as important - I probably could entertain in a studio if I set it up right, and I really haven't made use of the hardwood floors for any dance lessons. My very favorite thing about the place is actually that the grocery store is 2 blocks away. Though I never have any food in the house now, because I can pop over for just a bagel and a yogurt anytime I want... sometimes I go there 3 times a day. They are open 24 hours. It's a King Soopers, but some of my friends call it the Queen Soopers, because the neighborhood is seen as being pretty gay. I do not know if more gay people actually live here than in other places.

What I do know is that the actual park (above, looking toward the skyscrapers of downtown) has a history as a gay cruising site -- where men go looking for other men to have sex with. It was a bigger deal in the past, but there's still some activity. It doesn't trouble me -- well, it doesn't affect me at all. If I lived next to a park known for drug deals or robbery, that would trouble me. So if you go for an evening walk in the park, you will see men sitting by themselves waiting to see if other men make eye contact with them. You will also see lots of people walking babies and dogs, students studying or playing frisbee, and the occasional person smoking a joint on a bench. I did see a guy walking a pig a few weeks ago, but that is not usual.

This is near my house. The fence is all gone except for the gate, placed so as to block the one place you might want to walk. Footprints in the dirt show where people walk around the gate.

Also nearby... an exercise bike at a bike rack.

A couple of the more charming characters that live in the neighborhood are not people, but mailboxes. These mailboxes, at 12th and Lafayette, lean toward each other as if they are friendly. And in recent times someone has taken to giving them personalities through graffiti. Below, some photos from around the web:

Each time, the post office comes and spraypaints over it, and eventually they get graffiti'd again.

And again.

The above seems to be in a different style than the others, making me think someone else got in on the action.

This time the writing and the shape of the hearts is different. Does it mean anything?

The eyes on the green mailbox are different this time.

How many artists?

Above is the most recent incarnation, on election day, the drawing and writing back to the original style. I bike past this intersection regularly, but nothing new has appeared so far. Of course everyone thinks it's ridiculous that the postal service keeps painting over them, but I imagine they might think it's ridiculous too. 

Amusingly, while I was searching for mailbox images, I found this: you can now get your very own t-shirt with an image of the Denver mailboxes on it.

Some other observations about my neighborhood: it's pretty clean, and people are weirdly obsessive about picking up lost mittens, scarves, hoodies and baby shoes and draping them over shrubs/walls/branches near the sidewalk, as if the original owner might be coming back looking for them any moment.

Also, there are a lot of hipsters. I am bringing this up not because I want to be another blog documenting (or lambasting) the hipster phenomenon, but because I think it's funny that when I lived in the suburbs and only saw a hipster once in a blue moon, I thought their outfits were extremely stylish and unique. Wearing a fedora with a flannel shirt! But within hours of moving to the city and seeing approximately 3,000 other young people dressed just like that, I realized that it wasn't about trying to have your own look. It was about trying to look like everyone else. If I see one more person with giant glasses, a mustache, a scarf, skinny jeans and converse all-stars riding a fixed-gear bicycle with a PBR in the basket, I'm calling the cops. Which should be this afternoon.

From around the web:

Weirdly, mustaches are a big thing for women now. If you google something like "hipster mustache," a large proportion of the pictures will be women with mustaches. Not real ones, though. That's a little disappointing. Authenticity is, apparently, dead.

That ends my photos of the summer. But I have a lot more from the fall to get to. In my next post, we'll enjoy inauthentic participation in a culture that has nothing to do with hipsters.


Mom said...

The mailboxes are way cool!



Anonymous said...

I am enjoying your blog immensely and looking forward to your next entry. Such beautiful insight you have...