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Visiting Colorado

Started: 2019-06-21 20:15:51

Submitted: 2019-06-24 22:31:07

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits Boulder for Memorial Day

A couple of days after returning to Seattle from San Francisco after running the Bay to Breakers, I was back at SeaTac for an early-morning flight to Denver. (When my Lyft picked me up at my house in Wallingford at 05:00 PDT, early on the morning of Thursday, 23 May, the sky was surprisingly bright, though it was still before dawn.) My plan was to spend the end of the week at my employer's office in Boulder, try to hunt down people I knew, and run the Bolder Boulder on Monday before returning to Seattle.

(I took a moment to double-check my lifetime flight database and confirm that the last time I flew between Seattle and Denver was as a stopover on my way to visit my parents in Walla Walla. The only time I flew between Denver and Seattle without changing planes was to interview at Google in Kirkland in 2007.)

Rocky Mountain National Park covered in snow and clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park covered in snow and clouds

As we began our descent into Denver I watched the snow-covered Rocky Mountains under my window. I recognized Steamboat Springs, then the Never Summer Mountains and the rest of Rocky Mountain National Park, covered in heavy snow even though it was the end of May and the snow was supposed to be melting. Clouds clung to the mountains east of the Continental Divide, obscuring the mountains I knew best. Even Longs Peak was covered in clouds; I could barely make out the mountain's sharp ridges under the clouds.

Longs Peak covered in clouds
Longs Peak covered in clouds

As we approached Denver, air traffic control sent us on a meandering tour of the cloud bank east of Castle Rock. All I could see from my window was the uniform white of the cloud; when I checked the flight track later I saw that we had made at least one complete loop.

I arrived at my employer's office in Boulder just in time to meet two of my former coworkers for lunch -- I met them more than a decade ago and they now both work for Google in Boulder. I worked from the Google office in the afternoon, noticed that the internal directory picked up the calendar entry I had placed saying "working in Boulder" and showed the Boulder artwork at the top of the page (rather than the normal Seattle artwork) called into a meeting, then went to Finkel & Garf in Gunbarrel in the evening to meet up with a handful of people I used to work with at Qualcomm. I sent an e-mail to the Qualcomm Boulder alumni mailing list (mostly people who got laid off the same time I did), and got six other people to join me -- most of whom I hadn't seen since leaving Qualcomm more than three years ago -- so I counted that as a successful evening.

Friday, 24 May

The clouds cleared overnight, giving me a stunning view of spring in Boulder from the fourth-floor cafe in Google's new Boulder office, complete with some spring snow dusting the top of Bear Peak and Green Mountain.

Bear Peak and Green Mountain with spring snow
Bear Peak and Green Mountain with spring snow

I stayed at the Hyatt Place at the corner of 30th and Pearl, basically across the street from the Boulder office. I worked from the office during the day on Friday, meeting up with my old team lead and (briefly) manager from App Engine, who moved to Boulder to work as a program manager. In the afternoon I walked over to 3333 Walnut, where my father's company moved him in the summer of 2000, an tried to remember anything about the building, without much luck.

In the evening I drove to the Pearl Street Mall and walked down the length of the mall, trying to remember what had changed and what was still the same. My dominant impression was that most things were the same: the same shops (running the gamut from the quirky to the corporate) occupied the same spaces selling the same things, in about 90% of the shops I saw.

For supper I met Doug Young (who was a co-founder, and my boss, at Morphlix, the short-lived startup I worked at a decade ago) and a group of people he knew, sitting at the "avocado table" at the Rio Grande.

Saturday, 25 May

I went for a run on Saturday morning, heading east along Goose Creek to the path on the far side of Foothills Parkway, then west along the Boulder Creek Trail. It's been years since I've been on any of these trails -- even when I lived in Boulder I didn't get there very often -- but I spent enough time on these trails that I immediately felt at home. The morning was bright and clear, and spring was in full swing: the grass was green and the creek was full an the cottonwood trees climbed high, their bright green leaves glistening in the morning sun. At one point I saw what might have been an African national running team on the trail, running effortlessly in the opposite direction in matching track suits.

It was on the run, though, that I first felt the impact of the higher elevation. After three years living at sea level, my red blood cell count has dropped to levels more natural to lower elevations, and I struggled to maintain my normal aerobic pace and soon grew tired. This did not bode well for my performance in the Bolder Boulder in two days.

After breakfast I dropped by Red Rock Coffeehouse, one of the many coffee shops I visited while living in Boulder. Between 2012 and 2014, I would occasionally drop Calvin off at preschool at Boulder Journey School in north Boulder, then drop by Red Rock Coffeehouse on my way back to my job in Gunbarrel. One of my favorite drinks there was a Colorado spiced latte; they didn't have it on the menu but I asked and they made one for me and it was just as I remembered.

I took a roundabout drive to downtown Boulder, heading up Iris to Broadway, then taking a detour up Maxwell to 4th to drive by the old site of Boulder Junior Academy, the school I attended from fifth to tenth grades, now subdivided into an infill housing development retaining nothing I remembered. I drove by the old Boulder Community Hospital at Alpine and Broadway, now closed in favor of the new campus on Foothills, but still the site of twenty-five-year-old memories of my grandmother's last days.

Downtown Boulder and Green Mountain
Downtown Boulder and Green Mountain

I finally made it to downtown Boulder, and climbed to the top of the city parking garage at 15th and Pearl to take in the view of downtown Boulder laid out in front of the spring green on the foothills.

I picked up my Bolder Boulder race packet, then decided I needed more Colorado flags in my life, so I stepped into Where the Buffalo Roam and bought a t-shirt. The shop is still in the same little storefront in the 1300 block of Pearl where I'd visit half a lifetime ago in the summer of 1999 when working as an intern on the third floor of the same building; some of the staff in the store might not have been born then.

I dropped by the Boulder Creek Festival, which was very much as I remembered it; though at least one of the foot bridges over the creek had been replaced to improve the flood channel after the flood in 2013, and similar work was still underway where the creek (and the bike path) passed under Arapahoe. I returned to Pearl Street to eat at Falafel King, barely changed in the last twenty years.

I drove past my old house in Gunbarrel North, where I lived from 2012 to 2016. It looked much like it had when I left -- it was still the same color, and most of the landscaping was the same. The aspen on the front corner had been removed (they were clearly dying, but not quite dead yet, when I left), but the ugly pine shrub around the base of the trees had somehow been spared. The Russian sage was taking over the front yard; the yard looked like it could use a trim but was otherwise in good care in the hands of its new owners.

Eastern lake at Twin Lakes
Eastern lake at Twin Lakes

I walked around Twin Lakes, one of my favorite places to walk (and run intervals) when I lived and worked in Gunbarrel, then stopped for afternoon iced coffee at Tod's -- the closest coffee shop to my house in Gunbarrel.

In the evening I joined Doug Young and CU physics professor (and Nobel Prize winner, for demonstrating Bose-Einstein condensates in a lab) Eric Cornell at a professional soccer game in Commerce City: the Colorado Rapids hosting a soccer team from Columbus, Ohio at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. (I don't think I've met very many people with their own Wikipedia pages, aside from authors at book-signing events; I'm fairly certain I've never met anyone with a Nobel Prize before.)

When we reached the stadium Doug handed me a jersey and a scarf so I could dress in the costume of the local soccer fans and go incognito among them and learn their ways. Doug gave me phrases to practice, including "are you blind, ref?" and "instant replay is ruining the game".

Jaeger dressed up as a soccer fan
Jaeger dressed up as a soccer fan

Doug picked season tickets sitting half-way up the stands at the center line of the field, giving a direct view of the presentation of the colors and the national anthem, and a commanding view of the entire field.

Rapids vs Columbus at Dick's Sporting Goods Park
Rapids vs Columbus at Dick's Sporting Goods Park

My only prior experience watching soccer was a few minutes of the World Cup. I found it easier to follow the action of the game when I could see the whole field, and I could tell whether the ball was right in front of the goal (thus representing an opportunity for a goal) or far from the goal. I tried to follow the strategy of the game, and mostly just watched the opposing teams run back and forth on the field, yelling as appropriate when the Rapids scored their goals.

Jaeger et al at a Colorado Rapids soccer game
Jaeger et al at a Colorado Rapids soccer game

In the end the Rapids won, providing an enjoyable sportsball experience.

After the Rapids vs Columbus game
After the Rapids vs Columbus game
If people are going to read the intimate details of my life, I might as
well take the opportunity to bore them a little with mundane accounts of
trivial events told in run-on sentences in the process.
- Bitscape, 05 May 1999, in a Random Ramblings entry