I headed north on Highway 666, unaware of this number’s modern-day association with the antichrist or the devil. (Some 15 years later, as a result of its Satanic connotation and periodic thefts of its official highway signs, the “Devil’s Highway” would be renumbered/renamed 491.) Scattered along my first 10 miles of 666, apparitions coalescing in my headlights, were some one dozen northbound hitchhikers, undoubtedly yet more Navajos. On the one hand, it was an odd sight: in a nation overflowing with cars and trucks, all these individuals afoot and seeking rides; on the other, it suggested a solidarity, a remarkable faith, surely tribal in nature, on the part of each and every one of these thumbers that, sooner or later, despite the obvious competition, he or she could count on a car or truck for a lift to Sheep Springs, Newcomb, Sanostee, Little Water, or Shiprock in time for the 10 o’clock news. Few, I sensed, are forever left by the wayside in Navajoland.
Although, that night at least, no thanks to me: I passed them all, wiping their existence away in the wake of my high beams. My current solitude was too delicious, too individualistic, too white man, obviously un-tribal. Meanwhile, some station on the right side of my AM radio dial was broadcasting Merle Haggard’s “No Reason to Quit,” the ultimate drunkard’s rebel yell (without the yelling, however, only Haggard’s incomparably elegant baritone).
After 70 more miles of darkness pinpricked by the occasional light of a house near to or distant from 666, I arrived in Shiprock, New Mexico, a veritable metropolis in this remote country, for the first time in a dozen years. At a Taco Bell, I purchased some Mexoid and a Pepsi to go.
Determined to get even closer to the Four Corners, I left Shiprock, heading west into Arizona. As I drove, I knew that somewhere not far to the south loomed the legendary formation that gives Shiprock its name, but I was unable to see it in the darkness beyond the lights of my car.
At a place named Teec Nos Pos, I pushed north on an even more remote highway, well aware that it was late, yet hoping that, in the light of a new day, I would find myself among those grand and colorful mesas and canyons, vibrating with broken rock, all that I associated with Moab. After some five miles, I paused at the junction of a road that, according to a sign, led to the Four Corners Monument. I consulted my map: the monument was less than a mile away. I stepped out of the car, its motor and lights off. When my eyes adjusted to the starlit darkness, I looked around: no grand cliffs and canyons, not even a manmade structure; just a bland, rolling, nearly treeless upland. Thus, my introduction to the Four Corners: a cartographer’s curiosity and some additional income for the Navajo nation (an entrance fee to the monument is required), but beyond that, not much. Small wonder each state provides only the merest corner of itself to the place, I thought.
I resumed my drive for a number of miles and then, exhausted, I stopped. Wary of sleeping on the ground so close to the highway, yet equally wary of bumbling off into the gloom with a loaded pack on my back without a flashlight (I’d forgotten it), I lowered the back seat of Little Red, raised the hatchback, and crawled in like a furtive high-desert creature. I was thoroughly confused, unable to determine which of four possible United States I was in, and the mystery amused me to sleep.
Dawn found me, to my surprise, at the top of a slope that led briefly down to a broad river, the San Juan, which I had skirted in Shiprock the previous night. I hastily repacked my gear and continued roughly north. I crossed the San Juan, which flowed through a dismal landscape of barren gray hills, its shoreline dense with trees yet to leaf out. Other than the highway and a littered parking area beside a brief trail that led to the river bottomland, the place was devoid of any traces of humanity. I passed a sign welcoming me to Colorado.
Upon climbing out of the river basin, I pulled the car over and had a breakfast. Hungry as I was, I would have liked five scrambled eggs smothered in chile verde, a side of chorizo sausage, and two 10-inch flour tortillas, but I settled for my stewed apricots and coffee. As I ate, I studied Shiprock, not the city, but the actual geological formation, the Navajos’ “rock with wings.” It stood 25 miles to the southeast, aglow in the sunrise, jutting above a horizon of dun-colored tableland like a lone, worn tooth of a saw blade.
Driving on, I turned, at a junction as desolate as the one that led to the Four Corners, onto a highway leading west to Bluff, Utah. After Aneth and Montezuma Creek, two reservation towns of ramshackle trailer homes, cars and trucks on blocks, muddy roads, and roaming dogs, I finally returned, just east of Bluff, to the red-rock country that recalled Moab. Bluff was a tiny, tidy town with a grocery store, motel, homes that were actually built there, and even some lawns. Great sandstone formations hugged the north side of the town.
I didn’t linger there. Under increasingly cloudy skies, I pressed on to a place northwest of Bluff with the alluring name of Valley of the Gods. I plunged and climbed through a massive canyon at the bottom of which ran Butler Wash. More gigantic rock formations appeared, although far more curvaceous than those I recalled in the Moab area. They stood upon a sea of the most beautiful combination of native soil and plant life I’d ever witnessed. Even under cloudy skies, the soil was vibrantly red as chile powder and dotted with diminutive green shrubbery, all occasionally punctuated by a juniper tree.
Shortly after turning north onto a road leading to the Valley of the Gods, I diverted onto a side road that led briefly to a place called the Goosenecks. Since breakfast, the San Juan River had been shadowing my journey, flowing meekly over the desolate land, nearly always visible. Then it seemed to disappear at Bluff. Now, some 20 miles from the village, I stood at a railing at the Goosenecks, staring at the same river one thousand feet below and flowing through a canyon whose convolutions recalled intestines; geologists call it an entrenched meander. The staggering geological transformation baffled me. At what point over those 20 miles, I wondered, did the pleasantly daylit San Juan make the plunge into this appalling underworld, shed its flimsy blouse for an overcoat? And why? And how? Staring at this spectacle, I had to wonder: Which had the greater appetite, the river for the land, or the land for the river?
After moving to Albuquerque, I was hungry to explore the Southwestern lands well beyond the cities and towns. My first exploration was to the Colorado Plateau country northwest of the city. The Plateau is a 130,000-square-mile, amoeba-shaped upland whose geographic center lies just west of a place known as the Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, uniquely among American states, meet. It is predominantly a land of mesas, canyons, badlands, buttes, and volcanic necks, of cracked, broken, and naked sedimentary rock; yet it also encompasses scattered mountain ranges, and such major Western rivers as the Colorado and the San Juan.
I wasn’t a complete stranger to it. Ten months prior to my arrival in Albuquerque, I finally visited the Moab, Utah, area, the locus of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and regarded by many as the premier destination of the Plateau country (although, today, Moab having exploded with residents and tourists, Abbey would surely disagree). I would visit Moab two more times before moving to New Mexico. Like Abbey, I am fascinated by this arid “red wasteland” of timeless, relentless rock monoliths―like ruins of ancient, fabulous civilizations―and yawning canyons. On all three occasions, accompanied once by family and twice by friends, I had approached it from west-central Colorado; now I would enter it alone from northwestern New Mexico―in Abbey’s words, the “way I wanted it, naturally.”
On a Friday afternoon in March, directly from work, I headed west on I-40. In Red’s rear was stowed my latest camping gear: a 1976 Kelty backpack, Sears sleeping bag, foam rubber pad, plastic ground cover, Svea stove, surplus-store mess kit, plastic cup, can opener, a can of baked beans, dried apricots, instant coffee, sugar, creamer, water, and my worn paperback edition of Solitaire. I had no idea where I would lay my head that night. Fifteen years earlier this prospect would have frightened me somewhat; now, I reveled in its possibilities. After all, I was now an actual New Mexican; a Southwesterner; a friend of foresters, loggers, and sawyers; and no one could tell me I was a stranger here.
On I-40, I was among the steady stream of westbound autos and 18-wheelers. I glanced south at the frequent freight trains on the Santa Fe Railroad (today, the BNSF Railway) main line, which through much of northwestern New Mexico is within sight of the interstate. I passed the pueblo of the Laguna Indian Reservation, a small, pale apparition on a hill overlooking the highway. At Prewitt, New Mexico, an array of towering sandstone headlands, rosy in the setting sun, began to appear just north of the interstate. According to my map, I was now skirting or about to skirt the southern edge of the Navajo reservation. I crossed the Continental Divide, a mere swelling on the land, a trifling imitation of its soaring, rugged, snowbound stretch in nearly all of Colorado. I passed an exit to the settlement of Rehoboth, named after a well in the Book of Genesis.
Out of curiosity, I switched on Little Red’s AM radio and began turning the tuning dial from far left to right. Almost immediately, at about mid-60’s kilohertz, I came upon an old favorite: Johnny Horton singing “Whispering Pines,” so I stayed there. At the completion of the recording, a voice, presumably that of a station announcer, came on. The variety of Chinese I’d overheard as a busboy at Denver’s Lotus Room years earlier was odd enough; the language of the announcer sounded like a recording of Chinese sliced and diced and then played backwards. Occasionally, however, some English would bubble up through the bizarre linguistic goulash: a numeral, “auto parts,” “Chevy pickups,” “Baptist,” “Four Corners,” “booster cables,” “chapter house.” After George Jones sang “Walk Through This World with Me,” the announcer returned with the strange lingo, but this helping included the utterance “66 KTNN, voice of the Navajo Nation.”
In a chilly twilight, I exited the interstate in Gallup, New Mexico, and, as the Stones’s rendition of “(Get You Kicks on) Route 66” played in my head, I motored down that city’s stretch of the former 66, which seemed as long as the western New Mexico horizon was wide. In what I presumed was the city’s center, the traffic on the five-lane blacktop was considerable. However, its businesses, primarily Indian merchandise stores and pawn shops on the south side of the thoroughfare, were all closed, with many storefronts obscured behind drawn scissor gates. Immediately on the north side of the street, the Santa Fe Railroad, heretofore consisting of merely two tracks, now appeared to swell to a dozen, with many of the tracks loaded with long, dark strings of freight cars. The string nearest to me was crawling westward.
Just a handful of pedestrians appeared along the way. A small group of men, each lean, broad-shouldered, and bearing a waterfall of raven hair―Navajos, I presumed―wandered through some trees and brush beside a chain-link fence that partially cordoned off Gallup’s Amtrak railroad station. A woman in a tee-shirt emblazoned with “GEORGE STRAIT” staggered east down the south sidewalk, her forward progress only slightly more than her lateral.
By now, I knew―from conversations with long-time New Mexicans, stories in Albuquerque newspapers, and Abbey’s musings in Desert Solitaire―of Gallup’s history of rampant alcoholism among its visitors from the vast Navajo reservation immediately to the north. On this Friday evening, I tried to imagine the bars of Gallup. Were they joyous places? Was that “cowboy,” George Strait, crooning on their jukeboxes, the Indian wars now obviously over, differences now reconciled, all forgiven, and let’s drink to that? Surely some of the bars were profoundly grim venues where sipping and light repartee were dispensed with because the object was to get hammered as quickly and cheaply as possible.
We destroyed their way of life and now expect all of them to remain sober? I thought.
Fifteen years earlier, had I been in Gallup, perhaps en route to Tucson or Phoenix to visit friends or relatives, I would very likely have entered one or more of these establishments, slumming, getting buzzed, as I occasionally did on Denver’s skid row. For there was a time, a generous time, when bars offered me laughter, male companionship, female companionship, and one fight (which I lost). I certainly never sought self-destruction in alcohol―honestly, who, initially, does?―but I often found comfort and occasional fortitude. Now, in Gallup, New Mexico, I was grateful to be free of the regular patronizing of bars of any repute, free of their predation. Today, I acknowledge the enormous complexity of alcoholism, including and especially Native American alcoholism.
I continued through Gallup, past its cold, dark buildings of brick and sandstone, without stopping. The last thing I noticed, while negotiating a bridge over the Santa Fe tracks, were two pairs of rails leading westward. Above their grime, the crowns of the rails, cleaned and polished by the wheels of billions of freight cars, held an eerie glow that seemed to defy the dying twilight: silver ribbons afloat on a black sea of desert that spread to eastern Arizona. Ah, to be borne along, to a destination, known or unknown, both agreeable, on a string of grimy, disinterested carriages of steel scented with the remote.
Later that first week, I left the city limits, motoring west and looping briefly through the rural stretches of Bernalillo, Cibola, and Valencia counties. In the distances I saw Sierra Ladrones and Mt. Taylor. I plunged into and out of the massive basin of the Rio Puerco; the basin contains a lone, barren hill, Cerro Colorado, its prominence─that is, its height from base to peak─roughly half that of the tallest mountain in my native New Jersey. (Now that’s big, I thought. Imagine the number of New Jerseys I could fit in this state.) I skirted the Cañoncito Navajo Indian Reservation (today the re-named To’hajiilee Indian Reservation of Breaking Bad fame) and sliced across the Laguna Indian Reservation, although I don’t believe I saw a single Indian. I saw countless mesas and massive ramps of broken rock that seemed to have sprung violently from the land like pieces of warped linoleum. I saw eroded rangelands of dust, destroyed, unbeknownst to me, by overgrazing. In the extinct settlement of Correo, New Mexico, I passed the ghostly ruin of the Wild Horse Mesa Bar, likely the last stop of many a cowboy and Indian. I drove Route 6, a remnant of Route 66, to Los Lunas; the highway paralleled the main line of the Santa Fe Railroad, and I kept pace with mile-long freight trains traveling 60 miles per hour. Returning north to Albuquerque, I shadowed the Rio Grande.
Fourteen months after meeting Linda, I landed a job as a computer programmer at an Albuquerque lumber company. Advised (translation: warned) by my new employer that I would be drug-tested in Albuquerque prior to my first day of work, before leaving Denver I did a six-day juice fast, confident, albeit with no scientific proof whatsoever, that it would remove any trace of cannabis from my system. (I was an occasional user.) On the last day of my fast─beyond hunger, my breath sweet, my mind calm and sparkling, my body feather-light and free of the distraction and ordeal of digestion─I arose early, got in my Mercury Lynx named Little Red, and made a triumphant farewell loop through central Colorado─Fairplay, Buena Vista, Leadville, Minturn, Silverthorne─bidding a grateful goodbye to the Colorado high country that had led me on a circuitous journey to my Southwest. Several days later, on a Valentine’s Day morning, Red and I headed south on I-25 to Albuquerque.
On another occasion, I drove down to Albuquerque to meet my father, who had flown into the city from New Hampshire, where he had retired, a widower now for three years. This was his second encounter with New Mexico, his first having occurred when, as an Army inductee during World War II, he rode an eastbound troop train across the southern part of the state. After Linda, whom my father had previously met in Denver, and I welcomed him at the Albuquerque airport, my father and I headed in my car to Taos, where we would spend the night and ski the following day. Dad had never been to the romantic northern New Mexico town.
On the ride north, my father, in the passenger seat, said little. Understandable: he had always been a man of careful words; plus, his left ear had been failing him for some time and he thus had difficulty conversing even in a car. Nonetheless, I could see his great interest, in his wide eyes and the continual swivel of his head, as we drove through ancient Santa Fe, shared the street with low riders in the pastoral town of Española, and hugged the Rio Grande, now January shrunken, in the winding cañon between Velarde and Pilar. Yes, I thought proudly, Dad is as fascinated by New Mexico as I am.
When we finally climbed out of the cañon, we were treated to what I had by now regarded as one of the most exhilarating views in the Southwest: to the west, the vast Taos plateau, fissured by the massive gorge of the Rio Grande; to the east, the distant town and pueblo of Taos, both nestled in the lap of the Sangre de Cristos. Then we passed through the woodsy hamlet of Ranchos de Taos, where a sign indicated the iconic St. Francis Church, which had been attracting painters and photographers from all over the world for generations.
By now, I couldn’t have been more satisfied, more grateful to The Land of Enchantment for the visual riches bestowed upon the two of us. Unlike me, my father loved to travel, and I so wanted him to fall under New Mexico’s spell. But when we entered the south end of Taos, and the highway ballooned into four hectic lanes on either side of which was, amid the litter, a dreary succession of hotels and fast-food joints, my father, without warning, dryly remarked: “Shitty town.”
“Shitty town.” Thus, Dad seemed to join the ranks of none other than D.H. Lawrence, who, decades earlier, derided Taos as “Mabeltown,” after Mabel Dodge Luhan, of course. (Luhan is “very wicked,” Lawrence once observed, “has a terrible will-to-power.”)
A bit stunned, I said nothing and drove on. Meanwhile, more amused than resentful, I thought: Well, perhaps it is “shitty”―when you live in a New England retirement community of handsome condominiums, manicured lawns, book and bridge clubs, a community garden, weekly trash collection and recycling, and cable TV, all located in a white-steepled Norman Rockwell village with a 150-year-old college, a lake with private beaches, a “Little Theater,” and a tavern serving crab cakes and shepherd’s pie.
My father’s estimation of Taos rose, however, once we reached the town’s center and he beheld the charmingly narrow streets, the aged pueblo architecture, the famous plaza with its majestic cottonwoods, and, especially, the Native Americans from the nearby pueblo and the town’s comely Latinas. After two martinis and a dinner of pan-seared trout at Doc Martin’s restaurant, and the promise of a night in a sumptuous bed surrounded by R.C. Gorman prints and traditional Hispanic woodworking at the Kachina Lodge, the Taos mystique had just about roped him.
The following day at Taos Ski Valley, Dad struggled for air in a heavy snowfall and called it a day after several runs due to poor visibility and a dearth of oxygen. Nonetheless, he was thrilled by the wind, snow, and vertiginous slopes of the southern Rockies. On the drive back to Albuquerque, in the cañon of the Rio once again, he reiterated, in his own straightforward and quiet way, his high regard for Linda: “She’s a good catch.”
While living in Denver during the next seven years, travel kept me in contact with the Southwest. En route to Arizona, I stayed in a motel in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I visited friends in Tucson and Bisbee, Arizona. I visited a cousin in Seligman, Arizona, where, on a chilly November evening, every street in the high-plateau railroad town was perfumed with juniper smoke from the many wood stoves of the town’s residents.
An image from one of these travels has never left me. One evening, in the New Mexico quadrant of the Four Corners region, a friend and I were racing along a deserted highway leading to the town of Shiprock. Up ahead, in the twilight, a half-dozen men, all in a line, appeared to be standing beside a wooden fence that paralleled the highway. “Funny time to be repairing a fence,” I remarked. However, as we passed them, we realized they weren’t exactly standing. They were leaning against the fence. Some were even draped over it. All were obviously dead drunk. Then, a lonely roadhouse appeared on the same side of the highway, and out of it staggered and weaved another procession of Indians. Our road map indicated that we were on the Navajo reservation.
Occasionally, out of a Kerouac-ian romantic inclination, I’d slum at the Gin Mill, once Denver’s most notorious skid row bar, and drink with Native Americans well on the path to alcohol-fueled oblivion. I wondered if their sad condition was due to the fact that they were trapped in the urban cauldron, wrenched from their Mother Earth, their rural roots in Arizona, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Florida. Thus, it surprised me to see, as our car hurtled along toward Shiprock and I sipped on a can of Bud, such pitiful self-destruction even in the pristine high-desert of northwestern New Mexico.
I’d much to learn.
Despite the satisfaction and pride I took in drilling, blasting, and mucking at Climax, and despite my increasing wealth, those high-country bugaboos, cultural famine and chilly weather, returned to dampen my enthusiasm for mountain living. Paperbacks, trout fishing, and Leadville’s mining museum were not enough to satisfy my cultural needs. As for climate, a running joke in Leadville is its two seasons: Fourth of July and winter. The Mosquito Range soars at its back, and at its front the Arkansas River valley sweeps up through unyielding conifer forests to the gray pinnacles─including Colorado’s tallest, Mt. Elbert─of the Sawatch Range. Above treeline, stubborn fields of rotten snow, filthy with airborne dust, stare down at the huddled Leadvillites even in August. Come mid-September in Leadville, where below-freezing temperatures overnight are not unusual, I actually looked forward to the “warmth” of my underground jobsite: the temperature at the level I worked was a constant 40 degrees.
Yet there was dependable relief 30 miles southeast of Leadville, offered by an old acquaintance: Buena Vista. On my days off, I’d occasionally drive there; buy a loaf of French bread, a block of Velveeta, and a bottle of Boone’s Farm “wine”; and head for those gentle hills of juniper and cactus just north of town. Even at midday in the dead of summer, I’d build a fire of juniper and enjoy the incomparable spice of its smoke. Then I’d dig my bare feet into the sand and relish the warmth, space, and light of the arid woodland.
The continuing drip drip drip of the Southwest.
A friend from my Summit County days, still living in the Colorado mountains, dangled the prospect of a job that would pay three times as much as I was making in Denver: working in an underground mine. So depressing was my employment situation in the city that I was willing to take another stab at mountain living. I rejoined my friend, who was now living in Leadville, Colorado.
I couldn’t imagine a town with a duller name, and I was oblivious to the fact that this name was inspired by a neurotoxin that was poisoning American children who, being children, had been for years eating the sweet-tasting chips of lead-based paint. Although Leadville, its colorless name notwithstanding, played a significant role in Colorado’s history, I had no interest in learning about it. I was back in the mountains only for the big bucks, and identification with the adventure, romance, and manliness of what was commonly regarded as a very dangerous occupation was a bonus. Despite no experience, I was hired as a molybdenum miner, working at a place on nearby Fremont Pass, 10 miles northeast of Leadville, called Climax.
At my job in the ski resort of Breckenridge, I had worked with no Latinos; today, I cannot recall engaging so much as a single Latino in Breckenridge’s various bars back then. The Climax mine, on the other hand, employed scores, if not hundreds, of them. They, too, wanted to make good money. They were overwhelmingly male and commuted from Leadville and the more distant towns of Buena Vista and Salida.
For the most part, I liked the Climax Latinos, for they were like everyone else who worked underground: basically happy, humble, and skilled union men who made extremely good wages, playfully taunted the shift bosses, owned homes, and drove new cars and pickup trucks; buried beneath hard hats, headlamps, ear protectors, thermal underwear, jeans, flannel shirts, rubber gloves, rubber boots, “self-rescuers” (emergency portable oxygen sources), and rain jackets and pants (the pneumatic rock drills showered water to keep the bits cool and suppress silicosis-causing dust), they shuffled and waddled through the caves and drifts like every other similarly dressed and accoutered miner. Swallowed in complete darkness, variously 300 to 600 feet underground, we were all one, each equally subject to a twisted ankle or the random plummet of a dangerous, if not deadly, rock.
Prior to my arrival in Leadville, a young Latino with whom I worked at the shipping clerk job in Denver had managed to sour me, albeit all out of proportion, on his culture. Tossing his voluminous shag cut, he strutted around the warehouse in his platform shoes and bell-bottoms, insisted that I look at wallet photos of all the Latinas (he claimed) he had bedded. No soft-spoken, gentlemanly Eddie Espinosa, he was an annoying, cock-of-the-walk urban Latino giving me my first taste of the toxic Latin masculinity known as machismo.
There were undoubtedly Climax Latinos given to machismo, although I saw it exhibited only once during the eight months I worked at the mine. One morning, as a bunch of us were headed from the parking lot to the “dry,” the building in which miners clocked in, got their gear, and prepared to descend into the guts of Bartlett Mountain, one burly hombre in a group of muchachos, walking immediately behind a Latina I’d seen working underground, cooed, “A beeg ass for a beeg man!”
I was certain the woman heard the remark. However, she simply smiled slightly without turning around. I had no idea what she was feeling, assumed she didn’t know the hombre. Today, feminists would likely characterize the remark as “controlling”; back then, the remark merely disgusted me. Sure, I reveled in my perceived bravado as a miner, but my sister had taught me to respect women, and this ape made me ashamed of and embarrassed for my gender. Yet I said nothing to him, for he was indeed “beeg,” “beeger,” in fact, than I. And, shy and verbally inept as I was in such a situation, I said nothing to the woman after we had all dispersed at the entrance to the dry.
In Denver, over the course of a year, I made new friends and rediscovered the joy of using a large public library, browsing a bookstore, playing a game of pick-up basketball at a public court, watching a first-run movie. I enjoyed the company of my sister, who left the mountains for the city about the time of my departure.
And I stepped into the classic Southwest for the first time, visiting New Mexico. My sister, her friend, and I drove to Santa Fe and lodged in a motel there. We visited the city’s historic plaza. We ate “Mexican” food (actually, New Mexican food) at its restaurants. What struck me most about the city was its large Latino population and preponderance of earth-toned “pueblo-revival” architecture, although at the time I was utterly unaware of New Mexico’s various Pueblo Indian tribes that for generations had inspired such architecture. I vividly remember playing word games in the car while returning to Colorado on I-25 in the high-plains northeastern New Mexico twilight. Yet I left northern New Mexico with no great desire to return anytime soon. Denver was still novel and exciting and thus I was set on establishing a life there.
Unfortunately, this meant enduring a succession of dull, unchallenging, low-paying jobs. I had settled in Denver with absolutely no career ambitions, no interest in how my bachelor’s degree in English would favor or disfavor me in the Denver job market. What I did for a living in Denver did not matter as long as it put a roof over my head. My interest was in eating, going to bars, smoking the occasional joint, reading, gazing at the mountains, and finding a steady girlfriend for the first time in my life. After all, though he could claim at least a partial Ivy League education (Columbia), Jack Kerouac wasn’t looking for the bottom rung of the corporate ladder when he first landed in Denver in the 1940’s; he was content to do manual labor in the city’s Denargo Market district during the day and party and dream romantic dreams on Denver’s Colfax Avenue and in the historic Colorado mountain town of Central City at night.
But I found myself discontented with working as a shipping clerk, forklift driver, shag boy for an RV and speed-boat dealership, and ditch digger. I was insulted by the pay these jobs provided. Yet I had no desire to return to college, get certification as a teacher, and teach in a Denver public school the English I presumably loved; no desire to get an advanced degree in English or begin the study of law, engineering, or business administration. And I was certainly above learning a trade such as plumbing or car repair. Meanwhile, I was still without a girlfriend. Now, I simply wanted to make more money, and one day in 1975 I was offered that opportunity.