This past weekend, I flew to Chicopee, Massachusetts, to look at some babies. When my good friends had twins late last year, I immediately started planning to go and stare at them as soon as was humanly possible, because I knew these twins were going to be really cute and probably perfect. They were.
As we drove up Interstate 91 from the airport back to their home Chicopee, I was captivated by the aging trees and hundred-plus year-old structures. Living in the West, I often forget what it feels like to be around architecture that wasn't built during my lifetime. But it also brought me back to a piece I wrote a few months ago about the protective feelings I had about Denver as a place that was mine -- because I was a native.
My visit to Chicopee was great for many reasons -- I think it was the Donut Dip that sold me -- but the best part came as a post-trip realization: Denver isn't mine -- it's all yours, transplants.
See also: - From a Colorado native to a transplant: Your altitude problem is my attitude problem - Holyoke Mall, a time-machine back to the malls of yesteryear - A love letter to the town (I mean city) of Brighton, Colorado
I don't mean "it's all yours" in a sarcastic, shitty way; I mean it as in: "This magical place of the future known as Denver is made for you, new people."
Things can't stay the same forever -- much as I found out when Hooters closed its doors last August. I wasn't sad that the Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined "restaurant" was gone; it was that the structure had to be demolished. Located in a former White Spot, the end of this Hooters also signified the end of a gorgeous, mid-century modern building. The site will now be home to something new and improved, and it seems that the location is in good hands.
Along with a structural history, the story of that particular Hooters' location serves as a symbol of Denver's continuing ability to be a land of opportunity. When this first Hooters opened in Colorado 23 years ago, it was also the chain's first location west of the Mississippi.
The same story goes for the Target store just down the road from Hooters on Colorado Boulevard. As the Dayton Hudson Corporation began expanding outside of its Minneapolis home in the '60s, Colorado was the first place it decided to bring its new Target retail store. If you've ever been to the Glendale Target location on a Saturday afternoon, you know why Colorado was a smart start for the company almost fifty years ago.
The Denver-centric stories of these two national chains are not the sole reason Colorado is for the transplants; they are part of a bigger picture. When I was in Chicopee, I felt like the town wasn't small, or behind or even sleepy. It was just that the constant flow of progress hadn't been plowing through its streets for decades. The horizontal wood panels on school houses and general stores was allowed to age -- not just "look" aged. Neon signs burned brightly, selling the wares of their original intended businesses. Being there felt like time was passing at a natural rate, not the hyper-speed I experience when I'm in my home city.
But that hyper speed is necessary for Denver to continue to be the Queen City of the Plains. Our progress doesn't just come in the form of H&M empires, IKEA industrial complexes and Trader Joe's promises. It is also a hub for small businesses, startups and locally-grown and produced goods and services that eventually make their way across the country. I mean, we're the fast-casual capitol of the country, aren't we?
The close friend I was visiting in Chicopee had also lived in Denver for a bit (we crossed paths in New York City once upon a time, too) and remarked that in Colorado, seemingly "fake" jobs exist. We're a land of specialty yoga instructors, dog babysitters and entrepreneurs of services that the world doesn't know it needs until we create them.
I was born and raised in Colorado, but that doesn't mean this city is supposed to be mine -- or any native's, for that matter. The city grows and changes so often and so fast that many of us don't recognize it if we're gone for a while -- but I think it's supposed to be that way. Denver's natural state is one of progress, and there isn't a better place to be than in a place that keeps moving up.
I'm just glad Colorado doesn't have an ocean, or it might be too perfect to exist.
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Oh. wait. We've got Water World, one of the largest water theme parks in the country. That's got to count for something.