Best of Denver

Drew Bixby looks back on five memorable years in Denver

The last time I sat down to really think about and articulate my love for Denver — exactly five years ago, in the introduction to the Best of Denver 2006 — I hardly knew her majesty, the Queen City of the Plains. A transplant of only six months, I wasn't yet familiar with every corner of commerce and culture, but I knew enough to know that Denver had "managed to tame me and win my heart — if not forever, then close enough." Looking back, I realize I had no idea what Denver was capable of.

"I consider my home not just the place where I live," I also wrote, "but a reflection on who I am and who I'm becoming." Five years later, I am still becoming that person, but I am a university writing instructor, a husband, a homeowner, a book author and a father of twin daughters. Each of these accomplishments is so intimately connected to this city that I wouldn't be able to separate them in my mind if I tried.

Before accomplishing anything, however, I struggled: to make my rent and pay more than the interest on my credit card bills; to find my place in a city where I knew no one and had no family; to fight the urge to flee. Shortly after my original love letter to Denver was published, I was riding my bicycle home after narrowly avoiding arrest for playing drunken P-I-G with a friend in an elementary-school parking lot at 2 a.m., and I remember thinking that one of the things I both loved and loathed about Denver so far was that no one was on the streets in the middle of the night. Even Denver's busiest streets get some sleep between bar close and breakfast, and I liked the silence. But I also remember feeling really alone. What's so great about a place at rest? I wondered. And where do I fit in? 

Soon after, momentum took hold of my life and hasn't let go: In May 2008, I finished a master's degree and accepted full-time employment from the University of Colorado Denver; I might have made a move for somewhere else — more school, for example, or a job near my home town — but the thought never crossed my mind. In June 2009, I stood between two columns of the Memorial Pavilion in Cheesman Park and married my longtime lover under breathtakingly blue skies, in front of 150 miles of panoramic mountain views. I didn't leave this amazing place to get hitched near family; I made them come here, and then I made them close out my wedding reception atop Lodo's Bar & Grill singing Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" while the sunset reflected off Coors Field. In October 2009, I bought a hundred-year-old brick house in the ethnically diverse Cole neighborhood, where my wife teaches kindergarten; "Maestra!" the kids still shriek whenever we're out for walks or fetching the dog at the park across the street, "You live here? With us?"

For more than a year — during the master's degree and the marriage and mind-numbing process of first-time home buying — I was getting to know a cross-section of Denver that many natives never do: its dive bars. The "research" process that I eventually turned into a book-length guide to the greatest taverns, saloons and honky-tonks a mile high took me to every crook and crevice of Budweiser-soaked, cigarette-stained Denver proper; it swallowed me a boy with a small crush on a city, and spit me out a man smitten with his chosen home.

I've heard many a new father say they only truly learned how to love after the birth of their first child. I'm not sure how to reconcile such a wonderful sentiment with the nagging truth that it's just not true. Not for me, at least. I knew how to love long before my twin daughters were born in the waning days of 2010. Which is not to say I don't love them with the whole of my being and at the expense of people and things I used to love in a similar way. To both positive and negative ends, I have always tried to love everyone and everything in my life with something resembling reckless abandon, and this includes place.

Will my budding family stay here forever, my babies inhaling and exhaling every last breath in full view of purple mountain majesties? I still don't know: These days, for my wife at least, the pull back toward the Midwest and extended family feels almost gravitational. But my girls will always be natives, and if I drag them away from here, I hope they kick and scream and come running back to bury roots of their own. I hope they know what it feels like to be tamed by this place and love it as truly as I have. And still do.

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Drew Bixby