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REI: The real white house

A deeper shade of pale.
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As a Denver native, I’ve integrated myself into the culture of this city, knowing that on any given day I will see: someone in fleece; four forest green ski/bike racked Subaru station wagons; and that guy/gal who dresses in shorts, sandals and a parka with a hood.

Even so, as a black woman from Park Hill, I was taken aback when I accidentally unearthed the single largest gathering of white people I’ve ever seen -- which, by Colorado standards, is no small feat.

I was working on a freelance assignment and had agreed to meet an interview subject the following day at REI -- the huge monstrosity in downtown Denver that, I'm pretty sure, is divided into two zip codes and drinks from the Platte River. But I decided to take a dry run down there before heading off to have Bloody Marys with the girls. My life has been known to revolve around meetings and vodka.

I was amazed. In addition to three levels of parking, there were two -- count them -- two overflow parking lots stuffed with cars. Which is odd because white people bike everywhere in every season. And although I’d been near the store dozens of times, I’d never actually made the trek inside because, well, I don’t need a canoe.

I discovered that REI is a jam-packed collection of caps, cargo shorts, fleece, flip-flops and white people, many wheeling their offspring in rugged strollers made by Jeep. Not to mention all the sporting equipment one could imagine and an in-store Starbucks. Although it seems to me that providing double lattes to sporty types already giddy from the smell of new canoes could be as dangerous as dealing Mountain Dew to a four-year-old.

As I passed the 45-foot indoor climbing wall, I was blinded by a light from above. When I looked up, I realized it wasn’t florescent bulbs but the reflection off the pale yet toned thighs of a couple of guys ascending the wall. I turned away, however, not wanting to look up those khaki-colored cargo shorts.

And speaking of strange sights, I was a cause for viewing as well -- and not just because of the melanin in my skin. I was decked out in a snazzy sundress, heels and a clutch purse amid those wearing pants that zip into shorts. I probably looked lost, eyes wide, mouth agape bumping into mountain bikes, camping hats and no less than 7,792 backpacks.

Hey, I’m no racist: As the saying goes, "Some of my best friends are white." But if a race war is afoot, REI is the conclave. And given the supply of darts and access to bow and arrows, there may be cause for concern.

To show that I was not an enemy, I asked the guy, in fleece, where I could get a GPS. -- Elena Brown

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