Wednesday, February 18, 2009


So I went on vacation with Hubby to Colorado last week, and ever since, I've been asking myself where the story is. Where is the story here? What strikes me the most?

Hubby and I stayed in Breckenridge, a quaint little ski town way up in the mountains west of Denver. Don't get me started about Denver. I've never visited, and not sure I'd ever want to go on first glance. Nice airport, but the city itself is so FLAT. From the highway at least, Denver appeared to be a smoggy sprawl-filled industrial complex. High rises in the distance promised something more, some change in the desert-like scenery, but it came across like Charlotte, NC does. Flat, flat, flat, then BAM! High rises. Not aesthetically pleasing.

Breckenridge, on the other hand, is beautiful, albeit in a Swiss-chalet-rugged-Rocky-Mountain-High-meets-tiny-Thomas-Kinkade-Christmas-village kind of way. There's great looking abandoned houses there. I say great looking because they're all rugged and windblown like a derelict, falling-down homestead you'd find out on the prairie in Butch Cassidy or something. Buildings left over from when Breckenridge was a gold mining town. We passed a high school in Idaho Springs (on the way to Breck) and on the football field in huge letters was written, "Idaho Springs Goldiggers!" How awesome is that? Evidently the theme carries. Great beer in Idaho Springs by the way. Stop off at the Tommyknocker Brewery and Pub on your way to Breck and order a porter. You won't regret it.

The town of Breckenridge definitely has a Christmas-ey feel to it. Blue lights on the trees - lights everywhere actually. They looked beautiful against the constant snow falling each day we were there. Tiny flakes of constant light fluffy snow that packed well so you crunched when you walked. And you could walk everywhere as most of the restaurants, coffee shops, and ski gear and "crap" stores were located on Main Street. A crap store is a store you find in any vacation town. They sell souvenirs, tee shirts, ugly art that you love with three hot toddies in you but when you hang it up at home later you think, "CRAP!" You know, CRAP stores?

As I said, the whole town was adorned in tiny Christmas lights. Some shops even had holiday wreaths still on the doors, in February, and one coffee shop had a small Santa by the register. Which is where the story is. Finally. HERE is the travel story I've been searching for.

Every store, every street, every lane, every condo, light post, and sign had their holiday finery on. Christmas lights up. In February. It's like beneath the cheery veneer, Breckenridge is lost in time. As far as they were concerned, it was still December. Are they so lethargic they can't take down their holiday crap? (there's that word again) or are they trying to attract some form of tourist who seeks out stores like The Christmas Mouse, where they celebrate Jesus's birth every single day of the frikkin' year? Is it a ploy to attract business? Desire a magical Christmas ski village for your next vacatin? Why, step right this way!

It might be a ploy, because you see, no one was IN Breckenridge. Breckenridge was dead. Dead as a doornail. No one was there - yet another vacation town hit by the tanked economy. My husband skiied all day while I trolled the main drag, going into coffee shops for a latte, eating lunch (in an adorable little vegan restaurant called Amazing Grace, but more on that later). And everywhere I went, I was the only person in the place. Maybe 10-15 people on the street at the most.

Now you could argue it was because most people were skiing. This is a ski town after all, the weather was pretty good, so why wouldn't you be on the slopes? Except Hubby agreed the town was dead. He'd been here at the same time in previous years when it was positively PACKED with skiers. But this time? The lines at the lifts were non-existent. Trails uncrowded. We'd go to eat somewhere at 8pm and be the only people in the place, the proprietors giving us looks like they wanted to close up. I can't remember the last time I stayed so long in a restaurant I closed it down, but here we were doing it regularly. By going out to eat at 7:30! Very weird.

We would ask these proprietors if they had been hit hard because of the economy and they'd give us a look like they didn't know what we were talking about. Store clerks shrugging their shoulders like we were speaking Latin. I asked the concierge at the hotel if business was slow, and he gave me a look like, "No. We're fine. Just FINE," before saying just as much. But what I saw in his face tells me something else. Everything is clearly NOT fine.

Underneath all the Christmas-ey lights was a quiet desperation. A pleading. See the pretty snow? See the pretty lights? Doesn't it make you happy? Doesn't it make you want to spend money? Lots of money? This vibe of desperation that settled over everything like the constant snow depressed me. Because every day I explored Breckenridge I met so many super-friendly local people, business owners ekeing out a living in this small rugged little mountain town. Cut off from the rest of the world by the craggy Rocky Mountains. Moving here to rake in the dough from the rich Denver-ites and tourists who crave that ski rush. And here they are at the height of season sitting on their hands.

These folks are so genuine too. Really chatty and helpful and generous with their time and their courtesy. Small-town friendliness in a vacation spot? How often do you see that? Hubby and I remarked that we met not one rude person the whole week we were there. Breckenridgers exude a, "We're all in this together, so let's make it work," kind of feeling, despite the desperation of these times. It makes you want them to succeed. To win in this crap economy.

It was the snow and the skiing, and the natural beauty that took us to Breckenridge, but it was the people that will take us back. I just hope when we go, that I don't find my favorite coffee shops have closed. Because that would be a damn shame.


where i've escaped...

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