Time: About 4:30 pm (Denver to Colorado Springs)
Wait: about 40 minutes
I meet Kathy off the County Line light rail exit near the intrusive shopping mall that blockades the view of the Rocky Mountains in the background and intrudes upon everything, even the people weaving in and out of parking stalls to buy and collect things they will most likely rarely use, and then throw away. Kathy is wearing her large sunglasses, and wears a shirt that says “GET SLOPPY” on the front and on the back reads “Sloppy Joe’s.”
She wears a big smile, but underneath the smile there is a lot on her mind. After some small talk, she begins telling me of her life’s grievances within the last week, and the space we inhabit in the car becomes something like a confessional booth. Kathy rolls down her window part way with the pair of vice grips she has where the door handle used to be. She takes out a Capri cigarette and lights it, exhales a cumulus cloud of smoke out the window.
She tells me that this week she pretty much lost her job, as the woman she was taking care of “talked bad about her” and accused her of “taking advantage of her.” She tells me that she thinks and is afraid that one of her sons is doing drugs, and she shows me a five page text that he had sent her, with all kinds of vulgarities and ways that no son should ever talk to his mother.
I look at her, my jaw dropped. “I don’t know what to do”, she says. “His brother is graduating high school in a few weeks, and we’re not on good terms now, and his Dad is convinced that he is doing fine He lives in Vail, and won’t answer any of my calls, snowboards all of the time.” There are always two sides to every story, and I get the impression that I’m missing a lot of details here, but it’s not right of me to pry. I feel for Kathy, and I get the feeling that a lot of people don’t really listen to her in her own life.
I try to make her feel better about the situation, not all life is comfort and fun. Some people just have it bad. She shows me a letter that she wrote to the lady she was taking care of and has me read and proof-read it, to make sure that it comes across OK, I think. It reads with a tone of defense mixed in it, I can’t help but feel and think, but I do not say this.
Kathy stops and grabs a small piece of iron from along the railroad tracks, putting a small magnet to it to be sure. This is something she collects and turns in once she has a substantial amount. She drives west off of the main road to say hello to a friend she knows, who is helping build an upscale suburbia home up on the ridge not too far off from the highway, closer to the mountains. We take a private dirt road to a house that consists of now little more than a frame. It is a large home, and overlooks a 360 view of the entire Front Range and surrounding areas.
“My friend is a pilot, and his wife is a flight attendant”, she tells me. “They are really nice people, and they both have a lot of money.” We trek through the mud up to the house on the ridge and meet a man named Keith. He has slicked back grey hair and a fading handlebar mustache.
Keith is working at a table saw and cutting 2 X 4s for different pieces in the house. I go shake his hand and he pulls his hand back, and laughs. “Be careful, I broke my pink the other day”, he says. I ask him how long he has been laboring on the house. “Too long”, he cracks, contemplates, and then adds, ” for every board we have put up, we’ve had to change it about four times. They can’t make up their minds.”
We both agree that this is conducive to job security, regardless of how aimless and redundant it may be; at least Keith has a nice view of the mountains that surround him. He says that he has occasionally seen a few bobcats prowling around the area.
We hang out for a little while longer, and then decide to leave, careful not to get Kathy’s car stuck in the thick clumps of mud that are on the lot and veer over the edge of the cliff that would bring us to a certain demise. Kathy gives me a ride to the usual spot that I hitch from, but not without grabbing another chunk of iron off near the train tracks and checking it with her magnet.
She drops me off and I wait along the exit, the wait adding up to about forty minutes. As usual, some people laugh, and one guy actually flips me the bird, fully extended, as rigid as possible, the first time anyone has ever reacted in this way. I almost wish he would have stopped, out of my curiosity of what his problem or hostility is towards either me or hitchhikers. Perhaps he is just a loser that hates his life. At any rate, he doesn’t pick me up, so I don’t have to spend 30 minutes stuck in his car with him. The boring people never pick you up, and neither do the assholes.
About forty minutes later, a scrawny looking guy with red hair picks me u in a Ford Escort and introduces himself as Rick. I jump in the car, throwing my bags in the back of the car. He tells me that he is originally from Wasilla, Alaska, where he “got arrested for having over an ounce of pot” on his possession. “They don’t mess around in Alaska”, he tells me. “If you get caught with any amount of pot, they don’t mess around.”
It’s a strange way for someone to introduce themselves, but this is part of the whole experience— someone who hitchhikes can’t uncomfortable with stepping outside of their comfort zones. If you are that uncomfortable, I suppose you’d be better taking a taxi or a bus. I learn to appreciate the kindness of strangers, through random acts of kindness, regardless of who the person is or where they come from; there is that human commonality.
He offers a bowl of his home-grown pot. “I grow my own medicinal marijuana”, he tells me. “That’s why I moved to Colorado.” Rick says that all of his home-grown green-ness is hydroponic, meaning that it is grown in a soil full of rich nutrients and water mix rather than just ordinary soil. He is one of the Colorado implants who has moved here for the lax Colorado laws. He takes a long, smooth inhale of some of his Grade A green and once it’s down to the bottom, shows me the patch of black that is left and points to it and says, “See that? You never see that in the batch that I grow. A lot of people do not realize it, but that’s actually chemicals that have not been removed from the pot. I run my plants through literally gallons and gallons of water to filter it all.”
There is something to the manner that Rick speaks, as if his thoughts are carefully calculated and he is much aware of what is going on. ” I’d offer you a cigarette, but I know you don’t smoke, based on the fact that your fingernails are clean”, he tells me. “Heavy smokers have discolored fingernails, so you can tell they smoke regularly.”
“You learn to be observant in prison”, he tells me casually.
Rick also talks about how when he first came to Colorado, his was completely blown away by the traffic. “When I first came to Denver, having lived in Alaska all my life, I could not believe it”, he says. “I had never experienced a traffic jam like that. Driving through Colfax Avenue in Denver during rush hour, I literally turned to my friend and told him, ‘please tell me that Colorado Springs is not like this.”
On that cue, we run into some heavily congested traffic on the way into Colorado Springs and drive around off the highway for a detour.
Rick has a curious view on the city of Colorado Springs, and seems to be convinced that it is the “13th most dangerous city in the United States.” From my experiences in Colorado Springs, I can’t say that I immediately agree with this as I’ve never felt unsafe in the city. He sees me reaction, and says, “Just watch the Colorado Springs news one of these times. You’ll see the news anchors casually talking about horrific crimes that happen on a regular basis.”
He has strong viewpoints on the marijuana laws, especially the criminalization of marijuana, given that he makes his living off of growing and selling the plant. “Unfortunately, for me, it’s no longer a hobby”, he tells me. ” I make my living off of this. I just hate how they make criminals out of people that like me are not really criminals. It’s not like I’m going to smoke an entire joint and go beat my wife. Instead, you know, I might ask for someone to please pass the Cheetohs.”
Rick tells me that he is also a manager for a local Jiffy Lube, although he says this is “not his profession.” He plans to stay single and never get married, and some people, including his close friends and family, think this is strange. “We live in an era of mass conformity”, he says. “Thinking for yourself is almost never encouraged.”
He tells me about a certain kind of Bong that he has at home, called a Zong, which is an expensive brand name bong that is highly sought after apparently.
Rick says that he has gotten pulled over when driving fast in the snow, having acquired the driving skills while living in Alaska. “Usually, I just hand them my Alaskan drivers’ license, and that’s that”, he tells me with pride. “A lot of accidents happen because people do not know the proper way to stop their vehicles on the downhill”, he tells me. ” You have to learn to downshift the engine and not use the brakes.”
Rick likes to talk, never faltering in his speech, his body language somewhat rigid and relaxed at the same time, some kind of strange paradox of contrasts.
We talk philosophy and religion a bit, and on religion he says, ” I spent a lot, lot, lot of time reading the Bible in jail. It is a book of thousands of contradictions, and it’s crazy to me to think that only the first three books are the original books. The rest of the books, are only interpretations of the first three books. So ministers and pastors are making interpretations of interpretations. Even so, we don’t even know where the first three books came from.”
On philosophy, he theorizes. ” I have this idea that most people think is crazy. Kind of a dangerous thought, that nobody wants to hear, kind of like the early Europeans thought that the world was flat. I wonder, what if we were created by other being originally, and are only a living experiment for our creators to observe? What if the only reason that we were created, knowing that we are inherently violent creatures, is to see how long our species lasts without killing ourselves? If you think about it, society has only been truly integrated globally for the last 200 years, maybe not even that, since the height of colonialism and industrialization.”
He takes a solid hit off the bowl and tells me that this weekend he is going to some kind of 4/20 gathering somewhere in Colorado. ” It’s ridiculous in Colorado”, he says. “When they arrest you, they give you your pot back as part of your possessions. That’s how lax the marijuana laws are here in comparison with other states.”
It’s been a strange experience, but good just the same. I ask Rick if he reads often, and he tells me that he “doesn’t read much as of late, as he had nothing else to do but read while in prison.” He takes a copy of one of my books anyways, says that he will “for sure read it.”
He drives off.