To Vail and home again
I’ve been to Denver a number of times to visit my friends Dave and Melissa, but when I began planning my most recent trip out there, I decided I wanted it to be a little different.
The last time I went to Denver, I had a broken wrist and Melissa was eight months pregnant. We watched television and played board games. As vacations go, it was pretty low-key.
I wanted this trip to be a little more exciting. I love hanging out and playing board games, but I didn’t want to spend my entire trip in Dave and Melissa’s living room. I wanted to get out of the city and see some of Colorado’s incredible scenery. I wanted to go someplace new.
And my wishes were granted.
My trip coincided with Dave’s work retreat in the town of Vail, home of the famed ski resort. None of us ski (and the ski season doesn’t begin until later this month), but we were all looking forward to a few days in the mountains, and a break from daily routine. As soon as we got on the road we began to relax, and it wasn’t long before sharp, rocky peaks covered with pine and aspen were looming above us, and the landscape had the look and feel of an old western. The sight of a herd of bison off Interstate 70 cheered me immensely. I was far away from home, and it felt great.
Vail is more than 8,000 feet above sea level, and this never ceased to amaze me, simply because you can’t go anywhere on the East Coast and be that far above sea level. Our hotel guide included a section on the effects of high altitude, which I read with interest, and the nearby botanical garden included an interesting array of alpine plants. We were so close to the slopes we could hear the steady roar of the snow-making equipment, and on one of our nighttime walks we were treated to an up-close view of a red fox, who eyed us curiously as we passed by.
The one thing I couldn’t shake as we wandered around was an odd feeling of dislocation: Vail was so nice, so sophisticated and upscale and expensive, that I was quite certain that I didn’t belong there, and that this was obvious to everyone we encountered. When I stopped by the lobby to get my non-functioning room key fixed, I steeled myself for suspicion and judgment, half-expecting the woman behind the desk to peer at me and ask, “What exactly is a person like you doing in a place like this?” But that didn’t happen, and I’ve concluded that if you show up in a place like Vail, people conclude that you’re rich, and treat you fairly well.
Behind the scenes, we were trying not to blow all of our money.
We ate the free breakfasts at the hotel, leftovers for lunch and drank the beer and wine we’d brought from Dave and Melissa’s house.
Despite our relative caution, we ran into trouble almost immediately, at the bowling alley. “Bowling is $50 an hour,” the woman at the door informed us. “Plus shoes, which are $5 a person.” We nodded, as if this was totally reasonable, and headed toward our lane, marveling at the giant flat-screen TVs lining the wall; comfortable sofas; soft, pastel lighting; and mouth-watering menu. The place had the look and feel of a swanky nightclub.
“This isn’t typical,” Melissa informed her 3-year-old son, Milo, who was bowling for the first time. “Most bowling alleys do not look like this.”
We ordered appetizers, dinner and drinks and bowled for about an hour and a half. Needless to say, there was more than a little sticker shock when our bill arrived, and we could see just how much our extravagance had cost us. After we had regained consciousness and settled our tab, we agreed to eat our next two dinners at restaurants with entrees of $20 or less. And although such restaurants are difficult to find in Vail, they do exist.
Bowling in Vail was actually a lot of fun, and I’ll remember it for a long time. But it also served to reinforce my nagging sense of dislocation, of not quite belonging in Vail.
My attempt to find a convenience store in downtown Vail had a similar effect.
One afternoon, while Dave was at a meeting and Melissa was putting Milo down for a nap, I headed out for a walk, thinking it would be nice to get some exercise and duck into a convenience store for a Coke. I walked and walked, but never did find what I was looking for, although I could easily have purchased a snowboard, eyeglasses, a fancy glass sculpture and high-end ice cream on my travels. Nice as Vail was, I found myself yearning for the little convenience store around the corner from my Albany apartment.
Toward the end of the week, we became dimly aware that something called the Frankenstorm was headed toward the East Coast, and decided to turn on the TV and see what was happening. The weather report was fairly ominous, and we agreed that my chances of making my return flight on Monday were not good. I was perfectly happy to extend my vacation, and when Delta finally emailed me to inform me that my flight was canceled, I ran upstairs and said, “Great news! I can stay!”
By then we were back in Denver, and reality was starting to intrude. Melissa was fretting about work, Dave was planning meals for the week and I was overcome by a sense of responsibility — a sense that I should try to get home as soon as possible, even though I might prefer to stay in Denver for another week, basking in the mild weather, gazing at the mountains and playing games with my friends.
I kept hoping for another cancellation, but it wasn’t meant to be. I managed to get on a Tuesday flight, and by 7:45 a.m. I was in the air. My sense of sadness was palpable; I truly believed that I belonged with my friends, though not necessarily in Vail, nice as it was. But I also felt that I belonged back in the Capital Region, and when I finally stepped inside my apartment, after a long day of traveling and work, I sensed that I was in the right place.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.