9:10 left in the fourth quarter and my Broncos are down 7-34 against the Patriots. At this point I’m tempted to change the channel (even though I know I wont). Both my ex and my cat know that when the Broncos lose to leave me alone for at least two hours and sometimes up to a week.

I’m convinced that in order to be born in the Centennial State and particularly the Mile High City that you have to sign a contract to be a Broncos fan for life. But what is it that makes Denver such a wonderfully crazy sports town? It’s tribalism. At least it’s as close as we get here in the good old U.S.A.

When I lived in Vilnius, Lithuania I visited a family every month to make sure they were doing well, still coming to church and hadn’t killed each other yet. They were a mixed marriage, which was rare. The wife was Lithuanian and the husband was a very staunch Russian (their poor son). He was loud, obnoxious and we argued very loudly almost every time I went to eat dinner. I totally loved them.

One day as I was taking off my shoes upon entering their apartment, he shouted down the hall, “Currey, what are you?” To which I responded that I was a missionary. He wasn’t satisfied and asked what nationality I was. “I’m American.” I shouted back. He was indignant at this answer and said that there was no such thing. We went the rounds about this and finally I answered that I was Irish. This seemed to be the right answer in his mind and he smiled broadly. “So there! You’re Irish!” “No, I’m American.”

Then he shouted the word “отечество”. I hadn’t heard this word so I looked it up – Fatherland. “You Americans don’t understand this word. You don’t have a sense of it and that is why you will never understand the rest of the world.”

He was right. We as an American nation are all pretty much mutts. We don’t have a common ethnic heritage. We are a migrant nation. We don’t even sit still for long within our own nation. My Lithuanian and Russian couple could trace their lineage back over a thousand years in relatively the same area. I can trace my Colorado heritage back exactly three generations. Then it heads to Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. I’ve never even been to any of those states.

As most people know, I am fiercely proud to be from Denver. They also know that I will most likely never live there again. As an American, I’m not tied down to any particular area with a sense of Fatherland. But, no matter where I live, I will always have the Broncos to claim as my tribe.


The Unknown Soldier

I am older now than my father was when his father passed away. I barely remember my grandfather. I was five when he died. From the stories countless family members have told, he loved his grandkids very much, but also loved his liquor. He served in the navy during World War II and in the Army during the Korean conflict. When he returned home from duty, he worked with the United States Geological Survey on the Nevada Test Range. He was an eyewitness to countless mushroom clouds above ground and seemingly endless instrument readings below. And of course, in the end, it was cancer that did him in.

Among his children and grandchildren, he has almost a legendary rock star status. One like Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison, those that were gone before their time. It was his namesake that made us passionately proud to be Irish and to be from Colorado. My grandfather was cremated and shortly thereafter, one of my uncles took his ashes and decided to spread them around grandpa’s favorite fishing hole on the Grand Mesa in Western Colorado. This one act made him the pariah of the family for life and deprived the rest of us from saying goodbye as a family.

Almost 21 years later the first Veterans Memorial Cemetery was opened in Western Colorado. My family decided to have a memorial headstone placed. Although we know his body is not there, for the first time since his death we have a physical place to gather to commemorate and reflect upon his life. And so, on a brisk, late fall morning, my father and I decided that just the two of us would go and visit his headstone.

It was a perfect Colorado morning. Blue sky above with cirrus clouds sweeping as high as they could overhead. The leaves had all fallen off the newly planted trees and the tightly cut grass was doing its best to stay green. My dad and I had brought some tracing paper and some charcoal to try our hands at a rubbing on grandpa’s marker.

As we were kneeling in front of the headstone, both our hands touching the top of the granite I couldn’t help but reflect that this was the first time the three of us had been together in a long time. The experience that autumn morning was all the more poignant for my father who was in a sense reunited with his past with his future at his side.

After we were satisfied with a few rubbings of the stone, we stood up and I gazed toward the Grand Mesa and thanked God for my family right there under that beautiful Colorado morning sky.


Sugarhouse and the Feds

It’s one thing for a community to be buffaloed by a developer; it’s entirely different to be buffaloed by the Federal Government. The expansion of the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City has been ten years in the making and still counting. The glowing, white cube of progress for the Federal Court System in Utah will quite literally uproot one historic building (the Odd Fellows) and flatten another (the Shubrick). While there are upsides to the project for the overall downtown area, I am left scratching my head as to the short-term implications this expansion will have.

With the advent of new security rules for federal buildings after the events of September 11, 2001, the Shubrick building suddenly found itself in the crosshairs of demolition. Greater setbacks are now required for federal buildings and the footprint of the expansion overlays the current location of the Shubrick. The initial plans for the Moss expansion kept the Shubrick intact. A subsequent environmental study found no issues with tearing the historic building down. I find it astonishing that no subsequent economic impact statement was submitted on the issue. Are we to believe that it is just dumb luck that the Odd Fellows building survived demolition simply because it has an historical easement placed on it? Apparently so.

The Odd Fellows building is the bright point of this entire project. Not only has a beautiful historic building been saved, the sheer engineering feat of relocating the building across the street is tremendous. Not only does this move get rid of an unseemly surface parking lot, it bolsters the street wall along the north side of Market Street. When sold (at a loss by the feds), the building has the potential to bolster the burgeoning nightlife of the area.

The view plane on the south side of the street will not be as inviting or pedestrian friendly. While I’m certain the new building the GSA will erect will be stunning (particularly at night), the setbacks required on the block will almost completely erase any sense of density that the north side has. What is particularly grievous for me is that this is on a mid-city block, which has more of a feel of a dense, urban city than do our main arterials throughout downtown.

My biggest concern about the project is that it has the potential to be a Mecham/Sugarhouse debacle on a much larger scale. Odd Fellows will be moved by the end of the year, and if the Shubrick is demolished next year then we are really in for trouble. That would leave us with an almost empty block with no federal dollars for construction of the expansion until 2010 at least. With the current financial situation in the U.S., there is no guarantee that the groundbreaking date wont be pushed back even farther due to budget cuts. Which would leave the community watching a really painful race between buffaloes.

(I wrote this for an urban planning class last week)