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Paul Andersen: Tripping the lights in ‘the Mile High City’

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The Frank Sinatra impersonator strutted the stage, his hat tilted back, a microphone in one hand, a drink in the other. Amid rapid fire repartee with the adoring audience, he belted out, “I did it my way!”

My wife, Lu, and I were among the bobbing heads at the recent 1940s White Christmas Ball in Denver where a thousand revelers costumed in 1940s fashions stepped back in time to blaring big band swing jazz.

Hundreds of couples were swinging and singing in two ballrooms decorated for the holidays. The theme was the Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye film “White Christmas,” complete with stage sets, costumes and a festive mood that permeated the Hyatt Regency with a buzz of excitement.

Meanwhile, the Parade of Lights spectacle passed on the streets below with marching bands, illuminated floats and vehicles of every description, all festooned with brilliant lights and a cacophonous vibe that reverberated through the avenues and reflected off the skyscrapers.

The night before, we had taken in a beautiful Claude Monet exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, a display equal to any larger metropolis. On a stroll down Broadway, we gazed at impressive artwork decorating the walls of the Denver Public Library where a well-curated Western exhibit is free to all.

For a self-professed country mouse whose distance from and disdain for urbanity has long reflected a kind of inverse snobbishness, Denver was a pleasant discovery, a city that has morphed from cow town to cosmopolitan in the 30 years since I last deigned to set foot there.

Bike paths, riverfront parks and mountain vistas defray to some extent a vast belt of suburban sprawl and the messy homelessness that pervade every American city. There’s no denying Front Range water grabs purported to slake the insatiable thirst of green-envy desert cityscapes, but I still found Denver appealing.

Getting there was an easy three-hour drive, which was a nice opportunity for this long-married couple to catch up on things beyond the fundamentals of domestic logistics, while the car CD player belted out Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Fats Domino.

As aspiring retirees eager to explore modest doses of leisure time, we are striving to break out of stay-at-home necessities. And though Denver may seem provincial to jetsetter boomers, there’s no need to fly to New York or Chicago when Claude Monet and Glenn Miller come to the Rockies.

After marveling at Monet’s scenes at Giverny and swinging ourselves dizzy to “String of Pearls,” we strolled the 16th Street Mall rife with temptations from boutique chocolates to stylish haberdashery, for which our resistance was evidently low.

Growing up in suburban Chicago, my misspent youth was rich in urban adventures at boozy jazz clubs and smoky blues bars. In subtler moods, I studied the masters’ brush strokes at the Art Institute and strolled “The Magnificent Mile.” Fifty years later, I’m ready for a mild return to urban stimulation, which Denver provides at nominal cost.

If I’m harboring a little guilt for appreciating one of the fastest sprawling cities in the U.S., then I’d better get over it because Denver is there, and we’re just three hours away, and it’s probably good for an old fogey to appreciate something beyond my cozy little niche up the Frying Pan where any safe haven can become a cloistered cell.

We were happy to get back home Sunday (always are), to where it’s quiet, to where mule deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, ospreys, owls and the predominance of wild nature buffer us from the crazy spinning world we try to keep at arm’s length.

Denver is now quite attractive for an occasional urban fix, a rewarding cultural infusion of diversity, art and entertainment — all enriching and gratifying in proportion to our rural lives.

The first thing I did when I got home was to prop up an easel on the kitchen table, lay out my wife’s brushes, open a set of water colors, and paint a landscape. My amateurish foray into art was a far cry from Monet, but I enjoyed splashing around with colors and forms and imagination as did Monet — all the while humming “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.


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