On the road | AspenTimes.com

On the road

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

Nate Peterson is heading to Arizona next week for Spring Training. As far as I’m concerned, he can have his cacti, dry heat, golf, drinks with colorful paper umbrellas and bikini-clad Spring Breakers – OK, I’m a little jealous about that last one. I much rather prefer questionable foods that look like they were dispensed from a bus station vending machine (seriously, what is beef pizza?), pawn shops and surly gas-station attendants who throw a fit when you ask them where to find a bag of Funyuns. Prep playoff time is upon us. It’s the time to bear witness to and document history and, in some small way, take part in the journey. The time when a local team’s rise to prominence affords me the opportunity to travel this great state and visit some truly “exotic” locales.Enjoy Phoenix, Peterson. I’m more interested in exploring Colorado’s heart and soul – the chewy nougat center, if you will – in places I’d never visit had I not been given such an opportunity.No offense, Eaton. It’s time to grab a few notebooks, some Tums, a Tide pen and a pair of loose-fitting pants, gas up the Jeep and hit the highway. It’s time to bury my passenger’s seat with a mountain of discarded soda bottles (I tell people it’s part of my 401k plan). It’s time to showcase my own athletic prowess – you can nail a 25-footer, Cory Parker, but can you navigate Vail Pass clutching a Mapquest printout, an iPod, a 10-piece chicken nuggets and a 32-ounce Dr. Pepper?Sound exciting? Covering the playoffs is a joy. But the time I spend off the clock is hardly glamorous. In this period of fiscal uncertainty, I try to do my part when I’m on the road. That means no Courtyard by Marriotts, no upscale restaurants with parsley plate accents and soft toilet paper. The places I visit receive two bread crumbs, not two stars, in the Michelin guide. You can’t fully comprehend a locale’s milieu without a little mildew. Consider last year’s trip to the state volleyball championships in Denver. Instead of the comfort and security of the Radisson, I opted for a motel situated behind a Burger King and a questionable-looking Village Inn near Federal Boulevard. It was the kind of place that made the Albany bus station feel like the Magic Kingdom.The door to my room had one lock, a flimsy chain attached to the chipping, nicotine-stained drywall with what appeared to be two wooden screws and some Elmer’s. For the price of six Whopper value meals – with cheese – I enjoyed expansive views of a rusted chain link fence, an abandoned lot and a deserted skiff occupying two spaces in the parking lot’s far right corner. It was the kind of place that made you wish you brought shower shoes, where you returned your room keys through a hole in a concrete wall and felt the need to periodically check your car to make sure it still had tires and matching hub caps.And the people occupying the room above me sure sounded like they were Greco-Roman wrestling.I could be wrong.Then there was the hotel (and I use that term loosely) in Fort Collins during last year’s state basketball championships – I’d have to lose a bet to stay there again. The heater sounded like an over-exerted lawnmower engine, and I had the great fortune of bunking right next to the Michigan State hockey team. To best replicate the scent wafting through the complex, borrow a pair of shoulder pads after a month’s worth of two-a-days or, better yet, climb into one of Shaq’s size 25s. I remember turning over one night and, in the faint glare of the street light, spotting a hair on the adjacent pillow. After trying to deduce where on my body a six-inch platinum blond follicle possibly could have originated, I arrived at the only logical conclusion. Total consciousness overwhelmed me as I began to ponder what lurked under the covers – or, as I call it, the cocoon of uncertainty. Since I couldn’t remember the last time I had a Tetanus shot, I got used to sleeping in the desk chair.During three long days in Fort Collins (emphasis on long), I took in all the sights, from the veritable cornucopia of fast-food establishments to Best Buy, the pawn shop on University and Jiffy Lube.Money magazine calls Fort Fun the country’s best place to live. I’ve never heard of Money magazine.Since I didn’t need a tattoo or have any family heirlooms to trade for cash, it didn’t take long to exhaust my entertainment options. Zoos make me feel itchy, and I figured taking a brewery tour wouldn’t be “professional.” I was tempted to visit the Drunken Monkey but figured the company wouldn’t reimburse me for a receipt from the Drunken Monkey. (Shots of Jagermeister and Long Island iced teas apparently don’t constitute acceptable road-trip expenditures.)The city does have its high points. You can get a calzone after midnight, and you can’t smell Greeley.No offense, Eaton.All kidding aside, it is an honor to support our local teams in arenas and stadiums across Colorado. Here’s to hoping Aspen’s boys and Basalt’s girls basketball teams experience great success Friday, Saturday and in the weeks to come. Aspen hockey, it was truly a privilege to cover your state championship run last year. I was really looking forward to seeing you play this weekend in Colorado Springs. I hear it has an Olive Garden. Jon Maletz, a.k.a. “The Hammer,” is looking forward to his next trip to Fort Collins – let’s hope the city’s chamber of commerce doesn’t know what he looks like. E-mail him at jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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