Men jumping from cliffs, focused family, and Burqa Boy with a bag of bloody vomit.
Burqa Boy and I left Chama, New Mexico and headed north to Denver. We were looking forward to a three day stop in our rapid journey through the Rocky Mountains and Burqa Boy was eager to see an old college friend who awaited our arrival.
If Denver wasn't the capitol of one of the most diverse and beautiful of states, it would be as easy to overlook as Des Moines or Omaha. It's unremarkable skyline rapidly gives way to vast tracts of single story homes and strip malls that stretch from the flat farmland of eastern Colorado to the mountains in the west. The oldest part of the city has some interesting buildings, many of which have been converted to hip modern lofts whose residents zip about on shiny new scooters in the summer and behind teams of yipping dogs in winter.
But, Denver has one gem no other city has - something you will not find in Seattle, nor San Francisco, not even Manhattan. Denver has Casa Bonita.
Discretely tucked into the corner of a strip mall between a Wal-Mart sized pawn shop on one side and a equally gargantuan payday check cashier on the other, the pink tower of Casa Bonita looks like a marooned Quinceañera cake in a neighborhood where we're more likely to get mugged, raped and/or shot than eat dinner. But, the pleasant glare of high pressure sodium lighting makes the parking lot feel safer than the surrounding neighborhood as we stroll/race toward the giant fountain at the entrance.
Casa Bonita is Disneyland, compressed into a smaller space, outfitted with better food and fewer costumed characters. After winding through a line where our food arrives through a wall slot that carefully blocks any view of the kitchen, we're ushered to a table near waterfall plunging 25 feet into a pool below. Our host places a small red flag on our table which we're instructed to raise or lower in a code that summons more food, drink, or a woman offering a vast array of internally lit plastic toys. While we eat (the food is surprisingly good), lean boys dressed alternately in board shorts, pirate costumes and cowboy regalia, jump from the cliff in to the pool below. Its a foodtastic, fleshtastic, and kitchtastic - the trifecta of restaurants.
(The only disconcerting note about Casa Bonita is the armed guards with semi-automatic weapons that patrol inside the restaurant.)
Say Hello to James Dobson
Colorado Springs lies just south of Denver. Colorado Springs boasts the Air Force Academy, several megachurches, and the headquarters of the militantly anti-gay group, Focus on the Family. Of course we had to stop.
It isn't hard to find Focus on the Family - they have their own freeway exit. The sprawling campus features extra wide, mini-van friendly parking spaces, a visitor center, an odd underground theme park for the kids, and hourly tours of the administration building.
FOTF's visitor facilities are staffed entirely by women wearing the Christian denim version of a burqa, hair stiffed with ozone depleting chemicals, and just enough makeup to ensure their faces show no sign of joy. These women eyed us suspiciously as we approached and quizzed us thoroughly before allowing us access to the FOTF museum.
Burqa Boy wanted to run away, but I insisted on staying. Where else could we see James Dobson's original sport coat displayed behind glass?
Inspired by the family atmosphere, we paused before the FOTF sign for a little family make out session which was interrupted by the whine of incoming security on electric golf carts. Time to head south.
Onward to the Grand Canyon
As we headed westward across New Mexico, we were blown about by the strongest winds we've encountered on Road Trip 2008. People often ask if the Smart handles well on the freeway, especially in wind. Having seen a semi-trailer blown from the freeway as we crossed the state border, I can now say with confidence I feel safer than I would in a commercial truck.
The southwestern United States hosts some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country and Flagstaff sits in the middle of an array of amazing sites. There are the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments and...the Grand Canyon Deer Farm.
Who doesn't like to pet animals that you can't keep in a Manhattan apartment legally? $8.50 buys you access to a giant pen full of deer and $8 more gets you a plastic beach pail full of deer feed. Once you run the gauntlet of hungry deer and dispose of the bucket, you can pet miniature donkeys (a sign notes that these are the same breed that brought Jesus into Jerusalem), bison, reindeer, pot bellied pigs, and elk. The farm even hosts an orphaned elk which seems to believe the nearby bison is it's mother. It's as cute as a $2.50 Hallmark card.
On our final evening in Flagstaff, an elderly woman asked our help in getting her husband back to their hotel. Their evening walk had gone downhill when he experienced breathing difficulty. Hours later we found ourselves driving their car behind an ambulance as it whisked the husband to the hospital. The wife was too distraught to drive and we took her car so she could ride with her husband.
As we waited in the Emergency Room for news, a young boy near us was vomiting blood into a leaky hospital bag. Burqa Boy, ever helpful, jumped up to get another bag and handed it to the boy's mother. "Just put it underneath," the mother said, motioning Burqa Boy to the existing, dripping bag.
And that's when we changed our plans for prime rib dinner.
(Note: Several readers who asked if last week's reported dialogue was verbatim. Yes, it was.)
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