Esteban Writes from Colorado

Esteban Writes from Somewhere

Where we’ve been:
Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
The Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park
Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder
Arapaho National Forest
Colorado Springs
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Pike National Forest
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Colorado National Monument
Mcinnis Canyons National Conservation Area

Rocky Mountain National Park

We drive up the high road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The 2 lane highway has almost no rails and has menacing cliffs and scary switchbacks. Clouds are close and the air is thin. One mistake and the car could fly down. It’s terrifying to imagine what would happen if a car would go over.
We make it to the Alpine Visitor Center. There’s a trail by the parking lot that takes you to the top of a hill, and we start the slow ascent. The wind picks up soon and the lack of oxygen makes my heart beat faster. That’s the only thing I can hear. Except for, suddenly, the sound of brakes and a car crash below us. We turn around and see the commotion in the parking lot below: a car veered to the side, ant-sized people moving about, and a large, black SUV accelerating in the wrong lane after the crash. Its tires screech loudly, it crosses the parking lot and heads towards the intersection and the highways at 50 mph. Without control it hits the curb with a loud thump that, because of the distance, comes to us a fraction of a second delayed, and crosses the road to the other side. It hits the curb, and flips in the air, once, beyond the shoulder and onto the steep mountain, then twice as it lifts a giant cloud of dust, and miraculously stops before going further down. The sound is all wind again, and below we can only see the emergency in silence.
Aut and I are in shock. We’re halfway up the trail. What do we do? Do we just ignore the whole thing and go up and see the view above? Or do we go down, stand along the accident as more of the curious people standing in the way of others who can help? We finally decide to go down to make sure everyone is okay. Luckily, it seems, everyone is miraculously alive. The surprise of witnessing the event exhausts us.

Emily and Jamie’s house / Boulder and Tea Overdose

The rest of our time in Colorado hasn’t been that dramatic. We spent some days at our friend Emily’s house outside of Denver, where we went because I had some stand up shows. Emily and her husband Jamie’s place makes me miss having one. Every corner is covered with pieces of their hobbies and the things they love. Every corner has a purpose. She likes plants and painting, so there’s a small jungle by the window, paintings on the walls, and a studio where she works. Jamie likes making cocktails and records, so he has a mini bar and a little corner with a record player. Their patio has a pergola they built together. In the basement they take delicate care of their fish tank. Every corner is a bit messy, not from carelessness, but from its constant use. Their house is an adult playground and I love it. We met Emily in Indonesia, where we lived for a year, so it was nice to remember how strange it was to live in our wild, chaotic city. Samarinda is a town on the eastern side of the island of Borneo, fueled by irresponsible mining, drug trafficking, and limited access to beer. We reminisce about the several times we left town to travel elsewhere in the country, especially to the tiny island of Derawan, which is the most beautiful place in the world and no one knows about it, so please keep it cool and do not share that information.

We visit Boulder, which smells like cotton candy and privilege. I thought I would like the city, but the income disparity between the city and the rest of the planet has created not a bubble but a diamond of isolation. It feels so exclusive and distant. I had two shows there and the crowd didn’t seem able to laugh at themselves. Who knows? Maybe Boulder is great and I’m just resentful that my shows there didn’t go that great. It’s just unbelievable to think people wouldn’t like me. What?! I’m adorable, Boulder. YOU are the problem.

We did enjoy one thing about Boulder: the Celestial Seasonings tea plant is there, so we went and visit it. They offer free samples and let you tour the place. I don’t know if you know Celestial Seasonings, but some of their teas should be Schedule I narcotics. Mix a bag of Sleepytime with a bag of Tension Tamer, that shit will mess you up. Don’t worry, it’s legal in Colorado. We buy boxes of teas: Jammin’ Lemon Ginger, Lemon Lavender Lane, Mint Magic… We’ve been having mystical experiences most nights since.

The Magical Land of the Dab Bar
We then go south to Colorado Springs. We drive all over town looking for water and a decent park to eat. The city turns and twists unexpectedly. We find ourselves in a fancy, new park, and two minutes later in a run-down, dry grass open space. I get a guest spot in a stand up show. It’s at a dab lounge, which means nothing to me, because I didn’t know what a dab bar was. But then I got there, and did the show, and I have to tell you… I still don’t know what a dab bar is. Supposedly, it’s kind of a social club for people to go and get high. This one, I read in the news later, has dubious legal standing, and it feels that way when I get there. The sign above it says RZU storage, and as you come in there’s a room with weed products: pipes, bongs, rolling paper, spray paint, instant ramen noodles, you know, marihuana essentials. The guy in there looks like Tom Petty with a white mullet and a fu manchu moustache. Also he has an ivory knife sticking out of his pants. He checks me in. There’s a door in the back. He buzzes me in and I go through into it like it’s Narnia. It truly feels like a magical place: a land where the walls are covered with the colors of the Jamaican flag. A land where a dog walks around licking everyone. A land where you can share pipes and bongs for a modicum price. A land where you can pay $2 to grab the waffle mix that sits on top of a counter and make your own waffles in the microwave. It’s hard to find who’s running the show because everyone is high out of their minds, but after an hour or so the show gets going. I’m introduced as the “brown comedian.” Surprisingly it’s a fun show. Easiest crowd work I’ve ever done. Maybe this is my crowd.

Sink Showers
Here’s a challenge: how do you keep yourself clean without a shower and limited access to water? Well, we have several answers for that problem. Sometimes we find a real shower, in a campground, or in a friend’s house, but that’s rare. We use body sprays made by Autumn to scrub every night. We have a shower on the outside of our camper and a privacy tent, but this wastes a lot of water and sometimes we’re not able to set the tent up. More often than not we rely on a sink shower, which means one of us uses the tiny camper sink to wash, soap, and rinse the entire body using a cup and our reserve water, and the other one turns to face the back in order to pretend there’s some sort of privacy in here.
Now, a sink shower may sound to unexperienced newbies such as yourselves as something difficult and awful. I will admit it’s a challenge to use such little water, lots of soap, and several towels in order to not make a mess, but sink showers are INCREDIBLE. Given that you have limited space you need to divide all your scrubbing attention to different parts at a time, which means a more detailed and conscious cleaning process. Given there are several complicated operations happening at the same time (balance, contortion, scrubbing, water release, water control…) your whole attention is devoted, unlike the otherwise mindless and mechanic operation of standing under a real shower. Real showers are for dull beginners. If showers were a videogame, sink showers would be “Difficult” mode, as they require complex multi-tasking abilities, yoga flexibility, and karate-like precision. So next time you feel the need of cleaning yourself take it to the next level and put all your skills to the test. Then call me to thank me. Namaste. You’re welcome.

Stargazing in Colorado with Phil, whom I love.
As we move west into the Rockies the nights start getting colder and darker. We spend several nights in high-altitude campgrounds, mostly alone and undisturbed, surrounded by juniper trees and pinyon pines. At night there’s nothing but silence and the darkness of moonless nights. Our window looks like a flat TV screen and we leave our shades open. During these nights, as we fall asleep, we see the Milky Way and the constellations, and the blue, rotating light of the sky moving, like the universe’s slowest movie. Like a less boring version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Our star-watching nights suddenly become much more interesting once we reach Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We attend a volunteer-led stargazing session there. Phil, a retired astronomy professor, leads the session with his own telescope. He is very knowledgeable and very matter-of-fact. There’s not a lot of emotion in his explanations, but he takes questions with efficient enthusiasm. He shows us Jupiter, and Saturn’s rings, and the Andromeda galaxy. He shows us his favorite constellation, Cygnus, which is a swan flying right by the Milky Way. It is now my favorite too. This is a constellation that makes sense! You can see the neck, and the wings, and its little feet. It must’ve been easy being an artist in old Greece. You just drop seven blots of ink on a piece of paper and say “Look, a horse with wings!”

There’s no clear structure to Phil’s talk, he just tries to cram the most interesting stuff we can see in the two hour span he’s there. “You must find daytime very tedious,” someone in the group says teasingly. “Not particularly,” he responds, not willing to take the joke. “As a matter of fact, I have other hobbies and I do a fair amount of activities while the sun is out. Now let’s take a look at the Pleiades.” I’m in love with Phil.

After that lesson we’ve been practicing. It’s easy now to find several constellations, including Andromeda, Sagittarius, the Serpent Bearer… My favorite is the Pleiades. My review of the Pleiades: six stars. We also see the Andromeda galaxy, and learn from Phil that the light we see from it is 2.5 million years old, almost the same amount of time it took for erosion to form the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, give or take 500,000 years.

The Silence of Stars
People like to watch horror movies because something in that jolt moves them inside. I guess those people have never really looked at the stars. They’re terrifying. They make me uneasy. It’s so scary to know that the colossal secret that hides beyond their unfathomable distance will not be revealed to me in my lifetime. And it won’t be revealed to us ever. It makes death more frightful. Some people look at the stars and dream of the possibility of exploration. I feel the opposite. I think of the men and women who came before us and will come after, and the awe-inspiring silence they’ll hear coming from the stars we share. The amount of information we’ve acquired about the universe has grown exponentially in the last 100 years. Yet everything we’ve learned seems to be nothing but a very complicated way of showing how much we still don’t know, how much silence and darkness is engulfing our existence. Unlike our ancestors we now have the scientific certainty that we are minuscule, and alone. We’re all trapped in this bubble, unaided in our futile attempt to try not to think of that “Baby Shark” song (sorry).  
Isn’t that scarier than a Stephen King novel? How did we not collectively lose our minds when scientists in the 20th century discovered the full scope of the universe? I can’t even accept my own life as insignificant, how about all human life being nothing but a microscopic flash in the vastness of the universe? All human achievements – the pyramids of Egypt, Cervantes, Hall & Oates’s greatest hits – will eventually disappear. All of our tears, and embraces, and creations are a billionth of a fraction of a tiny little flashy spot in the middle of billions of other flashier spots, soon to be forgotten by the universe.
Luckily for us our brains have learned to ignore this fear in the stars, so during regular hours we can find hobbies and do a fair amount of activities while the sun is out.

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