My business trip to Boulder this week was a quick affair. I went from airport to hotel and back, with a speech in between, and I didn't get my feet on the ground for more than a shuttle bus trip to a nearby shopping center for provisions, and dinner at a nearby restaurant. But on my way in and out between the remote Denver Airport and Boulder, I got a great look at the east side of the magnificent Rocky Mountains.
I watched the blasting hot high-90s sun set behind them in blaze of glory on Wednesday evening, and I got a chance to think back to the first time I had seen that sight. It was 1974, and I was riding in the back seat of a Plymouth Duster. My friend Gerry and his girlfriend Janice were moving from Jersey to Arizona so that he could go to law school, and I was literally just along for the ride.
It turned out to be a defining moment. Along the way -- visiting friends in Milwaukee, seeing the Badlands, Rushmore, Yellowstone -- the scales fell from my eyes. It seemed like the nation was falling apart -- Nixon resigned while we were camping and tripping through Dylan Country in Minnesota -- and it was a perfect time to question everything about my life up that point. Before this trip I had never been west of Washington, D.C. I loved my home and family in Jersey, but the three of us had set out to see what else there was. And we were not disappointed.
By the time we drove out of Lusk, Wyoming and approached Colorado, our minds had already been blown in more ways than one. But it was on the highway around Boulder somewhere, a mile high, jaw-dropping scenery everywhere, that it dawned on me: This was my future. My days in Jersey were numbered.
We stopped the car so that I could take this picture. It was developed back east, after I flew home. I had it blown up, and I put it in a frame on the dresser in my room in mom's house, where it served as a beacon for the next nine or 10 months until the day came for me to make my move:
I remember that we stopped to see Estes Park. By the time we hit town, the August day was already waning. We cruised through the touristy part of town, and our eyes were as big as saucers as we looked around. I flirted with a beautiful gal behind the counter of an eating establishment. She was about my age -- in college somewhere. I don't remember exactly what we said to each other, but I recall asking her what she thought of the place. She looked at me with the clearest eyes that I think I had ever seen at that point, and she made it known that she was deeply in love with the mountains. She was hooked.
The precise details of where I was headed wouldn't be worked out until the following February or so. But after that night there was not a shadow of a doubt where I was headed. It was west, far west. As Bruce used to say, "It was bye bye New Jersey; we were airborne."