When I arrived in Denver to visit my dear friend Julie on April 19th-21st, it didn't occur to me that my travel dates were anything but convenient to both of our challenging schedules. Until I strolled into a dispensary (when in Rome) on my first day in CO and the front desk operator said it would be a longer wait than usual because it was their biggest sales day of the year.
"Why?" I asked.
(Long pause.) "Because tomorrow is 4/20!" he responded.
Like a light bulb slowly dimming up, I processed this information and when the ah-ha moment of the reference clicked he exclaimed, "Happy holidays!"
When in Rome, indeed.
In the spirit of the holidays, I decided to take some real time off and proceeded to spend two days not doing anything.
I mean... I didn't not do anything. I walked around Boulder with Julie for eight hours and never stopped talking, eating, and laughing. I napped on the grass in her backyard and watched ants crawling over the blades. I went on a long walk with her kids and climbed on a giant brass bear (which is equal parts awkward and awesome when you're 37 years old). I spent a small portion of my time in a gentle haze of cannabis, propped back in a lawn chair in quiet suburban Denver. I spent two hours alone, cooking dinner for everyone in a home kitchen at a marginal pace and singing along to my iTunes.
I periodically checked email, but mostly left my phone, computer, and work on a table out of reach.
And a strange thing happened. Shoulders lowered. Breathing slowed. Soul was soothed by simple things like friendship, decaf espresso, and well-made food. Head cloud started to clear; my forecast turned to partially sunny. Maybe it had something to do with being at a higher elevation, with the stronger, more persistent rays kissing my face. Even as I write this, from my desk in Chicago, my nose and cheeks still have the blush on them as a reminder of my sunny happy holiday.
Just as I was about to declare my weekend as delightfully nothing but solid downtime in a beautiful place with a beautiful friend family -- on the way to the airport just before dawn, another strange thing happened.
My Uber ride was fairly quiet. I watched the sun coming up, with Denver International in the foreground. My driver, a kind man probably in his 60’s, signaled to the traffic build up ahead, suggesting it was not a great start to my trip. I shrugged it off, explaining my philosophy that two things always out of our control are traffic and weather so best not to sweat ‘em. He chuckled - and admitted he used to get so pissed about traffic when he was younger but learned to let it go over time. “It is what it is” was his guiding philosophy.
With our conversation door opened, I inquired if he was from Denver. He sighed and told me he hates telling people why he moved there, because it is a sad story. Previously, he lived in San Diego for many years. After his divorce, he met and got engaged to a wonderful woman. His fiancee was tragically killed by a drunk driver and he came out to Denver to grieve for a couple of weeks. Ended up staying here for 16 years -- and said his life was better than he ever thought he could have imagined. Did he want to lose his fiancee? No, not at all, of course. My eyes welled up when I heard the crack in his voice over the sentiment. But he passed on his hard earned wisdom as I sat still in the back of minivan on a cool mountain morning.
"For every door that closes, two more open. You just have to open yourself up to them." He never remarried and had an amazing life in Denver. This year he's planning on moving back to southern CA to spend his remaining days in his favorite place on the beach, with his trusty dog and being a grandpa to his adult daughter's children.
I thanked him for sharing his story, and told him it would inspire me to be more open to open doors. And if he ever came to Chicago, to come eat at Honey Butter Fried Chicken. He laughed and said he does come to Chicago and will to come to the restaurant -- and he puts honey butter on everything. Obviously, it was fate that we met.
Not every travel experience is an adventure. Sometimes, traveling teaches you to allow things to be still for a while. Sometimes, you meet strangers that say things that shift you in the right way at the right time.
Sometimes, you just lay in the grass, watch ants and recharge, and visit with your family for the holidays.