Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
After almost four weeks on the road by ourselves, it was time for the main attraction of the trip: grandson Rich's graduation. We will be in Longmont five days and it will be good to refresh a lot of normal activities, including hugging family. It's been a long time.
Thursday, May 27, Arrive in Longmont
We left Estes Park mid-morning and that had us out of the mountains too early for our hotel check-in, so we diverted to Boulder for a Tesla charging station and some shopping errands, including a haircut for me. I needed to look less like a wacky professor for the graduation.
After check-in at the hotel, we went to the home of our Niwot High School graduate and hugged everyone for the first time in a couple of years. The Trotter family is spread out, and getting together outside of Zoom is rare, so in-person time is even more valuable.
We had dinner at Dickens 300 Prime in downtown Longmont, but still outside, because our whole group remains pandemic vigilant. While Marianne and I have necessarily been eating restaurant meals for the last month, Brian said this was one of their first restaurant meals in pandemic times. The food was good (enough), but service was slow. I think Dickens has not yet caught up with the almost-post-pandemic opening. Everyone needs to re-adjust.
Friday, May 28, Walk and Games
There were the standard morning travel routines, with coffee and writing at Starbucks (outside) and breakfast at Peep's (inside).
Brian, Rich and I then drove out to Rabbit Mountain Open Space for a short hike. This is one of several easily-reached trails in the area and the day was perfect, not hot and not cool. We chose the trail that went up to where we could look across the flatlands and almost see Kansas. I took pictures, but just a few to document our effort and a half dozen of small spring flowers. Vista landscapes of hazy flat plains never make it past the cutting room floor.
This was my first hike in some time and I could tell I was getting out of shape! I called for an early retreat from the mountain and we headed home for rest and tidying up.
Dinner was Rich's choice, Culver's take out. Good burgers and I had the feeling our host family liked the return to food from an old favorite.
After dinner, we had conversation time before our weekly Trotter family game night. We have lots to catch up on, since we are not good remote communicators. It was good to hear the family's thoughts about the coming year. Rich, of course, will have substantial change as he heads to Colorado State University Engineering School in Ft. Collins. At home, Jen faces a change in emphasis from raising Rich to doing even more of her own things. Meanwhile, Brian continues to work in the basement, but may return to a real office in the fall. Lots to think about.
For Game Night, Geoff called in from Maryland and we had two "work stations" here in Colorado. We still enjoy the word game "Codenames", never seem to get much better at it, use the time to catch up on family, and laugh.
Saturday, May 29, Graduation Day
After an early start for coffee and writing, we were off to graduation at Niwot High School. The festivities were a combination of tradition and pandemic-special. Of course, all graduates had traditional gowns in the schools bright green and, as traditional, mom's helped get them correct. The audience was limited to just a maximum of six guests per graduate, up from four just a few days ago. The podium was ready and it looked like rain would not arrive too soon.
The podium was set and, promptly at 10:00, principal Eric Rauschkolb started the speeches by dignitaries and students. All the speakers emphasized the accomplishments of the seniors who had gone through the last 14 months under Covid-caused stress and disturbance. Classes had been canceled on little notice, restarted remotely, then in a hybrid of remote and in-person, and finally, in-person enough to even have audiences at a pair of school plays and band and choir concerts. Despite it all, the kids had accomplished a lot, both academically and in sports and non-class activities. It was an impressive list of accomplishments.
After speeches came the individual presentation of diplomas, or at least diploma covers. Every graduate lined up, his or her name was read, cheers and clapping came from the audience, hugs and handshakes from the principal, and a return to family groups. As a Trotter, Rich was near the end of the alphabetical parade, but the wait was worth it.
After "the walk", students and families picked up actual diplomas and mingled with teachers, administrators, and other students. All parents were proud.
Back home, Rich posed with his diploma and we all took even more pictures.
The choice for celebratory lunch was take-out at Noodles and Company. I think take-out was chosen because of lingering effects from the last year's paranoia concerning indoor groups. I wonder when it will go away.
Sunday, May 30, Colorado State University
Another morning start at Starbucks, complete with "fun facts" about coffee. My standard request is "blonde roast", maybe because it has more caffeine than the darker varieties.
The plan, despite forecast rain, was to drive up to Ft. Collins for a visit to Rich's new school: Colorado State University. Marianne and I needed some sort of reference for future school stories.
The drive was less than an hour, despite heavy Spring rain. I suppose the farmers like this weather, as long as it stops before melting all the mountain snow and flooding local rivers. That does happen from time to time.
Because of the rain, we mostly stayed in the car, driving past the immense new football stadium and acres and acres of student housing. Rich has been identified with an engineering-student dorm, but it looked like a number of the other three- or four-story brick buildings. Throughout our visit, we were struck with just how big CSU is. The engineering school alone, at over 2,600 students, is larger than my own undergraduate university.
We found that the Student Center was open, but empty. Walking through, we could not help but compare it to student centers of our own experience, a fraction the size and nowhere near the sophistication. We hope Rich manages to not be completely overwhelmed by everything, but it will be a challenge.
The drive home was drier and we stopped for take-out dinner at Chipotle. Indoor dining still seems uncomfortable for our Colorado family and, as it has been from the pandemic beginning, one must defer to the most conservative. That used to be Marianne and me, but inoculation and the BWRT have pushed us toward resuming past practices, even indoor activities. What's the right balance?
Monday, May 31, Memorial Day
We searched unsuccessfully for an art museum that might be open on Monday, but all were closed, as is common art museum practice for the day. Outdoor attractions were unattractive on our rainy Memorial Day, so we headed to Wings Over the Rockies, an indoor Denver airplane museum. Rich and the family have been there a number of times, but they were up for one more tour and, since art was out, Marianne agreed.
Wings is located in Hanger #1 of the former Lowery Air Force Base in Eastern Denver. Nowadays, the air base land is filled with high-end homes and condos, except for the parts around the museum. In its military heyday, it had served as President Eisenhower's Summer White House and, in 1955, was the site of the first U.S. Air Force Academy. The base was closed in 1994 and shortly thereafter volunteer staff opened the museum.
Inside Hanger #1 are over a dozen military aircraft and many more civilian machines and displays, many with links to the Denver area. This isn't the largest air museum we've seen, that would be the Udvar Hazy Center collection near Washington D.C., but it was right-sized for an easy stroll on a rainy Memorial Day.
Everyone has their favorite display and I had two. First, was the collection of dummy nuclear weapons, connected to Denver via the Rocky Mountain Arsenal I suppose. The newest device, the B61 Thermonuclear Bomb, was not large, despite its city-destroying power. Almost 2,000 remain in service, over half of them operational. Enough to alter human history in minutes. Maybe we need more reminders of the danger that is out there.
On a lighter note, my second favorite was the tiny, eight-motor electric Kitty Hawk Flyer. More than 100 were sold as kits in 2016 and 2017 by a Denver-based company. Maybe Tesla needs to expand to the air.
After the museum, Marianne and I left the group for a salad lunch, before rejoining them for a trip to Diary Queen. The DQ visit is traditional for Monday's and it's always fun joining in on traditions.
The other tradition was a round or four of table-top games. These are primarily played as an excuse to laugh and chat and they served the purpose well. As usual I don't think anyone remembers winning or losing.
And with that, we said goodbye to our Colorado family and wished them well as Rich transitions to college and everyone else recovers from pandemic complications. We hope all goes well and we will check in on our normal Friday Zoom Game nights!
Tomorrow is June and the start of the second half of the Big Western Road Trip, the unplanned part. Stay tuned,
John and Marianne