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I Hope Walden Never Gets A Stop Light

Clint Harris, former resident & now author, Always a Wildcat

I grew up in a place that was sixty miles from the nearest stop light. Forget about chain grocery store or fast food restaurants. The only franchises we had in the area were gas stations. Conoco. Standard. We had cafes that featured big red, semi-translucent cups, greasy burgers, and due to the cost of shipping produce into the area, our idea of salad was the piece of lettuce that clung to the cheese of a cheeseburger deluxe. Waitresses that called you “Hon.” Police officers who knew your dad’s phone number and weren’t afraid to use it.

For many, the area was little more than a rest stop on the way to somewhere else. A crossroads. A bathroom break or a place to buy cold drinks before setting off on across another treacherous pass. A border town between historical rivals of Colorado and Wyoming. Our town was rarely mentioned in the Laramie news and only mentioned in the Denver news when it came time to compare which place was colder in the nation. There was Walden, right next to double-digit numbers, caked with icicles.

Over the years, things have changed. The town now features an ATM machine. The arrival of broadband internet allows the inhabitants of this town to keep pace with the rest of the world, whereas before then we were about a decade behind the rest of the country. In the 90s, we felt a kinship with the movie Dazed and Confused, with convoys of high school kids aimlessly driving up and down Main Street every Friday or Saturday. We listened to Garth Brooks and Motley Crue. Long after everyone else stopped. Not a single stop light was there to halt the flow of what was back then our social media.

Clint Harris Senior Picture, 1994

It wasn’t hard being outdoorsy. Just a few minutes in any direction were mountains, trails, lakes, and creeks. You didn’t need reservations, special equipment, or an REI membership to enjoy these places. Most people treated their outdoors with respect and were resentful of folks who were just passing through that didn’t. Just about everyone who grew up in North Park knows how to start a campfire, how to change a tire, and how to drive in a blizzard. If you didn’t hunt (because out of town hunters were all over the place) you knew somebody who did, who was more than happy to get rid of some elk or deer.

These are all things that are a point of pride, which will probably annoy anyone else. Sometimes we find ourselves amid polite society. People who grew up in a more refined place, which was connected to the outside world. Places where the graduating class in High School was closer to the population of our entire school system. Places where they have to lock their car doors rather than let the motor run while they duck into the bank on a cold winter morning. Places where you don’t wave to your friends when you pass them on the road, because there is solitude and anonymity in being part of a large town or city. When you encounter people from these places, you will either charm them with your tales of coming from such a small town out in the middle of nowhere, or you will drive them nuts. The true test is bringing them around others of our kind, where we all start to speak the same language and swap the same old stories. And where we lacked in traffic signals, we abound in stories.

Stoplights aren’t a sign of progress. I used to think that they were, because I grew up without them. Over the years, I discovered there aren’t many places left where you can just drive for miles, hike for hours, or look up at a vast night sky and see forever. Places the rules aren’t written on every flat surface because someone needs to have them in plain sight to be reminded of how to be.

Read Novels written by Clint Harris and sold on Amazon.

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