It was by happenstance that I found the chocolate-covered cherry I have wanted.
My last-minute adventure coincided with the yearly run of the Telluride Film Festival. I did not have to look at the banner hanging across Main to know that the people in town were not local. Colorado loves its tourists and tourists love Colorado. This is the kind of gathering that brings them to paradise for a few days. To do what they do, while wearing name tags.
A sliver of time popped up and my wandering chi could not stay put. I had no particular aim except to sally about with camera in hand and a few dollars hot in my pocket. But I wasn’t feeling the magic of Telluride. It seemed that the bright blue sky and the fresh scent of overnight rain was going unnoticed. Could it be that no one felt the warmth of the last-day-of-summer sun or that no one even noticed the blue moon the night before?
I walked slowly, eyeing the scene of unusually busy people whose eyes were aimed squarely on the sidewalk and whose hands carried cups of spiraling steam or a cell phone. They were talking far faster than do the natives and they wore either a hip version of western chic or a fashionable light down jacket. Did they pack for the off-chance of heavy snow this mild summer or were they planning on some gold digging?
I spied a chocolate shop off Main Street and decided to wander in. I had thought I needed a good piece of chocolate and it looked like a fine place to indulge. I pulled at the door but found the chocolate shop was closed. I seemed to be too early on a Sunday morning that followed too closely the big doings of a late, late Saturday night. I was out of luck.
I decided instead to ride the free gondola and was thinking that the early hour meant there would be no line and maybe a good chance that I could ride up alone. I climbed on, centered on the wide seat that faces backward. As the cab rolled toward the incline, two young men jumped aboard at the last minute. I smiled and said hello, but they both looked at their cell phones and did not reply. There was silence in the close quarters, ended at last by a putrid cough from the kid on the right. I reached up to adjust the open window and frowned.
Up top, I wandered off to a peak trail to take in the view. Someone was standing in the spot I wanted and so I waited a long while so that he could have the view to himself. When it was my turn, I saw in my viewfinder that there was a dim haze over the town below. If only I had gotten there sooner, the air would have been crisp and clean and my pictures would have been better.
My summer had not allowed many visits to high altitude and my breath was unusually shallow and forced. I felt as if I was moving in slow motion and decided it was not a good day for taking pictures so I would get in line to go back down. By then, there were lots of waiting people queued up, wearing nametags and looking at cell phones. There would be no riding alone on the way down—every cab was filled.
Near the front of the line were two dogs and a young couple who were not wearing nametags. From where I stood, I saw their clothes were grubby and I could tell they smelled of campfire and I noticed that the two dogs shared one leash. As the attendant waved them up and motioned for the next people in line, the couple talked and laughed and smiled. And then there was a too-long pause. The people next in line looked away from the attendant and moved back, as did the people next in line behind them. I realized that no one wanted to ride with the campers. The cab had come and gone empty, without the couple, the dogs, or anyone else inside.
A lift does not stop for such awkwardness and so as the next cab rounded the bend, the attendant helped the young couple and the dogs on. He gave an optimistic glance toward the long line of people but not one hurried person moved forward. Then, just in the nick of time, I pushed forward and jumped on quickly. Even though I had moved pretty slow so far that morning.
As we rode down, I learned that they were from Durango and he was a fire fighter who fought the summer fires in Colorado and she was a student and they had just spent two days on a four-wheeler touring the Alpine Loop, rocking, as they put it, the perilous Black Bear Pass, and they had tried to buy a leash for the other dog but the shopkeeper wanted $80 for it so they were just sharing the one they had while they were in town since they didn’t really need a leash where they were camping, and they thought Telluride is beautiful but they hadn’t really had a chance to talk with anybody while they had been there, because everybody seemed to be preoccupied and pretty busy. And I noticed that I was smiling and from my forward-facing seat that I shared, the view was amazingly clear.
We got off at the bottom and said goodbye and after I walked on, I remembered how I wanted to ride alone to the top. I recalled being annoyed when the sullen young man with the nasty cough jumped in to the cab with me and how those young men were so unfriendly that I wanted to bully them into talking.
And I thought about the hazy view at the top and how I had unexpectedly pushed my way to the front of the line and got on with the nice couple from Durango and how much I enjoyed their stories and how his eyes looked at her and the gentle way she touched his arm and how the grey dog nuzzled my leg and how the black one sat on the lap of his master.
I passed the chocolate store which was now open. I moved on, down a street where porches patiently passed time alone and in my mind’s eye, I saw a scene where far-too-expensive shoes were kicked off and a faultless persona slumped, sloppily, into the waiting arms of a chair.
I decided what I wanted instead of chocolate was a cold beer. It was early in the afternoon by then and things were just getting going in the saloon on this day after the big Saturday night. I sat down at one end of the bar and on the opposite end was a young man who wore a name tag on his black linen shirt. He looked up and said hello and we started to talk from a distance. He told me he was there for the film festival and that the film he had worked on was getting some buzz but that what he really was thinking about doing was staying for winter. He was tired of the traffic and all the rush of L.A. and he really loved the blue sky and the scent of the rain from last night.
We chatted until I finished my beer and by the time I got up, I knew he would be staying.
And I smiled till long after, savoring the sweetness of the day.
This is the kind of place where a well-scripted life can become extemporaneous overnight and even highfalutin people can change.