Summer Driving in the Blue Bomber
and Other Ghastly American Summer Rituals

People can go walking on the Valley Floor now, that is, that 570 acres the Town of Telluride paid for in a condemnation action against Neal Blue, head of General Atomics, which while lighting and heating and glowing up the world is also a major manufacturer of drone bombers and spy planes.

But we will avoid that for just right now. If only because, as Telluride was fighting this battle, and as I was writing about the legal beagleisms all along, the official start of where this official descent into hell, which is where all great literature, should actually begin.

But instead of writing really, really great literature (hah!), I was so busy writing up a bunch of words congratulating everyone about having saved the world in this “VF” matter – as well as the additional news that, as you read this, scientists are on a train to meet in India with the Dalai Lama in order to halt the eternal suffering of mankind – I only had time to drive by the Valley Floor instead, on the way to work at the Telluride Watch.

Yes, some people choose hiking boots. Others go to worship upon the Valley Floor on bikes. Still others fly over “the Floor” in hot air balloons. My weapon of choice was then known in my small circle as the “Blue Bomber,” a rusted, ‘80s vintage Subaru that, quite honestly, no longer really had reverse available as an option, had three out of four doors that were pretty darn hard to open, and about 400,000 million billion miles on the odometer.

I loved to drive the “Blue Bomber” because gravity was its friend. Gliding downhill saves on gas. I hated to drive the “Blue Bomber,” too, because going uphill was well, embarrassing, or would be, if driving this dream machine weren’t my solution to reduce the impossible suffering of mankind, too.

For, you see, as the “Blue Bomber” made regular non-stop flights from Telluride through the friendly skies of the San Juans to my home in San Bernardo, which was originally called Matterhorn in the mining daze of 100 years before, this miracle machine was San Miguel County’s answer to maintaining the speed limit on Highway 145 for both the driver and every high-tech, gas-guzzling, fully loaded, tailgate pressing Imperial (as in the Empire is Real)” Cruiser lucky enough to fall in behind it as we, the great quick-dried community of hurried commuters, construction workers, tourists and so on, paraded our way into town.

I had been driving these jalopies for 10 years now, in order to reduce the impossible suffering of mankind, ever since I was the editor for car coverage at the Robb Report, where one of my jobs was to test-drive high-end automobiles. Don’t own or drive one of those things just right now, though. However, since I was living and working so close to Walden Pond, which was right around the corner from that magazine’s offices at the time in Acton, Mass., a conflict began to arise in my Henry David Thoreau-poisoned skull about losing my sense of social responsibility by pimping, in print, the glories of living large, being insanely wealthy, owning expensive wheels and other kinds of pornography for the rich.

So to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground, I bought a $200 Volkswagen Rabbit and drove it, or, left it in the parking lot at the Robb, when I had to suffer through the guilt of having to drive the latest Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes or Caddy around, pretending I was rich, too. Honestly, that task was so exhausting it was not uncommon for me to drive the Rabbit at lunch over to Walden Pond (leaving the $90,000 custom Hummer or whatnot in the Robb’s parking lot) and take a short nap.

But now it’s 10 years after and we are going to Disneyland! Usually, as I cranked up the engine beneath the haughty gaze of Sheep Mountain in San Bernardo, we lifted off with three or four people on board. So we were doing our best, as far as the carbon footprint goes, but for four adults it was a hell of a thing to work out, in terms of fares, scheduling and so on.

My great great-grandfather must have worked the caboose for the Gallaping Goose, the old mountain train line moving around ore in the mining days, I think, as the flight fell out of the clouds of the Matterhorn camping area and we descended toward the Ophir Loop, knowing full well this wild curvy ride was really what Walt Disney had in mind for his bumpy roller coaster mountain ride, heh!

Now I’m the tour guide as we spin around the daily rock avalanches of Hwy. 145, Ames far down below, Alta far above, wheeee! ... Too bad Nikola Tesla didn’t consider wind before hydro first ... wheeee! ... Better let this first badass military column of “The Empire Is Real” SUV Cruisers pass! ... wow ... Look at those maniacs go ... geez ... that’s a hell of a drop ... Oh Lord, oh lordy low! ... Most of the cars I saw the high-mountain Peruvians driving in the Wade Davis film at Mountainfilm Film Festival for that week were 20 years newer than mine ... hmmm, Third World indeed, yes, yes ... the “Blue Bomber” will offer Telluride resident, e-Bay CEO and bigtime “Valley Floor” donater of a fund amounting to $50 million to buy the Valley Floor, Meg Whitman free rides whenever she needs ... Oprah, too, another heavy investor and Telluride mainlight, but only if it fits in with our schedule ... Yeah! ... Here comes Lawson Hill, we are landing now, down on the Valley Floor, leading a parade of still more Empire is Real Cruisers as we go easy on the brakes, letting gravity do its work, wheeeeee! Wheeee! Wheeeee! Wheee!

... And then, a big sigh, that “E” ticket item itself: The Valley Floor ... let us pray ... I mean, finally, the Conoco Station! at Society Turn on the Valley Floor, planted just near the headwaters of the San Miguel River canyon’s flow ... Yee-haw!

From high up above, coming down the highway into the San Miguel River Valley, the actual gateway to the Valley Floor, the conglomeration of civilization at Society Turn, could actually be confused with a large U.S. Calvary outpost with a big red corporate logo, a real rarity in San Miguel County (almost as rare as a traffic light), instead of a flag mast where the bugler might stand.

But there were no insurgents anywhere near Fort Conoco, just us consumers, who, if not for the price of gas, all seem to be immune to war. There’s nothing to explode around here but that pressurized bag of chips gas-pushed to us at 9,000 feet from the lowlands by that big ol’ Frito Lay truck belching out its own “Blue Bomb” of electro-petrol hoopla. Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

Then, after obtaining a small loan for gas and guzzling up on all the necessary monoculture sodium glutton-o-mate we can absorb, we, the forever “Born to Be Wild,” were ready for the Floor!

First part was a bit of a disappointment, yes, with that mine-tailing remediation site and, of course, the power lines, the channelized river and troubled wetlands. Gotta do something about that, someday. Old habits die hard. Then, the glories of the great field of dandelions, an invasive species, the mountains and the glittering waters of the San Miguel, with a fly fisherman out there, as we headed eastward, invading forward.

Nice thing about this first drive on the, at the time, almost freed Valley Floor (it was finally released to Telluride in full about one year later, but not after the condemnation case was won in the Colorado State Supreme Court), maybe just one court order away then (hah!), this great victory in preservation, was the fact we had so many other people dressed in orange now, along the way, to point out the highlights and, yes, directing us to slow down, as in chill, at 35 mph: Road construction on the Spur, which is road leading to Telluride from Hwy. 145 that’s most likely still deteriorating like another antique paen to the Galloping Goose years ...

Then, at 25 miles per hour, where the first glorious grove woods and road meets, we are forced to slow down even more, due to construction, yes, but with time to appreciate the scenery explode as the whole vista opened wide again with a big fat “Welcome to Yellowstone”-style hello! And there stems the seed of an idea: Maybe it should just all be kept this slow, even after the Large Butted Caterpillar, Beeping Dumper and Asphalt Scorching Beetle-box return safely to their winter breeding grounds. Then Telluride could extend the 15-mph ethic of town further out into the world, creating the drive into as just more well-intended take-a-breath time, eco-tourism wise.

That way, by the time you pass the other slight corporate oil logo, this time Shell, as travelers enter this National Park for human behavior, Telluride, Colorado, the Gunnison Prairie Dogs can be more easily watched and watched for.

This would, of course, have forced a bit of an alteration in the Blue Bomb’s daily flight plans. But we could’ve make up for it with a less intensive tour on the way home after work, after we’d picked up a big bag of chips for the ride back up the mountain: Does anybody remember the license plate number of that smog belching Frito Lay truck? No? It should’ve been reported.

Oh well, as they always say, the good vibe of the sermon only lasts as long as the car ride home from church. But as rituals really go, the finale for that year’s Fourth of July fireworks display went awry, with all eyewitness versions of this buzz bombing of Town Park being unreliable since even those who were most responsible for the annual incendiary celebration were ducking for cover at the time.

One witness who saw it occur right after having one beer and two shots of tequila claims to have seen a white phosphorescent charge hit the Town Park playground and people running for their lives. An admittedly secondhand street report claimed a baby carriage was blown up. Another report, again carried around by secondhand street mail, featured someone racing to grab a child out of a baby carriage as they themselves ducked for cover.

The best evidence wasn’t carried by word on the street, but by photograph: A shot from down the street by former Telluride Mayor Amy Levek showed the entire park exploding from some kind of beautiful anti-personnel device sending shimmering fragments of spider-webby silver streaks across the grounds.

Like, wow! … Nobody shares a more intimate connection to both nature and explosives than those thousands who come to the base of Bear Creek Canyon in Telluride for the Fourth of July!

According to Telluride Fire District officials, the fireworks display’s very last shot, a 16-inch shell, failed to reach proper height before going off, but certainly delivered the advertised firepower. The additional good news was, of course, that nobody claimed any injuries, and the event itself was shut down without any further incident. The dust cloud of baby carriages simply left without rioting and the unnoticing throng of proud Americans was somehow sated, without demands for any more spectacular displays of controlled violence than what they’d already just experienced.

Another rumor on the street was the actual errant rocket purchased for the event was supposedly banned after 9/11, though one would have to wonder why: It seemed completely effective, in terms of sheer terror, or, sorry, sorry, Shock-and-Awe values.

A visit to Firecracker Hill a couple of days after it was lit up that July 4 evening like a smoky Fort Sumter still turned up some evidence of the rocket red glares, including a scattering of round, purplish cardboard caps and burned-out yellow, AA battery-sized cylinders, plucked right out of a young pine tree like bad fruit, around the compromised hill otherwise covered with small mounds of gravel pits built as launching points for the fireworks blasts. A close look around the trampled, fire-burnished mound revealed that over the years the treetops had all died or been diminished in some way, as if singed by frequent spaceship landings.

No other place in town was allowable for such abuse, and resulting small fires all around the base of Bear Creek were being put out well into the next day. By Thursday night it rained, washing away the any burn scars and, if it ever existed, that apocryphal burned-out baby carriage was secreted away by those in authority.

Forensics aside – sight lines on a bazooka pointed down to Town Park are clear enough to strafe the playground – the real critique here was not that it was lucky nobody got fried. Nor was it that, even in 2007, like the ancient Aztecs, we as a culture were willing to sacrifice the hilltop at the base of a national geologic and primordial treasure such as Bear Creek for our once-a-year ritual of flaming ecstasy (even when, if that canyon ever caught fire, it would be the rough equivalent to setting off a firecracker in ones’ navel).

Nor should we go into the physics of indirect or misguided flight. Nor wax on what gunpowder does, or the fact that the right to blow up such elemental stuff in metal tubes with triggers is guaranteed by nothing less than the U.S. Constitution.

No, what’s really FUBAR about this obviously faux military exercise is that occurs at, of all times, around or near anything like the annual periods of Mercury in Retrograde!

Everybody knows nothing works right during Mercury in Retrograde.

This is not rocket science. This country, born under a bad sign, now celebrates that bad timing with a series of loud, threatening and potentially fire-triggering explosions. All to great applause. No wonder we scare the bejesus out of the rest of the world.

As any decent astrologist will tell you, during such periods of Mercurial misanthropy everything goes bad, from our technological marvels to our planetwide maze of communications. One Web-based wizard put it this way: “At 23:41 UT (Universal Time), just before midnight on June 15, 2007, Mercury, the cosmic trickster, turns retrograde in Cancer, the sign of the Crab, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarl-up … This awkward period begins a few days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until July 10, when the Winged Messenger reaches his direct station. At this time he halts and begins his return to direct motion through the zodiac …’’

Of course, planets are never retrograde or stationary; they just seem this way because of this “cosmic shadow-play,” as the astrologers put it. But regardless of what some might see as superstitious nonsense, the metaphor works. There’s the national symbol as mixed messages, the bad communications, the poor shooting, the messed-up rocketry – and there’s shadow-play.

Which brings us to faux generals George Bush II and Dick Cheney, two true-blue retro-graders who just that week in Telluride, were the targets of a local petition drive to have them impeached, at least locally, for launching “Shock and Awe” for all the wrong reasons, and at far too great an expense (a plea the Telluride Town Council later decided to vote to support, being the first Colorado state in town to endorse impeachment of Bush/Cheney, though it never took place).

Of course, this impeachment petition was a symbolic act, but our July 4 fireworks are symbolic as well. Since we are all particles in the same cosmic “Shock-and-Awe” footprint wrought by the White House, let us consider Telluride Fire Chief Jamey Schuler’s statement after the display: “The fireworks went off without a hitch,” he said, “except for that one shell,” which could be parsed like “democracy works in Iraq, except for that one civil war” or even “we are all born free, except for the slaves we own.”

By now you should be looking at this and going, gee, not only is Telluride always putting a firecracker in the very belly button of its tourism economy – even worse, this town is annually transmitting cosmically challenged political messages at the wrong astrological time.

My thought was: “Let’s shake the whole thing up next year and declare no more commit pyrotechnical piracy, no more fireworks in our navel, until the current war is declared over. That would be a far clearer symbol than trying to impeach the ‘Shock and Awe’ twins, who barely have a constituency in San Miguel County.

Cancel the fireworks, and therefore the crowds it brings in? Yeah, you bet, I said: “To mitigate the financial impact, we could, say, move the Yankee Doodle Doo-Dah to its proper night, and suggest bringing in, say, Country Joe and the Fish for a special concert and laser-light show in its place.”
But, sadly, those realtors and other elitists who considered tourism the engine in San Miguel County’s regional democracy received this suggestion as happily as news of a drop in Halliburton stock.

But, if such towns really only have one last, big, fat, finale rack, post-9/11, crowd-strafing 16-incher to play with each year, but had misgivings about the war, then why shoot it off at all? Make it the Shot Not Heard Around the World Festival instead, and put the faulty rocket under glass at the museum. Tell everybody each election year, “Hell No, We Won’t Blow.” Let people just stay home fry in the bake and stink and denial of the cities on the Fourth of 2008 until they learn to vote better. Now that would be a shot not heard around the world.