Time Capsule Traveling

DENVER, COLORADO & ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO: March 22-27

Leah: There's nothing quite like the open road, a handful of people you adore, some throwback tunes and a box of Girl Scout Samoas as the highlight in your junk food arsenal; that's pretty much a guaranteed good time right there! Yup, in a further effort to re-acclimate ourselves to the USA Steve and I decided to leave the pooch with the grandparents, pile into my 2005 Corolla, kidnap one of my oldest friends, Sarah, convince my college pal, Allyn, to fly out from Hawai'i and then trek the eight hours south into Albuquerque, NM (where Allyn grew up) to celebrate his 32nd birthday in southwestern style. What's not to love?

But before we headed to NM, we had some time to kill in CO. After picking up Allyn at the airport, hugging him until I thought my ribs would pop and wondering how in the hell it had been nine years since I last saw him, we headed to mine so he could meet Steve and the 'rents. Introductions behind us, Steve, Allyn and I decided that we should head to the monumental Red Rocks Amphitheatre for a nice hike and stroll through the visitor's center. Our plans quickly derailed, however, thanks to a typical Colorado whiteout snowstorm on the mountain road, which caused me to miss the exit. When the flurries cleared slightly we noticed that the next exit was for Buffalo Bill's Museum and Grave and suddenly the plan was crystal clear; we would cavort here instead.

Five dollar entrance fees paid, we made our way into the deceptively expansive and well curated exhibit space detailing the life and legend of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody: entertainer, activist and businessman. None of us knew much about him besides the bare basics and it was fascinating to stroll past his old costumes, read about his deep respect and lobbying for the Native Americans and chronicle the years from his 1846 birth in Iowa to 1917 burial in Colorado. He also scored major points with me for being a devoted family man, as well as respecting other ethnicties and advocating for equal pay for women. And what visit would be complete without photo ops? We commandeered the "Kids Coral" area, replete with a plastic horse and cow, as well as a lasso and any manner of clothing props to set the scene. The boys looked quite dapper in their chaps and cowboy hats, and I jumped in there as well in a denim vest and hat of my own before things got too Brokeback Mountain. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed my visit and the guys agreed; it didn't hurt that we rounded out our visit with a visit to the iconic grave, as well as partaking in a slab of homemade fudge from the impossible massive gift shop next door. Go Buffalo Bill!

The following day Allyn and I decided that a trip to our old stomping grounds in Boulder was long overdue and of course Steve gamely agreed. It was a gloriously sunny and clear CO day and after checking out our favorite Middle Eastern corner store and sandwich shop and grabbing a slice of pizza at the popular haunt, Cosmos, I made Allyn try boba tea for the first time (still waiting for a verdict but I don't think he'll go very far for some of that). From there we hit the popular pedestrian zone, Pearl Street, where we laughed at the trustafarians juggling hacky sacks (trust fund kid + rastafarian hippy= trustafarian, an all-too-common Boulderite species), enjoyed the olfactory explosion at the Penzey's spice store and dallied through the multiple art co-ops that abound. We were even overjoyed to see that a Boulder busking tradition, the contortionist man, was not only alive and kicking, but is still able to both fold himself into a box and look at his own bum...from behind. Dinner was quite the treat, since we celebrated our friend Allison's birthday at a scrumptious ramen venue in downtown Denver with menu items like pork belly steamed buns, green tea & ginger beer vodka martinis and a ramen noodle bowl to please everyone. Then it was off to bed with Sarah and Allyn tucked into McFail bedrooms in preparation for the following day's adventures.

Bad for you munchies? Check. Plenty of vacation time? Check (actually, Allyn is the only currently employed member of this foursome). Nostalgia overload? Double check. You see, back in December 2002 (my senior year of college- ack!) Sarah, Allyn and I made the exact same drive during our Christmas break just because we could. Allyn had tortured us long enough with stories of the best green chile on the planet, tales of his family's infamous cooking and promises of an unforgettable ride down I-25 from Boulder to the "Burque". And lest we forget, the musical accompaniment remained of the utmost importance, both back then and to this day. However, circa 2002 there were no such things as Mp3 players, so we spent days compiling mix CDs to see us through. And since the three of us enjoyed divergent and diverse range of music, our CD tracks would jump from Marvin Gaye to Rage Against the Machine; from Christina Aguilera to Tom Petty. It was perfect.

Flash forward 12 years and the same group plus my darling husband pulled out of Greenwood Village, Colorado on a sunny but freezing Monday morning and headed south. As fate would have it, my base model car lacks not only automatic windows, but the electronic configuration to play iPod or smart phone material. Thus, you guessed it, the CDs emerged once more. Allyn had even thought ahead and compiled the most magical of mix CDs, but in a horrific turn of events TSA screeners at the airport had somehow managed to snap it cleanly in half (case included) while two massive glass jars of island honey somehow made it through unscathed. Luckily, I still have all my actual CD relics and miracle of miracles I even unearthed the original 2002 version, titled Three Goons and Their Tunes. It was on.

I wish I could tell you about the topics we covered, the comments we made and the games we played the whole way down, but since 3 out of the 4 of us are currently looking for gainful employment such disclosures may not behoove us in the end. Suffice it to say that we quickly dubbed the car "The Corolla of Trust" and promised each other that all the irreverent, inappropriate, immature and otherwise offensive things that somehow managed to manifest in our discussions would never see the light of the day, or a published blog for that matter.

We rolled into Albuquerque just before a painted sunset illuminated grazing buffalo (for real!) and the sentinel Sandia Mountain in the distance. Allyn's parents, Josala and Ed, welcomed us all with open arms and before long we'd been ushered to our rooms and then started catching up on lost time over a delectable dinner. It's sad to say, but the vast majority of our time in Albuquerque was to be spent trying to cram in as much eating as humanly possible, so after a rousing and entirely inappropriate game of Cards Against Humanity which lasted for hours, these intrepid road-trippers retired for the evening to prep our minds and stomachs for the day of feasting ahead.

Oh yes, and it so happened that the very next morning dawned bright on early on the 32nd year of Allyn's life...hooray! We headed to the Frontier Restaurant, a city institution that started as a small diner and expanded over the decades to encompass an entire city block. The cinnamon rolls made you gain ten pounds just by looking at them (and were worth every single calorie), the orange juice was fresh squeezed by angels and the green chile is legendary. This was heaven. Stuffed and having taken a group selfie with a mull-sized mural of John Wayne, we then proceeded into Old Town Albuquerque for a stroll. This endeavor was made even more fantastic by the fact that Allyn adroitly pointed out the numerous shooting locales for the popular TV series Breaking Bad, all of which was filmed locally. Having never seen an episode Steve and I were unable to appreciate the full tour, but we vowed that we'd file away these key locations so we could scream in excitement like little girls when we saw them on TV. Errr, right.

Old Town was all we had hoped for and more, with a town square and church reminiscent of our Latin America wanderings, as well as the requisite amount of tourist kitsch. We went hog wild at a Mexican import store boasting everything from margarita glasses to life size re-salvaged aluminum peacocks, snapping pictures of ridiculous pieces and poses before taking in a photography exhibit, book store and local candy emporium. To cap it off, Sarah had also decided that this would be an appropriate time to practice her mostly non-existent Spanish (being a scholar of French), which consisted of adding the suffix "es" or "os" to English words and seeing how close she came. This "game" would continue for the trip duration, with the three of us correcting her when we could catch our breath from laughing long enough to do so.

However, time waits for no one and we had an important date to keep...with La Salita, which boasts the best Mexican food in town according to Allyn. Mere hours after knocking down a significant breakfast, we all ordered a "Light Bite" from the menu, since we had to be ready to eat green chile burgers and potato salad for Allyn's birthday dinner before the sun set. Using the phrase "light bite" proved to be an egregious misnomer on La Salita's part, as I shudder to think what a full size portion would look like. We enjoyed chile rellenos all around, surrounded by a sea of beans, rice and topping accoutrements that could have fed a family of four each. Hands down the best relleno I've ever had, but we all quickly realized the folly of our goal to treat ourselves like pâté geese as our stomachs groaned under the weight of bad eating decisions. But never thee mind, off it was to Casa Fetherolf where the birthday boy whipped up burgers, we all lent a hand with dinner prep and finally culminated in a toast where we thanked him for being born. Mission complete.

Morning brought farewells all around as we promised Ed and Josala that we'd be back sooner than last time, coupled with threats of moving in to take advantage of the stunning landscape and divine cooking. Besides, after Allyn's folks raising three boys, Sarah and I figured they might appreciate a healthy dose of estrogen! Back in the car we made wonderful time and continued the trend of discussing everything we could think of, from the mundane to the taboo, all of which would stay in the Corolla of Trust.

Back in Denver we made it up to Red Rocks on a crisp and clear Colorado day; with the city spread before us, the visitor center detailing the musical legends who have performed there over the last decade and the four of us staring at this topographical wonder, all was well in the world. Despite the fact that we were later thwarted in our efforts to play four person Pacman, Giant Jenga and Foosball before Allyn's flight home (you mean bars don't normally open at 1 p.m. on a Thursday?), it was the perfect culmination to a singularly epic time together. I suppose I could wax philosophic about the joy of the open road and what it means to (re)connect with a carload of people you care about from your past and present, but I like to think that you've all been there and can reminisce about your own experiences. So here's to junk food, mix tapes, giggles, random photo ops and the thread that weaves us together, through the years and across the miles.

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