5280 of course refers to Denver being a mile high which would be 5,280 feet above sea level. Per Wikipedia the exact spot 5,280 feet above sea level is on the steps of the Sate Capital. That certainly seems convenient especially for image and promotional purposes and it is a bit of a noticeable hill. Obviously every spot in town is not a mile high with the City’s elevation varying from 5,130 feet to 5,690 feet depending on where you are within the City limits.
I first landed here at 5,280 feet in December of 1972 having driven across the Midwest with several friends from Urbana Illinois where I had been enrolled in college for nearly five years accumulating many semester hours of academic credit but no degree. To say I lacked discipline in those years would be an understatement.
I did hone my political chops somewhat in those college years in the late 1960’s at the University of Illinois. In addition to participating in many anti-war demonstrations and joining the Democratic Socialist Party I was associated with a campus group (the name escapes me) that was a big supporter of the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez. We of course thought it outrageous that the University cafeteria in the student union bought and served non-union lettuce and grapes. One action we initiated which frankly went nowhere was to make competing sandwiches to sell cut rate prepared with UFW lettuce. We never actually came close to being arrested for selling union lettuce but we did aggravate the hell out of a few University officials. Oh, and the policy of scab lettuce and grapes persisted unfortunately.
We drove from Illinois to Colorado in a blue Dodge Dart with the old slant six engine. It was a good choice for a bunch of hippies since it was really an invisible car to law enforcement and not capable of exceeding the speed limit. I in particular was very enamored with the mountains and that is perhaps why we based our apartment hunting operations out of Idaho Springs and drove into Denver daily looking for somewhere to live. We rather quickly settled on a duplex on Elati Street a very short walk from what was then called Denver General. By mid-summer of 1973 I was working at Denver General and the long and winding road of my nursing career was underway.
In the first ten years or so of living in the Mile High City we would many weekends flee the summer heat to camp high in the mountains. Those were the days. No waiting in mile long lines to get into Rocky Mountain National Park and no parks pass needed. Camping sites were first come first served and always seemed available. We however never did get a good handle on cooking brown rice over a campfire at altitude.
The first years in Denver were fairly apolitical for me but then in 1976 I discovered the Gay Community Center on Lafayette Street and have ever since been devoted to the cause of fostering the Queer Agenda. I would say we have made great progress with our agenda judging from over a half a million participants in this year’s Denver Pride. This success in spite of the corporate takeover of the celebration and the fact that certain segments of the community have yet to enjoy many benefits at all. We all aren’t Pete and Chasten.
After more than 47 years of living at 5280 feet I am still not considered a native, but I certainly do consider Denver home. I also relish those now rare early mornings when I can smell the scent of fresh pine wafting off the foothills or if there is an easterly summer breeze the smell of freshly mowed alfalfa.
There seems to definitely be something about being a mile high that elicits a very progressive vibe. I am not just talking about pot shops on every corner and decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms. Though by no means perfect this is a great City to live in. Taking a cue from the U.S. Women’s soccer team maybe that little queer community center on Lafayette in the 1970’s was able to spread its wonderful tentacles. It allowed for the growth and nurturing of an environment conducive to a civilized and accepting oasis. You’ve got to have the gays. To quote Megan Rapinoe:
“You can’t win a championship without gays on your team,” she said. “It’s never been done before, ever. That’s science, right there.”
And I truly believe the same can be said about building any great city, a mile high or not, you need those queers.