Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The other side of the glass

Oh, I love this movie.
We aren't living in our home in Minturn, Colorado WW right now. We've got renters in our house for at least four more months, so we're living in a condo in nearby Avon. And even after their lease is up, we might let them stay longer, mostly because it costs us half as much to live in this 770 square-foot apartment than our 1700 square-foot house with a yard. But we're also kinda liking this high falootin' city livin'.

Quick geo-social primer on the Vail Valley: Minturn is the only town in the valley that's off the interstate, so it's quaint, quiet, and rustic. The price for peace and quiet is also that little goes on in Minturn, particularly relative to Vail and Avon, the tourist core and the locals' core, respectively. If you live in Minturn you pretty much have to have a car and drive or choose between eating lunch and riding a bus (8...cough, cough...dollars, round trip).

But we are situated in Avon directly below Beaver Creek mountain in Avon, so skiing is a mere five-minute walk away. And the core of Avon (as much as it can be said to have one) is a five-minute walk the other way, around a lake (that currently has free ice-skating). On the other side of that lake is the library and the rec. center (with huge family pool, lap pool, gym, various exercise classes, etc.). Five minutes more gets us to loads of restaurants. And if we've got a load of groceries or retail burdens (or really cranky kids), the free town bus will take us from the center right to our apartment.

So we're pedestrians again. We do have a car, but we've gotten our feet so used to moving regularly back and forth, and our minds used to having free time to think, that we find ourselves walking by choice! Not something we expected from our sabbatical experience. Of course if we end up with regular jobs again you'll have to ask us how that's working out for us.

But another upside is that we're currently figuring out how to grow on the Spanish we learned in Ecuador. And it turns out that by riding the local bus, we might just as well be in Ecuador, or Mexico at least. We still get as many "What are you white people doing here?" stares on the Avon bus as we did in Ecuador. So since we get to practice our Spanish whenever riding the bus, and since the bus is free, we might just spend a few hours a week riding around in circles with the kids. Miren, niƱos, Big Ben!

We also find that, from a traffic control perspective, home is not quite as pedestrian-friendly as we'd imagined. Having been in a land where the pedestrian is made to feel like a mouse crossing the feline exhibit at the zoo, we seemed to create a fantasy in our minds that at home every corner had a flashing pedestrian crossing sign and sidewalks were always smooth, clean, and wide. Of course this is not the case, but it turns out it need not be the case either, as our experience shortly proved.

Coming now from Ecuador, we have developed a heightened sense for pedestrian life. We have tremendous situational awareness and are planning our routes in our minds to avoid being near traffic. The kids are trained to quickly grab an extended adult hand whenever they see it or hear the "hands!" command. But even in intersections with sight-limiting turns, broad expanse of road to cross, and no pedestrian signs, drivers here almost universally saw our "parents with children crossing road" look (adults side by side, each holding the hand of one child, who are at the center and just behind in the formation), stopped in the street, and waved us across. At one point we had cars stopped in each direction and one waiting to come out of the post office drive.

Bizarro. Great bizarro, though. But we didn't see anyone else out walking. Granted it was snowing, but this is a ski town! Surely everyone is prepared to be snowed on and to slog through snow on the ground? Had we not already lived here we might wonder if we're not in some sort of Truman Show world designed just for us, with everyone else directed to stay out of the shot. But alas, we know it is just habit. Here in the American West you typically have to drive at some point (we have to drive the kids to/from school, now that we're away from their bus routes). And once you get into the habit of driving everywhere, well, you drive everywhere. It's right there, it's easy, it's comfortable, it feels safe (even if it's not). Or maybe it's just easier to keep up with the dog.


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