Greetings from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, site of cattle ranches, ski resorts, and the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge. (About which more later.)
This is my happy place. Thanks to the generosity of an old friend, I come here every winter to watch the sky fall. Big white flakes of it drift down, often for long periods of time.
My family ties themselves to slats of wood and slides down the fallen sky until they themselves fall. Iíve never understood this. Iíve spent much of my life trying not to fall down.1 But my spouse and offspring all seem to have picked up the tie-yourself-to-slats-of-wood chromosome somewhere.
And theyíre not alone. Lots of other folks come to Steamboat to do it, and when I wander out to the slopes to watch my family, the hillside is covered with fallen sky covered by fallen people. Seems like this much falling should be done during a different season, but the sky only falls in winter, so thatís when we come here.
I donít do the slats of wood thing. By the time I had enough money to buy wooden slats, I had already culled out several knee ligaments playing baseball, and the medical consensus was that an endomorph like me would sorely need the ligaments I had left and shouldnít be putting them at risk. So I chauffeur and read and knit very badly and tackle sudokus (also very badly) and hike around in the fallen sky and gain weight.
Jeez, do I gain weight. Something about vacations. I been eating like Cheney had the launch codes. Iím already bigger than three of Jupiterís moons and itís only Thursday. If I donít mix in a salad or two soon, Iím gonna qualify for my own zip code.
But mostly, I just sit and watch the sky fall. Iím a southern California kid. I was well into my thirties before I first witnessed this phenomenon, and it remains nothing short of magical to me.
So I light a fire, put my feet up, stare out the window and try Ė mostly without success Ė to reconcile my belief in a just God with how good my life is.2
Periodically, I read a periodical.3 In this case, the periodical is Steamboat Today, which just has to be the best daily paper ever produced in a town of less than 10,000 permanent residents.4
Seriously, this is a terrific little newspaper that combines the best of the wire services and major dailies with their own dedicated staff of high school hockey and Routt County Planning Commission reporters. And the best thing about them is they have the good sense to know that the replacement of soda with juice machines at Steamboat High and the fact Kelly Labor has signed a letter of intent to play her soccer at Regis University next year is big news, and whether Iran gets reported to the U. N. for their nuclear program will just have to be moved back to page 14, next to Justice Alitoís first vote on the Supreme Court, thank you very much.
When your vision is that clear, itís probably easy to put out a good paper.
But, then again, they also get great material. And, as in most small venues, the police blotter is the very best.
Keep in mind, this is a place where they havenít yet had a murder this century. Three robberies in a year would be a crime wave. A local guy pled guilty to possession of less than an ounce of marijuana yesterday; the story got 9 column inches and ran with a photo. So help me. Heíll probably have to leave town.
So it figures the police blotter here would not look like the police blotter in . . . say . . . Santa Ana or San Francisco. And it doesnít. Most of it is auto accidents and ďgas-skips,Ē a problem so serious the gas pumps bear a sticker warning that if you donít pay for your gas, they will hunt you down and have you and all your cousins sterilized.5
Some examples of the police calls this week in Steamboat:
12:40 p. m. A man reported another driver passing cars over double yellow lines in the 300 block of Anglers Drive. Officers found the driver and gave him a ticket. Can you imagine? Not only do people call the police and report traffic infractions, the police go out and find the infractors!6
4:07 p. m. Someone reportedly passed a school bus while the busís lights were flashing on Fish Creek Falls Road. Officers were unable to locate the car. Just in case you thought the manhunt launched for the double-yellow crosser was a fluke.
5:59 p. m. A woman in the 1400 block of Athens Plaza reported almost being hit by falling icicles and snow that workers were shoveling off the roof. The woman said the chunks of ice and snow ďwere the size of people,Ē and the workers werenít looking where the snow was falling. The workers had left the area by the time officers arrived. Otherwise, they would have been shot down on the spot.
6:45 p. m. A woman in the 1700 block of Timothy Drive reported her neighbor had pushed snow onto her yard and broken some trees. Iím betting itís the same woman, after narrowly surviving her brush with death at Athens Plaza.
10:00 a. m. A woman in the 59000 block of U. S. Forest Service Road 42 in Clark reported someone damaging her garage doors. The woman said the doors probably were damaged several weeks ago, though she just noticed it. Nothing was taken from the garage. Wouldnít you love to know why she thought it was probably done several weeks ago and why she wouldnít have noticed until now? Just got switched from swing shift to days?
9:42 a. m. An eight-year-old boy reportedly was crying hysterically and running after a garbage truck in the 500 block of Wyatt Way. The boy later returned home, but his mother called the police to report the incident. This is the kind of police work that somehow never makes it into an episode of Law And Order: Criminal Intent. You tell me: If youíre the cop responding to this call, just what is it from your police academy training that you apply to it?
And finally, my favorite of the week: 10:25 p. m. A woman in the 3000 block of Village Drive reported hearing loud music and seeing people urinating in the bushes and stealing bicycles. Officers contacted the individuals and told them to turn down their music and to stop stealing bicycles and urinating in the bushes. Now that there, as my uncle used to say, that there is some great police work.7
But for all the entertainment provided by the Steamboat Today police blotter, I regret that I will miss the highlight of the winter.
No, not the Winter Carnival. Although thatís pretty great. They have a ski-jumping contest, and fireworks, and the high school clubs and organizations compete for a prize for best-ice-sculpture-constructed-outside-a-restaurant-or-F. M. Lightís-without-breaking-your-tailbone-or-getting-arrested-for-shoveling-snow-on-grumpy-Mrs.-Schnaphammer, and all kinds of amazing things go on. Not that.
Not the breadbowl full of spaghetti, served with a side of fries at Johnny B. Goodís Diner. Although Iím betting thatís pretty special.
No, the City Council meeting. Thatís what I hate to miss. The one where they discuss whether to change the name of the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge. Man, Iíd give up my Robert Earl Keen, Jr. collection and my yak-trax for that.8
According to Steamboat Today, ďCity Council has received a petition from community members requesting that the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge be returned to its original name of the Stockbridge. This discussion will take place at the City Council on Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at approximately 5:30 pm in Citizensí Meeting Room located in Centennial Hall at 124 10th Street.Ē
The James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge? In Steamboat Springs, Colorado?
James Brown as in ďI Feel GoodĒ? James Brown as in ďPapaís Got a Brand New BagĒ? James Brown as in high-speed car chases, threatening pedestrians with a firearm, four wife-beating arrests and a prison rap for pcp? That James Brown?
Yep. The very same.
Soul Center of the Universe? Steamboat Springs, Colorado? A town with more Native Americans than African Americans?
Absolutely. Could I make this up?
And could there possibly be a more unlikely combination than James Brown and a cow-town bridge? This is like finding out the Waylon Jennings Luckenbach Texas Obelisk is located in Times Square.
How did this happen? How did scientists manage to identify this as the Soul Center of the Universe, and did they not consider it pretty bizarre that cattle used to ford the river at this very place? Why is this not listed in the Auto Club Book? How many times has the Godfather of Soul actually played Steamboat Springs? And who opened for him, Garth Brooks?
Intrepid big-time columnist that I am, I sought out these answers. My daughter Cait and I struggled through a blizzard9 to get to the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge. Itís an elegant little footbridge across the Yampa River, at the west edge of town, near the Stockbridge Center.10 Itís about fifty yards in length, constructed of hunter green iron, and quite lovely. Mr. Brown, if he ever saw it, must be proud.
But we noted no unusual natural phenomena that would indicate this was the Soul Center of the Universe. Iíd expected swirling clouds or mysterious lights, suspension of gravity, whirlpools in the river, three women in mini-skirts and afros to sing back-up . . . something! Nope.
We also noticed no sign. I would think the Soul Center of the Universe would merit a sign. The hot springs that dot the landscape around here all seem to have signs. One even has a gazebo.
But thereís nothing to differentiate the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge from pretty much any other bridge Iíve ever seen. At least nothing I could ever see.
But then again, thatís why Iím only here one week a year: Iím not very bright.
If I were, Iíd use the City Council meeting as an excuse to stay another month. At least.
3 I like to think this kind of writing is beneath me, but I keep doing it. Go figure.back
4 Steamboat hovers around 9,500, but the skiers probably outweigh them during the winter Ė at least during my week.back
5 Or something like that. You know I donít read legal stuff very closely.back
6 Of course itís a word. What else would you call them? Infractionites? Infractitioners?back
7 Looking back at the police blotter excerpts it occurs to me that Steamboat men may be handling the winter better than Steamboat women this year. Iíve been writing this column 25 years now and I can count on one hand the number of times my gender looked better than the other. Gawd, I love this town!back
8 Probably my first ever ďtwo google footnote.Ē I donít try to be obscure; sometimes I just canít help myself. Besides, these are two great things you probably donít know about. You should thank me.back
9 Keep in mind, I grew up in socal. My standards for a blizzard are not the same as those of the U. S. Weather Service.back
10 Whose name has inexplicably NOT been changed.back