A California Softie Meets Boulder

I’m writing a bi-monthly column for NewWest: The Voice of the Rocky Mountains — think Slate for the Rocky Mountain West.

My first column is titled: A California Softie Meets Boulder. Here it is:

The weather is the ultimate common denominator in a population. It follows, then, that Boulder’s cold, snowy welcome to me has been the subject of at least a dozen conversations I’ve had with locals since moving here two weeks ago from San Francisco.

There are several angles to these conversations. Most important there is disagreement among the locals over how long, exactly, it’s been since this town has seen so much cold and so much snow. If you feel the urge to wager a guess (3 years? 9 years? A lifetime?), go right ahead: a conversation among "locals" is maximally inclusive, since Colorado seems so short on bona fide natives that, in a year, I could probably legitimately call myself an old-timer.

This is because flocks of transplants from the Bay Area and New York migrate to Boulder in search of mountains, clean air, good schools, and – let’s face it, the factor which trumps all – a lower cost-of-living. The Economist recently reported that five million Californians now live outside the state, many in the Rocky Mountain West.

These non-natives have a seat at the weather table. They speak in unison: Good weather does not doesn’t involve heavy snow, ice, and sub-zero temperatures. Like the good activists they are, they seem to have beamed these anti-winter sentiments into the offices of the local newspaper, the Daily Camera, which last week somewhat neutrally asked, “Are People Living in Colorado Becoming Soft on Snow?”

Soft, you see, is not as much insult as genuine descriptor, and a complex one at that. It is a term reserved for Californians like myself who shudder at the thought at not being able to walk five blocks to pick up the Sunday paper without several layers of clothing. It is also a term deeper than intellectual flailing. I have, after all, made good mental progress in comprehending the reality around me. Having been here for two weeks, I can answer many of the questions my soft soul murmured upon arrival: What is "snowdrift"? What is real windshield wiper fluid? How do I scrape the ice off my windshield? But, I still feel unable to emotionally embrace the snow as useful or good. Rather, I imagine I’ve been transported into a Christmas movie, or trapped in a snow globe. Hence, I’m soft (or maybe just sane!).

Fortunately, Boulderites are friendly folk, and there seems to be a direct correlation between their chipper personality streak and the awfulness of the weather. (They probably feel bad for this short-term resident.) I have talked with many Boulderites – strangers or friends of friends – in a variety of local joints, and without exception, the overall sense of happiness is sky high notwithstanding the outdoor conditions.

It is quite easy to locate and then bask in the carefree chitchat of the warm indoors. After all, everything you’d want to do is within a 10 block radius of the Pearl Street Mall. When I first arrived and scheduled meetings at various offices in Boulder, I remarked several times to my companions, “We’re really close to each other!” Then I realized that Boulder is a small town, and everybody is close to everybody else. Whereas I could easily get lost in San Francisco, I can’t imagine ever truly losing my way in Boulder. Why or how there is such a thing as “North Boulder” and “South Boulder” is beyond me – the town should embrace its size, not yearn for the punch of a big city.

It is its size, in the end, which allows the community to transcend a spell of bad weather. Whereas I can imagine a city such as Chicago hunkers down in the depths of an unusually treacherous winter, a city like Boulder seems to awaken, precisely because its close quarters promote an osmosis of positive thinking: We’re going to get through this together, and have a great day!

It’s a testament to the DNA of the city that Boulder has accommodated a couple months of intense wind and snow in high spirits. It has even accommodated California softies like me.

3 Responses to A California Softie Meets Boulder

  1. Jude says:

    Umbrellas–to me that is the distinction between natives and non-natives. A native knows that no rainstorm is severe enough (with the exception of hailstorms–and why would you stay outside in one of those?) to warrant the use of an umbrella. Since you’ll be gone before non-natives break out the umbrellas, you might never see what I mean.

    I walked the length of Boulder once–from the campus to the northern section. If you walk that far, it no longer seems small.

  2. Dave Jilk says:

    The main difference between South Boulder and North Boulder is that South Boulder is 15 minutes closer to skiing.

    The difference between Chicago (and other cities) and Boulder in the winter is that most cities actually plow all the streets – even the cul-de-sacs. It’s unusual for snow to last this long here, but when it does, it’s a mess.

    Some people would consider Colorado’s economic engine to be the entire region from Fort Collins (lots of software companies up there) to Colorado Springs (lots of wireless technology and military work down there) as well as Denver (a few software companies – plus the stock show – I don’t love Denver). So if you’re comparing to the Bay Area, hanging around in Boulder is like never leaving Palo Alto – of course it’s not that large. Now take a meeting in the Denver Tech Center and you’ll see what I mean.

  3. I’m a former Boulder local – worked on 9th and Pearl for 4 years at the Sterling-Rice Group. Glad to hear your taking well to the city.

    If you’re looking for a few coffee spots let me recommend the Boulder Bookstore and Trident. I’ve posted some comments on Yelp. They’re both located on the west end of Pearl St.

    And your post about ping pong is great – in a similar vein I learned to play foosball at SRG.

    Kind Regards,
    Mike

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