Kicking It Old School

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently caused a bit of a stir by stating that France and Germany’s reluctance to support a war against Iraq indicated they were still part of “old Europe.” A high ranking French official replied, “I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but talking about war and ‘old Germany’ makes us a bit nervous.”

Jacked Up

President Bush today reiterated that time is running out for Saddam Hussein. The Commander in Chief compared the situation to “a rerun of a bad movie and I’m not interested in watching.” The President summed up his speech by saying, “I want to watch a fun, new movie– preferably that one with the wacky computer-generated talking Kangaroo everyone is talking about.”

Travel Guide: Estes Park

Welcome to the first installment of the newfunny travel guide. After an exhaustive planning session, I have decided to focus this series on various geographic areas in Colorado. Being that I’ve lived in the state since I was three, I have more than two decades of life experience to help provide rich and thoughtful descriptions. Or I can just make stuff up as I go along and pretend it actually happened. Either way, my goal is to provide entertaining, useful, and possibly historically accurate information about Colorado.

There is no single best way to get to Estes Park. But, if you are starting the journey from Denver, Colorado, get on I-25 and head north. Unless, of course, you are on a bicycle, in which case a less highway-centric route would be advisable. Exit the Interstate at Highway 34 and head west. This will take you through the town of Loveland and into the mountains. Stay on Highway 34 through the canyon, and eventually you will drive right through the town. You can’t miss it. Estimated travel time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours, unless your girlfriend/wife/significant other/life partner/pet has a hankering for cherry-rhubarb pie. (But more on that in a minute.)

From a geological perspective, the most interesting aspect of the ride to Estes Park is Big Thompson Canyon. Despite stunning views of the high canyon walls, the area, much like the Bubonic Plague, is best known for its history of death and destruction. The date was July 31, 1976. The nation as a whole had just finished cleaning up all the fallen ticker tape from its bicentennial celebration when a sudden rainstorm drenched the area, causing a massive flash flood. When all was said and done, 146 people died in the canyon that day, and countless homes and businesses in the canyon were destroyed.

Authorities in the area used the natural disaster as a catalyst for change. Bridges in the canyon were rebuilt, roads were improved, and the, “In case of flood, burrow to safety” road signs were replaced with a more effective campaign recommending that people instead climb out of the way of flood waters. In addition to these infrastructure changes, the receding waters provided a fertile environment for various tourist-oriented operations to blossom. Businesses in the area tend to focus on such niche markets as cherry-rhubarb pie and high-volume discount T-shirt sales.

While the drive up the canyon is chalk full of visual stimulation, anyone looking for even more colorful scenery might want to consider taking Devil’s Gulch Road instead of the main highway. Located about ten miles up the canyon, this slight detour adds a few miles of twisting road to the journey. In exchange for a reduced average velocity, this route goes through remote mountain areas and the small rustic town of Glen Haven. To get an idea of how out of the way this road is, the Starbucks corporation hasn’t even begun to attempt replacing the general store with a coffee franchise.

The main street in Estes Park is a pedestrian friendly series of shops. Being a secluded mountain town, many of these stores focus on specialized candy and dessert items. This phenomena can be traced back to the spring of 1910, when the state legislature passed a law limiting where certain types of food can be produced and distributed. As a result, you can’t buy fresh-pulled taffy anywhere on the front range or eastern plains. In Estes Park, however, there are no fewer than seventeen stores that produce this delicacy on a daily basis. In the slower winter months, groups of candy thugs meander through town threatening violence to anyone even thinking about making a purchase in the wrong taffy store.

Despite this minor turf war, the area is quite family-oriented. During the warm summer months children can be seen enjoying themselves on just about every sidewalk, often times with their hands, mouths, hair, and clothes enveloped in a sugary, gooey, slobber-laced mass of pulled taffy. When they finally surrender to the sticky force of the candy, these kids inevitably head back towards their parents for assistance. Mom and dad stop their window shopping, smile at the display of childhood innocence, and watch as their offspring try to outrun the pack of local domesticated canines focused on scoring their next hit of refined sugar. The slower children generally come out unharmed, except for the severe psychological damage associated with being stuck at the bottom of a taffy-induced dog pile.

One of the most well known landmarks in town is the combination Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Following at a distant second is the Stanley Hotel. While the Hotel’s fried chicken is mediocre at best, this location is what comes to mind when recalling the movie, “The Shining.” The classic horror film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson, and based on the Stephen King novel, has almost nothing to do with the physical building. The book was only loosely based on the hotel, the hotel in the movie doesn’t look anything like the real one, and high-profile movie stars hardly ever rampage through the building with a fire ax while possessed by evil demon-spirits. In fact, the hotel sports a light, open, and refreshing architectural design.

In an attempt to “make it real,” the Stanley Hotel was used in “The Shining” miniseries. Like most other Stephen King made-for-TV specials, the final product received poor reviews and, based on the Nielson television rating system, was watched by fewer people than it took to film the show. To date, revenue from the miniseries trails behind “The Shining” book sales, “The Shining” movie DVD rentals, and even advertisement proceeds from The Simpsons’ “The Shinning” Halloween special. The Stanley Hotel was briefly featured in the full length motion picture, “Dumb and Dumber” as Jim Carry pulled up in a Ferrari at the Hotel’s main entrance. It wasn’t the Stanley Hotel in the movie– it was, according to “the script,” supposed to be a glitzy hotel in Aspen. Despite intense and continued efforts, the Hotel has yet to make it to the “A list” of motion picture locations.

So there you have it– Estes Park in a nutshell. While this chapter is not designed to be a complete history and travel guide for the area, it should help casual visitors understand the overall character of the city. For more detailed information, as always, please refer to your local library or pulled taffy Mafia connection.

In Television News

Fox announced plans today for yet another high-profile reality show. Twenty teenage female contestants will compete against each other for a year long contract to help promote maxi pads, tampons, and other feminine hygiene products. When asked how long this reality show theme can go on, one high ranking network official replied, “While the general public has several options with this genre, we strongly believe we have a hit concept with ‘American Midol.'”

In High Technology

Microsoft Corporation recently announced plans to enhance everyday objects such as watches and refrigerator magnets. These devices will provide users with up-to-date information regarding sports scores, traffic reports, and, somewhere down the road, home power outages and threats at your children’s school. When asked about this new technology, Microsoft founder Bill Gates commented, “While I’m not a psychologist, I think I wouldn’t be trying to take over the world right now if my parents received real-time text messages every time I got a wedgie in the eighth grade.”

In Exotic Motorcycle News

Dodge recently unveiled a new prototype motorcycle. Sitting on four wheels and sporting a 10 cylinder Viper engine, the machine can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds and has an estimated top speed of 400 miles per hour. A slightly less impressive statistic was recorded, however, when the vehicle had to stop for refueling midway through the quarter mile.

Chicken Little

P.E.T.A. is currently campaigning for a general boycott of Kentucky Fried Chicken. When queried, a spokesperson for the organization stated, “They are raising chickens in a safe and sanitary environment– we are just disgusted by the continued production of annoying commercials with that fat, annoying guy from Seinfeld.”

Heading Out To San Francisco

For one reason or another, my family isn’t very big on Christmas tradition. We don’t cut down live trees. We don’t prepare an elaborate turkey dinner for Christmas. Heck, we have yet to construct a family coat of arms. This probably means the Lutfey family isn’t every going to be featured in a Norman Rockwell painting anytime in the foreseeable future. Despite all of this, we do make an effort to be in the same city every year around the holidays. This year my mom and I packed our bags and headed out to visit my sister in San Francisco. (NOTE TO SELF: Come up with a witty and insightful “Rice-a-roni” joke to end the paragraph.)

My journey started out by driving to Denver International Airport. My plan was to park in the long term parking lot and take the shuttle to the terminal. Which would have worked fine, except for the fact that the long term parking was too full to accept any new cars. I honestly don’t how this could happen since the airport is located in the geographic center of the Great Plains. I think letting cars park next to the paved parking lot in one of the hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped prairie land would be a valid option. But then again, people often tell me I think too much. My concern started growing when I kept driving towards the airport only to find the on-site long term parking was full. Same thing for the relatively close-in economy parking. The only option left was parking in the actual parking garage. Fortunately, there was plenty of empty spots. Unfortunately, it is the most expensive place to park in the entire state of Colorado. As I got out of the car I noticed a sign stating that all cars left would be towed when either A) Thirty days had elapsed, or B) The bill for parking exceeds the estimated blue book value of the car.

Once we arrived in San Francisco and got all of our belonging settled, my sister drove us around the city so we could see various points of interest. After seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, my sister drove us through the mission district (a predominantly gay part of the city.) As we were stopped at an intersection, I pointed to a man in the crosswalk and said, “He looks SO gay.” Right after I said that, I realized my window was open. The guy looked right at me, made a “telephone” gesture by extending his thumb and pinkie finger, and mouthed the words “call me.”

OK, the last part just happened in my “wouldn’t it have been funny if…” fantasy world. My mom was completely offended by the whole situation, which only made it more entertaining for me. My sister was amused, but thought I was flattering myself. I spent the next hour or so making the telephone gesture whenever my mom looked at me. My sister’s boyfriend sat in the car quietly thinking to himself, “They will be gone in three days. They will be gone in three days….”

Over the past few years we have gotten into the habit (or “tradition”, if you will) of going to see some form of theatrical presentation around the holidays. In the past we have seen “Rent” and “Phantom of the Opera.” This year my sister purchased tickets to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” I must say it was quite an experience. Anyone familiar with transsexual Nazi propaganda musicals knows exactly what I’m talking about. For all the other people out there still living in trees and caves, the show centers around a young man whose penis is cut off in an elaborate attempt to escape from East Berlin during the mid 1980s. Despite (or maybe because of) the odd premise, I enjoyed the evening. The musical numbers were fun to listen to and the finale used enormous volumes of artificial fog. (NOTE TO IMPRESSIONABLE READERS: Please do not take this paragraph as an endorsement of genital mutilation.)

After my whole “getting stuck in the women’s bathroom in an Amsterdam McDonalds” experience back in 1999, I thought my days of writing about fast food franchise restrooms were over. Not so, it turns out. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Despite being in the culturally diverse city of San Francisco, we stopped in a McDonalds near my sister’s apartment one afternoon for a quick bite to eat. Situated on the west side of the city near a monstrously large park, the area is home to quite a few homeless people. One of the fundamental rules of owning a restaurant in a large city is to make it really difficult for anyone to use the bathroom facilities. Most of the time this involves the use of a bathroom key tied to some sort of large and cumbersome item such as a brick or open container of scalding hot french fry grease.

This facility, however, took the inaccessibility concept one step further by installing a remote buzzer device. Anyone wanting to go to the bathroom would go to the cashier and asked to be buzzed inside. In principle, this is a decent solution. There is, however, a weak link in the system– it assumes everyone understands the concept of a buzzer. Which, unfortunately, was not the case. As we sat at a table we watched several people have difficulty gaining entrance to the bathroom. One young man kept trying to turn the knob after the buzzer stopped, which turns out to be the exact opposite of what he was supposed to be doing. This led to a rather annoyed manager coming over and giving him a quick lesson on how to operate the door. This was followed by a spirited philosophical discussion of “if there is one person in the bathroom and two stalls, am I allowed to go in?” After we finished eating, I decided it would just be easier to go outside and pee in an obscured corner of the parking lot.

Eventually we had to fly back to Colorado. We got on the plane and I realized the passenger in the seat next to me was the same guy one I yelled at in the Mission District. Let’s just say I had some explaining to do. Or was I sitting next to my mom? Either way, the plane landed in Colorado, I went back to Loveland, and my sister’s boyfriend is happy to be rid of us for the better part of a year.