November: To Colorado

I am now listing upcoming concerts on a separate page called Concerts. 


Colorado

On Halloween morning, I flew out to Denver, Colorado for the Huntington’s Study Group Conference in Denver. Kathy and I had lived in Boulder and Denver in the 80s before she became ill. Visiting Colorado was also an opportunity to spend some time with my brother John and sister Lisa. At this point in life, it seems that the only family visits we have are at hospitals and memorial services. My last visit was when my mom passed away.

It was great to plan a non-emergency / non-tragedy visit for a change. John and Lisa live in the growing Louisville/Lafayette area between Boulder and Denver. It was really convenient. John writes about food as a freelancer and talks about food on his Radio Nibbles show on KGNU-FM in Boulder. The day after I arrived I went with him to the station to record a few of his food segments. I sang a version of his theme song, Everybody Eats When They Come to My House, an old Cab Calloway song.

I got to spend some time with my sister Lisa, also. She has been gradually returning to work after a series of medical problems. I helped her around the house as much as I could. In between everything I got a bunch of my design work done. I had to finish up an annual report for a client back home. Those things do not wait for you to return. That Thursday night the three of us went to an open mic at an old opera house in Longmont CO. It was fun performing at a new venue.


Vance Gilbert performing at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, CO

Vance Gilbert. The following evening John and I went to a concert by Vance Gilbert, a folk (and jazz) performer I’ve always enjoyed. Kathy and I saw him probably in the early 90s at the Iron Horse Open Mic back when that existed. I knew I would be going to his workshop the next weekend at NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance Conference) in Connecticut. It was good to see a whole performance and to meet him. The concert was at Planet Bluegrass, the site of the Rockygrass and Folks Festivals during the summer. I noticed during part of Vance’s performance that there was a lot of noise and talking coming from the back of the venue. It turned out fans of the opening act were chatting away as they left early. Rather than singing louder to overcome the noise, Vance stepped away from the microphone. As he sang a little softer, the audience hushed up as well. By then some of them had left. After the performance, I chatted with him and gave him a CD with a few of my tunes. I told him I would see him at NERFA. He said if I went to his performance workshop he would make sure I got on.


Huntington’s Study Group Conference

Saturday morning I went to the Huntington’s conference. I drove down in John’s old Nissan van. It is a bucket of bolts with no fuel gauge and lots of unusual noises, but it worked fine and got me back fine too. (Nissan also made my Old Yellow Datsun with one green door that Kathy and I drove when we lived in Boulder.) John also drives for Lyft so he has a leased car that we used most of the time.

The Huntington Study Group (HSG) is the world’s first HD cooperative therapeutic research organization. Today, HSG is a world leader in facilitating clinical research studies that bring us closer to finding effective treatments for HD. The main part of the conference is for the researchers and scientists to connect and share. Saturday was the family day for the less geeky HD community and families. I had hoped I would perform my song, The Huntington’s Waltz but as it turned out the schedule was so tight that they couldn’t fit me into the schedule. That was okay because it let me attend the conference without lugging my guitar around and worrying about performing. It gave me a chance to talk to other families about Kathy and listen to some of the other family stories about HD as well. My caregivers’ group rarely has actual Huntington’s patients. At the conference, there were several people with noticeable HD symptoms. Because it was Colorado, there was a talk on using marijuana and Cannabis as a Huntington’s treatment. It was really interesting. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done but I was seated with a mom and her young son with Juvenile Huntington’s (JHD). When his chorea (the squirming and shaking movements in HD) started up, she gave him son a few drops of CBD oil (Cannabidiol). His movements did calm down but it also sedated him. There was also another session I went to about genetic testing: whether to test; when to test; and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, a method of prenatal testing.

It was a chance to meet a lot of members of the HD community in person. We have been friends on Facebook and online over the last few years. I got to hear from the two doctors that run the HDBuzz website. They put on a very entertaining and even humorous timeline of evolution and the quest for effective treatments for Huntington’s. HDBuzz is a great source for the latest information in an easy to digest form. One of the doctors that created it is gene positive.

The final presentation was by Charles Sabine, a former journalist for NBC News. He is also gene-positive for Huntington’s but has dedicated his life to increasing awareness about the disease. He was one of the co-organizers of the event where Huntington’s patients from Venezuela visited Pope Francis last May and narrated parts of a documentary about bringing the patients to Italy. There were no dry eyes in the house. Very moving and heartwarming.


Denver sightseeing

After the conference was over I had some time to roam around Denver. When Kathy and I lived there in the mid-80s I had my office in two historic renovation projects downtown. I wanted to see how they were holding up without me. The 16th Street Mall seemed a little rundown from my days there. Much of the streetscape and planning was designed by the office of I.M. Pei. While initially attractive it started falling apart before it even opened due to poor engineering. He designed it with granite tiles that broke constantly from the weight of the electric shuttle buses. I thought at the very least they would have changed the driving lanes to something practical. The buses are now rolling billboards. They have to make money to keep them running. I wanted to see the buildings I was involved with as a designer.

The Masonic Building: Learning design by fire

The Masonic Building was bought and developed by my friends and clients, Cambridge Development Group. As the renovations were set to begin a disgruntled tenant, Walter Garcia set the building on fire in March of 1983. He wasn’t ready to move out because his new store (also in one of our buildings) was not ready. The Masons were actually having a meeting upstairs in their lodge and it was fortunate that everyone got out alive. As it turned out I had been in our office in the next building with one of the developers when the fire would have started. When the arson trial occurred I was a witness since I was his alibi. It was one of the largest fires in Denver history. Kathy and I watched as they tried to put it out.

Everyone figured that the building would get knocked down but Cambridge and various parts of the Denver community came up with a plan to save the outside walls. They would build another building inside the shell. Then the walls could be attached to the structure with epoxy bolts. At one point they considered disassembling the walls, block by block and re-assembling it. One of my jobs at that point was to photograph every inch of the outside walls so we could give each piece a number.

But a new plan was developed to install exterior braces similar to the buttresses on a cathedral and bolt those to the walls to stabilize it. The Masons had blocked up the big stained glass window areas in 1948 to cut down on street noise. It made the fire so hard to fight. But that actually may have helped the walls survive.

(One thing that is frightening as I look back at that time is that the internet “history” is all over the place. I need to do some additional digging into my attic files to correct the record. Googling the fire comes up with the fire in three different years and the wrong architects listed.) 

Signage. The building signage has improved since 1988 when I left. Denver signage laws prevented us from having signs perpendicular to the walls of the building. So as you were walking down the pedestrian mall it was harder to find some smaller shops. I made some presentations to different downtown groups and city departments. This was before Powerpoint and computer graphics. I hired actual airbrush artists to illustrate what we wanted. The problem was timing. The downtown association, Downtown Denver intended to allow such signs, but the plan and the regulations were still on the back burner. With the oil recession going on, some of the stores were struggling. And the sign guy (me) always got blamed. At any rate, that rule has changed. The large entrance canopy is new as well.


For the Neusteter’s sign, we had to remove the first “s” and create a mold to cast a copy of it in bronze to use at the end.

Neusteters

The only signs that remain from my Denver days were at the Neusteter Building, a few blocks away. Neusteter’s was a classic downtown department store building that we renovated into apartments. That signage survived for some reason.

Entryway signs were made with a faux granite called Avonite, used for kitchen counters.

Our first house

The Old Homestead. After my downtown walk, I still had a little time before I needed to meet John at his friend, Kim’s house. Since he lives close to where Kathy and I had our first house I drove by the old neighborhood in South Denver. The old house looked nice. We sold it for 69,000 in 1988 to move here. Now it is on Zillow for over 400,000. It is still the same color that we painted it. And just one bathroom. And two bedrooms, if you count the living room as a bedroom. There is a large tree to the left that wasn’t there when we owned it.

Everything else looks about the same including our fencing and Kathy’s first “studio.”  That was really a circa 1920’s tar paper garage. There was no way you could have fit a regular car in there. I installed a brick paver floor and cedar shake siding and two wood stoves to heat it. And I replaced the plywood doors with used french doors. The accountant that lived across the alley from us was not impressed. When he helped me do my taxes he saw the listed construction materials. “I am afraid if I back out of my driveway and bump that thing, it will collapse!” But, it is still there. Newer owners added some Victorian details like a porch railing and some trim which looks nice.

I didn’t stop to say hello. I wasn’t sure I could handle the memories.

The first house Kathy and I owned was in the southern part of Denver. This is just a Google Street view.

John’s friend Kim is also a freelance writer of books and guides. His house is on Broadway a few blocks south-west of our house. His walls were absolutely lined with books. He is working with my brother on a book about pie. Actually, it is about my brother’s life with pie. He has written and promoted pie for decades. I liked Kim’s sense of humor and his collection of smiling Buddha statues holding different food groups. He was hoping they would sell as posters.


Moxie Bread Gig

Sunday afternoon was my concert at Moxie Bread company in Louisville. The owner Andy Clark was a wonderful host. Since I didn’t have a PA system he brought his Fender Twin guitar amp which worked great for a small space. I brought my microphone (a Shure sm57 knockoff) but there was no way to fit a regular microphone stand in my suitcase. I found an adapter that converts a photo tripod to a mic holder. It worked better at home than it did in the shop. I ended up duct-taping the contraption to a table ( a tree stump but who is keeping track.)

I did two sets and during the break in between, I got to chat with Allen, my friend from Cambridge Development. We hadn’t seen each other for almost 30 years. My brother John brought a number of his friends and folks from KGNU showed up as well.

The next morning I was able to finish my annual report project and upload it to the cloud. That evening I flew back to Hartford and drove home to get ready for NERFA in a few days.

 

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