Thursday, August 23, 2007

Never enough real estate

Our Baptist preacher was famous for waxing poetic on John’s visions of the New Jerusalem as found in the Book of Revelation, focusing specifically, and in lurid detail, on the streets of gold. Lesser details of splendor included perpetual radiance, foundations of precious gems and gates of pearl, surely a dazzling spectacle in divine contrast to the mud-walled villages common to the times. Had John seen what I’m seeing now—the lights of Denver sparkling like some galaxy fallen to earth—I’m sure he would have thought the new heaven and the new earth prematurely arrived. Me, I tend to think of it as the new hell.

Thankfully, the vision is retreating in our rear view mirror. Before us stretches a whole lot of empty space as evidenced by vast swathes of darkness, and more darkness is yet to come. I won’t breathe easy until I’m on Highway 36 past Byers, trading the fast-paced interstate for a narrow two-lane blacktop tracking straight to Kansas. Byers tends to be the tipping point for sustainable urbanization and commutability, and even then it’s pushing the limit. To the blessed east is only real estate, 99% of which is wide open.

Even as a boy I was skeptical of stories alluding to fabulous cities. Growing up in New Mexico provided an education rife with tales of conquistadors wandering broken and destitute across the Llano Estacado in search of the Seven Cities of Gold, disastrous outings whose endings were bad for the believers and worse for the unbelievers. That the pastor wanted us to stake our eternal lives on such claims made me uneasy. Haven’t we been down that road before? was the question I longed to ask, but as questioning was not something a wise Baptist child did, I kept my yap shut and dreamed of what might lie outside the walls of the glittering city.

It’s always been so. I could blame my parents for indoctrinating us in the hedonism and solace of the great outdoors, but mostly I ascribe the fault to the nature of cities themselves. Early experience taught me that being outdoors was life-affirming (fishing, camping, hiking, exploring), whereas cities were life-threatening (school, bullies, church, yard work, washing dishes, etc.). It was, in fact, an easy connection to make.

Looking at it through older and presumably wiser eyes, I still find fault with Brother Goldman’s fixation on streets of gold. Gravel roads are really much more pleasurable, and anyway I can’t imagine eternal bliss without a chile stand on each corner and the ethereal aroma of roasting chiles on a late summer day.

The latter explains in part our hurried trip to Denver. With only a paltry few sacks of roasted chiles in the freezer, we deemed it time to make our annual pilgrimage. In Denver we could also see our sons, eat some glorious Mexican food, and, possibly the most important reason, visit the Apple store and feast our eyes (or my eyes, anyway) on my next computer.

We stayed with our son Joel and his wife, Michelle, in Arvada. I wasn’t prepared for the sense of claustrophobia that assailed me, whether at their house, packed cheek to jowl with the neighbors, or the traffic, which was a constant jam. But at no time did I experience such a sense of panic as I did when we drove out to the Flatirons Mall.

So vast is the mall and its extended environs that a detailed map was needed to find the store and the correct parking lot. Joel punched up Google on his laptop and printed us out an overview of the area, complete with arrows pointing out the correct lanes to navigate the maze of streets leading into, and out of, the mall. I quailed when considering its size, roughly that of Blue Rapids but with ten times the population. That quailing continued there and back, when I wanted nothing more than to lock myself into their house and never come out.

Ah, but if John was dazzled by a city of gold so pure it was clear as glass, I saw revelation in the new iMac. Specifically, the new iMac with 24” monitor, 2.4 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo chipset, 4 GB RAM, 320 GB hard drive and ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO graphics card with 256 MB memory. Its seamless fusion of aluminum and glass, its stylish exterior, its renowned functionality—goodbye Bill Gates!—had me stupefied. Where before I had been bedeviled over whether I wanted a 20” or 24” monitor, one glance put it to rest. “All that extra real estate,” I said in awe to the clerk. Lori just shook her head.

After that we found a chile stand and inhaled deeply as three bushels of Hatch green chiles roasted to charred perfection. Storing the boxes in the back seat infused the car with a heavenly aroma so ineffable that even the horrific traffic could not dampen my mood. I sailed along happy as a lark, with visions of chile rellenos and smothered burritos and crystalline monitors stretching to the horizons of my desk.

The next morning we rose early and slipped away under the cover of darkness. Traffic was light as we broke free of the gravitational pull of the city and fled into the night. Lights faded as dawn paled the horizon. The curve of the earth swept Denver away.

Real estate indeed. John’s vision of the New Jerusalem was one of effulgent glory. After witnessing the new iMac, I completely understand. But it’s here that we go our separate ways, for he was looking for civilization and I’m looking for the opposite. Give me a few acres, a small chile patch, a shade tree and a gravel road and I’ll be content. Oh, and a new Apple computer. After all, in land and flat-panel monitors, one can never have too much real estate.

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