Things to do in Denver if you're not dead...

Added on Tuesday 28 Aug 2012

“Is it possible that, after all the years of our knowing, after all the centuries of our poets and prophets having accurately charted the territories of the human heart, we still wander ...

I hit the road again that night, the bus climbed into the Rocky Mountains at sunset and dumped me in Cheyenne, Wyoming at about 4 a.m. A wave of freezing weather was also passing through and the town was twenty or thirty degrees colder than it should have been. I had not had much sleep either. Somebody up there did not seem to want to make things easy for me.”

(James Christie [quoting John Donne], written on the road back from Australia, 1st November 1989)

Photo: denver and not dead. It would be twenty-three years before I’d come right up against the Continental Divide again. The Rockies are aptly named. A seemingly solid wall of jagged, sloping rock separating the Midwest from the Far West. Two years earlier, I’d slipped around it via Flagstaff and up to Vegas through the San Francisco Peaks. This time the walls of cliff stood straight before me and it felt as if, like Ourobouros, the snake devouring its own tail like a black reptilian Möbius strip, I’d been brought back to face myself before finding the way home.

So, come out of the brown and failing Kansas wheat and cornfields, past tall thin wind turbines which seem to stand guard over fragile and remote farms like Martian monopods, find your way to Denver for the first time in your life and find yourself a mile high in the Greyhound terminal one morning, eating a sub and contemplating the end of days like a lone mountaineer on the last ledge he’ll ever scale.

I remember that young man who’d first passed that way, but I am no longer he.

A radio interview which Juliet and I have done for WGTR in Chicago has gone out along the wire, word is spreading about Dear Miss Landau, and I am like the Wichita lineman, out there in the ether and still on the line.

I stay the night in a Motel 6 on West 49th Avenue, ruefully reflecting on the fact that I’m a mile high and the couple next door are making a determined effort to join the Mile High club. Seeing around the 16th Street Mall in the centre of Denver the following day, I hear slower Western drawls and see an elderly Native American woman on the RTD bus, hair like steely coal and skin of light tan.

This seems to be Denver, a slight whiff of frontier territory but a city without major problems (or so a seller of Street Voice tells me) and an open, friendly air on its wide streets.

But this is the same city where only a month ago 12 people were killed and 59 injured in a random attack during the premiere of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.

The issue of gun control has been rumbling on in America for generations, and I do not want to revisit the same old hackneyed and polarised arguments (guns don’t kill people, people do! – yeah, but they use guns to do so...) and endless dispute over the wording of the Second Amendment.

So here’s a straightforward little thought. I come from an army family, and know a little about guns. Basically, a gun makes it very easy to kill someone. Far too easy. It’s just a twitch of thumb and forefinger which sends a projectile tearing through someone’s body at 2,000 miles an hour. The entry wound is usually small, but you could fit a big man’s fist in the exit wound. It isn’t like it’s shown in the movies (except The Wild Bunch and Saving Private Ryan). The victim is thrown back maybe half-a-dozen feet and nearly broken in half. And it’s not a trickle of blood that comes out, it’s more like a fire hydrant erupting.

Put such weapons within easy reach of those who are disturbed, immature, irresponsible or violent, or those who do not consider the consequences of their actions, and you have a situation where catastrophic violence can erupt in seconds, with the consequences which were plainly seen in Aurora.

America has too many guns within too easy reach of too many individuals with the potential to be hot-headed or irresponsible. It’s easy to sniff at comic-book quotes, but Spiderman’s ethos, that “with great power comes great responsibility,” could not be more serious or true.

If you don’t know what you’re doing with a gun, don’t pick one up.

I lazily took a cab back from pleasant, easygoing downtown Denver and talked about good times and bad with the driver.

All he seemed able to say was that everything had been peaceful, then the violence suddenly erupted, as if from nowhere.

Now there’s a surge of gun licence applications in Denver, with lots of people looking to protect themselves, so it probably won’t be too long until there’s another massacre, there or elsewhere.

I’d like to think this article might make a difference.

But I doubt it.