Doing the Work Behind the Headlines in the Least Likely Place

I report from flyover country, meaning that when you fly from New York to LA or pretty much anywhere from the East Coast to points beyond where I am in Colorado, you'll be thousands of miles above me and the small town and rural counties around me on the ground.

If you land in Denver, or even a couple hours south in Colorado Springs, you'd never know that there was a part of the state that so unlike the rest that it could be its own swath of land with a name like Left Behind, or Struggling to Make Ends Meet, or no way rents here are a third of what they are in Denver. That crime is the highest in the state and unemployment too, despite the boom and the thousands still streaming into Denver, Boulder, and Foco--what we call Ft. Collins, now. 

When I lived in Boulder back when, no one called South Boulder Sobo. Or when I lived in the Highlands, LoHi.

Here in Pueblo it's just South Pueblo, North Pueblo, the East Side, Bessemer, Beaujohn Hill, Goat Hill, Pueblo West. There's no pretension here. Many people are just trying to survive. There's a homeless man sleeping facedown in the park as I write this. There's another who sleeps between the car wash bays and some trees. Nurses and social workers go out weekly with water, food, and services. Many of the homeless are veterans or mentally ill, or both. Some have been released from the State Hospital, a large employer here, and have nowhere to go.

On the other side of Abriendo Avenue, which I imagine once was a beautiful, well-maintained, boulevard, with a strip of trees in the middle, are much larger and well-kept homes than on my side, which is part urban pioneer, but mostly working-class folks. It reminds me of living "below the 580" in Oakland because it's all that I could afford on my publishing salary. Now that area has a Whole Foods and is quadrupled rent.

That's all to say that I found myself here in Pueblo as a non-native, as the interloper I feel at times, but still called to do the work of telling stories--of letting those voices tell their stories in their own words--stories of drug addiction, of the health crisis of obesity and the blue disability placards that almost every car I see has, of how legal marijuana has supposedly had a good impact, and of the Pueblo Mall, which is where the community gathers on weekends, along with Wal Mart. It's also where I've interviewed and gotten to know some of the most hardworking, inspiring, and truly amazing people I've ever met, trying to help those in need, to make the community better.

So think of us down here sometime when you're about one hundred miles north. It's cool to have a cocktail at Lola, ice cream at the Little Man, pick up something you need at IKEA. We'll be down here on the Riverwalk, or at Wal Mart, or maybe even Red Lobster. This is the real world for so many people, and I'm fortunate to be down here, a part of it.