“Houston, The Griswalds have landed.”

Vicky & I arrive in Denver after three years in The City of Lights; you can tell I’m a little cranky about it – but not to worry – I now love Denver!

Houston, The Griswalds have landed!

This time change is hell: Vicky & I just woke up at 12:15 and hurriedly rolled out of bed in a panic – cursing ourselves for sleeping past noon. Then we realized it was 12:15 AM!

For anyone interested in changing careers and making BIG bucks, I have a very profitable field you should check out: Corporate Relocation.

We are in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath furnished temporary apartment where we will most likely be until we find a house (or perhaps another temporary apartment…) It is in downtown Denver where they are revitalizing the old warehouses into loft apartments and condos. Problem is, I think the abandoned warehouses probably had more charm. Actually, it is not that bad – just a little sterile for my tastes. We have a view of a train yard and the top half of some amusement park. Denver looks like a big version of Evansville with the addition of Starbucks and some upscale restaurants. We ate lunch today at a nearby P.F. Changs where I [I think] picked up a bad case of Let-it-out-either-end-it’s-your-choice. I opted for the diarrhea. It will probably be a year or so before I have the nerve to eat Chicken Lettuce Wraps again…

Anyway, Vicky & I are the oldest people in our apartment complex. This is definitely a spawning ground for young twenty-somethings. The apartments are new and nice but the long hallways and twenty-somethings give it a slight air of a college dorm.

The apartment was arranged for First Data / Western Union by a company called National Corporate Housing which despite the deceiving name, is based out of Denver, Colorado. Here’s an amazing fact: They are charging Vicky’s company a monthly rent that tops the monthly rent of our beloved Left Bank apartment in Paris! That’s DOUBLE what the actual rental rates are here! We know, we saw them on a brochure the apartment management included in the little introductory, welcome package they gave us. Somebody is getting a royal screwing here. And I bet if you dug a little deeper, you just might find that the developer of the apartments is a “sister” company to the relocation company.

And then there is the other end – from Paris: Western Union International hired a company named Cosmopolitan Relocation Services to “help make our move back home easy and stress free”. For those of you with good memory, that was the same company who had it set in their minds where we were going to live when we first moved to Paris. The American woman who runs it – and Vicky – rubbed one another wrong; we eventually told them to go to hell in nice words and found another apartment through an independent French woman in the “relocation” business. Well, I don’t know exactly who contracted them and WHAT Cosmopolitan did this time around – other than notify the phone company that we were leaving. We never spoke with anyone from Cosmopolitan – nor did anyone from the company follow up on any aspect of our “easy and stress free” move, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, got a big bill for their hard work…

Our first day started off a little frustrating: Denverites can be a little slow like their Evansvillian counterparts. I woke up this morning and discovered there was no hot water; the hot water heater seemed to be working fine – there simply was no water coming out of the hot water side, period. I was worried it might be a frozen pipe or something. The long walk down the hallway and the ride down the slow elevator to the apartment manager’s office gave me a chance to cool off a bit. When I appeared in her office with my hair messily standing straight up, a few days worth of stubble on my face and smelling like a Frenchman, and explained to her the problem, she asked: “Do you want me to call maintenance right away?”

Case Two: The apartment has valet parking that they charge $5 per day for. We are supposed to have one parking space included in this helluva deal apartment. Every time I ask either the valet service (a subcontractor) or the apartment manager about obtaining this parking space, they say, “Oh – you have to speak with Mark about that and he’s not here right now.” I think Mark needs to be reported missing to the police. And I do not know WHY Mark and I have to meet face-to-face to be assigned a parking space. But this is not really my case of Denver slowness – the real evidence was when we returned from our first trip to the supermarket with a car full of groceries. The apartment entrance is on the left side of the road and since there was plenty of space out front and no other cars, I pulled up to the valet stand facing the wrong direction. I got out and opened the back hatch and began pulling out grocery bags. The valet girl came over and said:

” Sir, I really can’t have you parking here – you’re blocking traffic.” [Again, there was no traffic.]

” I’m not parking, I’m unloading these groceries.”

” I know sir, but I can’t have you parking here – we need this space to pull up cars for valet parking…”

” You don’t understand – I WANT to do VALET parking – we have an apartment here.”

” I know, sir, but we need…”

” Do you work for the valet company?”

” Yes, but you need to park the car on the other side of the road.”

[Rather than say, “Why don’t YOU park the FUCKING car?”] I answered:

“Look, I’d park this car myself but we don’t have a parking space assigned to us like we are supposed to and….where the hell is this Mark guy?”

” Mark’s not here sir – he just left.”

I parked the car on the other side of the road. I did not leave any rubber on the pavement but I did park the car further down the road than was necessary.

Then there was Bob at the AT&T kiosk in the Cherry Creek Mall. He was a real dim wit. I was shopping around for a mobile phone service and asking all of the pertinent questions. Bob repeated every question I asked him and sometimes gave me an appropriate answer. Bob showed me a particular phone and showed me a brochure with all of its features.

” Can I keep this brochure?” I asked him.

” Can you keep this brochure? Well, that’s the only one I have and I can’t give it to you.”

” So, what are your calling plans?”

” What are our calling plans? Well, let’s see…” He pulled out a brochure that attempted to explain the complicated mess that wireless companies like to offer, “this brochure here explains every plan we have in detail.”

” Oh good. Can I keep this brochure, Bob?”

” Can you keep this brochure? Well, that’s the last one I have and I can’t give it to you.”

” What is the difference between these two models?” I pointed to them in the display case.

” The difference between these two models? Well, that one there will work in Europe as well as the US.”

” So, what are the rates calling within Europe?”

” What are the rates calling within Europe? Gee, I really don’t know the answer to that question…”

” Can you find out?”

” Can I find out? I guess I could but I don’t really know who I would call…”He thumbed through his kiosk drawer and produced an (800) number that didn’t appear to be one of those direct-line-only-AT&T-employees-have-this-special-number – telephone number. No, it was obviously for the masses to be put on hold…I could sense Bob reached a long menu directory by the confused look on his face. I waited a few minutes until I asked:

“Is this going to take a while?”

“Is this going to take a while? Probably so.”

“I’ll tell you what, Bob: Do you have a business card? I can call you later and get this information then?”

“Do I have a business card? Yes, I do but I’m all out of them right now.”

“Well, better yet…are you here every day? [I was hoping to find his day off so I could come back – on that day – for brochures and better information.]

“Am I here everyday? Yeah, pretty much so…”

Now I am down to weighing the differences between AT&T and T-Mobile. T-Mobile’s national coverage is nowhere near as good but then they can answer all of the pertinent questions. Then there’s Qwest, who is the big granddaddy phone company here in Denver. But they wouldn’t accept a trade on my losses with their stock a few years back….

Vicky is thrilled to death to be back in The Land Of Convenience. She also likes it that most of the TV stations are in English. “Do you like being back in America,” she keeps asking me…

“Do I like being back in America? Well, Honey, let’s see…I really don’t know…the jury is still out on that; but I would go back to Paris in a flash,” I wink to her. Bill Bryson, the American-born writer, who lived in England for 16 years; moved back to the US after several best-selling books, only to move back to England recently, explained it best: “Moving back to the US was like moving back home with your parents – they’re wonderful people but – well, you know…”

Although Denver has not [yet] blown us away, we still really enjoy being back home – the USA, that is. I asked a woman in the mall to recommend a great, nearby supermarket for food shopping. Without hesitation she told me ‘Whole Foods Market’. Now, I have to admit I chose this marketing research subject based on apparent socio-economic background (I made sure she was well-dressed, had all of her front teeth, and wore no World Wrestling Federation t-shirts.) But ‘Whole Foods Markets’ turned me off a bit: I pictured a hairy-legged hippie chic in hiking boots pushing around a seven-year-old in a shopping cart; she’s breast feeding the kid as she reads the label on a bag of kdzuki beans to determine if they are organic or not.

Now granted, my first sensation walking in was the smell of patchouli oil and the sound of electric blues on the store’s sound system, but this store really is upscale! It almost beats out my la Grande Epicerie in the Impressibility category. And while there are beautiful organic produce and granola galore, the foie gras and artisan cured bacon rules out the idea of a politically and morally correct health food store. Cool!
It is so much fun to see all of the new stuff in the stores and the developments in technology that somehow didn’t yet make it to Europe. Our rental car has a GPS navigation system in it with a woman’s voice that tells you where to turn and when to do it. You type in your destination and the voice tells you what to do as the screen shows exactly where you are at any given moment. I never knew these things were so thorough. Amazing! It sometimes takes us on different routes to and from places. “Avoiding the terrorist threat – changing your daily routine,” I tell Vicky.

” No,” Vicky answers emphatically, “she just wants to make sure we get a complete tour of Denver.”

” And how is it that she knows exactly where we are?”

” Magic,” I answer, “This is America.”

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