I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., the city that’s now urgently battling the damaging Waldo Canyon Fire. I learned how to read a book, ride a bike and drive a car there. It’s where I had my first job, my first date, my first car wreck. My little sister and I were born there; both my grandmas died there; my parents still live there.
So I’ve spent the last 24 hours glued to Facebook and the news, watching the incredibly devastating photos coming out of that area with a lumpy throat and a knotted stomach. Family friends and former coworkers have been evacuated from their homes. Places I’ve hiked and camped are likely cinders. The Flying W Ranch — a cornball chuckwagon dinner theater establishment where I spent countless hours complaining during family reunions and company picnics — burned to the ground last night … and I sobbed about it.
It’s a hard thing to watch parts of your hometown burn. Places that you thought would be there forever — places you’d planned to feature on This Is Where I Grew Up tours for your future kids and grandkids — now cease to exist. It’s not unlike losing a friend or a family member. I’ve spent most of the day operating in a sort of stunned daze, with various emotions — grief, anger, resolve — making the occasional cameo.
My visceral reaction has also left me, quite frankly, a little surprised. Like any relationship, the one I have with my hometown is a complicated one. It was a wonderful place to grow up, and I often verbally attack any outsider who bad mouths it. But I’ve never been fond of the ultra-conservative politics and values espoused by some of the city’s residents and leaders. In fact, while attending college in Boulder, Colo. — a hippie haven — I spent years voluntarily apologizing for my roots. “I’m from Colorado Springs,” I’d say. “But I’m not that kind of Colorado Springs.” I’ve griped many times about the city and its problems — its dated infrastructure, its lackluster economic development initiatives, its poorly designed roadways — to coworkers, friends and random strangers.
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It’s funny how all of that ceases to matter at a time like this, though. A crisis can really show a town’s true colors, and I like what I see happening in Colorado Springs. Every firefighter in the city is working hard to get the blaze contained. My Facebook feed is an endless stream of friends offering food and shelter to those displaced by the flames. Many local charities say they’ve been overwhelmed by donations. Every bed and couch in my parents’ house will be filled with evacuated friends for the next few nights.
And in true Western fashion, people are already looking forward to better days. That cheesy chuckwagon place? Hours after it perished, a fund was started to help it rebuild.