Z-Blog: From Wonderland to Walgreens | VailDaily.com

Z-Blog: From Wonderland to Walgreens

Matt Zalaznick

I think I’m officially a ‘longtime local.’

I wasn’t here before Blue Sky Basin. I did beat the drought and Wal-Mart. But I’m not using decades, years or ski seasons as degrees of ‘local-ness.’ I’m measuring by perspective.

And it was with shock this weekend that I realized I was a true resident of the nouveau Rocky Mountains. Not a grizzled rancher or frost-bitten ski patroller or pine-needled forest ranger, but a bit of a sissy when it comes to city life.

I grew up in Miami, where we locked the doors of our homes and cars religiously against constant theft of stereos and other car parts. As a child, I took frequent trips to Manhattan to visit relatives.

I’ve worked with the homeless in Boston and London. After college, I lived in a dangerous section of San Francisco where there were real, live crack dealers on the corner armed with guns, cleavers, footballs and bottles of bleach. I was once threatened violently by one of these dealers over a coveted parking space in front of my seedy building. My roommate got punched in the face.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

One of my early newspaper assignments was a tour of the city’s most dangerous housing projects with the police. The two detectives were disappointed with my photographer and me for not having our own bullet-proof vests.

But none of it compares to the Walgreens on the 16th Street Mall in Denver last Friday night. I went in to buy a bottle of water, but it was like I’d stepped through a wormhole into the Third World (which I have also visited).

The people in the store did not look healthy. Their faces were bleary, gaunt and scabbed. Their expressions were distracted, tense and suspicious. They didn’t look well-fed or well-rested.

They were poorly lit, even by the blazing lights of the drug store.

Their clothes were cheap-looking and thin. They dredged their pockets for shredded dollar bills and scrabbled for change in their palms. Did they have enough for a can of Coke? Lipstick? Cigarettes?

This wasn’t about color. This was a diverse bunch skulking and limping from aisle to aisle, flashing shifty glances at their fellow late-night seekers of Cheez Whiz and magazines and batteries. Back home in Edwards there isn’t even a store (that’s not a bar) open this late.

Then it hit me: I’m the freak. These bedraggled shoppers aren’t from outer space ” but I’m from Vail. Perhaps these folks don’t go skiing before work or kayaking after work. They might not go hiking every day, every week or even every year. Maybe they don’t even snowshoe! Maybe they worried about getting mugged on the way home to their apartment that has a view of ” a river, a mountain, no! ” a brick wall or a parking lot.

I hadn’t stepped into the third world, I’d stepped out of this fantastic, ski-resort world. People sure do glow up here. I guess that’s a good thing, as long as we stay out of creepy downtown convenience stores.

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