I went to a private Catholic high school in Englewood, about 20 miles away from Golden, where I grew up. None of the girls I went to school with lived in Golden, so it wasn't surprising that Kelly D., a classmate, happened to ask me where I lived. When I told her Golden, she said nothing, but a look of revulsion crossed her face. I might as well had told her I lived in a shanty town.
It makes me laugh when, 18 years later, one of my friends referred to Golden as hip. What, the same Golden with the brown arch over the main street that says, "Howdy Folks, Welcome to Golden"? Growing up, I cringed every time I passed under that sign. It made me think of cowboy boots, country music and square dancing. I didn't want to have anything to do with those things, which is probably why I ended up going to college in Chicago.
But a lot changed in Golden while I was gone. It went from being a blue-collar factory town dominated by Coors Brewery Co., to a desirable community to raise your family. Developers plopped neighborhoods with homes starting at $300,000 around the perimeter of the town and recreational services went from basic to cutting edge. Growing up, the recreation center consisted of a gym, some tennis courts and a 25-meter swimming pool with a diving well. Now parents can take their kids swimming at Splash Aquatics Park. There's also a community center with an indoor leisure pool and plenty of toddler classes to take.
Golden's main strip also has had a face lift. My sister, aka A Virgen A Day, worked at one of the few places to eat in Golden, Joyce's Subs. Across the street was one of the few places to drink, Ace High Tavern. I wish I had tales of underage drinking to share, but no. I would peek across the street at Ace High Tavern when I came to pick my sister up from work and wonder what went on there.
Now there's a few bars in Golden to choose from, complete with outdoor patios and music. There's even this place:
Vinter's Cellar, a wine tasting shop. It's hard to picture enjoying a glass of wine with the smell of brewing beer wafting past your nose. That's one of the few things that hasn't changed since I left--the distinct smell of mash coming from Coors brewery, which still towers over the town.
Another thing that hasn't changed is the beautiful Clear Creek that comes rushing down the canyon into the town. Coors commercials insinuate it uses that "Rocky Mountain spring water" to brew its beer, but I doubt it. Those commercials, however, do conjer up feelings of clean mountain living, which, I'm sure, helped pull in all the money that spruced up the town during the '90's.
The new Golden facade is nice, but it's the mountains pull me back there. They are green and rolling, dotted with pines. When I take my kids to Lions Park, I feel like I can touch the mountains, they are so close. They give me a feeling of serenity I can't find anywhere else. It took a 2,000-mile journey to Chicago and back for me to figure that out.