Welcome to Denver, Daniel

Daniel Powell

I arrived in Denver chock full of enthusiasm yet weighed down by trepidation about the journey that I had just embarked on. This was no pedestrian trepidation, and though I had only felt it faintly in the first minutes of my new journey, I knew it was a living thing, an alive thing, festering on the air that I grasped to swallow. The trepidation was not the sort of constructed false positive stuff like that which I experience each time I arise to the callous siren of my 120 decibel Screaming Meanie alarm machine. I felt it when I felt it. I knew it was there when it was there. When I arrived in Denver, I was a 25-year old student alone, away from home, and lost in a small airport that somehow managed to seem so big I thought it had wrapped its arms around me. But those arms were not a measure of comfort, because I did not want arms wrapped around me. I was stuck. Or, at least, I felt stuck.

“You should have been prepared” is all I can remember hearing myself say to myself as I tried to come to grips with the reality that now in this time and place I had to somehow figure out what to do and where to go and how to get to where I needed to get to to figure out where to go and get to. “You should have realized.” But I had not realized that when I got to Denver I was about to experience the effects of a transplantation from one world to another as if I was being sucked up like an inconspicuous water molecule floating in one test-tube only to be dropped into another. I never had that sort of realization. I refused to let myself think about it, and I think subconsciously, it was because I knew how hard it would be to become comfortable with the inevitable fact that I was leaving and would be estranged from home. So, I played little tricks on myself.

But those tricks came back to haunt me. Because while I could deal with a bit of trepidation, a hint of vivre avec, I never imagined preparing for psychological warfare. And even if I was not facing true warfare, it felt that way. I felt that way. The trepidation did not bother me until I had left the fabricated, stale air of the Air Canada passenger jet and my pores embraced the dry heat of the Denver International Airport. And I remember the trepidation growing as I moved along the flight-to-baggage procession. It grew when I stepped out of the plane wishing the francophone flight attendants “au revoir” and “bye-bye” only to realize that those French words were likely going to be my last time speaking the twang of un accent Québécois to which I had only recently become habituated for several months. It continued to grow when I marched through the industrial blue-carpet padded airport avoiding the pedestrian walkway because even without its gradual speed advantage I was walking so fast I had no need for a mobility solution of the sort airport planners design and implement for a living. And this trepidation of mine was no internal, subjective state. It had consumed me, filled my entrails, animating the muscle tendon like electrodes crossing over the chemical pathway to reaction.

It continued to grow when I considered, though only for a split second, that I would never find my bags because I had been walking and walking and I had absolutely no clue where I was headed. It continued to grow when suddenly I found myself in front of an inter-terminal station for an elevated passenger transit trolley only to realize that I was becoming, perhaps even had become, the archetypal frazzled passenger who seems so overtaken by the labyrinthine of the passenger airport that they might as well have stayed home. “Could I be that guy for the rest of my life?” It continued to grow when I boarded the inter-terminal transport and began ever so naturally to worry that a freak accident was about to take place, despite the comforting authoritative voice downloaded to the automated broadcast system of the transit carrier. It continued to grow when I reached my destination, read the flat-screen panels to verify which of the carousels could possibly or possibly not have my bags, and realized that I had to walk more. It continued to grow when I was the first person standing beside the carousel which had not yet started rolling along and I was naturally led to believe that I might actually be dreaming and maybe I did not make it on the plane.

Believe me when I say that I was starting to feel queasy. At this point, I thought that I might have contracted a dormant strain of SARS, though I can’t say that I know anything about what it would feel like to have SARS. The mere thought that I was stuck in Denver with SARS caused a bit of an internal stir, and as a freshly molded law student, my only response was to recall the case of Williams v. Ontario, an extra-contractual obligations unit on the limits of state liability in which the government of Ontario was found not to be liable for its failure to prevent a SARS outbreak. My trepidation had grown, filling my entrails like a contagion. So much so that I thought I had become a contagion unto myself.

As I waited in trepidation for my bags to be released onto the carousel, the end of the procession was in mind. I could contemplate what it would feel like to feel grounded, connected to and with my bags. They came. And I got them. In fact, I hurled my bags as if they had morphed into real humans en route to Denver and they were now drowning in deep ocean waters and there was no way to save them but to pull ferociously at them. Even if the common law refused to recognize it, I felt the rescuer’s obligation to save these bags from drowning. At the time, it seemed heroic, but it was only heroic because I was tripped up on trepidation. It was only heroic until I realized that I now stood beside the carousel bags in hand with no clue what was to come next. And my reaction to the incertitude was not much of a reaction because I had already reached an emotional zenith of sorts. Trepidation, like all emotions, is subject to the law of diminishing returns. It was no longer possible to break out from the state of mind that I had been worked into.

Then came the final act, the moment of pure tragedy, the maraschino cherry to fit uncomfortably on my hot mess of a Saturday sundae. The moment which should have been but never ended up being cathartic occurred when my telecom provider Videotron, aware of a nascent business opportunity, offered an ever so gentle reminder that either I purchase a traveler’s package, a comfortable supplement to an already outrageous monthly charge, or submit to unconscionable fees. Though I can’t remember exactly what the text-message said, I know exactly how I interpreted it: “Welcome to Denver, Daniel… Quebecor faces a challenging competitive environment in an otherwise captive, slow-growth telecom market. Nevertheless, its shareholders lust for opportunities to augment Annual Revenue Per Unit (ARPU). Selling foreign phone services purchased at wholesale prices from American carriers is revenue generative because the cost of wholesale services is less than the fees they generate. So, thank you for travelling to Denver and turning on your phone.”

I bought the package and made a call. The whole fiasco of a morning was captured in the four words my father spit out when I called to let him know that I had arrived at my destination and I was doing damn fine and super dandy: “you’re not in Denver.” And, no, this sentence, the first out of his mouth, did not end with a gentle influx as if to pose a question, even one ever so slight, rather than make a statement of indisputable, scientific truth. He never even asked me the question, because he was so sure his son was stewing in the Air Canada complaints lounge at YUL, seeking a way to avoid telling his host company that he had missed his flight, which I most certainly would have been doing, he sure knows me well, had I missed the trip.

It has been over two weeks since I arrived in Colorado, and I am happy to report that I have overcome the fear and anxiety that first confronted me when I realized I had moved away from home and was stuck in a small Colorado town for months on end. In the present moment, I remember my trepidation like it was a faint blur in the rear-view mirror of a cheap rented sedan. It is possible that I have merely caught the unhurried vibe of Boulder life. I have certainly lost all awareness of the rush and mania of law school. The memories of first-year law school have been overshadowed by a deep appreciation for what I have now come to realize I learned as a first-year law student. Each day at work, I am overwhelmed by the insight that my legal education has provided me. My current work project investigating allegations of abuse by private military and private security contractors has been at once a conduit for understanding the applicability of law to human rights and for imagining alternative means to regulate the industry. Engaging and fascinating do not come close to describing the experience.

Now and again, when I crawl out from the comfortable and ergonomic cubicle of an office territory that bears my name and lurch over to the Foundation’s chocolate bowl in search of a caloric boost, a cultivation process that I have come to treat as if it were a mandatory and hourly ritual, I catch myself smirking at the very idea that there are people who get paid a salary to read, write, think, and research about interesting things, which is essentially how I define my work. Since day one, I have been trying to make sense of the fact that this type of labour time could ever give rise to alienation or be compensated for. I can’t make sense of it and I have yet to understand it. I could never have imagined that the work I do would be considered “work.”

So as I reflect on the dynamic range of emotions that have guided me in my current experience, I can’t help but chuckle at how stressed I had first been  and how freaked out I was to confront the unknown when I arrived in Denver. At the very least, my experience suggests that not all exciting things begin with frolicking and cheer. Trepidatious though it may have been to get here, the trepidation was not in vain.

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