Mountain Happiness

A few days ago, I watched one of Stanford University’s “Classes Without Quizzes,” programs offered during Reunion Weekends for alumni, sometimes by alumni.  Fred Luskin (Ph.D. 1999), director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, gave a talk on “The Science of Happiness.”  Despite the title, the talk was short on science, but nevertheless was interesting and — dare I say it — useful.  An example Luskin gave:  you walk into a coffee bar, and instead of buying into the marketing message that happiness is in a perfect cup of coffee, you say to yourself, “Wow, how cool is it that I live in a country, in a city, in a neighborhood, where I can have my choice of 40 different types of coffee drinks!”

I thought about Fred Luskin’s message as I walked around Estes Park this morning, searching for a cup of latte.  As the 40 mph gusts nearly blew me over, I knew I was the crazy incognito woman (face mask! hood! double gloves!) wandering up and down the main drag, travel mug in hand.  Caffee Collage, closed Monday to Wednesday in the winter.  Kind Coffee, closed for remodelling until tomorrow.  Red Cup Paperie and Coffee Bar (home of delicious pastries, formerly Long’s Peak Coffee and Paper House, formerly MacDonald Papeterie when it was sort of associated with MacDonald Bookshop, which is still in business) had a hand-printed sign proclaiming December hours as open daily at 9 AM — but clearly not open today.  Finally, I pulled into Summitview Coffee, home of the Chicken Fried Latte® — but as the owner assured me, it’s just a goofy name for a blended drink and has nothing to do with chicken, fried or otherwise.  Happiness this morning: I got to be in Estes Park (Highway 34 is open, and weather be damned), and I had a choice of all these coffee places to patronize.  And not once did I feel thwarted.

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Red Chair Reads: Four and Twenty Beds

It is the late 1940s, and Grant and Nancy Vogel, a nice young couple with two little kids, decide — seemingly on a whim — to buy a motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert.  Grant is a charmer who can problem-solve like nobody’s business, and Nancy is a housewife with spunk, a budding feminist with a social consciousness.  Motorists’ hotels were not a new concept, but motels of the sort that the Vogels owned were.  These motels catered to families, offered comfortable, clean rooms, were readily accessible  off the new highways crisscrossing the country, were available all hours of the day, and boasted modern amenities such as radios, heating and air-conditioning, outdoor pools, and safe parking places for the pride of middle-class America — the family car.

The book is a very sanitized slice of mid-century American social history.  The Vogels are white, their clients are white, their friends are white, the town of Banning is white — except for the Indians, who have been banished to the reservation.  Nancy Vogel writes mainly about the trials and tribulations of running a motel, with occasional forays into the “equality” issue and the “race” issue.  One wonders why she bothered: she decides to visit the reservation (again, seemingly on a whim), picks up a Native American woman squatting on the side of the road, drives a bit into the reservation, then asks the woman to get out of the car.  End of adventure, end of vignette.  She is uncomfortable, she doesn’t know why, and neither do we.  Still, Four and Twenty Beds is a fun read, and interesting for what it says — and doesn’t say — about the American psyche at mid-century; it is truly one family’s “Happy Days.”

YMCA of the Rockies: Big Bear cabin

Four days at YMCA of the Rockies (in a brand new cabin), Rocky Mountain National Park, time to hike, read, eat dessert, hike, read . . . .  our version of “Happy Days.”