Looking Local

Jesse Anderson - 02/06/2020

Durango is a bit cliquish, but that’s just how it is with wonderful places. 

I felt it back home in Alaska, and I see it here. People who move in are quick to close the door behind themselves, acting as if they took up the last available space. Acting like they hate all the tourists even though that’s what they were last year. For real, not too many people here are from here, but you couldn’t tell it from the ubiquitous Subarus, and that’s the silly part. Locals do their best to travel in packs, dressing and acting homogenously to prove their inclusion, and it feels cultish, right?

Back home, it was Carhartt pants and Xtratuf boots. Everywhere you’d go, they’d be there: herds of people wearing brown canvas and black rubber. Here, it’s puffy coats and trucker hats. Have you ever flown back to Durango from a layover someplace big? You can pick them out in the crowd, the locals waiting to come home, because they’re already wearing the uniform, looking like they’re about to take a hike rather than a red-eye. 

That’s why it took me so long to buy a puffy, even though I’ve always wanted one secretly. They looked wonderful from a distance, like portable clouds, and I could imagine what it’d be like to walk around couched in puffiness. But I’m not from here. I didn’t want you to think I was a liar-liar, canvas-pants-on-fire, so I never traded in my uniform. Or maybe I was slow to assimilate because I came here from a different wonderful place, and I didn’t want to cut ties with my rubber-boot-roots too quickly. Is that real? I feel like if someone were to move here from someplace like Kansas, they’d burn their overalls and buy a puffy coat ASAP.

But if someone were to move here from a place like Hawaii, like if they got afraid of sharks or volcanoes and fled to the highlands of Colorado, they’d keep their floral shirts for a while and wear them in public proudly. Loathe to let go of a cool home, of that identity, just like I was after moving here from Alaska. 

Whatever. I finally bought a puffy coat. A good one. It looks like the one my wife had, and the one you probably have. I hugged myself when I wore it the first time. I even wore it to bed one night, feeling that slick fabric and reveling in the warmth. And after experiencing the heat that micro-coat could capture, I was forced to admit that local attire serves a purpose outside uniformity. It was a green eggs-and-ham moment. Those boots back home battled back the breakup season, and the canvas pants were often insulated. Here, the puffy coat really is perfect for our climate (but the trucker hats are pointless), and it was foolish to wait so long before buying my own. Admitting it made me feel at home here in Durango, even though I’d already lived here for a while. 

But then the assimilation progressed. I went to work on a Monday to find that my boss had bought me a pair of Air Pods so I wouldn’t have to use my hands while calling clients. When I came home, my wife was watching “Game Changers” on Netflix, and I learned through a painful epiphany that eating meat is bad. 

One weekend, I caved to the puffy … two days later, I was standing in the hallway at work, wearing my coat with Air Pods in my ears while holding a vegan burrito. 

Is that OK? Have I Durangoed too hard, like a zealous Borg? If I did, I blame my wife. She made me watch that documentary and she clicked “buy now” on my puffy. She’s the reason I can’t take it off and the reason I have dreams about carne asada. But still, what happened to her wasn’t fair. 

Remember when I said my new coat was like the one my wife “had?” Someone stole hers. She hung it in the locker room at the Rec, and then someone without a Durango uniform took it. We’re not rich by any means – our “buy now” button has limitations – so we couldn’t get her a new one, even though I saw how sad it made her. That coat could’ve been a beloved teddy bear by the way she mourned its loss. 

A few days later, she bought an old Columbia puffy from the thrift just to prove she was over it, but I still wanted to get her a new one, or to find her old one. It’s a black woman’s medium North Face with a hood; the kind of puffy with little squares instead of rows. I’d ask for help looking, but that’d be pointless for obvious reasons. And I can’t ask for money via GoFundMe because the last thing this world needs is charity for mountain people who don’t have enough puffy coats.    

So, all I can do is think about the thief. I mean, childhood thievery is understandable, but what’s it like stealing as an adult? What’s it like stealing from another person, not from a store, and what’s it like stealing big things? Not like Nalgene bottles, which are stolen from me constantly, and which are another part of our uniforms, now that I think about it. They’re issued to you. Literally. When you move here from a different state and change your address down at the DMV, a notification goes to the “welcoming committee,” and then a nice old lady comes to your door with a reusable bag full of coupons. That fancy glamping store downtown has a coupon in the bag that’s good for a free water bottle, a Nalgene, so we all got one. Mine glowed in the dark, right up until someone stole it, adding it to their Durango attire by taking it from mine. But that doesn’t matter because it was just a free water bottle.

But the other things? The important things like extortionately priced (but oddly worth it) puffy coats? You shouldn’t take those. And if you do, you blend into the crowd only superficially, because you’re wearing the uniform but not sharing the values. That makes you a camouflaged imposter, an ersatz Durangoan, and even though losing my wife’s coat sucked, it felt good when I realized that a real local probably wasn’t to blame. 

You probably feel the same way, ashamed to think a local would steal because that’s not who we are. My wife and I took a hike on New Year’s Day and everyone we met greeted us with a genuine “Happy New Year!” and a warm smile that oozed trust and neighborly compassion. Yes, they were all wearing puffy coats, but they also wore honesty as if it were an invisible part of their outfits. That look can’t be gotten via any “buy now” button, and it surely cannot be stolen. 

That’s why the crowds here feel cliquish, and it’s a good thing: looking like a local means looking like a good person. So, we’re thankful to be a part of the Durango clique. We’re grateful to call this place home, and we’ve forgiven whoever stole my wife’s coat. We hope she’s a bit warmer, and we hope that someday, she becomes a local, rather than just trying to look like one. 

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