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Dilemma: Big Sky vs. the Big Apple

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This time last year Ted Rose wrote a series of commentaries for this program about living at a Buddhist retreat in the Colorado Rockies. It was a huge change for him. Before that, he'd spent eight years living in New York City. Well, now he's contemplating a move back to New York.

TED ROSE:

On one of my first nights in Boulder, I walk into an ice cream parlor and order my favorite, mint chocolate chip on a sugar cone. A cute young coed passes me my treat with a smile. She also hands me a coupon good for a dollar off. She tells me I can reuse it as often as I want. Welcome to Boulder.

I find it easy to love this beatific oasis on the edge of the Colorado Rockies. It has everything I want: natural beauty, urbane restaurants, a good-looking populace. And yet I don't quite trust Boulder; it's all too good. I keep waiting to discover Boulder's dark side.

A friend and I hike into the green foothills past blooming wildflowers. When we try to return, we are lost. `Finally,' I think, `the real Boulder. We'll freeze to death or become bear meat by morning.' But my dark mood is short-lived. A kindly 50-something man in a golf shirt materializes. He escorts us to his BMW and drives us back to our car. There, he hands me his card. His professional title reads `Traveler/Adventurer.'

Boulder's tony commercial district is packed with Buddhist bookstores, a predictable yet perplexing combination. The Buddha's journey to enlightenment carried him outside his princely palace into the ugly realities of an impoverished India. The first lesson he taught followers was that life was full of suffering. `Where,' I wondered, `is the suffering in Boulder?'

The owner of the local bookstore leads the only major political campaign I've noticed. He sells T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with a revolutionary motto: `Keep Boulder weird.'

I headed back to New York this summer, where the streets reek of urine and ripe garbage. A condemned grocery store next to my apartment collapsed, spilling debris across the sidewalk. One night I walked to a local Tasty D-Lite for an ice cream. The haggard, middle-aged server slapped my mint chocolate chip on a flimsy wafer cone without making conversation or eye contact. My treat cost a dollar more than in Boulder; no coupon.

Out on the street, I pass the hobo who has manned the same corner for more than five years, steadfastly refusing all charity. People don't advocate being weird in New York; they just are. I arrived in New York convinced I was moving to Boulder, but I haven't signed a lease yet, and I notice myself contemplating a move back East. Of course living in Boulder is easier, but is it too easy?

I flew back to Colorado a few days ago. Even if I decide to leave, I need to collect my stuff. And on my first night back, I returned to the ice cream shop. When the time comes to pay, I realized I've lost my coupon. Secretly I'm excited. I foresee a confrontation. I will insist on receiving my discount. How will this eternally cheerful college student react to that? But before I can initiate the battle, she defuses it. She hands me another coupon. I can use it this time and then keep it, she says sweetly, then I can use it as often as I want.

BLOCK: Ted Rose lives in Boulder, Colorado. He came to us via station KGNU in Boulder. You can hear Ted Rose's essays from last summer at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ted Rose
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