Another piece of my childhood is evaporating. As has been lamented all over my Facebook feed for the last couple of weeks, it has been announced that Heritage Square will close at the end of the 2015 season. Having grown up in Golden, and having had to pass Heritage Square every single day on my way to and from junior high and high school, I’m sad that it’ll no longer exist, which is why I’m writing this Heritage Square tribute.
But not that sad. Let me explain.
For as much as part of me flows rich with melancholy over the closure of Heritage Square, the truth is I haven’t visited the place in probably over a decade. And if I had to guess, I suspect most of the people who’ve lamented the passing of Heritage Square would probably tell you something similar. It was nice to know Heritage Square existed, even as we didn’t do anything to help ensure that it would continue to.
Seeing it there, up on the hill, Alpine Slide zig-zagging across the face of the mountain, serves as a monument and reminder to your own existence. Your past lives in there too with all the weird trinket shops, terrible food, and absurd wedding chapel. It’s a reminder that your memories exist not only inside your own head, but fixed in time and physical space as well. It’s oddly reassuring, and when it’s announced that yet another location that houses your memories is no more, you feel betrayal because they’re not just taking away an unprofitable business – they’re destroying the world you once knew, grew up in, and increasingly don’t recognize. It happens to everyone, and it’s never fun. I’ve been through this with Villa Italia Mall, Celebrity Sports Center, that 7-11 that used to be on the corner of 20th and Youngfield, and many more I can’t even remember anymore.
The world relentlessly changes, and reckoning with that means being confronted with your own impermanence. Neat! And before I totally bum everyone out with deeper meditations on the nature of mortality, let’s conclude this section by asserting my love of that alpine slide, and sharing my favorite Heritage Square memory.
Probably the last time I was there was to visit their haunted house in 2001, or so. I was there with my girlfriend at the time, her best friend, and my best friend, the latter two of whom were dating each other. We were like the Gatsbys! My girlfriend was terrified at the prospect of going through this haunted house, so upon entry, she stood behind me with her arms around the front of me, hands interlocked with mine, and her head buried in my back. Seeing as I couldn’t do much more than shuffle my feet, we moved in Turtle Steps, like from your time in the computer lab in elementary school. I had no use of my hands, so I had to open doors with my face, which, in a haunted house, is a dicey proposition. I eventually let the other couple take the lead after running headfirst into a bunch of rubber spiders.
This turned out to be a sub-par haunted house, but my girlfriend was scared to death nevertheless. After what took for goddamn ever thanks to our tiny steps, we reached the end. And in a twist of brilliance, just when you think you’re out and clear from the horrors within, one last dude with a chainsaw fires it up and makes like he’s chasing you. And as soon as that first engine rev kicked on – RRRnnnnnnnnnnnn – my girlfriend let go of me, and SPRINTED across the park, far from the reaches of evil chainsaw man.
I never saw her run – not a light jog, not a half sprint to catch a departing bus, nothing – before or after. It was literally the only time I ever saw her run, and the fact that it was away from an actor pretending to threaten her with a chainsaw made me laugh my fucking ass off. It still does.
But again, that was probably the last time I was there. I didn’t contribute anything to their well-being, which would have helped preserve the monument to my own memory. And so I’m having a hard time dredging up a ton of sadness over this.
This philosophy has been thrown into even sharper relief by two other recent closures that affect my life frequently.
First, the Wok & Roll across from my office closed last summer with no warning. I left the office on my lunch break only to find the sign gone, the door locked, and butcher paper over all the windows. Just like that, gone. No advance notice, no sign in the window, nothing. It just left a gaping hole in my life, where on some particularly tough days, it would be the only thing I looked forward to at work, and I probably went here at least once a week. I didn’t even get closure.
In fact, it wasn’t until writing this very article that I found out what happened. Buried on the left side of this Facebook page is a message from one of their patrons asking, “What happened to the downtown location?” A response from the store’s owner informs that they opted to focus on the catering side of their business, which is apparently going very well. It doesn’t make the store any more goddamn open than before I read that, but at least it’s an explanation and they’re not all dead from a rogue mustard gas attack or something.
Contrast that with the closure of Rocky Mountain Chili Bowl over in Stapleton. I was driving to get cat litter over the weekend, and saw the sign removed and the sad ass butcher paper over the windows. Again, no explanation. And then I found the most dissatisfying Westword article ever, which had this passage:
“And whether you spell it chili or chile, there’s no denying that RMCB dished up a mean bowl of green. But Stapleton residents will now have to look elsewhere for a good bowl; the eatery dished up its last bowl this month and is now closed.”
And that’s how the article fucking ends. I can see that it’s closed, you peckerface. Why? Isn’t that the point of journalism – the digging? Answering questions the general public doesn’t have access to? Goddammit. It would have been better not to write anything at all, than just to state the fucking obvious.
I used to have a frequent visitor card to this place, and I actively contributed to trying to keep this place in business, so now that it’s gone, I feel only betrayal and disappointment. And if you’ve never had green chili atop mashed potatoes, at least you don’t have to live with that memory knowing you’re not getting it back again.
Which brings me back to Heritage Square. At least they’re giving everyone a chance to say goodbye. Most things in life just end, and you wonder where they went. This is a rare privilege. So for everyone bummed out by the continued erosion of their childhood, you best pay your respects while you can. I know I will.