This is the story of how a sophomore college kid and still novice driver with more optimism and spunk than common sense - or maybe just more boredom than he can handle - had the bright idea to navigate the twisty switchbacks of Colorado’s I-70 West at speeds he probably shouldn’t publicly disclose in order to save a smattering of modular homes that had organized themselves into an unofficial municipality with - absolutely, quite literally, in the truest correct sense of that word - the power of farts.
Topshot stolen from here which resurfaced this memory from the deep, core depths of my brain after having been forgotten for years
I would say my Malibu looked exactly like this, but then again so did every N-Body Malibu ever made. Photo by “IFCAR,” Wikipedia Public Domain.
When our ancient Caravan finally gave up the ghost, my parents decided we needed to downsize to something that sipped fuel but at the same time could comfortably accommodate the entire family. That car ended up being - no, not the Malibu quite yet - why yes it was a VW Jetta! Don’t worry, it was just the gas engine version with the 115-HP 2.0, so we weren’t unwittingly killing Mother Nature with our Nazi-by way of Puebla, Mexico Death Machine. What happened with that Jetta was that my mom became the primary driver and she started having so much fun with it that when college time came she decided there was no way I was going to be handed down the Jetta (or “Carly” as I called her) so I got a safe, practical and thoroughly boring-as-white-bread Chevy Malibu instead. The N-body, the first generation of front-wheel drive, the car that perfectly encapsulated and summarized General Motors for the near entirety of the 90s. Copy everything that Toyota is doing, but first completely miss-perceive what Toyota is even doing in the first place and then tell your engineers to further bungle your incorrect conclusions. Amazingly - and this will come as a complete and legitimate shock to many of you - the end product can actually be described in complete fairness and accuracy as adequate. No, really, this is a freakin’ huge deal for a 90s GM product. It didn’t try to kill me because a spring in the ignition switch was a few millimeters too short for cost-saving purposes and engineering incompetency, the paint didn’t flake off like Kris Jenner after skin exfoliation due to cost-saving purposes and engineering incompetency, and nor did it try to break down and leave me stranded on the road due to cost-saving incompetent engineering. It did, however, have the infamous Gray-as-the-sky-over-a-North Korean-gulag Playskool plastic interior. But it also had a surprisingly, in fact insanely comfy rear bench seat that was like a big fluffy couch plucked from your living room and shoved right into your car. Trust me, forget autocrossing - when you’re in high school and college that’s literally the most important feature of your car that you will get the most actual use out of.
For many of you I don’t even have to tell you this.
As for the town in question - Farmers Korner, Colorado. Yes you’re looking at that right, no possessive-case apostrophe, and spelled Mortal Kombat-style for some reason. Welcome to the Rocky Mountains, everyone. This is why I’m a flatlander. Farmers Korner (already this whole thing is going bonkers with red squiggly lines) isn’t even a “real” town per se, or even anything “real” at all - it’s more an informal distinguishing application to a neat little plot of modular homes about maybe 500 yards wide by, I don’t know, maybe 300 yards even? You’re already thinking that there’s no way you can fit many homes on a rectangle of land like that, maybe like a baker’s dozen if you really want to show your residents that you do not give a damn about their personal space. Fortunately for them, it was more like half a dozen. So there you go, 1500 square yards by my estimate surrounded by the stark yet pretty backdrop of the marbled blue Rocky Mountains and more locally by highrise gas station signs and glass-flat sand broken up by uniform pre-fabs and propane tanks.
As it turns out not every spot of the Rockies is deserving of a John Denver song.
The most distinguishing feature of this cold (again, quite literally as it was mid-March), completely artificial and commercial, as-bland-as-the-car-I-came-in landscape - those propane tanks - were the whole reason why I even came there. The work week prior the local CBS News affiliate ran a story of how Farmers Korner was threatened out of existence by the rising cost of this gas that had become their dependence and lifeblood. This was also the time when the green movement was something akin to the 21st century gold rush. Not like right now, a world with Elon “Tony Stark is less stupid sounding than Elon Musk anyway” Musk, with every other home in your neighborhood crowned to the gills with solar panels. I mean like a real gold rush - yeah, you’ve heard rumors that there’s gold in them there hills! but beyond that nobody knows what the fuck they’re talking about, yet at the same time that suddenly qualifies itself as a good plan of action to base an entire life-change around. This was the era where the hottest business plan was to come up with a half-baked “green” solution with iffy, poorly-understood science that has more a basis in Acme Co. physics that would nonetheless propel America - no, the whole frickin’ global community into the future and back into greatness. The era where your neighbor and every other person on the block was a “green” company CEO before he or she squandered their entire life’s savings, gave up, called in actual professionals to install solar panel roofing and declared it good enough and mission accomplished. And yes, I got suckered into all of that too.
Farmers Korner had their own septic system, so my plan was brilliantly simple, at least in my head - just collect the methane building up in said septic system and use that gas to replace propane. Boom - free, environmentally-friendly energy. Powering your home and heating with the exact same gas you expel out of your ass after every trip to Del Taco because the pocket change in your otherwise never-used ashtray just isn’t enough for Taco Bell. Absolutely foolproof.
I came up with a fancy-schmancy PowerPoint, the type you’d exactly expect a college sophomore to in turn expect Bill Gates and Barack Obama to be wowed and impressed with how “surprisingly professional” it looks, crammed it into one of these newfangled consumer devices called a flash drive, and even donned a starch-white collared shirt, business-black trousers and yes, even a frickin’ tie. Striving to look as 80s IBM as possible in the hopes that that’s my best bet for being taken seriously. Shove the flash drive in my pocket, shove myself into my Malibu and off we go.
Previous to this I had driven up the steep grades of I-70 West exactly once, back when I was still on my learner’s permit and my dad thought it’d be a great idea to expose me to some mountain driving because 1.) this is Colorado so you might want to get used to the idea of mountain driving and 2.) he was completely bored out of his numbed skull after 30 hours of back-and-forth from Aurora to Kiowa on repeat. Take out a yellow Crayola, a sheet of computer paper, and don’t stop rubbing that crayon onto that paper until you’ve completely and thoroughly wiped out every last trace of blank space. That’s what Aurora-to-Kiowa is like. If we were to finish out those mandated 50 hours we desperately needed a change of scenery.
The only problem is I liked that yellowed-out flatter-than-Papa John’s-Extra Large-Pepperoni paper. It was safe, comfortable, familiar and most importantly didn’t make me think I was going to end up 500 feet down a cliff if I made a wrong move. Also, I’m just really scared of heights. You do a GIS of “Rocky Mountain National Park” and all you find are postcards. You completely lack any feeling of intimidation being suspended midway up a cliff where the only thing breaking up having your entire field of vision painted granite brown-gray two feet right off the tip of your nose are cracks you can just about put more road through (it’s how they built the Eisenhower Tunnel) that serve as reminders that at any given time the top of the mountain can fall off right on top of you. And to your right, the granite brown-gray monolith is 500 feet away and in between is this river that you can’t see, because if you try to look over and see it, you’re going right through that guardrail and, oh, you’ll get to see that river first-hand all right.
And yeah, about that grade. The thing about mountain grades is that they’re fun going both ways. When we did mountain driving under my permit my dad actually took us in his Audi A6. That’s a car that’s not only a hell of a lot more comfortable than either the Jetta or Malibu, but it’s pretty much purpose-built for mountain roads. Quattro and all. Not only that, but we didn’t get the wimpy naturally-aspirated 2.8. No, ours had the big, hulking, American-like 4.2 Vee-Eight, breathing through five unassisted valves per cylinder like a real goddamn engine. When we bought that thing, we took it on a test drive and hit 90 on the onramp and didn’t realize until we were already on the highway. 300 horsepower, Earth-shattering at the time (like, pre-Malaise muscle car figures) and perhaps even more importantly near close the same amount of lb-feet in torque. You can’t have that kind of power without braking to match, which the Audi did. That helps bigtime on I-70 between Golden and Grand Junction. Now I’m doing the same thing with Mr. Goodwrench-branded brakepads and Chevy’s infamous 3.1 with horsepower and torque ratings now matched by Korean subcompacts.
The road, the mountain walls, pretty much everything flashed by just like the rest of my life before my eyes. I have absolutely no idea how you big rig drivers do it day in and day out and I must say I respect you guys and gals for it. Or especially the guys and gals busing retirees with too much money to Black Hawk to let the casinos take care of their excess cash problems. My attention was razor-sharp focused on every blind turn that waited every quarter mile ahead that wanted to see who would take over what little power of attorney was needed for a college student’s estate. Basically, the world’s most careful, most cautious and slowest autocross event. And then, suddenly, a sign. Literally. You Are Now Entering Summit County, Colorado. And I finally got all that Rocky Mountain Wonder John Denver made a career out of.
The rock monoliths dropped out and in their place were actual mountain peaks. Really, close your eyes and just imagine the most cliched mountain view you can imagine. Bring up the movie poster for The Sound of Music even, if you really have to. That DOT-green sign announcing entry into ski country slowly fuzzing out of your peripheral vision as for one and a half seconds time completely stops at 65 MPH. The road ahead turning into a thinning, artistically-laid curve drawn across the valleys by a No. 2 lead pencil. Mountains as pointed and as peaked as they should be, marshmallow white against a deep electric-blue sky. You can barely make out a plateau on the canvas background of one of these peaks where someone built a town, and the town decided to pose for a Christmas card. Below that town is exactly the type of mountain lake you thought only existed in storybooks and on the walls of tourism agencies. And everywhere else already enough green on grass and trees to announce that spring is starting to arrive. You’re no longer concentrated on taking every curve to the point of crowding out every other single thought, but you’re now thinking that this would be a great place to bring a lover along, and the town perched on that barely contrasting plateau is beckoning for the two of you to stay here and take advantage of that rear bench seat.
Then you take the off-ramp and realize that picturesque town is not Farmers Korner, no, you have to head north for that. You arrive on a flat patch of sand surrounded by gas station signs and pre-fab housing with the picturesque town of romance even farther away in your vision, now just a vaguely shaped spot. You knock on the door of what you suppose is the community office, or what passes for the mayoral mansion, or something, whatever, in your impersonation of Frank Grimes from that one Simpsons episode everybody loves. A rotund middle-aged blonde woman conforming precisely to your preconceived vision answers the door and tells you that you actually want to pre-fab over there. You knock on that door and some gray-beard with thick plastic glasses, a straw cowboy hat, flannel shirt, suspendered blue-jeans and whatever other stylistic stereotype you can throw at him including freakin’ cowboy boots answers. You explain the news report the Denver CBS affiliate ran, show him the flash drive and all the piss and vinegar running through your veins. He gives you as puzzled a look as his aged face can allow, or maybe people this old have lost their ability to facially express puzzlement in favor of cheek crevices that save having to verbalize get off my lawn. He mumbles some vague words about not knowing what you’re here for, not knowing what you’re talking about, and perhaps bringing in from between the lines something about how the news guys from Denver can piss off and leave well the hell alone. All the gas and effort spent to come up here suddenly no longer feels like an investment worth salvaging, taken over by sheer discomfort and you just want to get off those steps and erase that man’s face from your memory.
So much for saving a town with the power of farts.
Despite being all literally downhill, the drive back home seems a lot less scary somehow. Maybe you’re just preoccupied with other thoughts. The walls return, and then soon give way to gently rolling grass-carpeted foothills and then that grass carpet sinks flat as you cruise C-470, blending into traffic at speeds that would earn you three days in a Virginian jail. You come home, hang up your shirt and tie, ditch the black trousers for some holed-in jeans and you only share vagaries on your mission with your parents and do your best to downplay your failure but inevitably that only brings you more failure. Your parents tell you this was fucking ridiculous in the first place, but admire your try and your heart being in the right place. And then you bury this experience into the irrelevance of your memory for literally years.
Until one day someone makes a fart joke. And then suddenly the memory rushes back of how you once thought you can harness the power of farts to save a struggling mountain town.