You know them when you see them.
They’re never far from their cars. They can survey and shop a big-box store in minutes. They can find their home among the warrens of winding nonsensical roads blindfolded. They shudder at the mere mention of “one way streets” and “parallel parking.”
They are suburbanites. They rule Colorado. They are us.
As the Aurora metroplex continues to grow as the melting pot with cultural ingredients from across the country and across the globe, the once common suburbanite has become as much a curiosity as their quickly disappearing natural habitat. Large tracts of what were once pristine parking lots are giving way to invasive TODs — transit oriented developments. Bland and sprawling parks now boast community swings and even water fountains.
The suburban times, they are a changing.
So for those who have forgotten their tract-home roots or are new arrivals wondering why the streets are so wide here, we offer this humble ‘burbanite explainer of their language, their mating habits and unique sociology.
Everything not suburban is urban
In the eyes of an east-side suburbanite, everything west of Monaco Parkway and north of Hampden Avenue is “Downtown Denver.” That’s despite the fact that Downtown Denver is actually defined by a separate street system in the core city. It includes all the named streets that cross numbered streets, beginning at Fifth Street on the west side of the Auraria Campus and continuing east to 38th Street, in Globeville. The named streets run from Erie in the Denver highlands to Court Place just north of Colfax. The Denver Zoo? Downtown. (Pronounced Dowwwwn Towwwwn) State Capitol? Downtown. National Jewish Hospital? Yup. Downtown. Santa Fe Arts District? Guess.
Wheel life in the burbs
They know how to roller skate. Every kid in Aurora spent years slogging lace-up roller skates with stone wheels and crappy ball bearings listening to a playlist that at one time included “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne, and then morphed into “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, then on to “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Soon after, kids were clacking their skates around the concrete loop to “More Than A Feeling” by Boston. Then Elton and Tears for Fears. Hip hop has taken over the rinks these days. Still sporting arms, legs and teeth too big for their bodies, budding adolescents of the ‘burbs learn about real life on the rinks.
And the center of the wheel universe in Aurora is Skate City.
The same thin carpet that has always adorned the floor is still there at 15100 E Girard Ave. So are the upholstered benches where countless teens have slipped on and off a pair of brown skates with orange wheels. The low hum of a good skater whooshing from snack stand to rink sounds the same way now that it did when that skater was sporting JNCO or Jordache.
The display case near the front shows off a couple of top-of-the-line pairs of skates like it always has. There’s a womens pair in marshmallow white and bubble gum pink. And a men’s pair is smooth black and bright crimson.
At the arcade, the fleet of games could have come from any other time a Clinton or Bush graced a presidential ballot. Tekken is there, and so is ski ball, and so is Donkey Kong, albeit each a newer and better-looking version of their former self.
And while the turntables are gone from the DJ booth, replaced by several computer screens and a Mac computer, and the playlist has added a few tracks, the same jams you remember are still in heavy rotation. You’re gonna hear Thriller. And limbo, too.
Suburbanites claim this nostalgia, and it keeps them coming back. And the prices.
For just $7 — $5 to get in, $2 for a pair of skates — you can speed around the rink for a couple hours. While prime times are still busy, many suburbanites come to worship the past here at frequent birthday parties.
East and west of downtown, they skate.
Out of Step
Real suburbanites never walk anywhere. Whether it was a bike trip to the vacant lot where they collected grasshoppers, a friend’s house two-doors down, for marathon cartoons, or as far away as the gas station for the newest Garbage Pail Kids bubble-gum cards, suburbanites climbed into a car or on your bike or a scooter. Most neighborhoods had some kind of sidewalks in front of the houses, but they were just for shoveling during the winter or a noisy skateboard highway.
Room on the Range
Suburbanites grow up in a house that have many rooms, and almost none of them are used. Native suburban dwellers can give a tour of rooms in suburban homes that have furniture that never wore out because no one but the cat actually uses it. There is the foyer, where dropped coats and shoes are forbidden.
Then the living room, where no living ever occurs. It has sofas and chairs no one sits on and coffee table books that no ever reads. This room is usually adjacent to the dining room, where no one dines, except for maybe on holidays that involve seriously closed restaurants. There is often a mud room off the back patio or garage that serves as a storage room, the guest room that was way off limits to anyone under 30, and the family room, which was a place to hang family pictures. No one actually goes in there because everyone stays in the kitchen, the basement or their own room. And the biggest room in every suburban home that isn’t made for people? The garage. All of this is set off by the fact that every homesteading suburbanite is shocked at how small urban homes are and wonder aloud how anyone can live in such a small space.
Suburbanites can innately find their way around neighborhoods known to trap Denver downtowners for weeks in a labyrinthine nightmare. Rumor has it, grid-street dwellers from the East Coast who came to visit friends inside Mission Viejo in the early 80s still haunt the streets in their sleek two-door car, trying in vain to find East Quincy Avenue.
But native dwellers know which curvy, winding streets — all with the variations on the same name, i.e. Cathay Street, Avenue, Road, Way, Court, Place and Promenade — actually go somewhere that you want to go. Denverites are quickly disoriented by Club Cul-de-sac, give up and go home. An Aurora kid wearing a blindfold can tell you how to get to the closest 7-Eleven — in a snowstorm, in the dark. Birds miraculously fly south for winter. Suburbanites drive home for dinner.
And the ultimate suburban environmental feature completely foreign to city dwellers? The mammoth cul-de-sac. This geographical oddity perplexes so many who wonder why you would pay to have your house face everyone you live with. Urbanites don’t understand that front yards are for sprinkler systems and driveways leading the cathedral garages and nothing else. Nobody goes there and it leaves the all-important back yard facing anywhere but toward a neighbor.
The Park is in the Backyard
Suburban dwellers are shocked to discover that clans west of here actually go to parks on purpose. There is little need to out here, since most suburban backyards are larger than Denver neighborhood parks. If someone from here foes, it’s to clean it up on a rainy, miserable spring morning as part of a Scout or school project. Suburbanites are amazed at the level of activity and people in Denver parks. Joggers, hugely dangerous playgrounds, festivals, nude beaches and water make urban parks a marvel. While suburban parks are a nice place to be pretty enjoy some alone time.
Parking is never an issue in the ‘burbs. Oh, sure, suburban pups have clenched their fists as Dad drove around the Montgomery Ward parking lot 15 times looking for a parking spot just a few stalls closer. No, closer. But parking meters, and the elusive skill of parallel parking were novelties and myths originated by Downtown Denver dwellers. Paid parking? Oh, please. There was room enough on your own driveway and garage for more cars than your family could ever afford. Second cousins, twice removed and the mailman were the only ones who parked on the street. And even during holidays and family reunions, you just drove a few more feet to park unencumbered. The only people who tried to parallel park on the block were practicing for the driver’s test.
That’s not to say that the car’s natural habitat isn’t endangered in Aurora. Parking meters now plague the Anschutz Medical Campus and rumor has it some shoppers at Kohl’s in The Gardens on Havana have been seen using the outer lots.
Talking the talk
Suburbanites know when you’re not from here. They hear you ask for a “soda” instead of a “pop.” They witness you asking for your coffee “regular.” If someone from far away asks where your from, you say, “Denver,” no matter what ‘burb you actually hail from. If You’re Downtown for a game and someone asks, you tell them what neighborhood you live in: Dam East, Village East, Southlands. King’s Point. Nobody is actually from Aurora.
And as a native Auroran, you speak English and a few dozen other languages, or at least a few words. You know what pho is, how to order it, and how to say it. It’s “fuh,” not “foe” like they say downstream. And you would never order it large. Denverites and dwellers from southern and western burbs are mystified by “Foe” signs and restaurants all over Aurora’s western edge. If they brave a trip inside, they immediately supersize their order, getting a bowl of broth and noodles the size of a wash tub. Aurora dwellers play their favorites on Havana, go easy on the Sriracha and know how to hold the bowl. Folks out here know how kimchee smells, and they like it. They can pronounce “injera” bread and expertly scoop up wot with it. They know where to get the best Iranian cucumbers and why they should. And they can order “dos libras de carne asada” from any carniceria in the city, speaking perfect Spanish with a delightful Colorado drawl. Por nada, vato.
The City That Runs Itself
Suburbanites have no idea who runs their city, or even where it’s actually run. Everyone knows who runs Denver, except for the new guy who hasn’t made enough trouble to get his name out yet. But here in Aurora and across the metro area, if it doesn’t happen at the school or the mall, it’s pretty much magic. The streets get plowed.
The cops came the time you had to call them when a Tesla drove around your cul-de-sac 15 times. But it turns out it was your neighbor’s daughter’s prom date who was too nervous to get out of the car and meet “The Dad.” The mayor of Aurora? Bob LeGare.
And the man who actually runs the show?
City Manager Jim Twombly. Now you know.
Pillar of Tire
Nothing sets apart the land of wide streets like suburban most sacred monuments; garages.
The most notable element of a home’s exterior is not the sleek furniture on the porch, nor even the stunning bougainvillea.
It’s the garage door. Usually it’s beige. And it’s almost always unremarkable. But it’s still the largest single element that adorns the front of many suburban homes. The garage door’s importance is so under-appreciated that homeowners can — and often do — simply tap a button and merrily roll the door toward the ceiling, out of sight and out of mind.
Behind those doors sits a part of the home crucial to suburban living. Garages don’t just leave an outsized stamp on a home’s exterior. For homeowners they also take on an outsized importance on a psychological and emotional level.
They are testament to all that suburbanites value and worship: their cars.
Garages are the last thing ‘burbanites see when they leave home in the morning, and the first thing they see when they get home at night. It’s a portal to and from their lives. The groan of the door lifting off the pavement announces your departure. And the thud of rubber on concrete is the house’s way of telling you that you’re home.
They are us.