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TERRY WOSTER: Week in Denver gives new perspective on big city

  I’m sitting on the back deck at my younger son’s house in Englewood, Colo., writing this, and I’m kind of marveling at how little like a big city this is.

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I can hear the distant hum of trucks, presumably on one of the freeways that criss-cross the greater Denver area. Now and then a private jet or propeller-driven airplane takes off or lands at an airfield over in Centennial. (I don’t know exactly what or where Centennial is. I only know that’s where the airport is located.) Other than that, it’s a back yard, with a variety of shade trees, a light breeze and the Sunday afternoon sounds of children laughing and lawnmowers whirring.

The reason I marvel at the smalltown feel of the neighborhood is because I know I only need to travel a few blocks to reach Interstate 25, where the traffic flows at all hours of day or night. I-25 takes me to Interstate 225, which is the fast-moving highway I used to get to and from the University of Colorado medical center for much of the past week. Before we came out here for a family medical issue (Nancy had surgery, which went well), I’d never heard of the University of Colorado hospital. Now I act like I can find the place in the dark — which I have several times, having discovered that at 5:45 a.m., the traffic on the freeway is appreciably lighter than it is an hour or 90 minutes later.

When I say I can find the place in the dark, what I mean is that I can set a route-finder in the Prius and follow the instructions shouted at me by the disembodied voice that interrupts the soothing sounds of the Grateful Dead each time I need to be warned that I’ll be leaving the highway to the right in half a mile. So far, I’ve not figured out how to dampen the volume on the route-finder. No matter what I try (and whizzing along at 70 mph with trucks and vans and sedans and micro-buses and SUVs changing lanes at a whim takes away the desire to devote much time to the volume of the voice providing guidance on my route) I’m unable to get a level below a football stadium shout.

(No one in my family would believe that I want the volume lower. They all believe I can’t hear, and even the 5-year-old granddaughter has become accustomed to facing me directly and speaking her words slowly and carefully when she wants to tell me something.)

I came and went in the dark partly because that’s how things worked out for my visits at the hospital. My timing was also intentional; to arrive before the traffic began to build in the morning and to leave after the afternoon rush had subsided. For a flatlander who considers five minutes to work a major-league rush hour in Pierre, the volume of traffic on the highways and streets out here is impressive, not to say terrifying. Life in the fast lane — make that lanes — in a Prius is, well, interesting.

Turns out, I do know about the University of Colorado hospital, only I’ve always known of it as Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. I was excited to see the original building during one drivearound (OK, one time I didn’t believe the shrill voice of the route-finder.) That building has the Dwight D. Eisenhower suite, where the late president was taken in 1955 after suffering a heart attack during a visit to Denver. My son has classes in that building, which thrilled me no end. I was 11 years old when Eisenhower had his heart attack. The entire nation worried about his condition, treatment and recovery. It was a different time.

I tend to think of Denver as one massive, overly populated area that stretches roughly from the Wyoming border south to, oh, say, Colorado Springs. Spending the past week here, with time to reflect on health, family and the human condition, I’ve come to see it as a place a lot like others, with neighborhoods, small malls, parks and schools. A person could live here.

Well, I couldn’t, but a lot of people could — and do.