A Personal Portrait of Silverton
[Editor's Note: Dakota Jones is living in Silverton, Colorado while he trains for the Hardrock 100 in July. He did the same thing last year.]
The other day at the coffee shop a guy I knew walked in and struck up a conversation.
“Hey, check out the new chair we put in my truck.”
I turned around to see an army-green station wagon with the top completely ripped off. No roof, no windshield, no rear hatch – everything above the top of the doors was gone. In the back perched a black leather computer chair at least four feet above the level of the other seats, looking extraordinarily out of place.
“You can just ride around in the back and wave at people!”
I hesitated, “…cool?”
“You want to go for a ride?”
I looked at the chair again and briefly pictured myself riding around Silverton in a huge black chair anchored poorly into a surely-not-street-legal car, waving at tourists. I nearly panicked.
“Uh, not today man. Gotta finish this… email” I tailed off lamely, indicating my computer.
“Suit yourself,” he responded. “I’ll be around if you change your mind.”
Apparently the no-top-half car is a pretty popular summer thing around here. Another friend, Jimmy, proudly displayed his windowless Geo to me outside the grocery store, listing its specs as if it were the latest concept car, while no less a figure than Bill the Sheriff arrives at the coffee shop most mornings in what appears to be a WWII turret-capable jeep with the top removed. His dog sits co-pilot and jumps over the door when they arrive.
I had a run-in with Bill while living in Silverton last summer. A friend came to visit towards the end of July, and on his last night we decided to have a campfire/barbecue at my place. Given that my house had neither a firepit nor a grill, we naturally constructed one on the sidewalk directly in front of the house. Keep in mind that Silverton is a town with a single paved road, so doing this was not as much of a stretch as it may seem. Some friends came over and toward the end of the night, feeling a little looser than usual, I found some Black Cat fireworks that had been in my house for months. Taking the obvious next step I immediately ran outside, lit all of their fuses at once and tossed them into the street, where they proceeded to make a horrendous racket for all of thirty seconds. Laughing smugly, I returned to the fire and thought highly of myself.
Two minutes later, Bill raced around the corner, preceded by his dog. Bill launched into a tirade: “You dumbass kids – there is a fireworks ban! I could serve you all with $400 tickets. What are you thinking? There are signs everywhere!” and so on for several minutes, until he blew himself out and we sat cowed at his feet. I looked around at the scene. To his left was what we had aptly dubbed the “beer tree,” for obvious reasons. My ID was… in the house. The firepit, remember, was on the sidewalk. Keep in mind that firepits have fire in them. Nevertheless, the main problem seemed to be the thirty seconds of fireworks. I looked up at him from what felt to be a deep hole. “I’m sorry Bill,” I said quietly. “Should we put out the fire?”
“No. Just don’t let it happen again.”
Silverton is full of these sorts of cock-your-head-to-the-side quirky stories. One friend told me that the first time he was in town he accidentally dropped a $100 bill on his front lawn, which someone soon found and proceeded race through town to return it. A week later, he was served with a ticket for littering. I have had several memorable experiences of my own. Often while walking I have come across the town band – comprised of many of Silverton’s best-known dignitaries – practicing in random back alleyways. Better yet is when they practice in the basement of the library; seldom have I found as little interest in reading as when a brass band is playing one floor below.
But what the town band lacks in subtlety is more than made up for by the water guy. As mentioned above, Silverton has one paved road. But it has at least two parallel dirt roads on either side and probably ten cross streets north to south. To keep the dust down on these dirt roads the town hires a guy to water them, but when and how this guy operates has been a perpetual unknown. The guy is a freaking ninja – you never see him, but the streets are always watered. Surely he has to drive a big truck around to hold all that water, yet his passing remains unobserved. Does he do it at night? Does he do it by hand? Does he have a lot of help? The mystery of the phantom water guy is yet unsolved.
In the afternoons, I like to sit and read on my front lawn, an act which serves the dual purposes of a enjoying a beautiful day and watching Silverton operate. Sometimes my neighbor comes over to discuss his job as manager of the cemetery, while other times I just watch the local kids do laps on their bicycles. A mile south of where I sit, the Sultan rises out of the valley, a grand velvet bulwark speckled with the green of aspens. Capping the monolith is a rolling summit of tundra that seems to gaze West into the sunset. I gauge the time in the evenings by the light rising up the Sultan’s flanks, until only the golden summit is illuminated. The light brings the peak to life, and the mountain carves the radiance into its own patterns. And then suddenly it’s gone, the peak faded once again to a dull gray.
And then there’s the train. That’s how most of Silverton makes its money. The train shows up mid-morning and spits out a stream of tourists, who then spend several hours perusing the town and commenting on its quaint antiquity, before buying a mix-match of the following: t-shirts, hamburgers, mugs, necklaces, milkshakes, “homemade” fudge, license-plate frames or model-train engines. This happens up to four times a day in peak season and by 4:00 the town is back to normal – 700 year-round residents and up to 1,200 residents in the summer. I am one of those fair-weather summer residents, but, perhaps someday, I will return to Silverton for a winter. It certainly seems to hold enough culture for several years’ worth of fun.