89 Hours in Denver [AIA National Convention with AFH]

After everyone else headed back to Texas or Wisconsin or wherever, I headed down to Denver to scope out the city again, go to the National AIA Convention ,hang out with the Architecture for Humanity crew, and talk to some people about a job. For this portion of my trip, I drove all sevenish hours through the Black Hills and down through Wyoming. I forget how beautiful the Hills are and I didn’t realize that how much south eastern Wyoming is too. The bluff and buttes rise up out of nowhere and road is not really too straight at all. Once you get close to Cheyenne and the Colorado boarder, the drive gets a bit boring, but the Rockies become visible to the east to help make up for it.  It is also at this point after driving for 6 hours, I hit traffic in Fort Collins. Driving in four lanes of traffic in New York at 40 mile an hour or less is nothing compared to driving 65 to 80 in four lanes of traffic and having to stop on dime at times. A bit stressful. It didn’t help that my dad’s GPS was freaking out. Thank you google maps and Iphone for safely delivering me to Marit’s adorable apartment south of downtown.

Denver DriveConfession, the last time I was in Denver was 10 years ago for a ski trip. I seem to have pushed from my mind the fact that Denver is not actually in the mountains. Yes it’s a mile high, but the mountains are still like 45 minutes away.  I hate to be a brat, but while it’s much easier than in getting to the mountains in New York, it still requires some planning. It’s not as spontaneous as deciding after work you want to go for a hike and can because it’s 15 minutes away. Still, the mountains are it’s edge over Minneapolis. The city is nice, but Minneapolis is just a better city.  I’m still trying to get a job there, or in Boulder, I have a lot of friends to make up for what the city lacks. We will see where I land.

Denver has it little pockets of neighborhoods, just like every other city. It was just so short… a lot of individual homes close together with some apartment buildings sprinkled in here and there until you get closer to downtown. Their lite rail is really nice and bike friendly. They even have lockers at the major park and ride stations where you can lock your bike inside if you don’t want to take it all the way into work. Love it. The thing that was odd to me was getting used to very few people walking, they were all in cars, and I didn’t get used to them in the cars during my short trip either.  Funny how quickly your normal shifts. Marit’s neighborhood is adorable. We went to dinner near by at one of her go to spots Hanson’s where we could hang out in the backyard. After a stroll back through the hood I was exhausted and so was she from traveling for work so we crashed instantly upon return.

The next day was the first day of the AIA National Conference Downtown. I had to do some freelance work before heading into the convention center, so I missed the first keynote speaker. But as normal, when I walked into the huge expo floor, and was looking for the Architecture for Humanity crew, I ran into one of my old classmates, John, and invited myself was invited to lunch with him and a couple other classmates I hadn’t seen since we graduated. Funny how that works, I was there less than 10 minutes and was already running into people. It was fun to catch up with him and the other guys. It’s amazing how much has happened in six years. Later that day, I met up with my friend Katie, who was in Seattle, and her husband, Chad. They were also looking to relocate, but specifically to Denver or Boulder, which they have since successfully done, so they are also rooting for me to pick Denver as my next destination.
Denver ConventionSince it’s a convention, there were multiple organization and alumni receptions. Our first stop was at a reception for north western schools where I ran into more classmates, old professors and the Director of Development, who is determined to get me a job in Denver, maybe Bozeman. She was so nice and enthusiastic. It can be very helpful to have people like that on your side. After that we all headed over to the Clocktower where AFH was having it’s party. The view from the top was amazing for the sunset. Since it was close to the summer solstice, the sun lingered in the hazy (smoky) sky forever. AFH does know how to throw a party, great location, food and drinks. You can’t really go wrong with that. From there we headed to the bars to hang out, catch up with more people and randomly run into more people I knew that I didn’t know where there. I love it.
Denver ClocktowerThe next day, I got myself to the convention center on time for the Keynote. Cameron Sinclair, cofounder of AFH, was the speaker, so I guess it was kind of required. He was great, ran over as usual, and tried to pack in more than he could, but he got peoples attention. After the keynote, the AFH booth was crazy. People wanting to donate, people wanting to volunteer, people wanting to know more. It’s so great when that happens. I only meant to drop by the booth for a minute, as was the case every time, and I was there for an hour or more helping out. I never actually explored the expo floor. I did make it to one panel discussion, though I kind of snuck in because I didn’t actually pay for the conference, I was with AFH, as an exhibitor, so I guess maybe the fact that I had a badge of some sort was enough to get me in.  I finally got away to work on a bit more freelance work before the MSU reception at John’s office that evening. There are a lot of alumni in Denver and many that came to the convention. A bunch of us that had not seen each other in years proceeded to dinner that night. I highly recommend eating some steak while you’re in Denver. I don’t eat to much meat in general anymore, so while I was there, I got my summer fill. The Steakhouse Wrap was delicious. After dinner we ended up back downtown before catching the last trains home.
Saturday, was the final convention day and the keynote speaker was Colin Powell. He was pretty funny, told good stories, and stayed away from being to political or political at all. The most he really said, is that we have to start working together. True. Very true. I had a couple meetings after that and the convention was over. I was finally able to get away from the center during the day and do some exploring. I went with Katie and Chad to lunch at a super cute deli-style place called the Market. Then we went over to the Clyfford Still Museum. Love the design of the building and love the art. LOVE the art. Huge canvas pieces with what seemed like minimal color, but it was beautiful. Check it out if you are ever in Denver. We walked back to the convention center, passing by multiple other museums in the area and enjoying a beautiful hot, unhumid, day before heading our seperate ways.
Denver SaturdayI met Marit back at her place and we plotted out the evening. She wanted to show me some of the other neighborhoods in city and wanted to check out a newer restaurant called Linger. The place still have the huge neon sign on the roof for the funeral home that use to be there.  There is also a old VW van that is the bar on the roof. The interior of the place is massive. We were on the rooftop in the bar area where we didn’t have to wait for a table. It was so good. So damn good! It is a tapas style place based on different street foods. After spending forever deciding, we ended up getting Wagyu burger sliders with waffle fries, roasted beet salad, and sesame BBQ tacos. Everything was so tasty. The quinoa was crunchy in the beet salad, which was unexpected but really good. We were both so full, and yet we kept eating until it was gone. The cocktails were also amazing.  Next door to Linger, was an ice cream shop with a huge line, that we decided we needed to try. By the time we got through the line there would be room right?  And the place is a giant milk can, how can you not get ice cream from a giant milk can? Also delicious. I had a double scoop of two delicious flavors. It was too much. It was so good and it is maybe the first ice cream cone I could not finish. It was painful to give up, but sometimes, you just have to let it go. Our final destination of the night was to grab a glass of wine in the Highland neighborhood and pick up a bottle of Colorado whiskey for my roommate since he had been taking care of the cat forever. We ended up at the adorable Trattoria Stella after walking around and checking out the neighborhood. Our friend Drew, who lives in the area joined us. We talked cycling. He doesn’t believe that I could keep up with him and his friends. Once I acclimate to the altitude, I don’t think the foothills would be too much trouble or different than the rides upstate. If I move there, I have a challenge on my hands.
Denver Saturday NightSunday morning I headed downtown for my final meeting of the trip, a mini chapter forum for AFH. Chapter directors who were in town for the conference meet in person and we had several other from around the world join us online in a conference call.  We talked about many ways we want to see the chapters grow, some lessons learned, and what we need from HQ. All in all, a very productive morning before hopping back in the car and heading north home. I did take a mini detour to drive through Boulder. It was nice, I could live there. The next morning  I was on a plane out of Rapid City and in New York again. Funny story about my flight back, last Friday I ran into these girls at a Minnesota happy hour in Brooklyn. They were on the same flights as me. One of the remember because we were all laugh at the gate attendant. Our flight was a bit late and she was acting like we were going to stampede or something and were all really mad. As far as we could tell, no one actually cared. Anyway, it’s a small world.
Whew! June was crazy. It’s August and I have so many other travel adventures and stuff for you! It will be October before I get through July!  Stay tuned if you can stand it!
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