Young people are always asking what it was like in the “olden days” of Grand County around Hideaway Park. They stare at me expectantly as they might a tipped vessel spewing wisdom. I stand there hesitant, because it was so peculiar living here that one’s words must be chosen carefully, admittedly less so now that the statute of limitations has passed.

Let me momentarily digress for newbies: Hideaway Park was the name of this happy hamlet until 1978 when goofy met greedy and they changed the name to Winter Park hoping to hoodwink hapless tourists away from the ski area and into town where they would theoretically spend lavishly on T-shirts and view lots.

I explain that back in the early ‘70’s, it was cold, there weren’t a lot of jobs, and folks wore knitted hats saying “Ski Elsewhere” and “Ski Barstool”. It wasn’t a tourist town or a real estate bonanza, just a happy little self-contained colony of self-contented forest-dwellers next to a Denver city park.

Rather than try to describe early Grand County culture, which most closely resembled that of Trobriand Islanders crossed with Nordic Berserkers, I find it more illustrative to provide anecdotes about what life was like then.       

I mentioned jobs were scarce, but that allowed an astonishing array of creative revenue-producing talent. For instance, there was a fellow here named “Rootin’ Tootin’”. I doubt it was his real name but hardly anyone used those anyway. Rootin’ made a pretty good living jumping out in front of cars.

Sure, that’s not apt to be everybody’s career choice. But after a hard week in the hospital, he’d confer with his attorney and sigh contentedly with that inner peace that comes from satisfactory job performance. He claimed, in his self-effacing manner, that he was probably the best in the world. He was possibly right, obviously outstanding in his field.

What matter that his field had a double yellow line down the center of it? He wasn’t chained to a desk or trapped in a cubical; no phone drove him crazy; he had no corporate ladders to fall from. One quick adrenalin rush, then a quick hospital rush capped with a much more mellow morphine rush. Next his job strategy called for weeks of repose while perfecting a pitiful appearance for the jury.

I recall grilling him one night in a bar about his chosen profession which turned out to be more involved than you might think. First, you had to be really, really, drunk when you showed up for work, as it was best not to tense up on impact. Rootin’ may have coined the phrase, “Go with the Flow”.  The best spot was near a streetlight on a lightly busy highway just as traffic was slowing for town. Wait for a new clean car. Leaping out from the shadow of a crosswalk sign when the car was exactly 14 feet away (he left a big rock to mark the spot), you kicked your legs out straight while twisting butt to windshield.

The safety glass acted as a big, soft hammock while providing lots of superficial cuts.  Bloody photos had a major impact on settlements, he confided. Timing was also important, he explained, so you would be sobering up just as the morphine cranked up.

Over the years I lost touch with him, which was okay because truth was, he made me a little nervous. But I did hear of his last employment over in Grand Lake when he threw himself in front of a cop car and wound up with a couple of casts and a bunch of bruises and a tidy 5-figure settlement. This is a true story, incidentally.

And then quietly, in the same cool breeze that has blown so many characters through this peculiar slice of heaven, he was gone.