Recently a writer, new to Colorado Springs, invited me to lunch. She was just passing through, in town from Los Angeles to get some background for a story about the rape scandal at the Air Force Academy for Ms. magazine.
She was trying to get a handle on Colorado Springs and was, admittedly, a bit mystified about our city. What's our collective personality, she wanted to know? What pulls us together? What gets our juices flowing?
Her query got me to thinking. Who are we, indeed?
This is a city where businessman Ed Bircham takes out an advertisement in the daily newspaper on Easter Sunday and, in a potent tirade, waxes on about how it would have been just terrific if the terrorists had attacked and killed people in Hollywood instead of New York.
"If the 9/11 disaster had wiped out Hollywood instead of the Twin Towers in New York, we would have resolved 70 percent of the problems we have in our society today," Bircham wrote.
Not only would such an attack have taken care of the "trash TV shows, movies and 'rap noise'," Bircham maintained, we could have also "eliminated" anti-American movie stars.
Colorado Springs is a city where this sort of an advertisement appears on Easter Sunday, and no one blinks. There is no public outcry. No one asks the new mayor, Lionel Rivera, to repudiate Bircham's outrageous comments. (Mayor Rivera, after all, accepted his largest campaign contribution, $1,000, from Bircham.) No one, it appears, calls up the daily newspaper demanding an explanation.
Instead, we are apparently supposed to simply shake our heads and make excuses: Oh, that's just wacky old Ed.
We are a city that's home to numerous high-profile organizations, used to both basking and twisting in the national, even international, spotlight.
We're a city where Focus on the Family is scorned across the country for its bizarre attacks on Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and last year, the Girl Scouts, for refusing to ostracize gays and lesbians. At home: hardly a peep of criticism.
We are home to the U.S. Olympic Committee, but a titillating, months-long scandal involving the top leaders, which draws headlines around the world, but locally evokes a stifled public yawn.
When a pattern of cover-up of rapes and sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy is exposed -- this type of scandal would be the source of constant discussion everywhere in most other cities -- here, it barely raises an eyebrow.
Over the past few years, we the public have given a pass to a police force that tear-gases anti-war protesters. We have all but ignored 11 inmates who haven't been convicted of any crime, but who have dropped dead in our jail. We couldn't care less about cops keeping spy files on peace activists.
Just when is the last time that Colorado Springs really got worked up about an issue -- whether divided or standing in unison? Amendment 2, which passed 11 years ago, might have been the last time.
Or perhaps it was during the siege of the Texas 7, those escaped prisoners who holed up near Woodland Park pretending to be born-again Christians until Channel 11 anchor Eric Singer smoked 'em out.
For the most part, however, as citizens our common interests are generally devoid of collective passion. We refuse to engage in any sort of meaningful public introspection.
Most cities, like Seattle, or Santa Fe or even Boise, have their own distinguishing personality. Not so for Colorado Springs. Ours is a tale of five distinct and separate cities, and rarely do they ever meet, much less overlap.
Fort Carson, the Army base southeast of town, is truly its own city. Ditto for the Air Force Academy. Their inhabitants are generally transient. The rest of us generally consider our soldiers and future military leaders with pride, but not necessarily as neighbors.
The city of Space Command comprises the also-self-contained North American Air Defense, Peterson and Schreiver Air Force bases. Due in part to the secrecy of their work, they are generally off limits and out of mind for most of us.
Then there is The Broadmoor. Since time immortal, the Broadmoor crowd has dictated the mores and traditions and the rules of decorum for our community. These are the haves, those moneyed folk who decide, in private, what is best for the city and its minions.
And then there are the rest of us: factory workers, teachers, hairdressers, musicians, holy-rollers, high-tech geeks, bikers, students, developers, drivers, waiters, bureaucrats, cops, firefighters, artists, retirees, small-business owners, realtors, punks, mullet-heads, natives, townies, suburbanites.
With no common glue that binds.