Leading up to this celebratory issue, the Indy asked readers a series of questions about the past 21 years in the Springs. As submissions trickled in, it became clear that one question resonated the most: When did the Springs first feel like home to you?
Now, I'm a native. The short answer to when the Springs felt like home to me should be a given. I idolized the Flyin' W Wranglers as a boy, paid yearly tributes to General Palmer and Zebulon Pike in grade-school projects, and loathed the entire city throughout my teenage years. I smoked my first joint here, drank my first craft beer, started a career here — I don't know what a home feels like outside of the Springs.
But many of you arrived here by way of the military, business or a vacation. Your stories are different, and often more complex. Here's a selection of them.
My little boy, Matthew, began first grade at Buena Vista Elementary. He had always been "a handful": boundless energy, curious and sometimes clumsy and moody. Early in the school year, I received a note from his teacher encouraging me to meet her after school as soon as possible. At that meeting, she told me that my son had been disrupting the class every day because he kept leaving his desk and going up to the blackboard to see what she was writing. She told me she thought he may need glasses.
It had never crossed my mind that he could have problems seeing! Of course, I took him for an examination immediately, and his teacher was right — he definitely needed glasses. He was fitted within a day or two, and on that day, when he first wore them, he yelled from the back seat of the car, "Mommy, I can see — I can see!" I cried all the way home.
Had his teacher not cared enough to let me know about his poor eyesight, my son's future may not have been as bright as it has become. That is when Colorado Springs first felt like home to me. The moment someone cared about my child, I was hooked! — Kathy Paradise
It took me seven years for this town to feel like home. I didn't know how conservative this place was when I moved here. Also, [I] spent the first six years being extremely homesick for the L.A. County beaches.
I absolutely love Colorado Springs now and feel grateful every day that I chose to live here. The beauty of my surroundings continually amazes me. — Catherine Hopkins
I was recruited to come here in 2000 to be the coordinator of information and technology at Mitchell High School. I was in charge of the library and all the school's computers and networks. A year later, the No Child Left Behind Law made me suddenly unqualified to work in schools, at a time when school librarian jobs were becoming increasingly rare. I was out of a job, and felt I was trapped here, without enough money to relocate.
About two years ago I finally hit bottom, and come March 2013 there was no way I could pay the rent. It seemed like the definition of insanity to continue to look for work here, and I packed what I could fit into my car and moved to stay with my sister in Michigan. My sister and I had talked about it, and decided that even if the economy was worse there, it's a traditional liberal state where there might conceivably be less discrimination, and more chance for a transgender woman to get a job.
It didn't turn out that way. Even though the Colorado law that prohibits discrimination is weak on enforcement and hard to prove transgressions against, at least there is a law.
I wasn't used to facing the blatant discrimination that I did in some cases there, and it really turned out that since there were not enough jobs for the "normal" people in Michigan, there was no chance I was going to get a job. In fact, I wasn't even legally female there.
Then a Facebook friend posted about looking for a house-sitter while her house was being renovated. I contacted her and decided to come back, because frankly, if I was going to die on the street, I was going to do it somewhere I was legally female.
Despite everything, driving back on the Fourth of July 2013, I had that unmistakable feeling of being anxious to get home. When I stopped for coffee just this side of the state line, I literally kissed the desert ground of Colorado.
Within one week, I had the first full-time job I'd had since I started my transition in 2007, and I am still going strong. Thanks for welcoming me home. — Gina Douglas
I came out here on a business trip in '94. I walked out the door of the airport and stood outside enjoying the cool, crisp air, and there was snow on the Peak. Within five minutes I knew this was home. I rented a car and drove through the Garden of the Gods. People were running, and biking, and climbing — these were my people! ... I moved here in January of '95 and never looked back. — Bill Welter
My husband and I moved 1,500 miles from Chicago, leaving 90 percent of our belongings and families several months ago. Since moving, we've landed jobs and share a two-bedroom, with a view of the mountains, with my sister on the east side of town. I think it's like heaven on Earth, truly.
My husband and I had stopped here a little over a year ago on our way home from a road trip to Arizona. We fell in love with the scenery, the people, and the feeling. Colorado Springs has phenomenal energy and I don't think I'm just imagining it.
It may not be as good as it was in the glory days to someone who's lived here their entire life, but nothing ever is. To me, a newbie who's only just begun to understand what it means to be a Coloradan, it's perfect. The scenery is phenomenal, and I have yet to be tired of seeing all there is to see from little houses in the valleys and uncovered mountain peaks, to the red rocks, green pines, the amazing aroma of juniper outside my window. — Nicole Newman
I came to the Springs in late March of '86 from Boulder by way of California, where I had lived for the previous seven months. Hated it and wanted to leave the next day but didn't. When I found Poor Richard's bookstore in the fall of '86, I knew that I could survive here. — Cathy Reilly
I really dig this question because I struggled with calling the Springs home for many years.
I first moved to the Springs, Briargate, in '84 at 14 years old. Many of my classmates were military brats who had just moved to the area and/or were set to move again in a couple of years. A majority left quickly after high school, and I decided to leave too.
Financial trouble soon pulled me back to live with my mom and finish my degree at UCCS. The move back to Briargate depressed me more than my financial woes, though, so I moved to a place near Prospect Lake with some friends in 1990 — the sound of gunfire and sirens outside my window was definitely new to me. Disillusioned with the shelter my friends' and my minimum wage could afford, I had to move back in with Mom and plan my next escape.
As I sat on my waterbed in Mom's unfinished basement, I ruminated on the one bright spot in my foray in the scarier part of the Springs. I thought about having worked as a weekend merchandiser for Coca-Cola, where I met different people, and heard their personal stories about the Springs — they called it home. As I fell back on my bed and the water rippled beneath me, I felt buoyed. Some people had made it.
A couple years later my girlfriend and I decided to move into a place just north of downtown, behind Panino's Restaurant. Downtown living was fantastic. Rent was cheap and The Underground offered local music, cheap beer and a great gathering place for students, young people, and a new group that had been gathering strength for a couple years: the restaurant workers. They were a community I could really relate to: work hard, play hard and keep looking for the next opportunity with what little pay you could get. I fell in with the crowd. But even then, I wondered: Shouldn't home feel like somewhere you can thrive, not just get by?
I remember when I saw the Independent for the first time in Panino's circa 1994. It was the first free paper I remember worth reading. (The only other was the Springs Oyster. Who remembers that?) The longer I lived downtown, the Independent became more of a go-to for arts, culture, classifieds, and sometimes jobs — or at least info on where you could donate plasma for cash, and where the weekly payouts were increasing. Of course my new community read the Indy — we bonded around it.
Still, there was a stigma to the Springs that embarrassed me a little. And it was difficult for me to call "home" a place where my opinions, beliefs, and convictions were in the minority. So when an opportunity to escape to Manitou Springs came in 2002 I took it. (I saw it as a chance to finally distance myself, albeit a measly six miles.)
I would live in Manitou until 2010, when my wife and I had our son, and our already tiny cottage shrank. By this time, the Springs had grown, and I had moved on to a well-paying career in the financial industry. The company I worked for was in the north end of the Springs, near where I had grown up.
After arriving at this point, I asked myself: Having found what I had searched for so long — a career, health insurance, a house — did I find what makes a city feel like home to me? Not hardly. It wasn't my struggle, my job, or my neighborhood that makes the Springs feel like home; it's the history I have here.
I finally felt comfortable calling the Springs home when I could tell my son stories about where he lives. I find myself telling this little boy that his daddy used to live downtown, pointing out landmarks to him and telling him stories. Even when we venture to the north side of town I can relive my memories for him.
I want to tell my son more stories about Colorado Springs, now that I'm home. — Nathaniel Kisergreen