Manitou and The Spice of Life, plus haunts!

My morning commenced with a long anticipated trek to Manitou Springs, where our dear friends Michael and Doug have operated their gourmet ingredients emporium for the past fourteen years.

Their establishment, The Spice of Life, is a marriage of rustic and eclectic pulled together with keen gay insight. The atmosphere varies with the seasons; however one can always find something exotic waiting for them.

Michael and Doug bustle behind the worn aqua green counter, two blurs of energy as they cook a quick breakfast omelet or two or weigh out their quality teas and spices. The clatter of dishes in the sink blends with the gentle him of the industrial espresso machine. A healthy aroma of coffee and good eats grace the air and Michael’s homemade soup simmers softly on the burner, making all of our mouths water in anticipation of lunch.

Patrons greet each other enthusiastically, sitting gaily around the scrubbed wooden tables nestled in front of the shelves (upon shelves!) of imported and unique products. It is not uncommon for a total stranger to receive an invitation to sit with a group of regulars; if you wish to know the pulse of Manitou, you can often gauge it by the tone of conversation at the Spice of Life.

Today the talk focuses on the recent minimum wage increase as well as the eternal debate regarding the weird Colorado weather. A robust gentleman chats animatedly with a frail older man while they devour their breakfast eggs and German chocolate flavored coffee. The bell tinkles and a pair of businesswomen graces our presence. Both are new to The Spice of Life, and both came with hearty appetites. They locate an empty table near the front display windows and Doug bustles out with their meal. They find themselves moving their chairs around and joining the two gents, laughing over some common topic. No one is alone when they are among “friends”.

This entire shop, 1100 square feet, is roughly the same size as my house, and it is filled with good memories for me. Everything started fourteen years ago by a couple with a dream – in a retail space that was smaller than most guest bathrooms. The years have been kind to my dear friends. They both retain their handsome features and good humour. Their son, Zach, is now twelve years old, and stands nearly as tall as Doug. Better Half and I can both recall the years before his birth.

We catch up on news, chatting about Russ the Old Mayor (now retired and living as a Snow Bird in Florida), the economy, and life in general. It feels as if no time has passed, as if we struck up conversation exactly where we had left off over two and a half years ago.

The summer tourism trade keeps Michael and Doug hopping, while the winter regulars provide enough income to get them by. Manitou has always been a tourist town packed with shops hocking Native America art and mineral jewelry. It has a flavor all its own and, much like The Spice of Life, it embodies the very essence of diversity. Young Businessmen mix with aging bikers and hippies (authentic hippies from the 1960’s.) Smartly dressed toddlers run along the sidewalk behind their parents, pausing to look inside a shop window to smile at the Native American child waving to them from behind the wares. Grunge college kids, taking a break from their classes as CC, loiter on park benches while lamenting the smoking ban and start of the new semester. This is life in Manitou.

I nibble my hefty cinnamon roll and lament that this would be an ideal place to set up my laptop in order to finish my book. The Spice of Life has always caused my creative juices to flow. I fell as if I have “come home” to the welcome embrace of family. Alas, poor Better Half! He pines away back in Ohio.

$80 and twenty pounds of spices and teas later, I finish my coffee refill and savor my last cherished moments here. Michael has given me all sorts of advice regarding the operation of a coffee shop (Better Half and I are contemplating opening our own in Steubenville.) I kid that I am well under my $500 budget, and Douglas offers to sell me an “Authentic” Spice of Life pen for $420. I make my farewells, hold back my tears, and wander off into the cool afternoon sunshine. I have missed the Spice Guys!

There is not much else that I want to see in Manitou, and I head towards the post office (all of the things that I bought have been shipped back to Ohio, as I did not want to chance airport security tomorrow.) After completing my business there, I get back in the car and make my way home.

Nostalgic pangs strike me as I head up Colorado Avenue. I spent eighteen years of my life in Colorado. Most of it was fantastic, some of it was depressing, and a small portion was quite bitter. I reflect on my old friends, particularly those that are no longer with us, such as Squeaky, Jim Lamp, Jona, Big James, Big T, Gwenny, and even “Grandma” Lorna. Some have succumbed to AIDS or drug addiction, while others died from other health woes. Only Jim was taken from us via homicide. These are my stomping grounds, my last bastion of youth; I can not resist visiting my old neighborhoods.

I pass our last house, Chestnut Cottage, and laugh at its current dilapidated state. The new tenants have done nothing for the property, although I am quite pleased to see that both sets of neighbors, (Joni and Jim, and Frank and Cindy) are still in residence. I do not stop here. There is more to see.

I wind towards downtown Colorado springs, taking back streets and alleys. Here is The Carriage House, where Rhonda nearly electrocuted herself on a massive bundle of live wires. There is Vermijo house, which was Better Half and my first home rental together. I pass Counterpoint, marveling that the preschool is now gone (the old house on the corner still stands – so many good years there! Better Half and I lived in the basement unit when we were first dating.) I look at the three places where I lived on Weber Street. I pass the Bijou Bungalows. I become lost in my own personal history. T&L Market, named for proprietors Tom and Lisa, is now Little Market. Rob Zombie’s apartment building has been refurbished. Robnoxious’ old pad has burnt to the ground.

I do not visit Glen Eyrie, nor Garden of the Gods. I opted to skip them in order to have more time to spend retracing my youthful steps. So many vivid recollections!

I pass Fountain Creek and laugh as I recall a very cold March when our Mattie jumped into the lake to chase the ducks. Better Half almost had to go in after her. I remember our paleo dig at the creek with our exchange student, Vlad. I visit nearly every old haunt that Better Half and I shared, so great is my longing for him. The Starbucks where he laughed and accidentally spat his hot chocolate on the window (the rather stupid blonde sitting outside actually ducked.) The game shop run by Ty. St. Mary’s Cathedral. Acacia Park. Dr. Finky’s.

I sit in the car entranced as I look at the school playground where I once took Meghan and Bobby. I helped raise them. Never an “Auntie Toni”, I was their paternal mentor. I attended their school conferences, built a bicycle for Bobby, conducted science experiments with them in the apartment kitchen, got them both through a rather vicious bout of Chicken Pox, and taught them both how to read. I was Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. I was chauffeur. I bathed them, dressed them, put them to bed at night and woke them up in the mornings. People often thought that their mother and I were dating, as I was for all practical purposes the children’s father figure. No, dear Readers, Droolie was simply my best friend. She was “mental” and had her own dependency issues. She eventually married, and decided that I was no longer a valid thing in her life – simply because I married Better Half. The friendship soured, and I cut my losses and called it a day. I miss my kids, greatly. I have only their mother to blame. Surrogate parents do not have rights in Colorado unless they are actually assigned guardianship. Needless to say, their lives took a downhill spiral shortly after Droolie divorced and remarried.

My afternoon ends and I return “home” to prepare the soup for dinner tonight. It has been an exhausting yet fulfilling day. This will be my last night in Colorado, and my last night to spend with my parents.

Mum Update:
She is healing very well!

3 responded with...:

Annie Jeffries said...

I feel like I have learned so much about you Toni. Thanks so much for posting this personal history after your walk down memory lane. I'm sorry you lost touch with the children. I'm cheering you on for the coffeeshop. Steubie needs it.

Deb said...

I just love reading your accounts of "ordinary life"! Provokes some very warm memories.... Deb

Your Neighbor said...

Hi there. You have inpsired me to get back on the horse. Life has been crazy with everything, but I think it is time to write again and share like you are! Thanks.