Denver

Time has a funny way of changing people. Sometimes it doesn't change them at all, when any change really would have been an improvement. Sometimes it changes them a lot, ruining them forever.

And sometimes time actually gets its act together and does something right.

Last December, I reunited with my best friend from college - a school which shall remain nameless, but let's just say...it's a university...in Denver.

Greg and I decided to meet up at the "local," which had been our favorite bar in the world back in the day. It had changed a bit since then, sporting a new menu of complicated beers -- nice for Greg, who was always kind of fussy about beer. Ellen, my then-girlfriend-now-wife, used to regularly serve him cans of "that ribbon beer," purely to piss him off. She's pretty rad like that.

I ordered my favorite bourbon, which clearly surprised Greg, to judge by his theatrically raised eyebrow. "Think you're better than me now?" he asked.

"I've always thought I was better than you," I parried. He laughed and made an obscene gesture. No changes there then.

"Did you see the game last weekend?" Greg said, changing the subject. "I couldn't..."

I held up his hand to stop him. "Don't."

"What?"

"Don't say it. Don't say his name."

On the other side of the bar, the barkeep shot me a wide-eyed look and a quick nod - he wasn't a guy I remembered, but he gave off that same wise, no-bullshit vibe that the best bartenders in Denver have.

A plague upon all conversations had descended on the city, destroying any and all attempts at rational discourse across the land. For the past few months, no matter how a conversation began, whatever intentions the participants had, it would inevitably turn into a heated discussion, and then a rancorous disagreement, and then, finally, a quasi-fistfight about football.

"But..."

"Nope," I said. "Not now. I've had this same conversation about this same guy eight thousand times, and I will punch you in the neck if you make it eight-thousand-and-one." I put up one of my dukes.

Greg put up his hands defensively, rightfully fearing my duke. Just then his phone lit up and vibrated across the bar a little bit, 'Sandy' displayed on the front. He took the call, jamming his other thumb in his ear to block out the noise. A short one-sided conversation later, he hung up. "You wanna make a move?"

I gave him a grumpy face. I didn't want to leave the easiness and comfort of our current perch to go back into the cold, not without another bourbon to steel me at least.

"Yeah, that was Sandy," he said casually. "I told her I would be in town."

I hadn't seen Sandy in years, but, from what I remembered, she had been cute, though perhaps a little rougher around the edges than the girls Greg normally rolled with. Some questionable friends, a shabby apartment, the tongue piercing. We'd made a lot of jokes about that tongue piercing, good ones to be sure, but not to be repeated here.

"Where is she?" I asked.

"Some bar off Colfax."

"Which one? The shifty one?" I asked, laughing. That described a lot of bars down there.

"Don't worry," Greg said. "We'll cab it."

That was a relief. Years ago, Greg would have insisted that we hoof the mile-plus distance to Colfax. "Come on, man!" he would cry. "Man versus nature! Let's take back the night!"

So that had changed too.

Not long after I first came to Denver and met Ellen, a Colorado native, she told me, in all honesty, that the winters weren't that cold. "So long as you stand in the sun and have a hat on, it's not that bad," she said, nodding earnestly. "If it's a good hat." I never quite acclimated to the weather, but I found her native naivete pretty compelling at the time. And then, when we got our first place together, I never let the thermostat dip below 70 degrees.

So, out into the cold we went. It had started to snow since we'd arrived, an inch or so having blanketed the city in our absence. A cab might be hard to come by in these conditions. "We might find one on the corner," Greg offered.

The bourbon had warmed my insides. The snow was shiny, fluffy powder. "Come on, man!" I said. "Man versus nature! Let's take back the night!"

Greg's fancy beer had evidently warmed him too, and he certainly hadn't changed enough to turn down a bold challenge. So off we went.

Without going in to all the details, man won that night, but nature put up a good fight. As it turned out I didn't have my good hat, and Greg didn't have one at all, or, for that matter, as much hair as he used to. Another change.

But we did make it to Colfax, insides still warm, if not our heads. As predicted, Sandy's choice of bar was quite shifty -- though in an unaggressive, almost friendly way. As not predicted, the woman who greeted us was glamorous, graceful and gorgeous. Slightly Shady Sandy had grown into herself.

"Hey, guys!" she beamed, as we came through the door. Group hug. "Isn't this place awesome? It hasn't changed a day!"

She was right: it hadn't, and it was.

This story is fictional and does not represent actual people or places.

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