The Company Town You Keep – The best little town you love to hate but really love
I love this city.
No, really, I do. And every time that I say “I love Pueblo,” without fail, I get the same reaction: a tilted head, furrowed brows, and a questionable “Really?”
Pueblo natives always follow up with “You must not be from here.”
So, no. I’m not from Pueblo. I grew up in Colorado Springs, and growing up in Colorado Springs — or any place north of Pueblo, really — meant that Pueblo is the one place in the state you don’t want to be.
When I was in the midst of applying for college in my senior year of high school, Colorado State University-Pueblo wasn’t even on my list. It was never even a consideration. But, as with all things in life, plans don’t always work out, so we adapt. When I decided to come to Pueblo after my other plans fell through, I was reluctant.
My parents always taught me to make the most out of any situation, so I tried. I bought a CSU-Pueblo sticker for my car. I bought a few t-shirts. I even bought a lanyard for my keys. But I still felt this hesitancy to actually own Pueblo as a new part of me.
Maybe it was the school, maybe it was the department I was now part of, or maybe it was a head injury I suffered inexplicably in my sleep that I still don’t recount, but Pueblo began to grow on me — fast. By the end of my freshmen year, I was so wholly integrated into the campus culture serving on committees or volunteering for events that I finally owned Pueblo. Well, the school, mostly. I was a proud Thunderwolf.
But there was still this dissonance between the campus culture and the city culture.
Last year I decided to make the move to Pueblo. It was an easy decision. I was teaching at the university and taking graduate courses, so it was time to be closer to school and work. The only ties I had left in Colorado Springs were a few friends and my family. The rest of my life was forty miles south on the interstate.
And once I moved here, I finally got it. Somewhere beneath all the hatred for Pueblo is a smoldering pride, like the hot coals at the bottom of a fire, that with a little poke can reignite and spread.
There’s something about this town. In all the places I’ve lived, all the places I’ve visited, all the people I’ve met, and all the people I’ve known and loved, there’s something about Pueblo that can’t quite be described.
Aside from the talk of steel, the never-ending rivalry between Central and Centennial’s football teams, the Riverwalk, and the green chili — which until I moved to Pueblo, I refused to eat and now I can’t get enough of it — there’s so much more to the city of Pueblo and the people of Pueblo than any of us really realize.
It’s effortless to assimilate into this town; to really become part of the culture, but only if you really want it.
Last month, I had family visiting from Alabama. My parents drove them down to Pueblo to see me, my little home, and check out the town. It was during the First Friday Art Walk, so I took them to a few of the spots downtown that I knew would be interesting.
We checked out Angelo’s then took a walk around the Riverwalk. We headed up to Cycle of Life to see the whiskey art. We walked down Union, poking our heads into the other shops showcasing local talent. Then we ended our night at The Cock and Bull. I’d taken my parents there before, but this night with our out of town guests, I became instantly aware of this place I’ve come to call “home.”
We talked about the locals; the figures that we all see around town with whom we occasionally engage in conversation. We talked about the town’s history, its ethnic groups, its strength in unions, and its intense ferocity for support.
I was proud to live here, and a tinge envious that I wasn’t a local.
You, as Puebloans, have an identity. It’s complicated. It’s old. Parts of it are ugly, and sometimes that ugliness wriggles its way to the surface, cracking the beauty that people like me — and I know I’m not alone in this — see every day. But then again, so does every other town.
There’s homelessness, disparity, poverty, gangs, violence, death, and despair everywhere. We fool ourselves into thinking we can somehow create a utopian ideal of safety and security, then are in disbelief when we find a stain on the pristine fabric we’ve woven.
So what makes Pueblo any different? What is it about Pueblo that makes people stay here, live here, work here, and love here?
For the longest time, I couldn’t understand that. I didn’t understand why people would choose to come here until I did. And when I chose to come here, I didn’t understand why so many others outside of Pueblo — and all too often, within Pueblo — speak of this town with such shame.
If you are exposed to social networking, you are probably aware of memes; those images with super-imposed texts offering witty quips. There are dozens of memes about Pueblo. One of the first ones that my friends from northern parts of Colorado posted to my Facebook after my move here is with two images from the Disney animated film, The Lion King.
The images show the scene where Mufasa tells Simba that everywhere the light touches is their kingdom. The meme uses the original lines from the film and alters them to be applicable and funny to certain audiences: Mufasa says “Look Simba, everything the light touches is Colorado.” Simba asks “What’s that dark place over there?” Mufasa replies “That’s Pueblo Simba, you must never go there.”
I found myself inclined to defend Pueblo, more than I’ve ever felt inclined to defend my own hometown. Pueblo is often viewed as the step-child of Colorado. We don’t have the mountains to climb, the powder on which to ski or snowboard, or the bustling city life.
Admittedly, it’s hard for younger people to find safe and practical things to do in the town, and that’s something that should change. But what Pueblo has is a mix of all the things of Colorado that draw people here.
It’s a strange mix of the liberal attitudes of Boulder with the pragmatic and fiscal ideologies of smaller towns of which there are an abundance in Colorado; the dangerous thrill of big city downtowns with the calming mundaneness of living in the country, sitting on the front porch with a pitcher of ice tea; the warmth of neighborhood communities, waving as you leave your home with the comfortable distance of space between homes.
When I receive a package that needs to be signed for and I’m not home, the note on my door directs me to a neighbor’s home, so while I’m troubled with having to go a few houses down, I know that I’ll not only receive what I ordered, but a quick chat with a friendly face.
I’ve never really known that until I moved to Pueblo.
I also never thought it’d be possible to hear the sounds of train horns, rooster crows, ambulance sirens, motorcycle engines, and children’s laughter all in the span of an hour without ever leaving my living room.
I’m a firm believer that whatever effort you put into something, you will get the same amount out of it. So rather than disdain and accepting “Only in Pueblo” responses and the negativeness that comes with them, put effort into being prideful of the city.
The perfectly imperfect mix of people, ideas, and cultures are exactly what makes Pueblo the kind of place it is. It’s okay if people from other cities don’t get it.
Keep Pueblo the tarnished, rejected gem it is, because it’s the people — it’s you — that makes this town a constant work in progress.