John Laird: To revitalize your love of Clark County, try traveling

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Three long trips in five weeks implanted powerful reminders that Clark County is the best place in the world. I often wonder if the grumpiest people around here are the folks who don’t travel much. When you hunker down in your comfort zone, you lose a point of reference. Slowly, the nest becomes not so comfortable, and complaints come too easily. Traveling allows comparisons.

After each of the first two trips (six days in Dallas in mid-May, then three days in El Paso in early June), I could not return home quickly enough. On the PDX approach of the late-night flight from Dallas, I suppose not every passenger knew or cared that Mount Hood was passing by in dark secrecy to the left of our plane. But through hands tightly cupped on the window, I beheld an unprecedented sight: the faint vision of the snow-capped peak trying in vain to sneak by undetected. Such magnificence at midnight!

The unrestrained joy of returning from these trips confirms that I am nearing the completion of my rehab as a recovering Texan. After 9½ years, I declare myself an Official Northwesterner, free of the demon that stalked me for five-plus decades.

Granted, I’ll always be recovering, never fully cleansed. The temptation to fall off the wagon will linger. And I’ll suffer occasional relapses, probably waking up in some gutter in Dallas or El Paso, acting and sounding like a Texan. But just one gully-washing thunderstorm in Big D, or one sniff of New Mexico wildfire smoke wafting into West Texas, will coax me back toward recovery.

Warning: Tolls ahead!

The third trip (three days in Boulder, Colo., last weekend) reminded me that different places sometimes aren’t so different. Like some people here, Coloradoans are racked by the modern affliction known as Toll Derangement Syndrome. They’re several years ahead of us, but they seem just as bitterly divided in debating whether drivers should suffer the indignity of having to pay to drive.

The trip from Denver International Airport to Boulder is 42 miles, and on that stretch I drove on two different toll roads. I paid extra to drive about 19 miles on E-470 to its northern terminus at Interstate 25 north of Denver. In all, E-470 is a 47-mile loop east around Denver. Tolls that average about 33 cents per mile are among the highest in the nation. Then for eight miles I drove on Northwest Parkway to U.S. 36, which connects Denver and Boulder. On this road, the average toll is even higher, about 40 cents a mile.

To use toll roads, the rental car agent said, I would pay a $2.95 fee to the rental car company and about $17 round-trip for all tolls. I’ve yet to see these charges on my credit card, so final judgment will wait until then. But for now — and please don’t tell my friends at notolls.com about this — I would say the experience overall was positive, for several reasons.

First, my tolled trip was four miles shorter than if I had taken the untolled route to the south.

Second, I avoided rush-hour traffic congestion in Denver, which some say can be brutal. The threat of that congestion would have made my travel time highly uncertain. More importantly, this threat worried my three companions who were in no mood to be delayed. As we all had hoped, my tolled route was clear sailing.

Third — and this is the most important reason — I reduced the threat of my three companions constantly bellowing driving instructions while poking and repoking GPS coordinates into their smartphones.

Do not underestimate the gravity of this issue. As one who has long enjoyed driving — and the longer the drive, the better — I’m starting to lose my enthusiasm. The culprit is the evil technology that allows nondriving nonexperts to instantly access navigational data. These caterwauling co-pilots somehow claim a new capacity to shout their newfound expertise into my ear from three directions inside the car. Thankfully, driving on a tollway lessens — though does not remove — this dilemma.

Oh, do I sound grumpy now? Not at all! Bottom line: It’s great to be home.