"An ascendant in Sagittarius shows Denver is outgoing, friendly, athletic, and playful," she says.
Fair enough, I think, but that seems pretty obvious.
"With the moon in Virgo squaring Venus in Sagittarius, it seems Denver is strong in terms of masculine energy. Here, women become androgynous. It's a tough city for girly girls."
Obvious again, I think, peeking down at my flip-flops.
The chart also reveals that Denver is progressive, well-rounded, sexually conservative, not strong on intellectual matters, good for entrepreneurs, tough on artists, hard on romance, eager to embrace good food, massage, and alternative healing, and that the city has a tremendous self-esteem problem.
"Really?" I ask.
"Yes," Smith explains. "It's as if the city is always comparing itself to other cities and coming up short."
And this is where Smith gets me, for a persistent theme in my conversations all summer has been how inferior people in Denver feel to residents of other cities. Of course, I could be projecting my own this-will-never-be-home sense of inferiority onto Denver. But I don't think so. As a 29-year-old freelance classical musician put it: "Chicago musicians embrace being a Chicagoan. But we never boast about being Denver musicians. It's like we're all embarrassed about it."
Concerned about the future of my adopted hometown, I ask Smith if there is anything Denver can do about its inferiority complex. She looks at me sadly and shakes her head. "Not really," she says. "It's in the chart."
After visiting Smith and thinking about this alleged inferiority complex, I begin to wonder: Isn't this all selective perception anyway? Maybe we—and by "we" of course I mean "me"—have been yearning for that place left behind because we've been too focused on what Denver lacks as opposed to all that it offers.
Over the course of the summer, I talked to artists, fashion designers, physicians, psychologists, professors, business owners, restaurateurs, executives, retirees, lawyers, writers, and countless other strangers about this town they call home. Every one of these people welcomed me when I showed up, mostly unannounced. More than that, they answered my questions, bought me lunch, gave me homemade apricot jam, loaned me books, took me on tours, and insisted that I come to their gallery opening or football party or prime-rib night, or whatever it was they were most proud of and connected to. I've experienced neighborhoods I'd been overlooking, wandered into shops I'd never heard of, and met with people I never would have otherwise, all of which has made me newly aware and immensely proud of this friendly, welcoming city—and yes, it is a city now—that I've chosen as home. And this choice has put me in good company.
Although many of the people I've talked with grew up here, many more of them chose to come to Denver and they did so for all sorts of reasons. They came as adults because they vacationed here as kids. They came from small towns seeking the big-city ambience. They came because of the mountains, the relatively affordable housing, the omnipresent sunshine or, as one friend did, because the low humidity wouldn't cause her hair to frizz.
This isn't a town with an impregnable centuries-old culture like those you find in the East. This is a relatively new city to which people are drawn because they see something here they like. That, in turn, naturally puts them in the mind-set of finding what they need. And they do. On Colfax, Baack finds the characters he requires to feel at home. Leisring finds the Rockies willing to go to bat for her season after season. Perez focuses on the traffic because that's where he thrives. It's like Denver is one giant Rorschach inkblot test that projects back to people who they are, what they are hoping to find, and also, perhaps, what they fear the most. This may be why Zeppelin, a visionary who pushes the limits, gets dismayed when others don't. And why I, a work-from-home writer, was feeling uncertain and disconnected.
After three months of searching, I've not only found a city screaming with activity and achievement, I've also found in myself a desperate yearning to be smack dab in the middle of it all. And so, in a surprising but fitting end to this quest, I recently rented a downtown office in a community of other self-employed people in a historical building, a stone's throw from the Platte.
I'm still unable to come up with a single word to describe this city's personality. But the lack of an available adjective seems appropriate, for this is a town that lets you decide who you'll be and what you'll find. Unlike a Boulder or an Aspen or even a San Francisco—cities that impose their worldview on residents, causing them to put up, shut up, or leave—Denver is close to attaining the magical impossibility of being all things to all people.
The trick, I've found, is to know exactly what it is you're looking for.