Historiann’s guide to surviving the Mile High #AHA17

Welcome to Denver, #AHA17!

Welcome to Denver, #AHA17!

Happy New Year, friends!  As many of you know, we’re expecting an invasion of historians next week in Denver with the 131st annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  As a local, I thought I’d offer some practical tips and tricks for the coastal swells and dudes who will be staggering around like a tweedy herd of longhorns.  The AHA’s  paper program covers a lot of this information on pp. 2-4, but their map is pretty limited and you might appreciate some insider intel.  So, jump in the saddle and let’s go!  (You can also bookmark this site on your mobile device as it offers links to some handy maps and other info.)

Airport transportation:  First things first:  Once you fly into Denver International Airport, how are you going to get into the city?  As you’ll soon learn if you don’t know already, there’s a reason locals call DIA the West Kansas Regional Airport.  You’ll see the city skyline only faintly from airport, and like the mountains, it always looks closer than it really is–in fact, the city and the airport are separated by 30 miles!  Taxis will charge you $40 bucks, and you will still have to deal with traffic.  My suggestion is that you avail yourself of the new A-Line that runs from the airport to Union Station, and will therefore deposit you less than a mile from the Colorado Convention Center and the Hyatt Regency, conference headquarters.  There are four trains an hour every day, 21 hours a day, and it only takes 37 minutes and NINE BUCKS!  You can’t beat that.

From the Great Western Stock Show 2015, with Union Station Denver in the background.

From the Great Western Stock Show 2015, with Union Station Denver in the background.

Local transportation:  We’ve got more than just horses, although we have those on occasion.  Once you get to Union Station, you may want to spend some time at the fancy restaurants and the station bar (yes–hold on to your hipster pork pie hats) inside, but honestly I preferred it when it was grungier and much less precious.  You may just want (or need) to get to the conference.  Like I said, the convention center and the Hyatt Regency are just an easy one mile walk down 14th Street, but if you’re not able or inclined to walk, you can of course pay for a cab or an Uber.  You can also probably get very close to your hotel by taking the Free Mall Ride Bus that offers rides on 16th Street between Union Station and the capitol building, a few blocks east of where you’ll need to be, which is at the California St., Welton St., or Court Place stops, depending on your hotel.  California is probably the best stop if you want to go to the convention center directly.  (The Mall Ride stops at every block along the route, so it’s no biggie if you miss a stop.)

N.B.:  The National Western Stock Show, an annual winter tradition in Denver, also begins this Thursday, and their kickoff is the longhorn parade down 17th Street at noon.  It begins at Union Station, and the return route is 15th Street, so if you hit town between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., watch out for stampedes!  This may affect available car, bus, and foot transportation routes.


Bovine Metropolis Theater, Champa St., Denver

Food and drink:  There are loads of restaurants in Denver, and some of them are even pretty good.  If you just need to grab something quick and reliable and don’t mind a kind of corporate or sanitized atmosphere (or even prefer it), then 16th St. is your best bet–there’s lots of fast casual choices there as well as places for coffee, a quick breakfast, grab-and-go lunches, or whatever.  In general, the farther you get away from the convention center, the better the restaurant choices will be in terms of culinary interest.  You won’t have to go that far–less than a mile, I’m thinking–but even just three or four blocks will improve your choices.

For dinners, if you’re looking for 1) fashionable/happening, 2) quiet enough for conversation, and 3) inexpensive in this neighborhood, forget it.  Your hotel concierge can help you get to two out of three, but you’re going to have to sacrifice at least one of those criteria.

There are a number of restaurants in Union Station now, including the newest  in the ever-expanding Jennifer Jasinski restaurant empire.  The Kitchen, a branch of which is in the train station, is a local favorite.  I’ve always found it merely overpriced and okay, but nothing to rave about like their fangirls and -boys.  In LoDo (lower downtown, where the convention center & hotels are), Larimer St. has a lot of restaurants–most of them pretty spendy (including two of Jasinski’s joints), but you can also find something tasty for less money.  17th Avenue is kind of a hot corridor of interesting restaurants.  (Pay attention, though–streets are not avenues!  Streets run diagonally to the avenues, which you can get to on the East side of Broadway in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood.  I know–I don’t get it either.  Check out this map for your reference.)



Perhaps unsurprisingly for a cow town, restaurants here seem to be very focused on meat.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can find a decent hot lunch or dinner at Watercourse on 17th Ave., although they’re oddly snippy about people who want to wait at the bar for a table.  Imagine, wanting to have a drink at a bar!  Somehow they’re still in business, so good luck if that’s how you roll.




Climate:  It’s ski season here in Colorado!  That means it can be pretty cold, but fear not:  because of our dry climate, you’ll find that the cold here doesn’t feel as cold as in your town outside of the Rocky Mountains, just as the heat here feels more comfortable than in humid climes.  The forecast for Denver next weekend says it will be in the 20s and 30s during the day with nights in the single digits, so bring a hat and gloves (and a proper coat, obvs.  Scarves are cozy too.  Look for me in my Pussy Riot-style balaklava.)

While it won’t feel as cold to you as those numbers suggest, the aridity and sunshine here can be a problem for those of you with white and/or dry skin.  Since you’ll probably be shaking a lot of hands, you’ll want to consider taking these steps to avoid nausea from the altitude and keep your skin feeling comfortable and your lips kissably soft:

  • Drink a lot of water, especially the first day & night:  You’ve just stepped off an airplane and you’re close to a mile higher in the air still!  Some visitors even feel a little nauseous, although that’s more of an issue for people who land in Denver and immediately drive up to 10,000 or 12,000 feet in the mountains.  Still, I don’t care how many times you have to get up at night to pee:  drink a lot of water, and watch the alcohol consumption as it tends to go to your head quickly at this altitude.  Easy rule:  one glass of water for every beer, glass of wine, or cocktail you imbibe.  It will make you feel better.
  • Pack (and use!) sunscreen and sunglasses:  Depending on your schedule, it might be unrealistic to expect that you’ll be outside for 30 minutes or more in the sun, but here in Colorado sunscreen and certainly sunglasses are year-round necessaries, especially if you have very sensitive, low-melanin skin.
  • Aquaphor ointment is your BFF:  If you tend to have dry, itchy skin in winter anyway, pick up a 1.75 ounce, TSA-approved tube of the stuff and throw it in your carry-on bag.  Put it on your hands before you go to bed at night.  It can serve as lip balm too.  If your face gets windburn or chilled, Aquaphor is a magic skin healer.  (And gentlemen:  it’s unscented so you don’t have to worry about smelling like a lady.)  I go through at least a Cricso-sized can of the stuff every winter.  If you rely on the cheap, watery hand lotion in your hotel room, you’ll be sad and itchy all weekend.

Pot shops:  Some of you probably clicked here eagerly hoping this topic would come somewhere after airport transportation but before the discussion of emollients, but you’re on your own on this one.  I’m the only girl who followed Nancy Reagan’s advice in the 1980s and “just said no.”  Your hotel room is almost assuredly nonsmoking, and it’s not legal to smoke MJ in public (although as you’ll find in one trip up and down 16th St. on foot or the Mall Ride, you’ll smell it everywhere, all the time.  No one warned me about this when I voted to decriminalize pot!  The dank, it haunts me.)  I’m pretty sure you can find edibles in every shop, but again:  I’m not the person to consult about this.  Check out The Cannibist for this kind of intel.

Conference etiquette:  Be cheerful, or feign enthusiasm for your colleagues’ papers and comments!  At least try to be polite.  Get your papers to your panel chairs on time, and stay within your time limit in your presentation.  (Leave them wanting more, not bored and irritated by your presumption).  Leave plenty of time for audience questions and comments.  That’s why they show up:  they’re dying for their chance to talk, too, so reward them by sitting down and shutting your yap!  Recently, Megan Kate Nelson did a great post on roundtable etiquette that is spot-on, as the olds would say, or on fleek, as the kids say these days.

Conference attire and grooming:  It seems like clothing, even for job interviews,  isn’t such a big deal any more–or does it just seem that way to me because I’m a senior scholar now and may dress to please myself?  Megan Kate Nelson offered some solid advice on this topic much more recently than I’ve attempted it, and suggest you consult her on this question.  She also has a more humorous take here.  I’ll boil my advice down to a few bullet points you can easily get in one screen grab:

  • Clean hands, fingernails, and glasses please. Take care to ensure you’ve hit all three in the restroom before your panel, interview, or lunch date.
  • Find clothing that fits, feels good, and is appropriate to Denver in January.  Almost no one–male or female–wears suits.  Wear one if that’s your style, but most people seem to opt for the mixed separates.  A jacket of some kind seems de rigeur for the men still, but it doesn’t need to be matchy-matchy with the trousers.  Women may either wear jackets or can substitute a sweater (or even just a blouse or other top), with either skirts or slacks.  Big scarves or shawls and funky tights are also popular because it’s January in Denver!
  • Style counts!  Bring the red shoes, bright funky bag, or the colorful shawl.  They will impress people in the know, and they won’t offend anyone who doesn’t know Schiaparelli from McQueen from Rodriguez.
  • Luggage disaster or clothing emergency?  There’s loads of retail in the convention center neighborhood:  T.J. Maxx, H&M, Forever 21, for example.  The shopping here skews younger, but anyone can find suitable and affordable emergency t-shirts, underwear, stockings, or bras at T.J. Maxx or even the Ross on 16th St.

If only everyone would take my advice–we’d all enjoy the conference so much more!  Is there anything you’d like to know that I haven’t mentioned?  I’ll do my best if you leave your questions or requests for other information in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Historiann’s guide to surviving the Mile High #AHA17

  1. An enthusiastic second for Ann’s recommendation on public transportation. Taking the A-line train from the airport to Union Station was super easy and super cheap. When you’re near the station, you may want to stop in at the Tattered Cover, a great bookstore. The subsequent trip on the Free Mall Ride Bus gives a good glimpse of downtown. (I’m bummed that I’ll miss the stock show–along with AHA.) Take note where those stores are for handling clothing emergencies.

    I’m also a senior scholar and I agree with the “style counts” advice. Be comfortable, be yourself–and if that means funky tights, scarves, and boots, go for it! Make yourself memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips! I just want to reemphasize the alcohol/altitude thing. You will be surprised at how quickly you will get tipsy if you’re not careful.
    Also, for a fun historical diversion, check out the Oxford Hotel right near Union Station. It’s one of the oldest hotels in the city and a few women doctors used to practice out of hotel rooms there.


  3. Wish I was gonna be there! West Kansas, indeed. I remember getting de-iced at old Stapleton not too long after that jet fell into the Potomac when the crew tried to de-ice in the hot exhaust of the plane in front of them on the taxiway in a snowstorm. If the Longhorn Parade turns into Pamplona, East, that will become one of the more memorable pieces of AHA folklore. The weather part sounds nice as well.

    I preferred the Station when it was grungier, too. The first place I ever heard of Coors beer, when that brand was considered an import on the East Coast; an adornment to whatever hipster was back in those clueless days. Sort of what “craft-brewed” connotes today. Life is vanity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: What We’re Reading: January 6th | JHIBlog

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