The reason why I like freedom fries |

The reason why I like freedom fries

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

For the moment, my black Subaru sits in the gravel driveway where it all began here in Glenwood Springs about three months ago.

It is a time for thanks-giving, and I’ve been breathing a restful sigh since I rolled into town Sunday night for an early holiday meal with my mom. Memories of places and characters are piled up in my mind like the crinkled paper scraps of names, numbers and notes that still rest in the dusty console by the stick shift. Somehow, I know, they will all tie together, and I’m grateful to finally have a warm chair to pick at this strange knot for a few days.

“Derek ” Le Optematuueerr awaits. See you there!” reads one of the notes, written on part of an old paycheck stub I once pulled from under a windshield wiper one sunny, hope-filled morning near Canyonlands National Park. The words were written either by a woman named Lilly or a man named Pete, but they trace back to a Brazilian I met last April, whose name graces another bit of paper in the pile. Further, the note conjures a silly song by a New Zealand band ” Flight of the Concords ” my Australian friend Rich and a little lesson about prejudice.

“Je suis enchante,” begins the song in an exaggerated French accent. “Jus d’orange! L’ananas … baguette! ho! ho!” it goes on. The words translate as nonsense, as if read from a worksheet in a foreign language class: “I am enchanted (to meet you) … Orange juice! Pineapple! Baguette!”

What made it extra funny for Rich and me is that we were surrounded by French people during our stay in Red Rocks, Las Vegas. To us, they sounded just like the song, and Rich began singing, “Baguette!” constantly in a mocking accent. The song was stuck on repeat in our mouths and minds and we couldn’t turn it off, even when we were in the company of French climbers, who must’ve pretended not to notice.

I was becoming a little ashamed of myself, but Rich soon flew back Down Under and I moved on to Utah’s Canyonlands area.

Sitting around the campfire on Halloween, Leo ” the Brazilian ” recognized me from our chance meeting in the same area last April. His English was more broken then, but he had inspired a column I wrote about skateboarding. I’d never imagined I’d see him again, but there he was, camping next to me.

Pete and Lilly were some of his friends who arrived the next night, who then also recognized me from the same chance meeting last April. (To be sitting around a campfire with strangers who suddenly reveal themselves to be old friends is one of the strangest nice surprises I can remember.)

When Leo left for home I continued to climb with Pete and “Lil” ” and make fun of the French.

One morning we were talking about a difficult crack climb called “The Optimator.” Against my better judgment, I’d left a rope hanging from the top of the route to enable me to climb should I come to lack a partner. It had been hanging for a few days and I was telling Pete and Lil how eager I was to retrieve my gear.

“It’s so funny to hear those French climbers pronounce ‘Optimator,'” Lilly said. “‘Optematuueerr’ ” it sounds so snooty.”

So the French were talking about MY route, eh? They were going up there to take advantage of MY setup and work the hell out of MY rope, I knew it. I told my friends I had to get back on the route as soon as possible, and plans were hatched to “send the rig” in the morning.

I shouldered my pack the next day and walked up the road to rendezvous with my cohorts at their campsite. They weren’t there, but a note was left on their windshield implying that they had left early and I should meet them at the cliff. So I set off across the gently sloping meadow of sage and cow pies, all my dreams for the day rising in my mind with the warm rays of morning sun that kissed the red wall above.

No one was there. Only the call of a lone raven kept me company while I waited, savoring the echoes that can only be found in desert stillness. By the time Pete and Lilly arrived, however, we noticed a massive group of “Frenchies” running laps on a hard warm-up route that could only mean my worst fears were coming true.

I had already worked myself into a grumpy attitude by the time we moseyed over to Optimator and ” of course ” found the group climbing lap after lap on my sacred crack, using some of my gear (someone else had pulled my rope and left it piled in the dirt). I didn’t get to touch the thing that day, and my attempts to make friendly conversation without flashing a scowl of frustration were embarrassing, especially when I realized the foreign climbers and myself shared mutual friends.

So I’m making a mental note to myself about the build-up of that little experience as I file away all these bits of paper. I can only imagine the places these threads will pull me to ” I have addresses in Australia, Austria, Spain, Britain, Portland and Denver. But none in France. C’est la vie.

If you would like to help Derek Franz bone up on French verb conjugation, please contact him at

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