Hello, again. 

You probably don't remember May 13, 2001, for any special reason.

It was Mother's Day. James Dobson was sending out an urgent request for money because Focus on the Family was short on donations. Local drivers were frustrated about the slow construction on Interstate 25. Concerns were growing over development out north and along Powers Boulevard. On the bright side, a developer was backing off from defacing Red Rock Canyon with a hotel, golf course and other commercial ventures.

That afternoon, a guy who had lived here 24 years, amassing many friends and enemies along the way with his newspaper columns, boarded a flight and left to explore his dreams.

Now, 300 weeks later, he's back on the Independent side of the fence.

Many of you can read between these lines. You remember sharing highs and lows, emotions and experiences from trivial to unforgettable.

For you, let's pick up where we left off. For everyone else, this begins what will be a weekly communication, and a long relationship.

What can you expect here each week? You shouldn't know what to expect, and curiosity should bring you back.

My approach always has followed simple guidelines: Choose topics the readers care about (or should care about). Don't be afraid to make people mad (past readers know all about that), make them laugh or even cry. Have a thick skin for criticism and nasty attacks. Finally, avoid using the first-person "I" whenever possible.

Occasionally, some pieces might bend one or two of those rules. But not often.

This doesn't have to be one-sided, either. Starting in April, we'll be hosting a series of coffee-conversations around the area, chances to talk about what matters to you. We're looking forward to the dialogue.

That said, the usual subject here will relate to Colorado Springs and this region. Starting now.

Through the years, work has taken me to 43 states. One favorite traveling pastime has been asking people on planes, at events, restaurants and bars, taxis, anywhere what they know about Colorado Springs.

It's been fascinating to see the impressions evolve. For a quarter-century (1977-2001), people would note Pikes Peak, followed by the Air Force Academy and, as time went on, the Olympic Training Center. Many had been here, usually on family vacations. Also, most would roll their eyes and say, "It's sooooo beautiful there."

During the past five-plus years, in Florida and Texas and back to another part of Florida, those discussions took on new meaning. Now they were also with co-workers, friends and everyday people. Granted, this research wasn't scientific, but the response has been too consistent to ignore.

First, the No. 1 answer hasn't changed. Bring up Colorado Springs and you hear immediately about Pikes Peak and the scenery. People aren't confusing the Springs with the ski resorts as they once did, either.

Beyond that, people don't bring up the Air Force Academy or the Olympic Complex as much anymore. Instead, the clear No. 2 identity for Colorado Springs is Focus on the Family. No matter how you feel about James Dobson and his Mighty Empire, people everywhere know about Focus. You might be surprised at how many have visited or regularly read literature from the Focus machine.

No. 3 is our military presence, especially NORAD, surely a reflection on the post-Sept. 11 world. Many don't realize NORAD operations have shifted away from underneath Cheyenne Mountain. They're just more aware of defense.

Next: The Broadmoor. More and more people from afar talk about staying at the hotel and/or playing golf. It's likely the result of more conventions through the years and more capacity as the resort has grown.

Some have continued to bring up the Academy, but only a few mention the Olympic movement as connected to the Springs. Is that a problem? Hard to say. Tourists still flock to both.

The primary message: Those who rock along with the assumption that Focus on the Family is a local or regional entity, without that much of a national constituency, should pay closer attention.

Funny, but those who live here often don't notice how big Pikes Peak and Focus on the Family truly are. Certainly, Focus is huge, comparable to America's Mountain in what outsiders associate most with Colorado Springs.

Many who live here will enjoy hearing that.

Others probably are shuddering.

Regardless, it's a good thing to know.



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