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Life wasn't a bitch in Colorado this year; it was a bear. Denver International Airport opened in a snowstorm and Coors Field made its debut with replacement players, but it was a pair of cuddly polar bear cubs that really captivated the Mile High City. A mud-splashed mayoral election came and went, former U.S. senator Gary Hart briefly rose from the dead, and Elitch Gardens opened a very un-gardenlike new amusement park in the middle of a downtown parking lot. But that was no reason for locals to be distracted from the truly important matters at hand: namely, whether the Denver Zoo's ursine assets (latest estimated merchandising value: $250,000) had been successfully burped that day by the human nannies who adopted them after their mother's rejection.

What would you do for a Klondike bear? Channel 4 became the Official Station of Klondike and Snow, airing nightly reports that answered every conceivable question about the dynamic duo with the possible exception of what a bear does in the woods. Its Goldilocks and the Two Bears coverage--anchored by bear-huggable newsbabe Aimee Sporer--inevitably led to the marketing of a Klondike and Snow videotape. And the TV station wasn't the only local business to help bring the miracle of birth and the visceral satisfaction of a dead-bang marketing campaign to the children of Colorado. King Soopers won the merchandising rights to the cubs, rolling out a product line that included beach towels, coffee mugs, posters, Christmas ornaments and greeting cards. The zoo's cut of the action: a meaty 10 percent.

Not that the profit center born when Big Mama Ulu popped out her wondercubs on November 6, 1994, was limited to the over-the-counter retail trade. Attendance at the zoo soared 37 percent as a direct result of the pair's arrival and five times as many people plunked down money for zoo memberships as had the year before. Said an appreciative zoo spokeswoman, "The bears were an unexpected gift."

The bear's civic honeymoon, though, was shattered with all the brutal force Nanook of the North might have used in clubbing a baby seal into submission. Having grown older, bolder and considerably more likely to bite off the hands that had fed them, Klondike and Snow were traded this fall to Orlando's Sea World in a secret deal that reportedly included promises of a climate-controlled habitat, unlimited duck-slaughtering privileges and three Arctic foxes to be named later. Exactly one year, six days and 27,000 grade-school show-and-tell presentations after their birth, the bears blithely boarded a cargo plane at DIA and jetted to their new digs in Florida, touching off an orgy of blubbering not seen since Captain Ahab and crew set out to sea.

The city began to mourn even before its great white hopes left town; a group called Save Our Bears (SOB) gathered 10,000 protest signatures, and Mayor Wellington Webb felt compelled to soften the blow for schoolchildren and other fragile souls, somewhat anthropomorphically assuring the citizenry that, at the very least, the bears would not be allowed to leave town in the middle of the night because Denver doesn't treat people that way. Even the director of the Captive Wildlife Protection Program for the Humane Society of the United States weighed in on the change of venue, noting, "With all the hype that has surrounded these bears, we feel that real concern for their welfare has been lost, and the difficult and stressful future they face in any captive setting has been ignored."

In the end, the polar pair easily earned a historic role as the city's all-time animal attraction, surpassing even "Pirate," the Denver dog that earned national headlines when his owner, Charles "Stoney" Jackson, ran him--three times--for president. In fact, the death of Pirate last year at the age of fifteen went largely unnoticed in all the hoopla. And it wasn't the only benchmark event you may have missed. Bear with us as we swat a few salmon for the year that was.

LAW AND ORDER Things spun out of control crime-wise last year, prompting hard-nosed Attorney General Gale Norton to put her foot down and call for a return to chain gangs to "combine hard work with humiliation." Norton hoped to occupy prisoners' time so they would no longer be able to file lawsuits such as the one complaining that only single-ply toilet paper was available in the prison latrine, and another from an inmate who said the confiscation of pornography from his cell had wrongfully interfered with his pursuit of a degree in gynecology. An especially passionate case was made by a group of Sunni Muslim inmates who sued the state demanding the right to conjugal visits since "celibate life is against the teachings of the Holy Koran."

Much to Norton's likely satisfaction, however, humiliation was hardly in short supply for the state's criminal element. A woman who lifted a $7,500 necklace from another woman in a department-store dressing room was tracked down by private detectives and apprehended while wearing the bauble at her own wedding reception. The hired dicks generously allowed her to duck out of the ceremony before they put the squeeze on her, keeping hubby none the wiser.

A 35-year-old man also didn't get far after he hopped the fence at the Colorado National Guard compound in Boulder and tried to steal a ten-ton ammunition truck. He hadn't even made it across the yard before he stalled in a ditch and was taken prisoner by local authorities. He could have used a few pointers in the art of the deal from two suburban teens caught red-handed by an Arapahoe County sheriff's deputy while spraying graffiti at Southglenn Mall. Upon their arrest, the scribblers told the officer, "We're not taggers, we're graphic artists."

Equally indignant upon his arrest was radical TV talk-show host Bob Enyart, who was slapped with a sixty-day jail sentence after being convicted of paddling his seven-year-old stepson to the point of bruising. Immediately after the verdict, Enyart vowed to continue spanking his children, noting that youngsters who aren't spanked "on their backsides" grow up to be killers who murder cab drivers, not to mention graphic artists. In yet another brush with authorities, Enyart was investigated by the Arapahoe County DA for possible criminal libel after holding up a picture of a man who died of AIDS and telling his TV viewers, "Don't be a homo." The DA concluded there was no criminal violation.

Justice-system officials also had their hands full with committed scofflaw Douglas Bruce, who, after being sent to jail for contempt of court, staged a brief hunger strike, vowing not to shower, shave or eat solid food until his release. While jailed, the renowned anti-tax crusader and Five Points slumlord was segregated from other inmates, reportedly because he was afraid to shower with them. Exhibiting his usual savvy regarding the legal system, Bruce represented himself at trial, accusing city officials of "rampant perjury" for asserting that he failed to maintain a home he owns in Five Points and didn't respond to repeated warnings by city building inspectors to fix a hole in the roof caused by firefighters sent to extinguish a fire at the property.

Bruce could only be thankful he wasn't placed under the eagle eye of the San Miguel County Sheriff's office, which dutifully reported what its deputies had found while executing a drug-search warrant on a Norwood home. Noted the incident report, "A search revealed anatomically correct male and female mannequins hidden under a bed." Also uncovered: a box containing "hundreds of Polaroids" of local residents engaging in "sexual acts" with the mannequins. Not uncovered: any illegal drugs.

Sometimes it seemed as if there were no limit to the depths of depravity plumbed by the Rocky Mountain region's evildoers. Two masked men knocked a Catholic brother unconscious after he found them in the vestments room of the Light of the World Church in Littleton; before passing out, the victim remembered being asked "where the money was." Three generally law-abiding fathers in Lyman, Wyoming, confessed to offering their high-school-age sons $100 apiece if they could manage to hurt opposing players during prep football games. When confronted with the bounty offer, the bad dads stressed that they had at least required a clean hit for a cash payoff.

Even the manager of a Christian bookstore in Denver was arrested, after he allegedly padded sales figures in an effort to claim a new car in a sales contest. Authorities grew suspicious after he claimed to have sold four times as many albums as were shipped to his store during the contest period. Said the former Bible-college graduate, "I got greedy."

Nobody seemed to know what got into the middle-aged, gray-haired man who committed a one-man crime wave against a Volvo sedan belonging to former governor Dick Lamm. Apparently peeved by Lamm's parking job outside a Denver business, the assailant stomped on the hood of the Volvo, scratched the driver's-side door with his keys, jumped up and down on the roof and, as a coup de grace, backed into the offensive vehicle with his Jeep Cherokee.

It was the sort of behavior that made one yearn for the hands-on law enforcement provided by the Weld County Sheriff's office. When the town of Grover (population: 125) held its annual Father's Day rodeo and dance, town fathers counted no fewer than 37 law enforcement vehicles in the parking lot of the local general store. The sheriff explained the show of force by noting that townspeople had been drinking too much at the Father's Day bashes.

AVIATION
Coloradans continued to reach for the stars this year. Magellan T. Bear donned a royal-blue flight suit and Colorado flag pin as he blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery as a representative of Elk Creek Elementary School in the tiny town of Pine. After touchdown, the stuffed emissary was scheduled for a photo session with Mickey Mouse at Disney World.

The real Fantasyland, however, continued to be Denver International Airport, which opened February 28 with 87 gates (Stapleton had 111), a $3.2 billion construction tab (original estimate: $1.4 billion), per-passenger costs of $18.80 (original projection: $7), roughly 22,000 jobs (about the same as Stapleton ten years ago) and a prediction by United Airlines that it would lose only about 1,000 bags per day in the automatic baggage system. Noted opening-day passenger Rip Martin, "Only a fool would be excited about something that costs more money and is farther away."

The stodgy Wall Street Journal also did its part to rain on Denver's parade, running an article titled "More Good Reasons Not to Fly Into Denver." The story detailed parking problems at the airport, sky-high cab fares, the increased difficulty of renting a car and the fact that the nearest gas station was fifteen miles hence. Such negative thinking, however, didn't stop Mayor Webb and other city officials from busting a gut with pride on opening day. City councilwoman Joyce Foster was determined to stay awake all night while awaiting the first passenger flight, a United hop from Colorado Springs. "How many times are you going to be alive at the opening of a new airport?" she asked. Webb took dead aim at his critics, crowing to the hordes of international media assembled for the occasion, "The next time someone tells you something negative about DIA, tell 'em to go stuff it, because we did it."

When those same reporters and TV crews flocked around the gate where the first flight was to arrive, though, things didn't go quite as positively as Webb had hoped. After the 737 landed, ground crews discovered that the jetway at the appointed gate had frozen stiff, sending the media scurrying to an adjoining gate. Elsewhere at the airport, a fight broke out between cable TV mogul Bill Daniels and Denver Post chairman William Dean "Dinky" Singleton over who had made the first general-aviation landing at the facility. Both millionaires had flown over from Centennial Airport in private jets to christen the new airfield with $1,000 magnums of champagne, but Singleton took home the first prize after Daniels made the mistake of landing just after midnight, before the Federal Aviation Administration's official 6 a.m. opening time.

The first international flight to arrive was a Martinair plane from Holland, which quickly disgorged seven members of a Dutch fraternity who marched through the aisles arm in arm, wearing matching orange shirts and cowboy hats and singing at the top of their lungs. It was a dramatic performance perhaps matched only by that of former Denver mayor Federico Pena, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to attend a private party thrown by Park Hill residents. Intoned Pena, "Today we made history. World history." Later the nation's transportation secretary traveled to the airport control tower to welcome the first incoming flight. "Welcome to the city that dared to imagine a great airport," he told the United pilot.

The city hadn't imagined the traffic jam that piled up at the airport's toll gates. Officials blamed the twelve-to-fifteen-car lines on "looky-loos" who had driven out to see the new structure. Complained airport spokesman Chuck Cannon, "We didn't have enough flights in here to account for that type of traffic, so it had to be them." And Cannon had a point. The day after DIA opened, a large United Methodist agency announced it wouldn't relocate to Denver because DIA doesn't have enough direct international flights.

But the final word--and official version for the history books--was left to United Airlines executive Stephen Steers. Opening day, said the airline honcho, whose giant carrier now has a lock on 70 percent of the passenger traffic in and out of Denver, went "flawlessly."

end of part 1

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