Route of Ill Repute

24-7, the 15 is the town's wildest ride.

It must be Sunday, because Sword of the Lord is faith-healing on the 15 bus.

"I'm Sword of the Lord," he proclaims upon boarding RTD's East Colfax line. "I've come to save souls and heal the sick. Amen!"

Like his faith, Sword of the Lord's afro is big and wild. The many pockets of his cargo pants overflow with fire-and-brimstone comic-book tracts. He stands in the aisle, one meaty hand clutching a steel pole for balance when the bus jolts forward, the other hoisting a Bible with a torn cover.

"I command you, Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ, to afflict these good people no more!"

The good people of the 15 bus look anywhere but into Sword of the Lord's burning eyes. He has the cocked-pistol look of a man who has visited hell so recently that he can still taste the sulfur.

Then a pimply-faced girl wearing a three-sizes-too-big black sweatshirt advertising a vampire role-playing game makes a crucial mistake: She covers her mouth and coughs.

Let the healing begin.

With four giant, booming, boot-on-metal strides, Sword of the Lord covers half the length of the bus to press his Bible against vampire girl's forehead. "Satan, I command you in the name of all that is holy to get out of this child of God's lungs. Out, Satan!" he says, swinging the Bible off her brow like he's backhanding a racquetball. "Out! Out!"

The girl gently puts her hand on his wrist and smiles up at him, apparently beatified, playing it just right.

"Thank you," she says. "I feel a lot better."

"Hallelujah," replies Sword of the Lord, calmer now, his purpose fulfilled. "Yes, yes, praise be." He shuffles back toward the front of the bus, plops down in the first empty seat, and soon launches into a feverish discussion of Old Testament numerology with himself and the empty air.

Sword of the Lord's schizoid chattering is quickly absorbed into the sonic backdrop of the 15. His manic discourse joins the squeal of hydraulic brakes, the rattle of doors opening and closing, the disembodied, metallic voice of the driver announcing stops, the chiming of the "stop requested" signal, and the whispering cacophony of hip-hop, rock and new-age music seeping from personal-stereo headsets.

Every two blocks, the bus stops to load and unload passengers. Sword of the Lord, who is a frequent RTD rider but only preaches on Sundays, disembarks at Downing Street. A short, crusty, middle-aged man outfitted head to toe in Grateful Dead tie-dye -- pants, shirt, socks and beret -- boards and paces the aisle, peddling a classic East Colfax selection of wares. He's selling a twelve-pack of paper towels (two bucks), a vinyl copy of AC/DC's 1985 hard-rock album Fly on the Wall (ten bucks), and twenty dollars in food stamps (50 cents on the dollar, minimum two-dollar purchase).

Every day and every night, all day and all night, RTD Route 15 buses cruise both sides of East Colfax Avenue. Serving 11,000 passengers every 24 hours, route 15 is the busiest public-transit line in the Denver metro area, and the undisputed, heavyweight-champion freakiest.

"The 15 is not only a bus, it's a moving clubhouse of Colfax culture," says Ghulam Qureshi, an RTD training supervisor who drove the route for five years. "Just like you can't have Christmas without Santa Claus, Halloween without pumpkins or Thanksgiving without turkey, you can't have Colfax street culture without the 15."

The one-way fare on a 15 bus is one dollar and fifteen cents, which covers the transportation. The never-ending sideshow is free. Late night is prime time. Take a ride.

Colfax and Broadway, eastbound, 12:55 a.m.

Eastbound 15 buses originate at the Auraria campus, but where the going gets weird is where the weird get going: Colfax and Broadway. The RTD stop here boasts three enclosed bus shelters. After dark, they turn into clear-plastic lairs for junkies, street urchins and derelicts spilling over from Civic Center Park. These dwellers of the night buy and sell drugs, pass bottles, bum smokes and bus transfers, and panhandle change.

At night, Route 15 buses stop and wait for a few minutes at Broadway and Colfax to allow riders from intersecting lines ample time to make their connection. During this interim, members of the bus-shelter party posse will often follow a whim and hop on the bus with no particular purpose or place to go. This trend makes the Colfax and Broadway stop a four-star attraction on the 15 freak parade.

Tonight's leading man is wearing a plaid sportcoat, unlaced shoes, brown polyester slacks and Coke-bottle glasses. He looks to be in his mid-forties and is staggering drunk. He more or less falls into his seat. He slowly swivels his head, stopping to stare at the attractive twenty-something lass to his right, who is returning to her Cheesman Park apartment after a night of LoDo club hopping.

Mister Plaid works his mouth a few times, the wheels in his head spinning oh-so-slowly as he struggles to come up with just the right pickup line. "Hey-eh-hey," he slurs. The cutie busts up laughing. Undeterred, he repeats himself to every female who boards the bus, sounding like Larry the Lounge Lizard slamming 40-ouncers with Fat Albert. "Hey-eh-hey. Hey-eh-hey. Hey-eh-hey."

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