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Off Limits

Shop till you drop

At ten before six on Sunday evening, the last of the Fourth of July weekend's heat wave blazed over the shiny, happy shoppers braving the third and final day of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. Sipping four-dollar lemonades in souvenir cups and pushing babies in designer strollers, they perused the annual bric-a-brac bonanza's orderly rows. Four-figure price tags and a pervasive aesthetic of shlock inspired one accidental observer to suggest the event be rechristened the Cherry Creek Overpriced Crap Festival.

Twenty miles away, in the expansive upper parking lot of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a far more feral species of open-air market was just under way. The Dead were in town, playing Red Rocks for the first time in fifteen years, and their Sunday-night show was the first of five marathon performances scheduled to stretch through Friday night. Long before the first concert started, three generations of Deadheads, numbering 10,000 strong, had convened outside Red Rocks for the requisite Dead Show Parking Lot Bazaar, where incense and pot smoke mingled in the breeze, hand-painted school buses outnumbered hand-waxed SUVs, and scores of stinky hippies proved once again that patchouli oil does not mask days upon days of unwashed body odor.

The contrast between what basically amounted to a pair of food-and-crafts fairs was a study not only in order versus chaos and mainstream versus counterculture, but also the relativity of the almighty greenback. One dollar at the Cherry Creeks Arts Festival would buy you jack shit. One dollar at the Dead Show Parking Lot Bazaar, however, would get you a cold beer or a grilled-cheese sandwich or a refreshing head-to-toe misting with jasmine-scented ice water.

Of course, a single dollar is hardly enough on which to base a truly complete, fair and meaningful analysis of these two holiday-weekend cultural phenomena. Fifty bucks is a much better baseline. So here, then, is a consumer's report on five fifty-dollar half-hour shopping sprees, with the Cherry Creek Arts Festival going head-to-head with the Dead Show Parking Lot Bazaar.

Spree 1:

Cherry Creeks Arts Festival (CCAF): One poorly rendered pseudo-impressionistic watercolor of a big, fat pig ($45) and one large beer ($5).

Red Rocks Dead Show Parking Lot Bazaar (DSPLB): Two hits of ecstasy ($40), one lentil/black-bean/basmati-rice burrito ($3) and one hacky sack ($5).

Spree 2:

CCAF: One lonely pewter salt shaker ($50).

DSPLB: One dog, black and white, breed undetermined, friendly, though exhibiting odd "snapping at imaginary flies" behavior indicative of repeated canine LSD dosing, with food bowl and handwoven hemp leash decorated with beads ($30), five sage smudge sticks ($10), two tamales ($4) and three shots of iced Jägermeister ($6).

Spree 3:

CCAF: One nightlight with pile of tiny wood logs and flickering Christmas-tree-bulb flame ($50).

DSPLB:One high-quality tie-dyed Jerry Garcia shirt ($20), five strands of Mardi Gras beads ($5), five glow sticks ($5) and five Ziploc bags filled with Maker's Mark whisky duct-taped to your back and inner thighs for sneaking into the concert ($20).

Spree 4:

CCAF:One hand-carved bronze chicken with word-balloon letters reading "Boc, Boc, Boc!" ($35) and one leather fortune cookie containing a slip of paper reading "Never eat more than you can lift, Ms. Piggy" ($10).

DSPLB:One saxophone, dented, in case ($20), one hand-blown marijuana pipe ($25), one tamale ($2) and one vodka-cranberry cocktail ($2).

Spree 5:

CCAF:One official 2003 Cherry Creek Arts Festival poster reduced to postcard size, under glass and framed ($50).

DSPLB: Five carnival balloons filled with nitrous oxide ($10), two dips of a licked pinkie finger into a bag filled with "Molly" -- MDMA powder -- ($20), one twenty-minute massage from a team of dreadlocked masseuses advertising their services with a hand-lettered placard reading "Yes, even your nasty dirty feet" ($10), one joint of KGB -- "Killer Green Bud" -- ($5) and one enthusiastically off-key a cappella rendition of Mötley Crüe's heavy-metal anthem "Shout at the Devil," performed by a quintet of wild-eyed vocalists identifying themselves as the Mendocino Barbershop Space Vixens ($5).

Sadly, it seemed the only precious item that was unavailable for purchase in the Red Rocks parking lot for fifty bones or less was an extra ticket for the sold-out show. A network of vicious scalpers working the I-70 exit ramps -- camouflaged in tie-dye and holding "I need a ticket" signs -- were buying tickets for fifty bucks ($2.50 less than their face value) from unsuspecting motorists who believed they were doing fellow Deadheads a favor. But the scalpers had couriers ferrying batches of tickets to hawkers in the parking lot, where they charged $100 a ticket -- a cold, hard profit margin of nearly 100 percent.

By Monday night, some fans had caught on. Just prior to the second show, a ring of Deadheads circled a scalper in the parking lot, pointed at him and chanted, "Greed! Greed! Greed!"

"I'm just trying to make a living," he shouted back. "This is America."

"Not tonight, man," drawled one Georgia boy in Guatemalan garb. "This is the People's Republic of Red Rocks."

Come on, dudes. What would Jerry do?

Call someone who cares: Shortly before the fatal shooting of Paul Childs,a tragedy triggered by his sister's call to a 911 operator last Saturday night, the Denver Police Department was complaining that its 911 system was so overloaded by misdirected calls that it was having problems doing its job properly (and how, as it turns out).

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