By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
"Know what happened on this day last year?" Earl asks. "I lost four of my daughters. They burned up in a wreck in Junction, Texas." He turns away. Is this guy pulling out all the stops for freebies? He turns back. "See my eyes?" Yep. They're both red and glistening, and the right one drops a tear that gets stuck in a crease in his tanned cheek.
The bartender pours Earl a shot of Southern Comfort, on the rocks, on the house. By Earl's right elbow is a sign that reads: "I'm trying to see things from your point of view, but I can't get my head that far up my ass."
"Fuck life," Earl says a couple sips later, dragging a crooked index finger through the air before him. "Fuck it." He tilts on his stool. "I get by. Do all right."
"Your Cheatin' Heart" floats from the jukebox, and a round-robin sing-along starts up as various bar patrons sing lines from Hank's classic. "Shut up," a woman whines to her singing buddy.
Two songs and one drink later, Earl sits behind the wheel of his truck beside a younger man. A setting sun lights his frontier-worthy face. "Get stoned?" he asks, offering a bowl.
Today really your birthday, dude? "No, it's not," Earl says. "I'm sorry." His partner giggles.
Your daughters really die a year ago? "Yes, they did," he says, squinting into the sun. "That part's true." -- Marty Jones
3:45 p.m.: 7-Eleven,
17881 West Colfax
Guys who come in here work in trades that spatter: paint, drywall mud, transmission grease. They walk in under the sign reading "Join the low-carb revolution" but sensibly ignore it.
"You get to know what they buy, what food, what kind of cigarettes they smoke," says nineteen-year-old clerk Lesa Holycross, who has enough downtime to hone her own junk-food preferences. "I like the spicier nacho Doritos. They're my new favorites."
Lesa grew up in the double-wides just north of the store, separated from it by a thin band of RVs parked on pads. To the south, across Colfax, is another RV park. A large percentage of the neighborhood looks as if it could roll away on impulse. That, and the crisscross of Highways 6 and 70 on the near horizon add to this 7-Eleven's first-stop-on-the-road-trip ambience. Technically, the double-wides are mobile, but they're surrounded by signs of permanence -- a rosebush, a pile of bikes in every size from toddler to teen, a sternly quiet German shepherd with his own Dogloo. (A plastic German shepherd, as it turns out.)
"I like it there," Lesa says. "Also, it was all my mom could afford after my dad died. Suicide. I still live with my mom. I can walk to work."
Lesa's in no hurry to move on to another place of employ, although she wants to be a vet someday. Always has. The fact that Waggin' Tails -- a sort of party pit for dogs whose owners are on vacation -- is located just down the street keeps this foremost in her mind.
"You could still be a vet, Lesa," says her co-worker, who has just come in from a cigarette break. "And don't forget it."
Lesa's manager comes in from the back room wondering if this conversation is going to be "short and sweet," in which case it's okay. The hot dogs turn on rollers under heat lamps. The Gulps are as Big as ever. -- Robin Chotzinoff
4:15 p.m.: Lancaster's Western Wear,
18885 East Colfax
To find the West, head east on Colfax to Lancaster's. A display case by the front door holds enough spurs for several ranches, a stand of books includes such titles as Imprint Training for the Newborn Foal, and rows of beautifully crafted saddles are joined by reins, ropes, horseshoes, bits, bridles and other ranch necessities. You won't find Corona's Udder Butter at Rockmount Ranchwear in LoDo, and, according to Lee Lancaster, you won't find cowboys there, either. "Rockmount -- that's what cowboys wear in Hollywood," he says. "If you have a horse or a cow, I have what you wear." (The clothes and boots are in the back of the store, almost an afterthought.)
Lee and his brother, Larry, bought the business in 1992 from their folks, Sandy and Darlene Lancaster, who'd opened it in 1971. The mortgage for the family home nearby had "boondocks" written in the blank for the property's address, Lee says. But these days, the city is approaching, addresses and all.
He steams a $600 beaver-felt hat for a longtime customer, in the process shattering myths about cowboy clothes. "Today's cowboy is an athlete," he says. He wants to look "preppy. That's why you see the button-down collars and the starched shirts." As Lee brushes the hat, a pair of pro cowboys from the National Western Stock Show step in. They're here to get their hats shaped and to buy protective gear from Larry's "Rock-N-Roll Rodeo Gear," a bullriders' supply department inside the store.
Years ago, there were more locals who rode horses and bulls, real cowboys who stopped in to shop at Lancaster's. Now most of the company's business comes from folks out of town and out of state. Denver barely warrants the handle it's been saddled with. "Cowtown?" Lee asks. "I wish it were more of one." -- Jones