Just the 'Fax, man

Thirty miles of developments, drunks and dreams -- the ultimate road trip.

"Unless they've got some high white-collar job," Linda replies.

"We don't make a man's living," Barb says.

"Oh, no," says Linda. "We don't make a man's living." -- Eric Dexheimer

Anthony Camera
Spare time: Debbie and Robbie Moss are bowling for 
dollars at Lakewood Lanes.
Anthony Camera
Spare time: Debbie and Robbie Moss are bowling for dollars at Lakewood Lanes.

12:30 p.m.: St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store,
7100 East Colfax

There isn't enough space to house all the stuff that people drop off at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store -- definitely not in the crowded warehouse out back, and maybe not in the entire universe. Inside the warehouse door, mounds and mounds of donated goods are piled twenty feet high, suggesting the world's biggest and most cluttered closet. Distribution outlet for the three St. Vincent's thrift stores in Denver, this place swells with new inventory each week. Clothes are the most commonly dumped items, followed by books.

Sorting through the detritus is a full-time job for a small staff that shows up six days a week to grapple with the coats, dog-eared paperbacks, rattan rockers and too-scratched records. They can't get to it all, which is why three gigantic green dumpsters are permanent fixtures in St. Vincent's parking lot. Every Saturday, staffers unload what they can't process, and every Saturday night, savvy late-night trash-pickers rifle the throwaways.

"Sometimes we've just got to junk it," says Sheryl Higsby, one of the store's managers. "And we get these people out here digging the dumpsters, which worries me. We don't want anyone to get hurt going in there looking for stuff, because who knows what all makes its way in there? Sometimes we call the cops. A lot of the time it's the people who are really hard up. They don't even want to pay for anything at all."

Around Higsby's neck is a gold pendant that reads "Classy Lady"; on her hip is a "Jesus Loves Me" keychain. Like many of the people who work for the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic parish, Higsby's doing God's work: helping the poor by finding use in unwanted things. She's always on the lookout for coveted items, like working TVs and box mattresses with unexposed springs. Thrift stores get plenty of blankets and scarves and men's tuxedo pants; furnishings and appliances and telephones are always in short supply. And despite the mountains of merchandise in the warehouse, Higsby says donations have been slower than usual lately. So have sales.

"There's a lot of things we're running low on," she says. "Business is hard since Christmas, both in the shop and back in the donations. People are just spent out. They don't want to spend any money, or maybe they're not getting rid of things as much as they used to. That's just the way the world is right now." -- Laura Bond

1 p.m.: Heritage Square,
18301 West Colfax

Why are empty amusement parks creepy? Is it because they always seem to have that '70s horror-film carnival music playing just a little too slowly in the background? Maybe it's one-too-many cop dramas that end up with the psycho guy with the knife hiding somewhere in the carousel. Whatever. It's midday Tuesday, middle of winter, and Heritage Square looks like it's been hit with a dirty bomb.

There's a single car in the vast parking lot that spreads out behind the giant archway proclaiming this "A Victorian Shopping and Entertainment Village." At the faux-Old West village square, one person is visible: a guy trimming a tree.

Julie sits alone in the Music Hall's ticket booth. "All the actors are on vacation until January 23," she explains. No one will be around until then. Go see Gini, she recommends.

Up the street, a man bathed in shadow cracks open the door of Notz Landing (A Family Fun Place 2 Eat) and looks out. "Hey, Ron," he says in a low voice. "Oh. I thought you were Ron. I have a guy comin'." He withdraws into the dark store.

The Christmas Tree is open, though, as it is every single day of the year save three: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. The two clerks gossip about how Heritage Square is withering. "Everybody drives by, but no one comes in," says one.

"I miss Heritage Square the way it used to be," adds the other. "When everybody used to know each other."

"Remember when they used to barbecue outside? It smelled so good."


Go talk to Gini, they suggest.

Since it opened in 1957 as the Magic Mountain theme park, this amusement center has served two seemingly conflicting purposes. With its rides, fishing pond, haunted house, restaurant, narrow-gauge train, playhouse and alpine slide, it is a full-service family attraction. Yet the land also serves as a legal buffer between the gravel pit to the south -- which owns the place -- and encroaching Golden residences to the north. The mining company uses Heritage Square to keep the granite dust and dynamite blasts from bothering the homeowners.

The park did have its heyday. But then one manager defaulted on a long-term contract, let the place go to hell. And when Lafarge bought the gravel-mining operation a little over a decade ago, the mining executives -- used to blasting and moving rock -- seemed unprepared to run a Victorian Village.

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