Just the 'Fax, man

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

So today the place is in flux again. No one knows what will happen next -- especially Gini Casey, the on-site property manager who works out of a small office on the west side of the complex. Yesterday she was told that this would be her last week on the job.

"I don't know," she says, as she eats lunch at her desk. "I don't know. Heritage Square has lost money for years and years and years. We've got about six stable businesses in the place: the Christmas Tree, the Wings of Eagles [a Native American art gallery], the Garden Spot, the Music Hall and the Fish 'n Farm. But it's one of those places that has played the phoenix so many times. So who knows?"

Even Lafarge seems conflicted about what to do with Heritage Square. According to Gini, the company spent $250,000 updating the place last year: new paint, necessary building repairs. But two crucial projects -- rewiring much of the electronics and updating the fire-safety system -- were stopped in the middle of the work. "Everything has been on hold since November 1," she says.

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.

And it's been tough even without the owners' mixed messages. Colorado Mills and Denver West have cut into the retail businesses, and the people who manage to find the 46-year-old place tucked beyond the Hogback aren't spending money the way they once did. "I feel bad," says Gini, with genuine sadness. "Some of us were brought up here as kids and then brought our own kids up here."

She looks out the window at a huge red sandstone mound humped up next to her office like a giant buried ball. "That's the original Magic Mountain, you know," she says. "Some people say it was man-made. Other people swear to heaven it wasn't."

After watching Heritage Square slowly fall into disrepair, Gini has her own opinion. "If you look at the far side, where it's deteriorating, it's clear that it was built up," she says. "I've tried to talk to Lafarge about fixing it up, but I haven't gotten anywhere."

Outside in the village square, the tree trimmer has been replaced by another lone worker. A woman in a jean jacket operating a gas-powered leaf blower walks slowly in front of the locked stores. She herds a cloud of dust down the empty street. -- Dexheimer

1:30 p.m.: Dulcería El Pachangón,
9515 East Colfax

A wedding cake sits in the window of the panadería next door to Dulcería El Pachangón, and it looks like it's been sitting there for a while. The three white layers are sloped and sagging, and the little plastic bride and groom teeter precariously on their frosted tower. A similar benign neglect marks many of the small businesses that line this block: a used-furniture store, a restaurant-supply house, a convenience store selling cheap porcelain knickknacks imported from Taiwan and Hong Kong. A vaquero strolls the sidewalk in green boots, eating tacos from a bag, passing a woman who's pushing a shopping cart full of clothes to nowhere in particular. There's a line for the pay phone on the corner, but no one seems in much of a hurry to use it. It's a languid afternoon.

Inside Dulcería El Pachangón, owner Ricardo Costa is getting ready for a party. He is always getting ready for a party. Quinceañeras, weddings, children's birthdays, baptisms -- if it's worth celebrating, Ricardo is there to make it sweeter. He stocks enough candy to make a niño's mouth water for a full year, from one birthday to the next. His shelves are crammed with Mexican confections: cucumber/chili lollipops, whole tamarind pods, small plastic bottles full of sugary mango-, apple- and orange-flavored goo, rose and peanut cookies. The shop smells like marshmallows and hums with mariachi.

Ricardo sells some goods by the pound -- $1.99 for an assortment of hard candies, for example. But his major business staple is the piñata. Every nook and cranny and corner shelf is stuffed with these crepe-paper sculptures, in every size, shaped like donkeys, cats, vampires, fire trucks. Bart Simpson, Ernie and Bert, and colorful stars with ribbons and aluminum trails hang from the ceiling, dangling over the heads of customers like bats in a cave.

And Ricardo doesn't mind that these creations are all fated to be beaten to death by sugar-crazed kids.

"You don't see what you want? I'll get it for you," he says, making a swinging gesture with his arms, like he's hitting a piñata with a bat. "Give me one week. I can get anything made. Your husband, your boyfriend -- anything you want." -- Bond

2:36 p.m.: East High School,
Colfax and Detroit

Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are lowering the flag, a sign that the end of the school day is near. It's oddly comforting to know that high school kids in all the mountain states are performing this very ritual at this very time.

Sitting on a bench in front of the flagpole are seniors Joy Reynolds and Danielle Vialpando, students at the Denver School of the Arts who come here for classes they can't get there. Today was to be their first day in "social problems," but a substitute teacher, seeing lots of kids leave after they realized their regular teacher wasn't in, signed a bunch of them out. So now they're sitting here on this bench, on this improbably warm afternoon, waiting for their friends to get out of class. A security guard dressed in a green DPS jacket walks by but doesn't question why the girls are out early. In fact, he says what they're thinking: "Damn it. I'm glad it's over. Almost."

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