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Give our regards to Broadway

Colfax gets all the attention. But Broadway ties this town together.

5:55 a.m.: 7600 Broadway

They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway...but right before dawn, on the hillside where Broadway begins, the only lights are a hint of orange and pink on the horizon to the east, the beacons of a convenience store a few blocks down the two-lane street, and the neon glow of downtown Denver, five miles away.

Although Colfax Avenue gets all the attention, Broadway was the second of "two great thoroughfares," the baseline streets mapping out the future of this city at the edge of the Plains. Broadway marked the eastern border of the original congressional grant that officially set aside 960 acres (at $1.25 per) for Denver in 1864. The street stretched from Cherry Creek to the south up to 20th Avenue, where it ran into downtown's off-kilter grid. As the city grew, boosters pushed Broadway farther north and south. Unhappy with the old Santa Fe Trail that headed up to town along the Platte River, farmer Tom Skerritt got out his plow and made a hundred-foot-wide South Broadway; the developers of Highlands Ranch did much the same a century later, creating a truly broad way, complete with landscaped median. Broadway finally exhausts itself at 11000 South, after passing through mile after mile of bookstores and antique shops, tattoo parlors and used-car lots, the 4-U Motel and the Lucky U Motel and the "Jesus Is Still the Answer" pet-grooming place and the "Wife-Savor" laundromat, and then the new-car lots and just about every franchise you can find in every city in America, and then the new luxury-car lots and subdivisions named Mansion Place and Mansion Pointe.

 
Anthony Camera
 
On the road again: On Broadway, you can catch a 
bus to Mexico.
Anthony Camera
On the road again: On Broadway, you can catch a bus to Mexico.
A Jesus statue at the Catholic Store.
Anthony Camera
A Jesus statue at the Catholic Store.
Blinky, Denver's beloved TV clown.
Anthony Camera
Blinky, Denver's beloved TV clown.
Civic Center Park is the heart of Denver.
Civic Center Park is the heart of Denver.
Kitty's South may be Denver's crotch.
Anthony Camera
Kitty's South may be Denver's crotch.
Prepare for the apocalypse by 
firing off some Army surplus.
Anthony Camera
Prepare for the apocalypse by firing off some Army surplus.
You can still fire up a stogie at the Brown Palace.
Anthony Camera
You can still fire up a stogie at the Brown Palace.
Funtastic Fun gears its entertainment toward kids.
Anthony Camera
Funtastic Fun gears its entertainment toward kids.
The fun is much more adult at Gunslingers.
Anthony Camera
The fun is much more adult at Gunslingers.

There are no mansions on North Broadway. Here the street grew by fits and starts, taking an elevated trip over what were then the railyards and the stockyards, coming back to ground at the modest, northern edge of the city. Finally, it made its way up to Del Norte, where it disappears into a serpentine stretch of '60s-era ranch houses just past an outpost of Las Delicias. Many hours later, a friendly mailman will confirm that this is the end of the line for Broadway.

But now, at dawn, Broadway stretches to the south with nothing ahead but promise, past Mickey's Top Sirloin at 70th Avenue; past two industrial parks; across train tracks and Clear Creek, where gold was first found; under I-76 and under I-36; along what's now known as Furniture Row. As the sky lightens, traffic gets heavier on I-25, which runs along Broadway and then, just past the sign that tells highway drivers they're in Denver, elevation 5280, I-25 obliterates Broadway altogether. It's not until you turn left at 48th Avenue and cross under the highway that you find Broadway again, now looking much as it must have fifty years ago, quiet and sleepy alongside tiny bungalows with dirt yards. Just as quickly, it's swallowed up again -- first by I-70, then by the elevated viaduct that melded it with Brighton Boulevard.

It's not until 25th that Broadway finally reclaims its identity, flanked by new loft projects, shooting straight into downtown and the heart of Denver for the start of another business day. -- Patricia Calhoun

7:51 a.m.: Civic Center Station, 1550 Broadway

The air at the corner of Colfax and Broadway is thick with exhaust fumes as buses belch their way out of Civic Center Station and merge into traffic. In front of the station, commuters wait to board buses and shuttles that will take them off to work from this unofficial entrance to downtown. There are no hellos, no goodbyes, definitely no smiles. Eyes are glued to the pavement, noses already to the grindstone.

Between arrivals, the station's interior is eerily quiet. One woman sits on a granite bench reading a copy of the Denver Post, waiting for her bus. A few feet away, a man leans over a garbage can, sifting through trash for a prize that will start his day off right. Over by the entrance, a security guard valiantly attempts to teach a young woman how to count to twenty in English.

A lone man with a backpack slung over one shoulder stands at the far end of the enormous room. His name is Rodney, and he's already well into what will be a long day. Rodney gets up at 6 a.m. to catch a bus that will get him to the station in time to take another bus to his job in Commerce City. "Actually, it's more like a three-hour ride," he says, scratching his red beard.

Rodney's quiet voice echoes in the heavy silence. Although Civic Center Station is a hub of commuter activity, it's definitely not a conversation center. In the morning, this is one of the few places in Denver where you can be part of a larger group and still feel completely alone. -- Corey Helland

8 a.m.: Central de Autobuses Americanos, 2147 Broadway

The woman with diabetes won't give her name.

She's 67 years old, and she isn't looking forward to the twelve-hour bus ride to Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexican border. By her side is a blanket wrapped in a clear plastic cover; a pillow rests on an empty chair next to her.

She can hear the cars whizzing down Broadway as Jose Joaquin opens the glass door to the station, walks in and grabs her bags to put on the bus. Jose's face and hands are worn from a life of labor. He's wearing a mesh ballcap labeled "Central de Autobuses"; he says his job loading baggage keeps him young.

Outside, Felipe Lopez eyes a young Latina's backside as she waits to board the bus. He's nineteen and decked out in an Orlando Magic jacket and a backward CU hat. He's sitting with his friend, Jesus Rios, who's wearing a Yankees cap. Neither knows much English; both like beer.

"Pure party," Jesus says of his time in Colorado. He's going to miss the "chicanas," girls born to Mexican parents in this country.

Jesus spent $2,000 for a coyote to guide him through the Arizona desert in December. He came up from Durango, Mexico, hoping to find work. Although he's going back empty-handed, he isn't too worried about it. This was his first time en el otro lado -- but not his last time "on the other side." As easy as it is to step on the bus, he'll go back to Mexico, get a job, make money to pay a coyote to guide him back again.

The only one speaking English is a homeless guy who asks Jesus if he can load his bag on the bus for a quarter. Jesus has only one small bag; he couldn't carry much through the desert. The white guy isn't much older than Jesus. He says he can't find work. Jesus doesn't understand him.

A bus pulls up. Men in cowboy hats, blue jeans and boots get off. A guy in a retro San Diego Padres jumpsuit and sunglasses stands close to his duffel bag. An older man wearing a "100% borracho" hat grabs his luggage: a plastic garbage bag and a broken cardboard box. An old lady and her husband climb down, looking for the children and grandchildren who aren't yet there to greet them.

Another set of grandparents waits to board the bus with a bicycle that will undoubtedly make some kid down in Meh-hee-co smile. A couple of young lovers kiss goodbye as the woman cries. The man has broad shoulders, a long leather jacket and a cell phone that the woman uses before she gets on board.

The woman with diabetes is already on the bus. Twelve hours to Mexico. She hopes her health will allow her to return to Denver, "if God wants." -- Luke Turf

10:30 a.m.: The Catholic Store, 3398 South Broadway, Englewood

Two T-shirts commemorating Pope John Paul II's visit to Denver in 1993 hang in the Catholic Store's display windows. The vestments, featuring a slightly yellow-hued pope, are priced at $2.95 each. But despite news of the pontiff's recent hospitalization, clerk Sharon McGinty has detected no run on papal paraphernalia. "We did get slammed yesterday, but I don't know why," she says. "People weren't asking for pope items."

In the church-like quiet, President Bush's voice floats from a radio that's tuned to a talk station. At this time of year -- post-Christmas and before the First Communion and Easter seasons -- business is generally slow. Still, a handful of customers trickle in. A short Hispanic man enters, escorting a large woman on crutches. "Hey, how come you guys always wear antennas?" he jovially asks McGinty and another clerk, pointing to their telephone headsets. "Because we want to look like Madonna," McGinty shoots back, referring to the performer, not the mother of Jesus.

Anyone who wants to know what the original Madonna looked like will find numerous representations here. The most striking is a near-life-sized model of Mary made of white Fiberglas, which costs $1,600. Customers occasionally ask about this statue, McGinty says, but she doesn't recall ever selling one. The real market is not in church furnishings, but in the books, rosaries and supplies that the faithful use to bolster their beliefs: a framed depiction of Christ (with blood dripping from his heart) for $62.95; a black T-shirt bearing the logo "Paradise Hotel (reservations required)"; a luminous Divine Niño rosary, made in Taiwan and packed in a plastic egg-like container, with a $20.95 price tag. The most popular items are small, laminated prayer cards that cost sixty cents each. The store's sold out of several versions, including "Ten Commandments for Teen-agers" and "Prayer to Obtain Favors." The "Prayer in Time of Economic Hardship" is running low, too.

Even in a business serving a 2,000-year-old institution, there are signs of modern technology. Copies of religious-themed movies stand near the cash register. The 1938 classic Boys Town, starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, is available on VHS for $14.95. More contemporary CDs and DVDs, such as the evangelical VeggieTales, round out the selection. "We're getting more and more DVDs," McGinty says. "People buy a lot of them."

The man and the woman on crutches make their purchase -- a handful of medals bearing images of saints. The total comes to under $5. As they walk off, the man stops by a box of videos at the front door that a Catholic television station is giving away and picks one out. "Have a great day," he says. "A really great day." -- Ernie Tucker

11:30 a.m.: A Little Off the Top, 5 West Radcliffe, Englewood

Inside A Little Off the Top, the "Gentleman's Hair Salon," a large man named Lonnie is getting his hair cut by a woman wearing a thong and a teddy. She crouches over him, clipping behind his ears and around the back of his head, while her lingerie flutters across his face. Lonnie is talking about tax deductions. A friend of his runs a business out of his home, and that friend's accountant showed him how to write off services done at his house as business expenses. Landscaping, paying a kid to shovel the walk, anything. The stylist listens as if enthralled, peppering her responses with enthusiastic affirmations.

A sign on the wall broadcasts the services offered at this establishment: haircuts, shaves, waxing, manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, electrolysis. A full-service haircut, which includes a hot towel for your face, a shampoo and a neck, shoulder and scalp massage, costs $40. A massage alone runs $60 for a half-hour, $90 for an hour, and $120 for ninety minutes. There is no mention of "happy endings."

Above the shampoo chairs on the back wall are framed glamour shots of the girls who work here, all arching and bending and posturing in colorful underwear. On the side walls are two copper sculptures depicting various nudes. Beyond that, the place is like any other barbershop, with a coffee table covered with copies of Playboy and the strong smell of aftershave and dead hair in the air.

While Lonnie settles his bill -- removing not one, not two, but three punch cards from his wallet -- a blonde dressed in a sweat suit enters carrying a tray loaded with Starbucks drinks. "Did you bring in a movie?" she asks the receptionist, handing her a concoction overflowing with whipped cream.

"Oh, I forgot," the receptionist says. "I'll call my auntie and go pick something up."

"I'll be with you in a second," the blonde tells a waiting client. Moments later she's transformed, clad in an all-purple "outfit" and clumsy plastic high heels that she removes before beginning the $20 shave.

The blonde explains that she doesn't do shaves very often, so it might take a while. As she goes about her task, leaning low over the chair to reveal the top of her breasts, she discusses her time spent in Los Angeles, modeling and trying to act. She talks about how she works another job as a cocktail waitress at a strip club and how most nights she only gets about two hours of sleep. She says she would love to write a horror-fiction book someday, turning some of her awful dreams into text. She expresses a desire to be a doctor. She mentions a dirtbag who got a haircut and gave her a dollar tip. She vows that she will make six figures in the coming year. She confesses that she wants to move out of her parents' house in Westminster and down to Denver, but she doesn't think her mother is ready to let her go. She is nineteen years old.

Shave successfully completed, the blonde joins the other stylist on one of the two black leather couches that face an enormous television in the corner of the salon. Like kids dressed in their mother's clothing, they curl up together in anticipation of the receptionist's chosen feature, Shall We Dance?. Mere steps from the cars hurtling down Broadway, the girls of A Little Off the Top fast-forward through the coming attractions to the movie.

They like the ones with happy endings. -- Adam Cayton-Holland

11:59 a.m.: Blinky's Antiques and Collectibles, 1590 South Broadway

At high noon the sky is cloudless, but the intersection of Broadway and Iowa is gray with exhaust. Jazz fills the inside of Blinky's Antiques and Collectibles, the tiny, cluttered space that Russell Scott, Denver' s beloved celebrity clown, has been renting from the Masonic Lodge above him for over twenty years. With bifocals, bad knees and a stiff back, the 83-year-old retired slapsticker is out of uniform from his television days -- he's now sporting, among other things, three silver-and-turquoise rings per hand, a dapper gray porkpie, a charcoal sweater and a long, blood-red scarf with matching socks.

Seated next to a wall sink (the only remnant from when this spot was a one-chair barbershop), Scott is surrounded by yesterday's artifacts: top hats, fly rods, Indian snowshoes, tin soldiers, rug beaters, toy robots, butter churns, sombreros, cuckoo clocks, war medals, trombones, autoharps, pocket Derringers, paper umbrellas, tube radios, Hummel figurines, rotary telephones, a Pee-Wee Herman doll, a Dukes of Hazzard lunch box.

"There's no one particular hot item," he says. "The rare stuff I've got, I could point out. But if it's too rare, I can afford to sit on it."

Besides the 1904 Victrola and a hand-carved bear that plays a marimba when the string is pulled, Scott seems most proud of the framed and autographed black-and-white photos that adorn the back wall: Tom Mix, the Cisco Kid, Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, one of himself in early clown regalia standing next to Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Scott's second cousin and then the husband of silent-screen legend Mary Pickford. "She took that one," he says. "I wanted her to pose with us, but she said she was too fat."

The door jingles open. "I'm looking for an air-raid siren," says a man who belongs to a classical-music outfit. "Hand-crank or electric."

"I haven't had one of those in years," Scott tells him.

"Know anybody who might have one?"

"No. I don't go in the other stores, so I don't know what they got. "

The man thanks Scott and the door jingles shut.

The old clown drifts into a breezy memory from the late '90s, when he confused visiting members of ZZ Top with street people -- until "one of 'em pulled out a roll of bills to choke a hog," Scott says. "They started buying everything in the store.

"I've had John Amos in here," he continues. "And Smiley Burnette. Played accordion with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. We called him ŒFrog.' He had a real deep voice."

The door jingles open. A muscular Hispanic guy makes a beeline for something in the storefront window. "Coca-Cola!" Scott calls to him. "That's one of the first bottles, by the way. See the straight sides? You have to be awful careful, now. That's authentic. I've got some repos back here -- they're not as old."

The guy doesn't respond. His back is turned; he's rummaging for something else.

"You collect toy pistols?" Scott asks. "You collect real guns, or toys? Lemme see that. Hand it to me."

The guy holds up two fingers, mouths something. He's deaf.

"Two? On the tray?" Scott asks. "Oh, God, I can't. I'll go two seventy-five, but I can't go lower. Paid too much for it."

Jingle. A white-haired man in a ballcap and fishing vest steps through the doorway. The room feels as crowded as a clown car. "I'm looking for old Christmas lights." "You can't find 'em anymore," Scott says. "I got a few little bulbs -- the screw type, but not the German hand-mold. They've been gobbled up. I have a lot of 'em at home." The white-haired man thanks Scott, and the door jingles shut.

"You looking for beer trays?" Scott asks, returning to the deaf guy, who frowns and points to a shelf near the ceiling. "Cans? The cone tops -- or the round ones? I had thirty of 'em, and that's what's left. I looked 'em up in the book. They're very rare cone tops." Scott gets out of his lawn chair, strains with a Nifty Nabber extension pole, snags a cone top. Then another. Then a third. Then a fourth. He's breathing hard. The deaf guy names his price, Scott shakes his head. They both seem insulted. The door jingles shut.

"That tray's worth three seventy-five -- he offered me to suck it in for two," Scott says, disgusted. "Bullshit artist. He's been in here before. Turns me cold when they're that rude. The guy that makes you get your pole and unhook four, five, six things is not gonna buy a damn thing. He is wasting your time. Price, price, price, price, price. Nickel-and-dime you to death. I get that every day."

Living exclusively off of antiques and Social Security since Blinky's Fun Club was canceled in '98, Scott still owes on his front window, which was vandalized twice last year in as many days. More shattering yet were the divorce papers from Gwen, his wife of 62 years. "It gave me a bleeding ulcer," Scott says. "Put me in the hospital for nine days. I let the store run down. I didn't give a damn. My wife stripped me of all my life's savings, ran up 27 credit cards."

Scott stares across Broadway. The 7-Eleven used to be a chicken place, though not a very good one. The street has been resurfaced so many times that the curbs no longer block water when it rains, and his store gets splashed all day long, he says.

"They say the economy is getting better, but I haven't seen it yet," he says. "There's eight antique stores gone broke north of here, and six down south. Seems every time I drive home, there's another vacancy." -- John La Briola

12:16 p.m.: Club 404, 404 Broadway

What has kept the tan door under the red awning wide open all these years? It's probably not today's special, a condo-sized slab of buffalo meatloaf that's still snorting and kicking under its winter coat of brown glue. It's not the scary-looking Mexican combo, a gruesome multi-car pileup right there on your plate. It can't be the Big T-Bone. You could catch Roger Clemens for eight innings with the Big T-Bone. The secret attraction? It's probably not the waitress who slings down your drinks with a yellow-eyed glare even as she's calling you Hon. And believe me, please believe me: What keeps the door open is definitely not what the management of this grand old windowless institution calls crab cakes with linguine and Alfredo sauce.

No, the thing that brings the faithful back to Jerry Feld's Club 404 week after week, decade after decade, the one immutable, inimitable thing that keeps everybody hooked, is most likely Jerry Feld himself. There's Jerry Feld the Timeless, immortalized in white mustache and big-frame spectacles on the face of the wall clock. There's Jerry the Icon, huge grin emblazoned on the front of every menu. Jerry Feld, Culinary Innovator, the inspiration behind a frightening construction of beans, cheese and tortillas called the "World Famous Jerrito."

Most important, there is Jerry Feld, Genial Host. That would be Jerry in the very flesh, poking his nose into every laugh-crazed lunch booth, gazing over the assembled shouters and noshers of the teeming noon hour with the pride of a monarch, setting straight the bartender and talking up his "beautiful prime rib." Jerry the Great, Master of All He Surveys.

They don't make restaurateurs like Jerry Feld any more. Who else would dare write a menu encompassing both broiled lobster tails and goopy mountains of nachos? Who but Jerry would indulge the same tableful of bickerers and arguers for half a century's worth of weekly lunches? Who but this bold captain of commerce would stretch a Naugahyde tarp over the pool table each day and load it down with bottles of condiments, bowls of salsa, pitchers of water, jugs of salad dressing and icy tubs of butter pats, and then (there's nothing if not genius at work here) complete the effect with a dazzling bazaar of non-edible items -- stacks of baseball caps and T-shirts, random newspapers, mounds of chenille gloves, assorted trinkets and baubles?

You have a beer. You chance the chicken-fried steak. You gab with Jerry (don't worry, he makes it easy). But unless you're terminally despondent and cannot cope any longer, you leave the crab-cake linguine with Alfredo for someone with a lot more troubles than you've got. -- Bill Gallo

1:05 p.m.: Kitty's South, 119 South Broadway

The video collection at Kitty's South offers something for nearly everyone. Travelogue aficionados will be fascinated by Handjobs Across America. Fans of police procedurals should enjoy Grand Theft Anal. Those intrigued by uncommon attributes and skills need look no further than Big Clits/Big Lips 5 and She Squirts 12, whose plots should be easy to understand even for folks unfamiliar with the earlier volumes. Reality-show connoisseurs have an entire "amateur" section at their disposal, featuring the likes of Real Hidden Fitting Rooms. And lovers of classic cinema can turn to the original Deep Throat. Leading lady Linda Lovelace, who lived in Denver for a time, has passed on, but on tape she continues to offer a peculiar brand of pornographic nostalgia.

Kitty's South does, too. In an age when perversions of every description are just a mouse click away, there's something a bit old-fashioned about the establishment, which supplements its video cache with a theater, an arcade, and a shop filled with the kinds of playthings not generally peddled by Toys 'R' Us.

At this hour, Kitty's is hardly flooded with patrons taking advantage of its time-tested delights, but a few people are on the premises, their presence advertised by muted noises emanating from the arcade booths that occupy a dark labyrinth just off the brightly lit shopping zone. The sounds suggest video games heard from the next room, except that squishes and splats replace beeps and blips.

Until a few years ago, living, breathing women created much of the clamor at Kitty's, twisting and bending for the amusement of such consumers and hangers-on as singer-songwriter Jeff Dahl, who hanged himself at a Connecticut hospital in 1995. Dahl's friend Gary Watson used to manage Kitty's South, and he regularly gave Jeff such tasks as dusting the stock of romantic aids. In a tune called "Goin' to Kitty's," Dahl catalogued his experience with lines like "They've got blow-up dolls and Acu-jacks/They've got nasty movies in the back/And the girls behind the glass all know my name."

Unlike Dahl, Ron Tarver doesn't sing the praises of Kitty's South. Tarver, whose Broadway Terrace Realty office is about a block from the store's entrance, has been involved in neighborhood groups for decades, and he's railed against what he sees as the joint's negative impact for nearly as long. But even Tarver concedes that Kitty's is not the sleaze magnet it once was. "I don't know how they stay in business," he says. "You don't see that many people going there anymore." Nevertheless, "when you drive down the street, you still see the marquee."

The sign out front once featured the names of Hollywood's finest. Originally known as the Webber, the theater was one of Denver's original movie palaces; in a 1996 column, late Rocky Mountain News scribe Gene Amole remembered going there to see Wings, the 1927 silent film that won the first Academy Award as Best Picture. Some old-timers preferred the Webber over the Mayan, just up the street at 110 Broadway, because it was one of the first theaters in the city with an effective air-conditioning system, and its owner and namesake made going there fun even before the curtain opened. "He'd sometimes come down there with his top hat and cane and pass out candy," Tarver says.

The brand of sweets changed considerably when Kitty's took over the space in the '70s, long after the Webber screened its last big-studio blockbuster. Tarver says that many neighbors were upset by the sort of people drawn to the area by Kitty's and the Ballpark, an elaborate gay bathhouse that occupied the basement of the now-leveled building next door. At one point, Broadway business leaders decided that the only way to remove this blight was to purchase it. "I took some of the bank presidents and some other people into the Ballpark and part of Kitty's on a tour," Tarver remembers. "We were going to get them an SBA loan, and they were going to buy the whole thing and turn it into a high-end restaurant. But something went wrong, and it never happened."

So Kitty's South is a survivor, and it's got a colorful ancestry of its own. The store and its sister outlet, at 735 East Colfax Avenue, are the property of Chicago's Capitol News Agency, a company once owned by Reuben Sturman, the acknowledged king of porn who was profiled in Eric Schlosser's book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. Sturman "started out as a successful upper-middle-class businessman in suburbia, and by the end he was almost a Scarface-like gangster, totally drunk with the hubris of thinking he could defeat the federal government -- and he almost did," Schlosser says.

Sturman died in prison more than seven years ago, and today Capitol News Agency shares many of the values associated with successful mainstream enterprises, including attention to detail and strict quality control. Despite Jeff Dahl's absence, there's no dust on such merchandise as the Vibrating Dual Bullets, the Silicone Pleasure Orb, the five-piece Hog Tie & Cuff Set, or a dildo known as the "Impulse Gyrating Bearded Dolphin." Moreover, a placard leading to the arcade-booth area notifies customers that they must maintain strict hygienic standards: "No individual occupying a booth shall at any time engage in sexual activity, bodily discharge or littering." Granted, some people may not heed this warning, but at least the carpeting near the booths is free of foreign substances.

The young woman working the counter at Kitty's South politely declines an interview; talking to the press is against "corporate policy," she says. Then she goes back to opening the mail, unboxing explicit DVDs while the stereo plays a song by Morrissey, who's been making people feel depressed after orgasm since the days when the Ballpark was in full swing and Kitty's South was an affront to morality, not a quaint anomaly. Takes you back, doesn't it? -- Michael Roberts

1:15 p.m.: Civic Center Park, Colfax and Broadway

It's an unseasonably warm February day, but only a few office workers are enjoying the sun in Civic Center Park. A woman sits propped up against one of the many barren trees, reading a paperback novel; the discarded remains of a Subway sandwich and a pair of sensible shoes lie by her stocking feet. A gaggle of squirrels chatter at her, demanding that she toss them her leftover crumbs, and she absentmindedly complies as she continues to read.

Across the park, a homeless man named Hank drops trou and takes a piss on the Greek Amphitheater.

The woman catches sight of the show, then quickly averts her eyes.

The family jewels are a common sight in what could be -- should be -- the crown jewel in the Queen City's tiara. But by day the park is used less by government and office workers and downtown dwellers than it is by drug dealers and the homeless, and after dark, things just get worse. Still, Civic Center Park is as much the emotional heart and soul of the city as the intersection of Colfax and Broadway is the physical heart of Denver, and for the past year, it's been the subject of intense therapy sessions with the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. Planners are assessing the damage left by years of neglect, trying to exorcise the park's demons and replace them with visions of stroller-pushing yuppies.

Next month the department will release its master plan, laying out a blueprint for the twelve-acre commons that integrates the park's classical structures with the Denver Newspaper Agency's massive new building. But Hank doesn't care about monuments to the past or the future. He has just one request: bathrooms.

"I just wish they'd put in some goddamned toilets," he says as he zips his fly. "Would that be so much? A little privacy?" -- Amy Haimerl

1:15 p.m.: Gates Rubber, 999 South Broadway

There are plenty of reasons to stay away from the abandoned Gates Rubber factory. Rising gloomily between I-25 and Santa Fe Drive, the fifty acres of brick, steel, glass and asphalt are surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire and dozens of "No Trespassing" signs. Dog pawprints dot the snow below the old conveyer belts, giving credibility to the claims of one urban explorer who says he was mauled by a German shepherd while sneaking around the property one night; his friend got arrested on that same foray. And still, the derelict building is strangely compelling, haunting in its emptiness. With demolition impending, every possible entrance of the main building has been sealed against curious intruders. The metal doors are welded shut and all the windows wired closed -- except for one.

A heavy black dust clings to everything in the silent interior, even the sign that reads "Cleanliness Benefits Everyone and Hurts No One." A clock is frozen at 12:24. A chart on one wall details the levels of risk associated with certain hazardous chemicals; below it stands an eyewash fountain.

In 2001, the Gates Company sold the property to Cherokee Investment Partners. The land was recently rezoned to allow an urban-village-style redevelopment with lofts, restaurants and shopping. Maybe a few espresso shops, definitely a martini bar. For the city's most prominent industrial landmark, it will be a very symbolic transformation: Denver shaking off the most visible vestiges of its blue-collar past to make way for a project aimed at luring the creative class.

Whatever that means.

On the second floor, tall industrial fans stand in the middle of the former electrical shop. On the wall, a posted "Accident Records" sign holds little pieces of paper with names written in black marker. G. Ferguson, H. Krieig, K. Wahl. A clock here is stopped at 2:48.

When the company acquired this site, in 1914, the stretch of Broadway that ran alongside was a gravel road with no sidewalks. By the mid-'50s, Gates had gone international, and the plant had expanded to include over thirty interconnected structures, where 5,500 employees made everything from tire retreads to garden hoses. The last products made on the grounds before all manufacturing operations were moved to Mexico last year were air springs for luxury cars.

On the third floor, a startled pigeon suddenly flaps into the air from behind some old machinery. Rows of chest-high vats line an entire wall. In one corner is a tall, skinny cabinet; inside is a folded black canvas stretcher just waiting for an accident. The windows facing the South Platte have been hit by taggers, who scrawled their huge calling cards on the inside in reverse, like goldfish writing messages in their bowl. Some of the windows are broken, and the rest are stained black with soot, but you can see a light-rail car heading north on the tracks down below. Air pushes through the broken glass as the train comes closer. Wind whooshes down the long length of the corridor as though the building were exhaling one final, ghostly breath. The air is dusty, and it's hard not to cough.

Suspended from the ceiling is another clock. It's a minute before seven. -- Jared Jacang Maher

2:30 p.m.: Army & Navy Surplus Store, 3524 South Broadway, Englewood

The nation is at war, so you can forgive the staff of a store devoted to military gear for being cagey when a stranger wants to know if he can speak to the owner.

"No," a clerk says.

Still, if you want to learn about the Army & Navy Surplus Store that has held down the fort on South Broadway for more than a half century, you could do worse than Teri Corbin, an easygoing woman who's worked at the place for forty years. She was prowling the narrow aisles of worn linoleum and wood even before that, sometimes with her two brothers and sister, all of whom have worked at the store at one time or another.

"My mom started working here in the late '50s, when the store was on the south side of the creek," she says. "It was a small store at the time." Not any more. About 25 years ago, the store moved to its current location, on the north bank of the thread of water that is Little Dry Creek; since then, it's spread eastward, with old stock rooms transformed into showrooms as more customers sought out the tough and increasingly fashionable wear that the military puts out. In addition to the store proper -- its small entryway marked by a retro, two-story marquee that says, simply, "Surplus" -- the Army & Navy compound now includes two warehouses and an old apartment building, each stacked from floor to ceiling with clothes, gear and collectibles.

Corbin began working at the store unofficially when she was eleven years old. She learned her multiplication tables on the old manual cash register while her mother stacked pairs of jeans and camouflage coats. Over the years, her work stocking and selling military surplus has become a clothes-based barometer of U.S. foreign policy. Her first job here was sorting tangled piles of uniforms and combat boots from Vietnam. Today she lays out piles of desert camo, gas masks and chemical suits designed not for the deep-green jungles of Southeast Asia, but for the sand and dun-colored landscapes of the Middle East. About five years ago, when camo became an actual fashion statement, she began displaying it in patterns of blue, red and purple not actually found in nature.

Impulse buys are big here. Where else can you catch sight of a brass bugle? Or a 1955 water-purification kit, or the hemostat/roach clips hanging above the checkout counter? Turn around and you'll see a five-foot torpedo propped up in a corner by a bungee cord, accompanied by a few umbrellas. "One of the things the kids are fascinated with are the grenades," says Sonia, a clerk since 1981, reaching into a green metal ammunition box shoved against a wall under some shirts. "They want to know if they're real."

Keith Smith has made his share of unplanned buys while wandering through the store. "I'm in here looking for camping gear, and then I see something, and it's like, ŒI never thought of that,'" he says. Today he came in for some hats and gloves for work. But it wasn't long before he found himself intrigued by the blowguns tucked into an alcove. A few years back, he came in for some hunting equipment and left with a large metal triangle used to call kids to dinner in every Western ever filmed.

Smith, who's been visiting the store for fifteen years, is one of many near-daily regulars. "We get a lot of Vietnam vets who come in, and the World War II vets still stop by; we hear a lot of war stories," says Corbin. She's worked at the store so long that she's begun to recognize her original customers' children and, in some instances, grandchildren.

"Should I get some cop glasses?" a teenager asks his friend, as he frantically tries on sunglasses and checks himself out in the mirror. "Know what I'm sayin'? I want some big ol' cop glasses, dude!"

"It's gotten a little more upscale," says Smith, perhaps a little nostalgically. "People who think they want to rough it, but really want gadgets to make things more comfortable."

Or safe. Sales spike during times of national unease. In the months before Y2K, there was a run on MRE meals and water cans. After September 11, people loaded up on chemical suits. "And they were buying gas masks by the case during the first Iraq war," Sonia says. "Personally, I'd rather not live. I mean, what kind of life would it be if everyone else was dead? Besides, you wouldn't last after your last filter."

Stick around here long enough, and you get to know tantalizing details about the people you see so often -- quick glimpses of their personalities with just enough gap between the lines to fuel the imagination. One sixtyish man has been coming in for twenty years, as often as every other day. Each time, he's been dressed to the nines as a cowboy -- boots, broad hat, handlebar mustache. But one day last week he showed up in full camo. "Now, what's that about?" Corbin wonders. But accepting a customer's secrets is part of the unspoken arrangement when you trade in military gear. The whole idea of camo, after all, is hiding.

"A few days ago, this young guy comes in in the morning," Corbin remembers. "He had long black hair and a black eye. He bought a shrapnel vest, a Kevlar helmet and a gas mask." Early on, you learn not to ask too many questions -- and hope you don't read about your customers later. -- Eric Dexheimer

4:20 p.m.: The Brown Palace

The Brown turns its back on Broadway. Entrance on 17th Street, entrance on Tremont, but the Broadway side is a block-long wall of honey-cinnamon sandstone, shunning the bustle and grubby commerce of downtown rush hours for 112 years and counting.

Why rush? The Brown is its own world, indifferent to the jostlings of the street. And the cocktail hour brings out its private rituals like no other time of the day -- "Moon River" on the piano and martinis in the atrium, deepening shadows and stock quotes on the big screen in the Ship Tavern, padrónesfiring up pricey stogies in the cigar bar.

Sit back, sip your whiskey (brought to you by a man in a uniform worthy of a British batman), and ponder the splendid insularity of the place. All that filigreed wrought iron in the majestic eight-story atrium, all that Mexican onyx, all that light jazz and those cornball show tunes wafting from the piano man -- "As Time Goes By," a Wizard of Oz medley, the much-requested Phantom of the Opera. There's nothing like it anywhere else in town. Even the water in that Dewar's-and-a-splash comes from the hotel's own artesian well rather than the municipal supply tapped by the common folk.

An opulent refuge was what founder Henry C. Brown had in mind, and never mind the absurdity of naming a palace after a man with such a pedestrian name. Until well into the '70s, the Brown was just about the only posh place in town to stash visiting presidents and royalty, movie stars and starlets, cardinals and Beatles. The hotel no longer has a monopoly on luxury, of course, but it does try to maintain certain standards.

It's a tricky business, maintaining decorum and keeping to rituals in an age of confusion and relaxed dress codes. Tea is still served in the atrium every afternoon, but the young ladies no longer wear white gloves with their navel rings. PROPER ATTIRE REQUIRED, says the sign outside the Ship Tavern, but that apparently encompasses conventioneers brandishing name tags, matrons in sweat pants -- and frat boys in rugby shirts, toting cans of Skoal.

Something of Hank Brown's palatial dreams lives on in the cigar bar, Churchill's -- named after Winston, not Boulder's favorite nutty professor. In its aromatic, clubby, leather-and-marble confines, thick-waisted sybarites shell out serious green for premium smokes, up to $60 for a pre-embargo Cuban; these boys really do have money to burn. And one graying regular, so regular that the help jokes about engraving his name on his chair, doesn't care for his selection.

He calls over the barmaid and waves the smoldering weed at her. "This," he says, "isn't working for me."

He orders an Arturo Fuente. She takes the discarded robusto off his hands and returns. Fresh from the humidor, the Fuente is offered on a silver tray, with clipper and matches. He fires up the torpedo, puffs happily, nods. Problem solved.

At the Brown, there's always something that works. -- Alan Prendergast

5 p.m.: Funtastic Fun, 3085 South Broadway, Englewood

There's a giant sign hanging amid all the chintz and glitter that festoons Funtastic Fun. It reads: "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

Funtastic Fun could be the creepiest place on earth. Not just because the clown statues seem to be lifting up their shirts to expose their bare, bulging abdomens to children, and not because there are placards in the bathrooms imploring those same kids, "Please don't eat the toilet mints!" No, Funtastic Fun -- Denver's premier indoor amusement center -- is an eerie reminder of just how much innocence and bliss we've surrendered to reality as adults. Walking into its sprawling confines, you're assaulted by the stomach-churning stench of cotton candy, the clang of game tokens, the throb of a thousand multi-colored lightbulbs. The five flavors of rock candy for sale look as appetizing as crack. What once would have made us salivate Pavlovianly now makes us reach for the Advil.

Although the posted capacity of Funtastic Fun is "835 screaming kids," at the moment there are only about twenty youngsters and half as many grownups here. A few of them are lined up in front of the Ferris wheel -- which rotates through a glass-enclosed extension on the roof -- waiting for an attendant to let them on and then flip the switch. Others spin on the teacup ride, while the rest alternate between a shallow pool of plastic balls and a handful of vintage video games. With the attention span of speed-addled chimps, the toddlers flip back and forth between boredom and euphoria. Their squeals echo through all the empty space.

Funtastic Fun was surely designed for grander things. In a glass display case, newspaper clippings detail the establishment's colorful history: Founded by Denver native Nathan Elinoff in 1982, it was originally called "Physical Whimsical" and was America's first documented children's entertainment center (or CEC, as they're known in the industry). Elinoff soon relocated Physical Whimsical to the doomed Cinderella City mall and changed its name to "Funtastic Nathan's." The move to its current address -- and final name change -- took place when the mall folded, in 1995.

Faced with financial ills and increased competition from McDonald's Playlands (and Nintendo games with lots of guns), in 2000 Elinoff cooked up a bizarre retirement plan: Give away Funtastic Fun, Willy Wonka style, to the winner of an essay contest. The catch? It cost a hundred bucks to enter. Elinoff needed 35,000 contestants to pay off Funtastic Fun's mortgage, but he never came close to reaching his goal. And those few brave, starry-eyed members of the pre-adolescent literati that dared to break the piggy bank and dream of one day owning their very own Neverland? They each received $150 worth of free admission.

There's another, less intellectually taxing way to get into Funtastic Fun for free. Rather than advertise in newspapers or on TV, Elinoff has a program that grants 120 gratis passes to people willing to paste huge Funtastic Fun ads on the side of their cars for a year. Sorry, kids: Big Wheels aren't eligible.

Parents don't seem to mind the modest cost of Funtastic Fun, though. Even the snacks are cheap, a parade of yummy junk food including pizza, popcorn, pretzels and the best crappy nachos in town, served with scalding-hot cheese sauce and a Dixie cup full of jalapeños. But the cafeteria is barren this evening, with piñatas staring down from the wall like evil Chucky dolls. Eventually a family of eight storms in with a unicorn cake, spears it with candles and starts singing "Happy Birthday" to a lucky three-year-old named Cassandra. Funtastic Fun doesn't bill itself as hosting "The World's Most Fantastic Birthday Parties" for nothing.

After an hour, the fun is as exhausted as the kids. It takes an even wearier cynic to point out Funtastic Fun's scorecard of unsettling attractions and anachronisms: the funhouse mirrors with names like "Midget Maker" and "Diet Breaker"; the eco-unfriendly Whac-A-Mole and Swamp Stomp games; a ride called The Whip that dates to the days when that phrase carried much more sinister overtones for kids. Most gruesome of all, there's a room that emits some kind of weird light that causes your shadow to stick to the wall long after you've stepped away from it; it bears a skin-crawling resemblance to the old photos of Hiroshima victims whose silhouettes were frozen against the sides of buildings when the A-bomb dropped.

All of that is balanced by the Bear, though. Like a Sphinx in the middle of the vast room, the Bear abides, stuffed and half-smiling. His massive head touches the ceiling as if in sublime rapport with God. He's the eye of the hurricane, a cuddly ursine Buddha around which whirls all the joy, noise and sugar-buzzed pandemonium of Funtastic Fun.

But wait. What's that around the Bear's neck? A necklace of some kind? Nope. It's a piece of rope -- you know, kind of like a noose.

Gallows humor built into a kiddie amusement park... Now, that's funtastic. -- Jason Heller

6 p.m.: The Barker Lounge, 255 South Broadway

The bar looks like it was decorated by gay men -- not your hip young metrosexuals, but your old-school, Judy-Garland-and-Broadway-musical-loving boys. Framed photos of Hollywood legends line the walls: James Dean, Marilyn, Elvis, Bogie and Bacall, even Judy herself, accompanied by her costumed co-stars in The Wizard of Oz. Large picture windows across the front offer a wide-angle view of Broadway under the sleepy setting sun.

The inebriated Young Republican smooths his bar-tousled head. Pointing woozily at one of the photos, he says, "Look! Andy Griffith and Opie! Did they come in here?"

Scotty, the bartender, grins: "As long as he don't leave Opie's side -- that's the law in here." Scotty's wearing a red Polo ballcap and the tightest jeans this side of the border, and it's easy to see why he's popular with the customers. Several gaze longingly at him, their eyes following every step as he dances back and forth behind the bar, pouring drinks, cracking jokes and flirting, never once losing his endearingly boyish perma-grin.

In fact, the Barker was decorated not by gay men, but by a straight woman, Sherrie Long, who took over the former Club Stud, cleaned up the run-down male-stripper bar and rechristened it On Broadway. A year ago she sold the spot to Patrick Vigil and Laurence Sermo, life and business partners of 23 years standing. They brought their own personal touch to the place, adding kitschy treasures from the Cluttered Closet, their vintage-furniture shop in Congress Park: classic Schwinn bicycles, Vigil's collection of 8-track tapes, his father's electric guitar. They traded the flimsy plastic patio chairs for wrought-iron furniture, installed a fountain and pond featuring live goldfish (the hardy Colorado variety, since they swim perkily in thirty-degree weather), added a deck, canopies and a grill. And then there are the dogs. Stuffed dogs, ceramic dogs, plastic dogs, wooden dogs -- dogs of every shape, size and breed that crowd the shelves behind the bar and ostensibly embody the bar's new name.

"The official story," Sermo explains, "is that it's named after our three dogs. The unofficial story is that men are dogs, you know? So years ago, when my friend Bobette and I were driving around, we'd woof out the window at cute guys. If they were good-looking, we'd say they were a 'barker.' If they were really good-looking, we'd say they were a 'barker-lounger,' because you just wanted to lounge all over them! So when we had our grand opening, people asked what the name of the bar was. It had to be the Barker Lounge." And not just a Barker, but a "stray" bar. "It's a comfortable place to come and chat," says Sermo. "The clientele shifts. During the day it's mostly gay, but at night it's a mix -- everything from realtors to cross-dressers to engaged couples."

The star of the Barker is a six-inch-tall plastic dog named Butch that the couple picked up at a dollar store. One day Butch mysteriously disappeared; a Barker regular later told Sermo he'd spotted the pooch at a bar down the street. Butch eventually found his way back home, but he was a changed dog, now sporting a Mohawk, tattoos and a pierced nose. He brought with him a souvenir of his time away: a photo album filled with pictures and poems illustrating his tour of the Denver GLBT bar scene. The last entries show Butch at the Compound with an affectionate new friend, alongside this caption: "I heard they called this place the Dogpound, so I had to check it out. I was the only dog there, so what was that all about? I had a few beers and a cigarette or two -- I hung out in the restroom 'cause they said that was the thing to do. When I came out, I met this really nice guy, who shared with me a beer and was not very shy. I thought I was ready for my first one-night stand, but we knew it wouldn't work because he was a man. So back to my bitches, that's what I enjoy the most, and back to the Barker Lounge and returned to my post."

Welcome home, Butch. Now go, and stray no more. -- Debra A. Myers

9 p.m.: Gunslingers Saloon, 6 East 70th Avenue

Sean and two gal pals sit underneath a stained-glass light fixture that bears the Michelob logo. Tonight the three are celebrating their single status. To mark the occasion, Sean has ordered up another Coors Light for himself and three shots of Patron -- not exactly a blend of tequila you'd expect to find at a neighborhood joint like this.

Seated just a few tables away is a group of well-groomed office workers, laughing and carrying on. If Patron seems out of place here, this white-collar bunch sticks out like Shaquille O'Neal at a Tokyo swap meet. Gunslingers, nestled just below Mickey's Top Sirloin, is blue-collar to the bone. If there's any doubt, one look at the "Proud to Be Union" stickers hanging on the wall next to the American flag tells you that these folks work for their money.

A cluster of old-timers perched on stools chat among themselves, creating an unspoken boozer hierarchy. An older lady tending bar pulls singles out of a primitive-looking cash register and slides someone's change across the polished oak.

In a dimly lit room on the other side of the bar, an older man and woman in hospital scrubs carry on a heated discussions under the low-hanging, popcorn-textured ceiling. This space is cozy, with the look and feel of a bar in somebody's basement. The green walls are matched by an industrial-grade carpet; the neon beer signs in the windows are obscured by curtains with a wilderness pattern lifted straight from the pages of a Cabela's catalogue.

As the final strains of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" fade, the woman's voice continues to climb. She's muttering something about Bush and playfully antagonizing the older man. Although it's clearly a harmless rant between friends, a guy in a mechanic's jacket and ballcap makes his way to the table, presumably to intervene. A few minutes later, the older man smiles, waves and heads toward the door. Before long, Jacket Man and Scrubs are nose to nose. Soon they lock lips.

Meanwhile, back at Sean's table, the girls are weighing in on everything from the subtle nuances of oral sex to the implications of taking Viagra. The brunette tells of an ex who popped a few pills on New Year's Eve and kept disappearing into the bathroom for twenty minutes at a time. The conversation quickly devolves into vivid descriptions of the ladies' sexual inclinations that would make a Penthouse Forum editor blush."You're so sexually frustrated right now," Sean says, and offers a toast: "Here's to being single, sleeping double and having multiples."

His words collapse under a torrent of giggles. The Patron shots are kicking in. As the three get up from their chairs and make their way to the jukebox, the brunette, clad in jeans and a biker shirt, notes how tipsy she's feeling. "I think I've had too much tequila," she says. "I gotta take a break for a minute. I'm smoking two cigarettes at a time. Why didn't anyone tell me I'm smoking two cigarettes?

"By the way," she adds with a laugh, "if I drop my clothes along the way, somebody pick them up, because these are my good clothes." -- Dave Herrera

10 p.m.: BJ's Carousel, 1380 South Broadway

There's a thick, dark-haired man sitting on the stage at BJ's Carousel, his eyes wide with a combination of delight and embarrassment. Tonight is his birthday, and five well-toned men circle him, caressing his head and thrusting their groins upward with lusty rhythm. It's a tag-team lap dance, the kind of production number saved for special occasions. Strobe lights pulse as the stereo blares: It's raining men. Hallelujah!

Tonight is Male Stripper Night at BJ's, one of the oldest gay clubs in the city. On weekends, BJ's draws a rowdy crowd to its drag shows, extravagant cabaret-style revues where men in wigs entertain in fishnets and false eyelashes. But on Thursdays the performers are all boy -- a point made clear by the itty-bitty briefs that most wind up wearing at the end of their stripteases. These are perfect bodies, Greek-sculpture bodies, hairless and toned and agile.

One by one, they take the stage to gyrate and tease beneath a ceiling webbed with shiny red hearts and Valentine's Day streamers. There's a brunette in a taupe-colored Eagle Scout outfit, a brawny blonde dressed as a doctor. A guy in a top hat twirls a cane to "Puttin' on the Ritz," his chest a gallery of tattoos. When a fat guy from the audience tries to get on stage, the DJ reproaches him gently: This kind of thing is best left to professionals.

In the crowd, strippers mingle languidly, giving extemporaneous shoulder rubs to bearded men sitting around BJ's sunken, crescent-shaped bar. Folded dollar bills stick out from the bands of the strippers' Speedos like Chinese fans. As the volume rises and the empties pile up, they blend into the background. Some of the patrons don't even notice them: A woman at the bar drinking Bud is oblivious to the guy in a Speedo and devil horns who grinds away on her backside.

Around midnight, an older man lays a fiver on the bar and collects his keys. On his way out the door, he stops to tip a skinny blond stripper, slowly placing a dollar between the man's underwear and his skin. "I'll see you next week," he says. -- Laura Bond

11 p.m.: Village Inn, 23 Centennial Boulevard, Highlands Ranch

This is it, pretty much the end of the line. This is where the night shift begins...and ends.

Crossing County Line Road headed south, Broadway begins to curl and writhe like a snake burrowing into the cozy heart of Highlands Ranch. From here on, it's just graded hills, suburban dark and superimposed architecture -- the unmistakable stamp of sprawl's best progress.

In the strip malls to the north, they're booting the rowdies out of Marie Callender's and C.B. & Potts -- late eaters, logy from one too many trips to the salad bar and bent on pie, are being shown the door; three-beer-drunk nuclear breadwinners are aiming their SUVs toward home, the last of Leno and a reasonable bedtime. For insomniacs, there's not much in the way of amusement short of breaking and entering, short of crime. And nightlife? Only of the Bullet Park variety -- the kind of dark fun that goes on behind closed doors, inside locked garages. There's a reason they invented key parties in the suburbs, serial infidelity, light bondage and wife-swapping. There's a reason people have so many kids and buy so many cars and spend themselves blind into triple-mortgage bankruptcy on the Home Shopping Network.

Because if they didn't, there'd be nothing else to do.

But there is the Village Inn. Until midnight, it is an oasis of warm, yellow light on Broadway. Not a particularly well-populated one, but better than sitting in the parking lot of the Conoco station watching the traffic rolling down Broadway thin, grow anemic, finally just stop. Here, anyway, there are signs of life. There's the Professor with the gray beard and natty tweeds poking distractedly at his graphing calculator, scratching notes in a grease-stained binder, no doubt making plans for a bomb. Across from him, two buffed and polished Gingers loudly discuss the sexual failings of their various husbands; behind them, an elderly couple of Howells shake their heads. The manager's pants rattle from the Tic-Tacs in his pocket as he brings the coffeepot around, topping off the late-shift castaways. Then he goes to the other side of the room, where the youth of America -- twenty-odd grass-fed and apple-cheeked suburban snowflakes -- pose, smoke their cigarettes, try to make up their collective mind about where they're going to go get drunk tonight. When they're done with that, they talk about Jesus and their hair. And when they're done with that, they leave; sweeping out en masse, going anywhere but home.

It's amazing that with so many lights, so many signs, so many little boxes lined up side by side by side along Broadway, there's so little to do once the day is done. Locksmiths. Gas stations. Dentist's offices and stereo shops. Even the pawnshops are dark. When, at the intersection of Broadway and some car-lot access road, there's a totally random accident -- the only two vehicles on the road somehow managing to find each other and collide like they'd fallen suddenly and passionately in love -- the police arrive within seconds. Any action is better than none.

Dubb's Pub, the Full House, Tonda's Tavern -- come closing time, pickings are slim. At Arap's Old Gun Shop (now Arap's Eatin' Drinkin' and Darts, according to the sign), there's a load of credits in the juke and Billy Joel playing for the handful of hard-timers and friends of the house still propping up the long oak. They're the ones who outlasted the casual rummies in for the Thursday-night stop of the Denver Poker Tour -- no-limit hold 'em being played everywhere these days, mostly for kicks, never for cash. The bartender rubs her hands with Vaseline, pops a light for her Marlboro, starts settling tabs. Under the dim light and pall of smoke, she collects crumpled fives and tens from her customers, passes a birthday card across the bar to one of her regulars, signed by all the others. She rubs her hands again, pours a tall round of peppermint schnapps for the bar. The jukebox switches up. It's last call, and everyone still standing sees more than one reflection of themselves in the smoky mirror on the other side of the bar. It makes the place seem busier than it really is.

Outside, Broadway is close to deserted. Take it back south, past the now-closed Village Inn, past the point where Broadway suddenly turns into a divided parkway. Go south until there's nowhere else to go, to the T-bone intersection with Wildcat Reserve Parkway, where Broadway ends in a hill marked by the sign "Development Site Residential."

At 5 a.m., you can lie down in this intersection on your back and see nothing but stars. You can lie here undisturbed, waiting for the world to wake up. You can hear the first cars of morning coming from a long way off, long before you see the lights bearing down on you. It's a little like playing chicken with the sunrise, or with the entire weight of the eventual morning commute.

This far out, and at this hour, there just isn't anything else to do. -- Jason Sheehan

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