Main Street, USA

The street is getting hot, but the fight for Colfax is finally cooling down.

"Rise, rise, shake your hips and move your thighs. You wanna see, you wanna see, see the Bolts come alive. Do it!"

Two decades after graduating from Manual High School, Anna Jones still remembers her alma mater's pep cheer. "I was such a white girl, but going to Manual taught me about shaking my booty," she says. "We were really hip."

Now she's one hip mama. She and her husband, Asanga Abeywickrema, moved to 1428 St. Paul Street because they want to live -- and raise a family -- right off East Colfax Avenue, the strip that Playboy called the "longest, wickedest street in America." Their boys, six-year-old Max and four-year-old Calum, eventually will attend East High School and sing the praises of the Angels.

Mark Manger
Block party: Jen Garner (from left) hosts Quin Wright 
and Marcia Welk during happy hour on the porch of 
her house on the 1400 block of St. Paul Street.
Mark Manger
Block party: Jen Garner (from left) hosts Quin Wright and Marcia Welk during happy hour on the porch of her house on the 1400 block of St. Paul Street.

Jones took a very circuitous route to get here. She was born in Melrose, Scotland, but moved with her family to Denver when she was six and her father, a psychiatrist, became the head of Fort Logan. "I basically grew up right around here," she says. "I remember Colfax from my childhood; now my boys will, too."

"I hate Colfax," Max, a first-grader at Teller Elementary School, stubbornly tells his mother.

"He does not," she whispers.

There's not much to hate about the 1400 block of St. Paul tonight. As on most summer evenings, the neighbors are mingling on each other's porches, sipping wine and watching their gaggle of children play. They're a very tight-knit group, with a block e-mail list that includes 90 percent of the homes, and a Yahoo Group site where they post stories and photos. "It all started with Anna and Asanga being the epicenter," says Jen Garner, a neighbor enjoying a Bud Light on Jones's porch. "My husband, Dave, and I still remember the night she banged on our door after we moved to the block in 2000. It was the middle of winter, and this woman we'd seen but never really talked to came over and said, 'Come over, please. We're stuck inside with our kids and we need adult interaction. We can't take it anymore.' So we came over, and a couple other neighbors came by, and it's just sort of grown."

"It's really because of the kids," Jones says. "We have kids that want to be outside, so you get to know people."

Right now, Calum and Max are eyeing the ice cream truck parked in front of their house with a mixture of longing and caution. After a woman sideswiped the joymobile, its driver asked Jeffrey, another boy who lives on the block, to be a witness. Jeffrey has convinced Max and Calum that being a witness means the police can come and take you away. "They have big sticks and they spank you with them," Calum explains to Garner.

"They do not, Calum," Garner responds. "Who told you that? They're nice to good little boys like you."

Calum flashes her a devilish grin and takes off.

Jones started out at the University of Colorado but transferred to Western State -- better known as Wasted State -- in Gunnison to complete her degree in history. Her free spirit then led her to Alaska, where she worked at a fish-processing plant. "After college, we were talking to a recruitment agency, and they asked, 'Do you want to go to the Aleutian Islands?' I said, 'Sure,' and went and bought a bathing suit. Needless to say, I didn't use it."

"So did you buy a parka to move to Sri Lanka?" Garner asks, goading her friend.

"No, I knew it was tropical there."

But before Jones would make it to Sri Lanka, she did six months in Alaska and then moved to Seattle, where she had a "regular job" in the U.S. Attorney's Office and a boyfriend who sailed boats for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. When she realized he was having all the adventures, traveling the world, she joined the Peace Corps to teach English.

"I wanted to go to Eastern Europe," she remembers. "My second choice was Costa Rica. They called and offered Sri Lanka, and I said, 'Sure.'"

"That's how she got roped into this Colfax stuff, too," Garner says, jumping the timeline again. "Just saying 'Sure.'"

Jones shoots her a look.

"When you first join the Peace Corps, they test you in these ways that you'd rather just be run over by a truck or have your eyes poked out by sticks," she says. "They are just so intense in preparing you. But even then I was surprised. Here we are sort of exposed to Latino culture, but not to Buddhist-civil-war-middle-of-the-Indian-Ocean-wipe-your-butt-with-your-hand kind of culture.

"It was an amazing place. It's a small island, it's Buddhist, it's Tamil, it's Muslim, it's Christian, it's full of bugs and full of snakes and full of elephants, and it's full of all this stuff that was so unfamiliar to me," she continues. "It was actually really hard for me to adjust. Being on the buses and getting your crotch grabbed, your boobs grabbed all the time. As a blond white woman, I totally stuck out. It was such a huge amount to get used to. And as a Peace Corps person, you live like a local. They don't give you very much money, and all your other Western friends are primarily attached to the embassy or working for AT&T and living this entirely different reality. They were not there bathing by the well."

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