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A Run for the Border

We spend a day on Denver's dividing line: Sheridan Boulevard.

After Benjamin Krasner's death in the '60s, park ownership fell to his wife and eventually to his daughter Rhoda, who remains as Lakeside's general manager. Anyone who forgets can take a ride on the mini steam train around Lake Rhoda.

Park staff thought Rhoda's daughter should have something named after her, too, so they designated a pathway for Brenda when she was a child. "It's just a silly little walkway in back," Brenda downplays. But things seemed a lot bigger when she was little and her favorite ride was the kiddie-friendly Tumblebug. Many weekends and evenings were spent at the park, helping her grandmother in the concessions office.

The Tumblebug was replaced this year by the 140-foot drop tower Zoom. But modern attendance-boosters aren't enough to mask Lakeside's many signs of old age. The wooden grandstands of the former Lakeside Speedway — which hosted stock- and midget-car races until a deadly crash in 1988 — sit forlorn and decaying on the south side of the property. The Ferris wheel is nothing more than a gray skeleton with the name Star Ride. Behind the Tilt-A-Whirl sits the specter of an ancient mini-golf course nearly concealed by weeds. The Casino Theatre, Porch Cafe and the pristine art-deco Rivera Lounge, originally built before the Krasner ownership, are all indefinitely entombed.

Enclosed in its own municipality, Lakeside has stayed beyond the reach of Denver's urban renewal. Brenda says the family has gotten a few offers on the park over the years, but nothing concrete. As one of the last family-owned parks in the nation, Lakeside lacks the monetary leverage that mega-companies have to put together a big-time redevelopment project. On the other hand, she says, not having to answer up the corporate food chain has enabled the park to set policies that are based more on philosophies than financials. As a result, prices are low. Admission is $2.50, ride tickets cost 50 cents, and cotton candy or a hot dog are $1.50. Compare this to Elitch Gardens, where parking alone sets visitors back $8 and admission is $44.99.

Elitch's also has a policy against outside food, whereas Lakeside has long encouraged customers to bring in picnics. "My grandfather had a concept that if a child was here and they were hungry, they couldn't have fun," Brenda says. "And we believe that. So we want people to be able to feed their kids." Like her grandfather did, Brenda often takes breaks during the day to watch people ride the train or spin around to '80s music on the Matterhorn. She watches enormous families at birthday parties eating chicken and cakes they bought from the supermarket rather than the concession stands.

"You'd never see that at a big theme park," she says.

It's getting late now, and there are still things to be done. Scheduling, ordering, anticipating, remembering. Over the winter, a truckload of new beams will be added to the bones of the Cyclone, and the endlessly flaking walls will be painted.

But the abandoned rides and buildings will be left alone like benign ghosts, in the hope that they might someday be resurrected. Jared Jacang Maher

Jim's Burger Haven
7855 Sheridan, Westminster
8:59 p.m.

I see the lights go out all of a sudden. There is no dimming, no series of switches thrown that darken Jim's Burger Haven a little at a time. One minute there's light spilling out brightly into the lot, filling the white dining room, backlighting the big red letters scrawled across the front windows: 50TH ANNIVERSARY.

The next minute, nothing. It's 9 p.m. on the button, and Jim's looks like it's been closed for years, abandoned. The only proof I have to the contrary is a hot, flat-grilled cheeseburger and a cold cherry shake sitting on the seat beside me.

For half a century, Jim's has persevered here — a car-cult hamburger stand that opened at the height of American passion for horsepower, eight-cylinder muscle and cheeseburgers, then simply persisted long after our all-embracing ardor for such things began to wane. It has hung on doggedly, refusing to surrender the turf it staked fifty years back. Inside, there are still the pictures, the trophies — the remnants of the big block and the burger's golden age. Were the hour not quite so late, there'd still be the old men, too, the ones in the Edelbrock T-shirts, with Chevy logos on their keychains, equally unwilling to let go. But outside, there's just an empty parking lot, me and my burger and shake. Jason Sheehan

25th Avenue and Sheridan
9:45 p.m.
It didn't really register the first time I passed — just a smear of pink and blue neon on a low-slung, run-down storefront squished in among the pawnshops, bail bondsmen and neighborhood bars. But then, coming back, it caught me: palms read, tarot cards, psychic readings. There was no name, no signage other than some blow-ups of the classic tarots, done poster-size and stuck to the wall about head high.

I slow down. There's an OPEN sign, again done in buzzing neon, burning on the only door, and I figure, what the hell. Maybe, just maybe, whatever poor voodoo woman pulled the Tuesday-night shift could give me some guidance — or at the very least, tell me someplace I could go for a decent cup of coffee and some chat.

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