A Run for the Border
7255 Sheridan Boulevard, Westminster
An hour before dawn, a lunar eclipse suddenly darkens the sky, leaving only the glow of neon signs from convenience stores and fast-food outlets and the never-ending stream of headlights along Sheridan. But back behind the brick silo, it's dark and quiet, so quiet that you can almost imagine what life was like a century ago along this edge of the rolling prairie, along what's become Denver's true border street, a ribbon of asphalt that today stretches from the town of Erie — where it ends in a Weld County landfill — down more than thirty miles to Ken Caryl Ranch, cutting across at least five counties, along Denver's western edge and through the towns of Broomfield, Westminster, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Lakeside, Edgewater, Lakewood, Sheridan, Bow Mar and Littleton along the way.
A century ago, the farmers who worked this land would already be well into their day. But there are no working farms left along this strip, where the growth crops appear to be self-storage units and churches and retirement homes. There is just the shuttered Shoenberg Farm, which is once again planting seeds of hope for the future.
The front of the brick bungalow facing Sheridan pronounces that this property is supported by the Colorado State Historical Fund. To find out more, you have to go to the web, to www.shoenbergfarm.com, where the City of Westminster lays out the tale in detail. The farm was founded in 1911 by Louis Shoenberg, who'd made his fortune in the department-store business with David May and had already moved from Denver when National Jewish Hospital asked him to build the farm. But Shoenberg was willing to help because he'd lost his only son, Dudley, to tuberculosis, and dairy products were considered vital to the treatment of tuberculosis patients. Shoenberg donated the farm to NJH the next year, and in 1921, NJH sold the 800-acre farm to Jacob Tepper, a Jewish dairyman who'd fled the pogroms in Poland. Tepper kept the Shoenberg name and continued the mission of supplying dairy products and eggs to health-care institutions as well as grocers. In a delicious side note, the farm also served as the headquarters for the Dolly Madison Ice Cream stores, which operated throughout Denver from 1941 until 2001.
By then, the Shoenberg Farm had also ceased operations. Vicky Bunsen, community-development programs coordinator for the City of Westminster, first remembers seeing the boarded-up site in 2002, the year Westminster started its historic preservation program, and wondering, "What's that?" By the time a "For Sale" sign showed up on the property two years later, she knew — and was ready. She'd learned all about the importance of Louis Shoenberg, who'd died in 1942 after decades of philanthropic projects; she also knew what the twentieth-century sanatorium movement had meant to Denver, and it was a lot more than a few attention-grabbing headlines when Andrew Speaker was briefly housed at National Jewish earlier this year. And with a Wal-Mart going up just to the south and Village Homes planning to build 125 homes to the west, she knew what would happen to this section of Sheridan once the property was sold.
So she contacted Jerry Tepper, the family representative who had the parcel under contract with a developer. "I started talking to him about saving it," she says. "Finally, they agreed to carve out a three-and-a-half-acre parcel, subject to a two-year option." The parcel included the part of the farm where five circa-1911 buildings still stand, the part that offers traffic passing by on Sheridan a glimpse of the past. For now.
Because the agreement only allows Westminster to acquire the property at commercial prices, for the same amount the developer had to pay. And that's "a big pile of money," Bunsen says, estimating it will run $10 to $15 a square foot. The developer has already fronted Westminster $30,000 for a historic assessment, and last year she leveraged that for another $25,000 from the State Historical Fund, one of more than 3,100 grants — totaling $192,000,000 — that the state has given since it started distributing gambling proceeds more than fifteen years ago. Still, that's a drop in the milk bucket compared with the final sale price. "Since January, I've been working very hard to see what we can get in a two-year period," says Bunsen. "I'm still struggling to get the money together."
Collecting the history has been much easier. "I do a lot of tours there," she explains. "What I emphasize is that this isn't just a farm, just a dairy farm in Westminster. This was built specifically at the request of National Jewish Hospital to provide dairy products for tubercular patients. But it's a story not only of Jewish immigration to Colorado, but also kind of a civil-rights issue, because Jake Tepper couldn't be a farmer in Poland." But he could in this country, and he worked eighteen-hour days on this farm until he died.
Which means that by 5:11 a.m., Tepper would have been hard at work, collecting the eggs and milk that were thought to bring health to Denver's unhealthiest residents. People who'd also come here looking for a new life.
The rest is history — as the farm could be, if Bunsen can't come up with the money to save this pocket of the past. — Patricia Calhoun
South Sheridan and West Rowland Place, unincorporated Jefferson County
Tracking the southern end of Sheridan Boulevard without a global positioning system or a MapQuest printout requires the investigative skills of Woodward and Bernstein, the exploratory instincts of Lewis and Clark, and a shitload of gas. Sheridan is among the major north-south routes in a major metropolitan city, but it proves to be no match for one of the most powerful and inexorable forces in modern life: suburbia.
The boulevard's roots can be found just north of Ken Caryl Avenue in southern Jefferson County under a slightly different moniker, South Sheridan Court, which opens into the Columbine Knolls subdivision. Several blocks later, the court comes to a stop at West Rowland Place. But perhaps twenty yards east, Sheridan Boulevard begins, albeit inauspiciously, in an overgrown vacant lot bisected by a muddy dirt path created by drivers hunting for a shortcut to another block that looks pretty much like this one.
Here, the boulevard is neither wider nor grander than any of the other streets in the area, be it a court, a place, or what have you. After a six-block stretch lined with homes, Sheridan curves sharply to the west and becomes West Ontario Avenue — and finding the boulevard again isn't a matter of a single right or left. Take West Ontario west to South Depew Street north to West Coal Mine Avenue east, and there's Sheridan Boulevard again — for about one block, before it dead-ends at someone's driveway.
From there, a motorist must venture into a baffling miasma of suburban tracts, including a subdivision in which every street mentions a pond (West Ponds Circle, West Ponds Drive, West Ponds View Place et al.) despite the fact that there's no pond in sight, and another one south of West Bowles Avenue that pulls the same trick with lakes (e.g., the irritatingly named West Lake Circle North and West Lake Circle South).
Finally, a chance venture along a circuit that starts at South Jay Circle leads back to Sheridan Boulevard again — sort of. This Sheridan is essentially a tributary of West Leawood Drive that curves around the Raccoon Hollar Nature Park before terminating a few hundred yards later at a cordoned-off footpath. This stretch is identified by a single marker whose presence is entirely pointless. It's as if a county worker wound up with one extra Sheridan sign and figured, "What the hell. Gotta put it somewhere."
Sheridan rises again north of Bowles before turning into Bowles Lake Lane and petering out three blocks later. But on the far side of Marston Lake, the boulevard cuts through the Bow Mar neighborhood, and at Quincy Avenue, it's finally transformed into a four-lane thoroughfare befitting the "Boulevard" moniker. — Michael Roberts
47th Avenue and Sheridan
Berkeley may be a neighborhood on the Tudor-scraping edge of gentrification, but its lake still hosts fish with high levels of mercury, and its dog park is a working dog's kind of place. Half dirt, half grass, not as barren as the one behind the city animal shelter nor as lush as the Stapleton version, Berkeley's canine playground has just the right amount of true grit.
The gentry and their purebloods make use of the place on weekends, but on a Tuesday morning the visitors skew toward the mongrel demographic. A black chow mix digs a groove in the cool dirt and treats his ample head to a sand bath, then checks out a white retriever mix, who rolls over in abject submission. Two rotund labs, one yellow and one chocolate, jog the perimeter while a Lhasa apso and a tiny terrier of uncertain lineage struggle to keep up. Two shepherds, one German and one Australian, try to get things organized. The terrier helps out.
"My Australian, Buddy, taught him how to herd," the terrier's owner says. "You should have seen him going after a couple of Saint Bernards the other day."
In the movies, dog parks are for meeting cute. There is nothing cute about a Berkeley encounter. The dogs sniff rears and do some anxious sorting-out of pack pecking order. The owners nod and brag about their dogs, compare views on vets and the propriety of summer canine haircuts and assorted doggy quirks. Dog names are bandied about; human names are not.
One owner, a tall, studious young man, stands off to the side, reading a book. His Rhodesian ridgeback stands aloof from the other dogs, snubbing their advances. Finally another Rhodesian arrives, and the two elitists run off together, a band apart.
Occasionally an overprotective human tries to interfere, but for the most part the dogs work things out for themselves. Love, or at least an awkward gesture of ardor, is offered and spurned; a flash of temper is bitch-slapped down. The terrier doesn't know he only weighs twelve pounds and gets right in the mix. The passive-aggressive Lhasa apso pees on a ball the big dogs found interesting a moment ago. Everyone gathers around a communal water dish for a slurp or two.
After much panting and rolling in the dirt, the players start to wander toward the iron gate. More dogs are coming in, dainties and brutes alike, manners unknown. As with kids having too much fun at a birthday party, it's important to know when to leave, before things end badly. — Alan Prendergast
Fort Logan National Cemetery
3698 South Sheridan
Air Force veteran Jim McCoskey hadn't planned to spend so much time at Fort Logan National Cemetery — at least not yet. He was happily retired ("Sitting around, doing nothing," he admits) when his wife stopped by Fort Logan to do some genealogy research and saw a flier about volunteering. Back home, she suggested that McCoskey sign up. "It was one of those 'Yes, dear' things," he says, laughing. "What she really wanted was me out of the house."
Today looks to be lighter than usual for McCoskey, who mans the Fort Logan information desk flanked by oversized photos of President George W. Bush and Jim Nicholson, the outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Only six burials are on tap, as opposed to a staggering 27 on August 20 — just three off the one-day record set in 2006. He estimates that fifteen to twenty people are laid to rest at the cemetery every day. "This is our peak year for World War II vets," notes McCoskey, who served a four-year hitch that began in 1961, all of it stateside. "They're in their eighties or nineties now."
These new permanent residents will have plenty of company owing to the long history of Fort Logan, which was established in 1887 on a site selected by Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan. During the two years before it was officially named Fort Logan (after John Alexander Logan, who supervised Union volunteer forces during the Civil War), locals informally dubbed it "Fort Sheridan" and referred to the route to its north as "Sheridan Road" — hence the boulevard's handle to this day.
Just over a month before the fort's August 9, 1889, christening, the first recorded burial took place: that of Mabel Peterkin, the daughter of a private stationed at the fort. Before long, other remains wound up near Mabel's, and the markers in this portion of the cemetery, along the northern boundary of the property near the entrance to a pathway called Denver Drive, are more diverse than those anywhere else at the cemetery. The sizes and shapes often vary, and the lettering stamped onto them frequently lacks even the most basic dates and information. One simply reads "E. HOFFMEISTER: CIVILIAN." Another lists "BOYD: INFANT."
Also close by is arguably the most unusual plot on the grounds. It contains Karl F. Baatz, the sole prisoner of war interred at Fort Logan. He was a corporal, he was a German, he died on November 29, 1943, and his tombstone has more space on either side of it than any of the others in this section. It's physically set apart as a symbolic way of letting visitors know that he was one of them, not one of us.
The sense of community is stronger elsewhere at the facility, which became a national cemetery in 1950, four years after its namesake fort was shuttered. Many of the white stones, which are laid out in seemingly endless rows over Fort Logan's 214 acres, feature engravings on the front for veterans and on the back for family members, and the spare details they include only add to their poignancy. Decades of heartbreak are encapsulated in the words on one marker: "HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTER: EVELINE, DEC 19 1927-MAR 27 1995: PATRICIA, NOV 4 1959-NOV 5 1959." Likewise, the facts of Melvin L. Poundstone's military service in World War II and Korea are put into context by the concluding inscription: "LOVING HUSBAND DADDY & GRANDPA."
Veterans like Poundstone, who died earlier this year, are falling at a steady pace — so many that on days like August 20, the ranks of the All Veterans Honor Guard, a group of approximately 100 men and women from assorted American Legion and VFW posts who offer color-guard and gun-salute tributes at burial services, are stretched thin. On this morning, however, no Guard members are on hand, and there isn't a single random visitor in view. The only signs of life are identically clad maintenance-crew members mowing and trimming the grass, and traffic whizzing past along Sheridan.
McCoskey knows people will be along later, however, and he's looking forward to seeing them. The prospect of dealing with grieving relatives for hour upon hour might seem depressing, but he insists that it's anything but. "I'll feel better going home tonight than I did coming in," he says. "It makes me feel good that I've helped someone."
No doubt his wife agrees. — Roberts
Town of Bow Mar
Quincy Avenue and South Sheridan
A rustic wood-and-cast-iron sign announces the boundary of the town of Bow Mar — population 800-plus — at the point where busy Sheridan splinters into a broken mix of residential streets. Segregated from the suburb of Littleton by a stone gate, the former farmland is abundantly green, some of the beautifully manicured lawns sporting that almost-fluorescent verdant shade that suggests the owners aren't too concerned about so-called water shortages. Two Columbine Valley Police SUVs cruise the streets, securing Bow Mar's safety from intruders.
Today is trash day in the town — which was incorporated in 1958 and named for two pioneering local farmers, John Bowles and John Marston — and sedate plastic bins adorn the end of each driveway, waiting for a garbage truck to remove the unwanted contents and carry them away.
Figurines prance atop the street signs located at each corner: a soldier on a horse with his sword drawn on Sheridan; a man in a top hat and tails driving a carriage on Bow Mar Drive; a Mexican boy with a large hat lounging next to a cactus on Sombrero Street; a sailboat on Lakeshore Drive; a sunset on Sunset Drive; a geyser and a bear on Yellowstone Street. The roads are flanked by residences, many built in the prairie-style architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and confined to the one-story limitation placed on Bow Mar in the 1950s. But there are a few mansions as well.
It's quiet. A soccer-mom-aged woman pedals sedately past on her bicycle. Tennis courts nestled by the road are deserted, and a skateboard-ramp construct waits in the driveway for potential riders to return home. A lone gardener toils in the front yard of one beautiful residence as a tow truck ambles along the road.
Cruising alongside the lake, it's clear where everybody has gone: to the private beach, with its volleyball net and splashes of bright color against the yellow sand. A gate prevents outside cars from entering the parking lot, and there's no street parking available, adding to the ominous presence of the police and the tow truck. Visitors are quickly conscious of what a nearby sign loudly proclaims: "Members and Guests Only." Amber Taufen
Sheridan and Lowell boulevards, Broomfield
"Okay! Dance-floor rumba! Heart pumping? Nice!"
Sonia Puccio shouts out directions to the seven women in her Latin Cardio class as her hips sway to the feisty beats emanating from the boombox. She pumps her arms and shakes her shoulders, making her butterfly tattoo, visible on her dark-skinned back between the straps of her tank top, appear to flutter energetically in the early-afternoon sunlight. She and her charges rumba past the wall of windows framing a wide-angle view of 450-acre Anthem Ranch, Broomfield's new, age-restricted development for "active adults" 55 and older. The class is using the main room of Anthem Ranch's marketing building as an ad hoc community center because the 30,000-square-foot Aspen Lodge Recreation Center, which will feature a four-lane pool, a weight room, an aerobics studio and an outside amphitheater, is still under construction down the road, past rolling fields bordering Sheridan and Lowell that will soon sprout rows of houses.
As saxophones and snare drums signal a new song on Puccio's stereo, she calls out "Flamenco!" Everyone stomps the wooden floor and claps their hands in the air. "Oh, oh, oh!" exclaims the animated teacher. "Yip, yip, yip!" her disciples respond.
Puccio's students are part of the country's 76 million baby boomers who are ready for retirement — but not in the old-fashioned sense of the word. This generation wants to accessorize their twilight years with running trails, tennis courts and cardio classes — eat your heart out, Richard Simmons. The fact that they can get all that in planned communities such as Anthem Ranch, plus amenable weather and gorgeous views of the Rocky Mountains, is the reason Colorado now boasts the sixth-largest concentration of boomers in the country.
As the class comes to an end, relaxing piano music takes the place of the Latin rhythms, and the participants move into their cool-down stretches. Raising her arms above her head, Puccio motions to the boombox. "This music is beautiful," she says. "Rap and hip-hop will come and go, but this and Latin music will never die."
At least not at Anthem Ranch. — Joel Warner
Top Queen Nails and Dairy Queen
1515 and 1525 South Sheridan, Lakewood
If you think getting your toenails done is an indulgence, you are sorely mistaken. Sure, the eucalyptus soak is comforting at first, but it's only there to soften your feet into vulnerable pink pillows, ready to be picked and prodded and sandpapered into smoothness by a pedicurist. She pours alcohol into the open wounds around your toenails, then coats them with stinging toxic polish. It's not exactly a treat.
That's why the combination nail salon/ice cream store at the intersection of South Sheridan and Florida Avenue is such a welcome relief. First your feet get battered into shape at Top Queen Nails, and then you hobble next door for a Dairy Queen cone. The seventeen-year-old at the register asks what you'd like with the utmost sensitivity, as if to say, "You poor baby. Come rest in our red swivel chairs. Have a caramel waffle crisp."
The two businesses, partitioned by a wall in a sagging brick building, are owned and operated separately. The use of the word "Queen" in both names is simply a royal coincidence, according to Queen Nails custodian Elvis Le. But it makes for a mishmash of a signpost out front: The Dairy Queen logo sits above the Top Queen Nails marker, which is on top of the marquee: "Birthday Cakes Are Here."
Le asks for more clarification from his boss, but he's unsuccessful. No, she says, hollering through a dust mask as she buffs a customer's nails. She doesn't speak English, and neither do the other two Vietnamese manicurists on site. Here, the language of mani and pedi reigns. Two words and 22 bucks get you in and out the door with exactly what you need in whatever color you want. So Le, also from Vietnam, is charged with giving answers. Though he's only been at Top Queen for two months, he's seen plenty of customers volley between the two businesses. "Sometimes they eat ice cream when their nails are drying or the time they are waiting or anything," he says.
Today is unusually busy. At the tail end of the lunch hour, a pregnant woman with pink hair reads a magazine while manicurists tend to other clients. The shop's decor, which is a little atypical, includes a poster of the Twin Towers with Spanish wording, gold tinsel draped around the windows, and a small glass bottle with incense sticks next to the register. A poster above the mirror shows a woman's painted fingertips clutching a nest of dollar bills. The words "No! Yes..." appear above her hands. When the lunch rush finally ends, two of the manicurists leave to pick up their kids from school. Next door, at the empty Dairy Queen, a shift manager prepares ice cream cakes, filling a small silver trough with chocolate soft-serve.
When Le finishes beauty school, after 300 hours of coursework, he'll join the staff at Queen Nails. "The hand and the face are the same," he says. "You meet someone, they look at your face and shake your hand." Surprisingly, there are mostly men in his classes. But Le knows why: "Every man likes to hold a woman's hand." — Naomi Zeveloff
Home Sweet Home
Head shops all smell the same, and in this regard, Home Sweet Home is no exception: patchouli and incense, the plastic odor of screen-printed T-shirts, mildewed carpet, faint hints of weed. This shop smells the same as the shop you used to hit up in high school, when somebody had enough money lying around for a new chillum and somebody else was eighteen. The front room is full of poster racks, so I make my way over to them and begin flipping through. These things never change, either. They're all the same posters as when you used to do this with your friends at the music store in the mall: drugs, booze, shitty bands, semi-naked hot chicks. And just as the posters stay the same, so, too, are you incapable of not ogling the ones with the hot chicks, maturity be damned.
"Can I help you with something?" the clerk asks, making me feel pervy for staring at a picture of two supermodels crushing their giant breasts together in an erotic embrace. She is young — late teens, early twenties — and has a pierced nose and tongue.
"I heard you guys sell a lot of, like, Insane Clown Posse stuff here," I say.
"We do," Pierced Tongue responds, raising an eyebrow. Guys like me don't inquire about items like these in stores like this very often.
"Because my cousin is into that band, and I was thinking of getting him something for his birthday." And like that, I sacrifice my cool cousin with his indie-art-rock-punk sensibilities to the gods of douchebaggery, all because I'm curious to see where the legions of Denver's Insane Clown Posse (ICP) fans — Juggalos and Juggalettes, they call themselves — purchase the accoutrements necessary for their impossibly trashy lifestyle, an ethos driven by grown men in clown makeup who refer to the music they make as "horror-core." Openly.
Pierced Tongue goes behind the counter and removes a pipe with a small bubble on the side of it. Inside the bubble floats the tiny silhouette of a man running with a blade: the ICP Hatchetman, she tells me.
"Do you sell a lot of this ICP stuff to people?" I ask.
"Oh, yeah, at least two or three items a day," she responds. "For some reason, this part of Denver has a lot of Insane Clown Posse fans. This is kind of like a headquarters around here, I guess."
I decide not to fake-buy my cousin any such garbage. Instead, I pump Pierced Tongue for more details about the ICP fans that parade daily through the store.
Some are perfectly respectful, perfectly cool, she says, but some are little bastards, rude and aggressive. She tells me about one kid recently who stuffed a bunch of merchandise in his pockets and sprinted from the store, out on to Sheridan heading south. Pierced Tongue's co-worker chased after the kid and brought him back, where they very coolly informed him that if he gave back what he stole, there wouldn't be a problem. Juggalo ran again. And again he was apprehended. This time they had him handcuffed to the wall when all of a sudden his little Juggalo brother and Juggalette sister showed up.
"This girl couldn't have been more than twelve. Thirteen, tops. And I could not believe the filth that was coming out of her mouth. I mean, I've heard it all, but that little girl just had the most foul mouth. And she was screaming so loud."
In the end they called the cops on the Juggalo, who managed to transfer his bag of weed to his siblings, who fled into the neighborhood prior to the po-po's arrival.
Next, Pierced Tongue and I talk about music. Much to my surprise, she's a hippie, she tells me, loves Bob Weir and String Cheese. She saw Weir in Detroit about a year back and considers it the highlight of her life, her being a mere ten feet away from his guitar, as she puts it. And suddenly I feel bad for being so judgmental. Here I was thinking this chick was a Juggalette herself, or at least a reformed one, when it couldn't be further from the truth: She's just a pot-smoking flower child who digs guitar solos the length of telethons. And what's so wrong with that? Who cares what kind of music you're listening to as long as it rocks your world? This chick digs hippie music, the trashy Sheridan throngs dig Insane Clown Posse, I like music by men in women's jeans. Who's to say which of us is right?
"I think I'm going to pass on buying anything today," I tell Pierced Tongue, turning to leave with a refreshing, newfound sense of musical tolerance in tow.
"I hear you," she says to my back. "If I ever caught my cousins listening to that ICP bullshit, I'd kick their little asses."
— Adam Cayton-Holland
Tommy's Slalom Shop
A guitar player who fled Texas in the 1970s because there was a "Stevie Ray Vaughan on every doorstep" there, Tommy Phillips came to Denver having grown up on water sports around the Gulf Coast.
One day in 1981, his brother-in-law, Herb O'Brien, of the O'Brien water-ski company, sent him a slalom ski, so Tommy took it down to Sloan's Lake, at 17th Avenue and Sheridan, where a small community of water skiers could be found every weekend. The ski was newer and better than what most people had, and Tommy ended up selling it for $50. After that, everybody wanted one, so he kept taking skis down to the beach at Sloan's, and eventually had so many boxes coming to his house that he decided to rent a strip-mall shop next to the lake.
"There wasn't a water-ski shop in Colorado," says Tommy, who still sells skis, wakeboards, boats and other water-sports supplies from Tommy's Slalom Shop, at Sheridan and 38th Avenue. "Most people say, 'Why here?' Well, the fact that there was nobody else here made it wide open for me." Tommy's "dream come true" is now a paradise for water-sports enthusiasts in landlocked Denver.
And as strange a sight as a boat and water-ski shop is on Sheridan, the store took off, especially after Tommy introduced the crowd at Sloan's to wakeboarding — which is like surfing in a boat's wake. In 1990, Tommy moved to his current spot further north because it was bigger, and he bought up the adjacent houses, too. He completed an expansion of the store in March.
"The boating community at Sloan's Lake has been very supportive of us," he says. "That is a very hard-core group. It's a higher level of boating skills and wakeboarding and water-skiing skills than you would see at Cherry Creek or Chatfield." In the mornings, there's usually a line of people who want to get the first run of glass — perfectly flat water. "And Sunday afternoon you'll see people there with their navigation lights on, anything to get that last two minutes of glass," Tommy continues. "They're glass junkies down there."
For years, Tommy would hang out on the shore at Sloan's with a peanut butter sandwich, a gallon of water and a ski, and he was doing that again last spring. "I'd just go shake hands and jump in people's boats and come back up here and ring the sales up — kind of old-fashioned guerrilla marketing," he says.
Walking through his store, Tommy blends in with the beach theme in a Hawaiian shirt and dark tan. He proudly shows off a boat line so technologically advanced, "it's from outer space," and so expensive he doesn't even own one. There's a wakeboard wall, a service shop, and a warehouse that supplies his Internet business. Outside, the egg-shaped lenses of Tommy's glasses darken into shades when the sun hits them. There is a T carved into a Superman-like logo on the side of his building — a testament to his large entrepreneurial ego, and one he feels is well-deserved. Younger generations don't work as hard, he says. Instead of taking off to travel the world, they should be saving and living below their means, like Tommy did on peanut butter sandwiches all those years.
— Jessica Centers
Sheridan and West Colfax Avenue
There's something gratifying in seeing the space-age welcome sign that Lakewood has erected at Sheridan and Colfax. It stands just in front of an E-Z Pawn — a branch of the Texas chain that threatens to muscle out the old mom-and-pops with plastic ubiquity, Starbucks style. To me, the sign says, "Bring me your tired, huddled masses yearning to trade their earthly possessions for a thirty-day reprieve from eviction, your addicts with power tools stolen from worksites down the block. This is Lakewood!"
I enter E-Z Pawn and head straight for the musical instruments. Sure enough, hanging on the wall in the back are a dozen or so Squire versions of the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster, and the shelves to either side are stocked with turntables you could find on eBay for less. Elsewhere in the store, not much is out of the ordinary: A horse saddle and a collection of state flags priced at ten dollars each are the only interesting things I find. But just as I'm ready to conclude that E-Z Pawn has ruined the fun of pawnshops, a male clerk walks by in a woman's fur coat. It's a cheap one, dyed red, probably rabbit, and the sleeves end just above his wrists.
"Nice jacket. You gonna take that one home with you?" I ask.
"Nah. Sometimes I just put stuff on in the store. You'd be surprised at what I've sold right off my back," he says. One morning, he tells me, at the store where he worked previously, a biker came in and sold his beloved leather vest. The clerk put it on, wore it around work, and sold it by 3 p.m. that day.
"I also sold a walker once," he tells me. "You know, like an old-lady walker, with the tennis balls on the legs and everything." He pauses contemplatively. "I just wonder how that old lady got out of the store." For the record, the clerk says, he wouldn't give a customer more than $5 for a walker.
In fact, the corporate overlords at E-Z Pawn are pretty strict about what they allow their clerks to buy, he informs me. No porn DVDs anymore; those days are over. And no digital scales. "That's considered paraphernalia," he says. "They won't even let us buy triple-beam scales. I don't know any drug dealers who use triple-beams anymore. Not that I know a whole lot of drug dealers." He pauses again and looks around the store. "Although I probably talked to at least three of them by noon today." — Sean Cronin
Inspiration Point Park
50th Avenue and Sheridan
Guys in T-shirts sit in their utility trucks in the parking lot, chatting on their cells or just killing time until the next maintenance call. A man in a painter's uniform slouches in some shade, working his way through a pack of smokes. What is it about Inspiration Point that draws the slackers, the refugees of routine, the city's idlers and break-stretchers?
Got to be the view. Tucked into the northwest corner of Denver proper, across the street from the city's finest public golf course, Inspiration offers a panorama unlike any other in the metro area: a decent frame of the city skyline to the east, 200 miles of Rocky Mountain scenery to the west. The park itself extends like a giant finger pointing to the Continental Divide. Years ago, the retaining wall had helpful markers pointing out notable peaks, but no more.
The place is a magnet for makeout artists at night. During the day it attracts loners, including an unusual number of people who like to smoke in their cars with the windows up, perhaps to shut out the roar of I-70 and I-76, which pincer the point on its southern and northern flanks. It's the perfect park, if you're inspired to ditch work. Or if you just want to work on a haiku:
Respite above all
Park juts, prow-like, to Front Range
Loud freeway below.
— Alan Prendergast
185 Sheridan, Lakewood
Aside from rush-hour traffic just a few feet away, it's quiet at Motel Mexico. Almost too quiet. But that's how the owner likes it. "I will sell it to you," owner Dalia pleads with anyone who will listen. "Below estimate."
Dalia has been in the United States since 1964, four years after Motel Mexico was built. Her English is still coated with a thick Mexican accent, partly because she spends most of her time with her family and the Mexican migrants who work in the eastern Colorado town of Rocky Ford, "where the cantaloupes grow," she says.
But twice a week, Dalia makes the three-hour trip to Motel Mexico, a collection of three little green buildings with eighteen rooms, a few of which she isn't renting out because she doesn't want to pay for the repairs that are needed. Most of her residents are single; no kids play on the busted asphalt that surrounds the motel, even though a single child's toy vehicle appears to have been sitting around for at least a decade.
Dalia bought the place twelve years ago because she had to, not because she wanted to. At the time, she was after an old two-story house that stood beside it. But the owner would only sell her the house if she bought the motel, too. As the paperwork was being filed, Dalia says, the house was condemned and she got stuck with Motel Mexico.
Residents pay about $125 a week to stay here. No rooms are rented by the day, none leased out by the hour. One man has lived here more than two years, the newest arrival just four months. On the days that she's at the motel, Dalia spends rush hour watching the cars go up and down "Cher-e-dahn," chatting with a handyman who works in the area.
"It's always really quiet," Dalia says. "And I try to keep it that way." — Luke Turf
Hart's Corner Bar & Restaurant
West Mississippi and South Sheridan, Lakewood
The sign outside Hart's Corner reads "Since 1929." Just below that, it says "50 Cent Tacos, Mon. & Tues." And on a Tuesday night, the parking lot is nearly full of cars, plus one motorcycle. As you enter the east door, there's another sign that reads "Bikers Welcome, But No Colors," and a few feet away is a guy with a long, gray beard wearing a leather biker vest over his RTD work shirt. While there aren't many bikers here tonight, they frequent the place on weekends. In the corner of the bar, near the kitchen, there's a closed-circuit TV so they can keep an eye on their bikes.
On the jukebox, someone plays a set of '80s hair metal (Poison, Whitesnake), then somebody else punches in a hip-hop set. As the music plays, a man named Gene walks in carrying the book God Is Not Great. He puts the book on the bar, gives the female bartender a fresh peach and orders a small draft beer, which comes in a round glass chalice (the large drafts come in the bigger "fishbowls"). He reads his book long enough to finish his draft and tells the bartender he'll be back tomorrow.
A guy wearing a maroon-colored button-down shirt is eating a few tacos and drinking a draft. He looks a bit out of place in a bar where T-shirts seem to be the norm. A sexy blonde sits a few seats down from him. She looks a little nervous, probably because she can feel at least three tables full of guys staring at her. Eventually, a man comes in to meet her, and they sit at one of the tables on the north side of the bar.
Two gals come in later, one wearing blue scrubs, the other wearing an obscene amount of eye makeup. "Maria, get your ass down here!" the one with the makeup yells into her cell phone. There's a momentary hush as most of the heads in the place turn toward her. She doesn't mind, and then tells the bar she'd been drinking somewhere else. — Jon Solomon
Lakeside Amusement Park
4601 Sheridan, Lakeside
The thousands of white bulbs that adorn the Tower of Jewels are unlit tonight, meaning Lakeside Amusement Park is closed. From the base of the tower, a night watchman pokes his head through a blue doorway. There's nothing to see. School started last week, signaling the end of summer and the end of weekday operations at Lakeside. Rides like the Scrambler, the Loop-O-Plane and the Flying Dutchman are hushed until Friday at 7 p.m., when they'll start whirling and tossing patrons for the Labor Day weekend. The park will open one more weekend after that before the long off-season hibernation.
The night watchman walks across the wood-planked boardwalk to the top of the large staircase overlooking the park. Nowhere does stillness feel more dense than at a place that exists to cater to the human desire for movement. This is compounded by Lakeside's age — 100 years old next year — which is apparent in some of the long-defunct rides and timeworn facades that seem to stick in the minds of visitors as much as the nostalgia. A few nights ago, the watchman caught two young ladies lurking in the park, taking photographs of the antiquated machinery and turn-of-the-century architecture. They thought the park was abandoned and were hoping to capture images of ghosts. He escorted them out.
A figure moves down by the darkened carousel. Could be a ghost, except Brenda has too much on her mind to be an apparition. Labor Day weekend sees the biggest attendance of the year. So weeknight downtime means stock has to be inventoried at the food concessions, prizes have to be replenished in the game machines, and stands for pizza and funnel cakes near the big attractions have to be arranged. There's no way to determine how many people will show up. "But if they come," says Brenda, the park's manager of food and games, "you have to be able to feed them."
In her red Lakeside polo, Brenda looks about a decade younger than her thirty years, which may be a symptom of growing up in an amusement park that has been owned and managed by her family for nearly eighty years.
The origins of the park stretch back even further, to the late 1800s, when the site held an upper-class leisure resort centered around a grand indoor swimming pool called the Natatorium. Years later, in 1908, brewer Adolph Zang and other investors opened Lakeside with waterways, pavilions, rides and a huge boathouse modeled after the City Beautiful architecture of the Chicago World's Fair.
Zang, reportedly motivated by a desire to avoid Denver's then-restrictive liquor laws, also decided to incorporate his pretend city through Jefferson County. Today, the Town of Lakeside consists of the park and land surrounding the lake, making it one of the smallest municipalities in Colorado. (Its population of twenty people live in a handful of homes and trailers near 44th Avenue and Sheridan.) The Great Depression nearly put the park into bankruptcy, though, allowing concessionaire Benjamin Krasner, Brenda's grandfather, and two partners to buy it in 1935. The new ownership undertook a massive renovation, adding the now-classic Cyclone roller coaster, the Loop-O-Plane, and much of the neon flourish that distinguishes the park today.
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
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
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.
But when I get to the psychic's door, I chicken out; something, some nervousness or internal governor of unwise impulses, stays my hand. Below the open sign is a smaller sign. KNOCK HARD. I don't. I keep walking, making another long circuit of the block and consider my options, noticing without really making anything of it a crowd clustered around the 7-Eleven across Sheridan. Weird, I think. Wonder what they're all doing. My second time ghosting the psychic's front door, I actually make it so far as to lay hands on the glass before stopping. I look over my shoulder. That group of guys is still hanging around on the corner, and I make a sudden decision to stall, convincing myself first that if there really is a psychic working inside, he or she would already know I'm out here, meaning I don't really need to knock hard. And if there is a psychic working inside, how she would probably appreciate it if I showed up with cash rather than plastic.
There's an ATM at the 7-Eleven, so I cross the street, passing the knot of guys on the corner. The first thing I notice is that they're all dressed alike, and not like a street-corner doo-wop group or a bunch of teenagers trying to pool their cash for a case of beer.
The second thing I notice are the guns.
And the third thing I notice is that I know two of them, which, I grant you, is somewhat strange but not inexplicable, seeing as how I am an insomniac and a night creature and spend many of my nights out at diners and after-hours places. The population of dedicated late-nighters, even in a city the size of Denver, is still fairly small, the places where we can go limited. As a result, I know some unusual characters — strippers and prostitutes, cops and criminals, cab drivers, vampires. In this case, it's a bounty hunter and his wife who I recognize — him standing there shuffling papers in his big hands, looking angry, a black, short-sleeved shirt stretched across his significant frame with FUGITIVE RECOVERY stenciled across the back in large white letters.
There are eight of them in black jackets, black button-downs, black leather gloves, black body armor and with matte-black automatic pistols on their belts. Then there's my friend's wife in a nice maroon sweater and tight slacks. She is the one I say hello to and make a joke about us always bumping into each other in the strangest places. She smiles, and I don't make anything of it when she quickly boxes me off from the fugitive recovery team and herds me back a couple steps. Her husband never even looks up.
We talk about restaurants, of course — where to get good Italian, good pizza — while the boys pore over their paperwork, look for a phone book, fuss with their gloves and shout at a car full of Mexican kids with a bumping stereo to turn the music down. As they pull out of the parking lot, the driver mouths "Fuck you" to the guys, and one of them says back, "Yeah, there's a good idea. Say 'Fuck you' to the eight guys with guns." Another takes down the license plate number. Another walks out of the 7-Eleven holding a couple of paper bags. "Check it out," he says. "Taquitos. Two for a dollah."
I ask my friend's wife if they're starting work or coming off, and she tells me they're just starting, then asks me if I know a good place for cheap Mexican food. I ask her who they're going after. "Oh, just some woman," she says.
"Must be some big woman," I reply, laughing, "if you need eight guys."
"So how's your wife?" she asks.
I'm kinda dim, but I get the point. It would be best if I left and didn't look back. Which I do. Across the street, the light is out at the psychic's, but I don't feel bad. I hadn't really wanted to go there in the first place. And anyway, now I know a little bit about what's going to happen in the future. Not to me, but to some woman, somewhere, who is about to have a very bad night. — Sheehan
Hicc Ups Sports Bar & Grille
7980 Sheridan, Westminster
Hicc Ups is not as it seems from the outside. The place, situated on the north end of a well-traveled stretch of Sheridan, looks like another nondescript suburban strip-mall bar, minus the strip mall. There's quite a few more cars dotting the parking lot than you'd expect to see this late on a Tuesday night. A quartet of Harleys are bellied up to the edge of the outdoor patio, which is buzzing with activity.
As the familiar strains of Brooks & Dunn's "Neon Moon" pour out onto the street through the bar's open doors, a lone couple makes their way inside. There, they're greeted by a friendly but mostly expressionless oversized door guy who collects their IDs and gives them the once-over before sliding their identification back to them.
The joint is well lit, well kept and welcoming. There's a pool table off to the side. Across from that sits a bar, which takes up a good portion of the west wall. A handful of people nurse their drinks, chatting up each other and the scantily-clad blond bombshell of a bartender while a brave soul in a Broncos cap clutches a mike and stares intently at a small television screen.
Bookended by two glowing Budweiser Select signs, he's by himself on the stage, earnestly offering up a karaoke version of Coldplay's "Clocks" that is so tuneless, all the ProTools tinkering in the world couldn't salvage it.
Hardly anyone pays attention, and those who do seem mostly nonplussed. He won't be the worst singer tonight. That distinction belongs to a bespectacled gent named Bill, who, after completely butchering "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to the point where it's distinguishable only to himself, informs everyone that this is only his third time singing the song — which is three times too many. Even the life-sized Elvis statue at the side of the stage looks exasperated.
Mercifully, Jan, the night's benevolent karaoke master, intersperses the tone-deaf with folks who come a hell of a lot closer to carrying a tune — folks like Steve, a distinguished-looking guy with a shaved head, clad in a freshly pressed, short-sleeved button-up, khaki shorts and leather deck shoes. Steve tries his hand at Tim McGraw's "My Best Friend," to more favorable results.
He's followed a few songs later by a "new singer in the rotation," Jan announces from her perch in the elevated DJ booth. Taking the stage much to his significant other's chagrin, the new guy belts out a serviceable rendition of "I'll Be," by Edwin McCain, despite playing to a backing track that sounds like it was composed by Muppets, two keys lower than it's supposed to be. As the song dies down, Steve and a few other customers offer up hoots of approval from their seats at the bar. It's easy to see why Hicc Ups has attracted so many customers on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday evening. The joint is as warm and welcoming as it looks.
Outside on the patio, smokers huddle over their drinks and trade tales, looking on as some sort of conflict brews in the parking lot. Spearheading the skirmish is a lad who's clearly done a few too many shots of testosterone. Girded by liquid courage, he repeatedly attempts to engage another customer, who's standing behind Cowboy, one of the bar's security ambassadors. It takes Hothead's friends several attempts before they're able to successfully pour him into a car and drive off down Sheridan.
Shortly after things calm down, a dude in a Deftones shirt named Mike approaches and asks for a light. Mike loves the Deftones, he says, but not as much as Korn, his all-time favorite band, whose logo he has tattooed on the small of his back. Lifting up his shirt to show off the insignia, Mike recounts a time when he was kicked out of a Deftones show at Coors Amphitheatre. Apparently, Mike had seats on the green and was mistakenly identified as part of a group of hooligans who were hucking chunks of sod. A security guy subsequently showed him the door. He missed the Deftones but made it back inside in time for Korn.
If Mike had the money, he says, he'd buy land in a big field and set up a stage.
"It would be freedom. People could walk around."
"Yeah, but it's nothing like Amsterdam," his friend Justin says, interjecting himself into the conversation. Turns out Justin's a DJ who goes by the name DJ Unique and apparently attended a rave overseas that blew his mind. Back here at home, though, he prefers to play mostly local parties. "I'm so underground," he declares, "that nobody knows who I am."
A few minutes later, the subject shifts to Hicc Ups. And just before last call, Justin turns to Mike and declares, "This is my favorite bar!"
"You don't get out much, do you?" Mike counters with a laugh. — Dave Herrera
9499 Sheridan, Westminster
What surprises me isn't that the Wal-Mart is open — that, should I have the need, I can get baby formula, a box of Remington twelve-gauge shells, frozen crab legs and a copy of the tenth season of The Simpsons on DVD at this hour — but that I'm not the only one here. There are more than a few customers stalking the aisles, slumped over the tall tables at the McDonald's just inside the front door, trying on shoes. It's strange, and I can't help wondering what in the hell they're all doing up.
I end up buying a twelve-pack of paper towels, a box of large trash bags and a screwdriver, then briefly fall asleep while sitting in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. I wake up when my fingers start to burn, start the car and make my way south again, past dark strip malls, empty bars and quiet housing developments.
Rolling up and down the almost muscular swelling of the land, I see the first signs of a new day starting as I finally pass the Sunrise Cafe at 4390 Sheridan and see one sleepy cook, his balding head gleaming under the galley lights, hunched over the counter at the back of the darkened dining room, prepping for his day. The Sunrise opens at 5:30 a.m., but I can't wait that long. It's been a long night, and as Sheridan Boulevard wakes for another day, I know it's time for me to go home. — Sheehan
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