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Grab your crying towels--and wipe away a flood of '96 tears.
Denver was a boomtown this year. In fact, the whole state seemed ready to blow at any minute.

The speed limit accelerated to a rip-roaring 75 miles per hour, allowing residents to flee Colorado even faster whenever Channel 7 newsbabe Natalie Pujo threatened to bare more of her cleavage on the air. Former governor Dick Lamm's ego inflated with the force of a driver's-side airbag, prompting Governor Gloom to launch an ill-fated presidential run that ended with him lodged firmly under the boot heel of midget conqueror Ross Perot. And Denver First Lady Wilma Webb, apparently short-fused after a failed flirtation with Pat Schroeder's congressional seat, blew up real good when a caller to radio talk-show host Peter Boyles had the audacity to suggest that A-Team superhero Mr. T. portray her in a TV movie about bulimic predecessor Ellen Hart Pena.

Schroeder herself went ballistic this year in a dispute over mouse turds at Denver International Airport, and the Colorado Avalanche also undertook a little rodent control, exterminating the Florida Panthers and their rat-tossing fans to take the Stanley Cup. Even pumped-up suburban "nerd" Amy Van Dyken was out for revenge in '96, torpedoing a convoy of alleged steroid queens at the Olympics to bring home four gold medals. The U.S. Supreme Court blew Amendment 2 to smithereens, deeming the anti-gay-rights measure unconstitutional and sending Chrysler salesman Will Perkins and Kevin "I've never been homosexual!" Tebedo carpooling back to Colorado Springs. And down in Englewood, cable giant TCI started the year off with a bang when a Chinese rocket carrying one of its satellites blew up on launch. Later in the year, the company watched its stock price flame out and responded by laying off employees just in time for Christmas. Business god turned bumbler John "Ebenezer" Malone saw his vision of the 500-channel future vanish in favor of the 60-channel present, but his company did what it could to keep that limited lineup appealing. An especially popular programming move: dropping the highbrow Bravo channel in favor of cartoons, while saving space for the steamy late-night pay channel that runs such masterpieces as Boob Acres and Babes Behind Bars.

Perhaps inspired by such cultural amenities, the National Alliance of Baby Boomers tuned in to Denver this year, shifting its headquarters from Connecticut in a move that set local Volvo salesmen a-twitter and sparked a run on espresso-cart franchises. And thanks to the state's exponential population growth, the Boomers had plenty of recruiting material. Coloradans officially became a minority in their own state as Californians completed a three-year takeover, flooding the streets with minivans and retreating at night to covens in Douglas County. Who could blame ultra-trendy artist Christo for wanting in on the action? The Michelangelo of the Nineties flew in to announce his latest project: draping gobs of plastic crud over the helpless Arkansas River.

Even the federal government was impressed by the state's volatility--so much so that it transferred the Big Boomer himself, Timothy McVeigh, from a prison cell in El Reno, Oklahoma, to the federal pen in Jefferson County. Thankfully, McVeigh didn't have visiting privileges at Rocky Flats, where clean-up crews reported finding "between 2.4 pounds and 7.2 pounds" of plutonium while decontaminating a building. But he and fellow suspect Terry Nichols could still feel at home in their new surroundings. Some days it seemed like you couldn't swing a mutilated steer without hitting someone who wanted to tell you all about the New World Order's latest plot to lodge a microchip in your buttocks. Radio station KHNC in Johnstown beamed its patriot missiles around the world via a shortwave link, allowing aborigines in the outback to listen in to "Dr. Norm," the only talk-show host who keeps a loaded gun strapped to his hip while on the air. The state was also home to Marilyn the Patriot Matchmaker, a Craig woman who specialized in putting love-starved patriots back in each other's armageddons again. The state even had a "patriotic" congressional candidate--Pat "Killer" Miller, the tough-talking Arvadan who lost to David Skaggs after the former Marine publicized a comment Miller had made at a 1994 meeting of the Boulder Patriots: "When I make statements about the black helicopters and the U.N. and all that, I am expressing real concerns that folks know about and the newspapers have no idea."

Of course, some of the newspapers had ideas, and they were usually bad ones. GQ magazine printed a filthy! profile of former CU football coach Bill McCartney that described him as "the only major college football coach in America with two illegitimate grandchildren sired by two different players upon his only daughter." Colorado also made the top twelve in Spy magazine's ranking of the most annoying states. The state was cited for having towns named The Pie, Hygiene and Spook City, for tolerating the Coors family and for clinging to archaic laws such as the Durango ordinance that makes it illegal to go out in public dressed in clothing "unbecoming" one's sex.

 

All in all, though, 1996 was a real bombshell. So put down that "Tickle Me Elway" doll, cancel that Macarena lesson, and remember to surrender all jewelry and pocket change before you pass through the metal detector. Then join us as we blast through the year that was.

LAW AND ORDER
Chamber of Commerce types couldn't help bursting with pride when the Oklahoma City bombing trial was relocated to Denver last year, again confirming the city's status as the Center of the Known Universe. The city quickly set up a Downtown Trial Task Force in anticipation of the rush, and Bill Mosher, president of the Downtown Denver Partnership, announced that the trial would provide "opportunity" for retailers, though he added that it was "really about hospitality." Perhaps worried that visitors might hop on the wrong welcome wagon, the ever-vigilant Rocky Mountain News installed concrete barricades at its Colfax Avenue headquarters.

Most of the reporters in town to cover the trial wiled away the hours sniping at each other and fighting over the 37 chairs available in the courtroom. But that wasn't the "media hysteria" McVeigh defense attorney Stephen Jones had in mind when he asked a judge for permission to conduct "off-the-record, pre-interview" screenings of selected journalists. Jones and McVeigh wanted to find just the right reporters to help them fashion a more positive image for the accused mass murderer. The Rocky Mountain News and Denver's three network-TV affiliates jumped at the chance to make ga-ga eyes at the Boomer.

Nichols, though, was occupied with other matters, most having to do with his digestive tract. He immediately started kvetching about the food, declaring that he'd been fed substandard whole-wheat bread that upset his stomach. According to a complaint filed by Nichols's lawyers, jailers responded by "punishing" their client. "Instead of being treated like a respected 'whistleblower' who saved the government money and identified abuses by a government contractor, Mr. Nichols has been disciplined under procedures that violate basic rights," wrote the attorneys. Among the cruel and unusual treatment to which Nichols was subjected: Guards refused to let him eat microwave popcorn, which he claimed was a necessary component of his high-fiber diet.

Hell was the only thing a-poppin' up in Steamboat Springs last August, when hundreds of Hell's Angels blew into town for an annual confab. Perhaps angry that the Bloods and the Crips have stolen their thunder as society's outcasts, the frustrated bikers frightened women and small children, threatened news photographers and generally re-enacted The Wild One, ruling the town for the weekend and commandeering the Iron Horse Inn for their headquarters. When police in the laid-back ski town arrived to check out reports of a shooting, they were forced to "negotiate" with the Angels, who blocked the door until all evidence had mysteriously disappeared.

They also had a devil of a time down in Colorado Springs, where disgruntled construction worker Kerry Dore took four employees hostage in the offices of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The gun-toting Dore, angry that he'd been injured while building the far-right group's headquarters and received nothing but a bouquet of flowers in return, engaged police in a four-hour standoff. Said one hostage, after Dore stripped to his waist and strapped on a vest that contained phony explosives, "He had red writing on his chest, but I was afraid to try and read it because his language had been so bad."

POLITICS
The voters made a few choice comments of their own this year. Fountain city councilman Mike Skerik was kicked out of office after the feathers flew in a feud over whether to allow chickens in a local subdivision. Said a bloodied but unbowed Skerik to his supporters after being fried extra-crispy in the recall election, "I fought as long and hard as I could."

Of course, the populace wasn't always so picky. Nobody seemed to hold it against Aurora mayor Paul Tauer when he missed a city council meeting because he'd fallen asleep on a Mexican beach and gotten a sunburn. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell avoided impeachment despite his decision to pose astride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the Banana Republic clothing store. In what may have been cosmic punishment for his part in the spring fashion campaign, Campbell later fell off his banana seat during a joyride and broke his arm. A similar fate befell Governor Roy Romer, who busted his leg after rolling his three-wheel ATV at the family ranch near Holly. But at least Ramblin' Romer was one up on Adams County Commissioner Guillermo DeHerrera, who couldn't get rolling at all. DeHerrera had to surrender his driver's license after chalking up repeated speeding violations. "I'll be very honest with you," DeHerrera told a reporter. "I wasn't very diligent in taking care of this."

 

Perhaps "Speedy" would have felt more comfortable over at the state legislature, where Golden Republican Sally Hopper drew chortles from colleagues when she explained why she thought it was more important to give penalty points than fines to deter speeding. Said the unrepentant Hopper, "I'm a rich speeder." Legislators didn't exactly put the pedal to the metal during the session, accomplishing little of note but still finding time for pranks. Republican jokesters Mike Salaz of Trinidad and Doug Dean of Colorado Springs set the overall tone when they rigged up plastic tubing and a small water pump so that Dillon Republican Bryan Sullivant's pants got wet when he stepped up to the podium to speak.

As if to confirm that the whole show could have been run better by children, US West loaded thirty middle-school students into a flatbed truck, festooned the vehicle with "We Are the Future" banners, then drove the kids to the Capitol. Only later was it pointed out that the phone giant had violated a state law requiring children sixteen or younger to wear seatbelts. A more successful junior invasion was launched in January, when hordes of elementary-school kids invaded the Capitol toting signs that read, "We're Bugging the Legislature" and chanting, "Hairstreak! Hairstreak!" Having struck fear into the hearts of the legislators, the commandos won their fight to get the hairstreak butterfly declared Colorado's official insect.

When it came to bugging people, though, the legislature couldn't hold a citronella candle to the Regional Transportation District. How the buses ran on time remained a mystery, as RTD boardmembers continued to behave as if they'd been sucking fumes out in the motor pool. This year's greatest hits: Two boardmembers filed suit against their own agency and subsequently were barred by a federal judge from attending their own executive sessions; another boardmember traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby against federal funding for his agency's own light-rail project and then threatened to take RTD to small-claims court in a dispute over his $700 travel expense.

In May, seven of the fifteen RTD directors claimed at a press conference that the other eight had secretly been meeting without them. The board paid a year's salary and other severance benefits to an executive secretary who allegedly suffered "emotional trauma" from having to deal with the wild bunch. Her replacement didn't fare much better: She lasted just six weeks before announcing that she respected herself too much to work for the board. At times the place seemed about to lapse into all-out civil war. Former RTD board chairman Jack McCroskey claimed that when he tried to enter a public study session last year, a security guard "made a motion to go for a gun" when he refused to sign in and give his name. McCroskey escaped unharmed and was elected back onto the board in November.

The aura of the Wild West was everywhere this year. Congresswoman Pat Schroeder cashed in her chips and left town after varmints got into her car at Denver International Airport. An irate Schroeder told city officials she found "mouse droppings" in the vehicle, which was towed not once but twice from the airport's long-term parking lot. Word came from Elbert County that two county commissioners were attending public meetings with loaded guns, prompting one critic to predict a "shootout at the O.K. Courthouse." And a bitter campaign between horse trader Tom Strickland and horse doctor Wayne Allard culminated when, during a televised debate, Rocky Mountain News columnist Clifford May asked the candidates if they would endorse public hangings for criminals. Allard answered in the affirmative, providing reams of copy for May and in all likelihood cinching the election.

If Dick Lamm could have found a gallows small enough, he would have slipped a noose around the scrawny neck of Ross Perot. After urging Lamm to run for president to give his Reform Party credibility, Perot treated the unsuspecting Coloradan like a trained monkey, lending new meaning to the words "chimp" and "chump." The capper came when, after the never-silent Lamm declared his candidacy on Larry King Live July 9, Perot showed up the next night to announce his interest in the nomination on the very same show. "I knew he was unpredictable," Lamm said. "But this was not exactly welcoming me to the party." Lamm later compared his brief presidential bid to "drinking from a fire hose."

For former Rocky Flats grand jury foreman Wes McKinley, political life was more like sipping from a leaky garden hose. After the stubborn rancher launched an independent run for Congress, he was accompanied for much of the race by only his trusty mule, Marvin, who plodded with him across the Fourth District's 21 rural counties. Stumped over whom to endorse in the three-man race, the Greeley Tribune decided to back the mule. "Marvin doesn't mind getting out front and pulling the party's bandwagon," said the paper's editorial writers. "Or any bandwagon, for that matter."

 

Marvin couldn't quite pull off the victory, though, a disappointment that soured the people and the mules of the Fourth District on politics in general. Maybe Larimer County Democratic Party activist Anthony Clinton Brown had the right idea: Simply drop out and create a parallel political universe. Brown made national news when he faked a political action committee called Club 96, even going to the trouble of filing documents with the Federal Election Commission, printing up lists of contributors and listing hundreds of donations that had never been made. The first clue for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, which exposed the elaborate fraud: The officers of the PAC were listed as Zachery Ty Bryan, Taran Noah Smith and Jonathan Taylor Thomas--also known as the child stars of the television sitcom Home Improvement.

HOLIDAYS AND...OBSERVANCES
The town of Indian Hills went all out for National Pig Day on March 1, sponsoring an ice cream social for Winston, an 800-pound hog who slurped down cake and ice cream fed to him by local children. Denver was also in a party mood, as the city proved when it dusted off its sombrero, pulled on its party pantalones and got ready to rumba on Cinco de Mayo. The fiesta peaked when low-riders engaged Denver police in a Mexican hat dance along Federal Boulevard. After neighbors complained about the noise and traffic congestion, la policia joined the party with batons at the ready, apparently hoping to bust a few pinatas. In the end, the Sharks and the Jets decided not to let Officer Krupke play, but that didn't stop the media from turning the off-off-Broadway production into a national melodrama. The local TV stations called it a "near riot," NBC's Today show upgraded the scuffle to a "riot" and CNN trumpeted it as a full-fledged "race riot." You can't buy that kind of publicity!

The media also kept a close eye on the Million Man March scheduled for Mile High Stadium, but only reporters with 20/20 vision were able to find it. Originally scheduled at the 70,000-seat Mile High Stadium and then moved to the 11,000-seat Denver Coliseum, the march wound up being held in a former airport terminal on Syracuse Street after organizers sold just sixteen tickets. Organizers Alvertis Simmons and Jamal Muhammad (Jamal X to you) described it as "a learning process." Unfortunately, Simmons, who did double duty as a neighborhood watchman for Mayor Webb, didn't seem to learn much about the use of city funds. In May his cell phone was permanently confiscated after administration officials learned he had made more than $7,600 worth of personal calls since January 1995.

Jamal X also had plenty to say, though just how much wasn't clear until February, when he delivered a motivational speech at Montbello High School. Appearing before an audience of about 200 male students, the X-man noted matter-of-factly that white people "ate their dead" back when black people were building the Egyptian pyramids and were "basically gang-banging" back when Africans were doing geometry. The nutty professor didn't quite figure all the angles, though--after word of his impromptu history lesson got out, district officials balked at any further "Youth Wants to Know" lectures.

The Fourth of July came early this year, or at least it felt that way when the fireworks started over the May grocery strike by King Soopers and Safeway workers. Miffed over plans to shop out more of their duties, the green-around-the-gills grocers took to the streets, leaving replacement workers to man the checkout stands. The stores quickly disintegrated into chaos, and things sometimes weren't much more organized out in the parking lot. Two female picketers in north Denver were supermartyred when a 55-year-old motorist fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into a picket line; several days later in Fort Collins, another motorist clashed with a picketer over the throwing of a milkshake. By June 26 the stores and strikers cut a deal, ensuring flocks of holiday shoppers full access to Independence Day barbecue supplies.

Patriotic citizens may have felt a little let down, though, when actor Christopher Reeve came to town in November to speak with patients at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital. As moving as Reeve's appearance was, it conclusively debunked a report in the Boulder newspaper The Onion that he had been installed atop the Washington Monument as a national inspirational symbol.

 

MEDIA
Police called to referee a screaming match at the home of a Golden couple discovered that the two were fighting over the wife's decision to subscribe to the Rocky Mountain News instead of the Denver Post. The officers left after the husband agreed to let the wife continue reading the Rocky without fear of retribution. It was just one small skirmish in a newspaper war that raged across newsrooms and living rooms on the Front Range. Said the New York Times of the struggle, "Denver Ain't Big Enough for Both of 'Em."

Sometimes a better question for locals was whether the city could stomach both of 'em. The News made the boldest strategic move this year, dropping circulation in rural areas in order to concentrate on more densely populated urban centers. The retreat left 25,000 readers high and dry, and the farm vote turned ugly after the News rubbed it in with an ad campaign crowing that the Post had the circulation lead "where the cows live." "I want to speak on behalf of the cows," said Greg Walcher, president of the Western Slope booster organization Club 20. "There are 350,000 of us cows over here, and we can read. And we are reading the Denver Post."

Of course, the cows ignored the News at their own peril. They missed, for instance, the hard-hitting beisbol columns of Colorado Rockies slugger Andres Galarraga. In one particularly memorable piece titled "Marketing Line of Clothing Can Be Difficult," the Big Cat ruminated on the trials and tribulations of being a multi-millionaire athlete attempting to get rich in the clothing market. Noted El Gato Grande of his merchandise, "Several stores are carrying them, including Joslins, but sales have been most consistent at the Sportsfan locations."

That was the sort of scoop any publication would be hard-pressed to match, but the Post did its best to keep up. Determined to get to the bottom of Western Pacific Airlines' "Mystery Fare" promotion, the broadsheet sent three reporters off to destinations unknown and ran three stories, even though two of the journalists wound up going to the same place. On July 6 jaws dropped when the Post revealed that "Panty Hose Have No Role in Making Tomatoes Grow." And timeworn columnist Chuck Green rocked local politics with an exclusive: Wilma Webb was running for Congress! When she didn't, Green retreated to more familiar territory, continuing his crusade on behalf of Snowy and Keko, the two local dogs (make that "playful pets") poisoned by a neighbor (make that "monster").

Post columnist Kevin Simpson apparently had indigestion of his own when writing a column about claims that the CIA brought crack cocaine to the streets of L.A. Intoned Simpson, "When it comes to swallowing conspiracy theories, there is always a fringe element that opens wide and lets its darkest fears slide down to land like rocks in the pit of the stomach. The rest of us don't swallow them whole, certainly not without grinding them on the molars of reason. Occasionally, they ignite uncomfortable rumblings in the intellectual digestive process. And once every great while, they make us downright sick." Apparently, the column had the same effect on Simpson's editors, and Simpson was returned to reporter status shortly thereafter.

Post ace J. Sebastian Sinisi avoided a similar fate after turning in a story about taxi drivers that included a reference to Cab Calloway's classic song "Heidi Ho." An angry Heidi allegedly threatened a defamation suit but backed off when the paper ran a conciliatory photo of printing magnate Barry Hirschfeld clad in lederhosen at a society function. New editor Dennis Britton, imported from Chicago, explained the paper's new upbeat coverage, saying he was "Pollyanna-ing it up because I'm looking for a positive spin on things."

Guerrilla politico Clarke Watson was anything but positive when he went after Chuck Green and News columnist Vince Carroll for smearing his good name. After the scribes wrote columns questioning his credentials to serve on the Community Corrections Board--all because he was once busted for holding up the Denver Zoo--Watson fired back with both barrels. In a retort written for the Body of Christ News, published by the Black Ministerial Alliance, Watson called Carroll and Green "inadequate, fawning white men with miserable lives." Green, Watson wrote, was "little more than a common drunk," and Carroll was an "intellectual eunuch."

Some publications resorted to even more extreme measures to get attention. In Lakewood, a door-to-door magazine salesman heaved a rock through a woman's etched-glass window when she declined to buy. A Boulder woman reported similar treatment from a teenager hawking subscriptions to the Boulder Daily Camera. "I have one Daily Camera left, and you have been chosen to buy it," he told her. When she declined the invitation, he resorted to the hard sell, informing her that "I'll be back later with a gun and shoot you and your family." The pint-sized Dale Carnegie was charged with harassment.

 

At times it felt like we sure could use a little good news. And the First Unitarian Church was happy to oblige, issuing an August press release in which it cheerily announced it was about to "Dedicate an Enlarged Organ." An even more stimulating event was Channel 7's debut of its "Real Life. Real News" format. To anchor the experiment, news director Melissa Klinzing imported Toronto's Natalie Pujo, who hit town complete with a knowing smirk and a ready-made nickname: "Pitbull." Klinzing's concept: a swinging newsclub for young hipsters tired of digging the same old jazz at 10 p.m. The result: an experience that left viewers feeling dirty, as though the full-lipped Pujo had cornered them in their living rooms and engaged them in a zipless encounter.

Stalwart Channel 4 anchor Bill Stuart may have been trying to keep up with Pujo's sweaty style when he informed viewers that a local police agency was distributing "panty fax" to elderly women. He quickly corrected himself, noting that the cops were giving out free fanny packs, not lingerie, to old ladies. However, Channel 9 "parenting expert" Kerry Arquette wasn't so quick on the drawl. During an on-air discussion of thumb-sucking problems, Arquette inadvertently referred to "finger fucking," a slip of the tongue that might have gone over well on the Jerry Springer Show but left co-hosts Kim Christiansen and Ed Green speechless. "It was dreadful," Arquette wrote later in Colorado Parent magazine.

And the only thing worse this year was the coverage of the new Park Meadows Mall. Channel 4 ran nightly "Mall Watch" reports in the weeks leading up to the mall's August opening, while the Post and the News fell over each other trying to woo lucrative advertising accounts. The winner in the mall crawl was Post business ace Penny Parker, who traveled to Arkansas for an "exclusive" interview with old man Dillard, during which the codger "slyly" informed her that the opening of his Denver store had set sales records. Parker followed up with a probing piece about the new Nordstrom's subtly headlined "The Nordstrom Difference." In it, readers learned that the store's magnanimous offer of a 25-cent cup of coffee--with free refills--would help it seize market share from competitors.

RECREATION
It was the best of years and the worst of years for KOA radio announcer Jeff Campbell. The opinionated former Bronco got the thrill of a lifetime when the team invited him back as part of a search for a punt returner who could actually catch the ball. Alas, there was no joy in Flubville, as not-so-mighty Jeffie crapped out, bobbling two punts in his first exhibition game--including one on a fair catch--and being cut before he could take his jock off in the locker room.

Campbell went into a blue funk over the letdown, as did cartoon character Homer Simpson in a November episode of The Simpsons. After learning a new owner had moved the Broncos out of Denver and given them to him as a present, Homer could only complain. When wife Marge suggested not looking the gift horse in the mouth, a beleaguered Homer replied, "Marge, you just don't understand football!"

The only tears being shed by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen this year were those of the crocodile variety. The Canadian millionaire insisted he couldn't win in decrepit old Mile High Stadium, an argument he continued to make even after the team went 8-0 at home and posted a 13-3 record, tied for the best in the entire NFL. There were some strange goings-on at the stadium, to be sure. Bronco fan Leonard Harris sued the city over a 1994 incident in which another fan "fell or jumped" forty feet from an upper row and landed on him. A resident raccoon who'd been scarfing junk food came crashing through a ceiling tile on press row in August, evoking memories of seven baby raccoons trapped by stadium workers earlier in the year.

State lawmakers seemed equally willing to take Bowlen's bait, creating a stadium board to study the need for a new stadium and select a site. Bowlen pulled out all the stops to get what he wanted, even inviting Gabe Lane, the mildly retarded Greeley high school student and would-be football player, to join him on the sidelines for one game. It wasn't the first time Lane had been in the spotlight; when a federal judge threw out his family's lawsuit demanding that the twenty-year-old be allowed to play, the "brokenhearted" clan left the courthouse in a limo provided by the Today show.

 

After Bowlen cemented his deal with the legislature by penning a handwritten letter agreeing to use minorities in construction, team lobbyist Porter Wharton felt the urge to do a little affectionate butt-slapping in the halls of the Capitol. Wharton turned to state senator/ Bowlen lap dog Ed Perlmutter and gushed, "Would it be inappropriate if I hugged you?" A few hugs and squeezes later, lawmakers announced that they "weren't concerned" at all about reports that three companies owned by Bowlen went bankrupt in 1989, along with two banks he owned.

The only thing sadder than Bowlen's tale of woe was that of Ascent Entertainment, the owner of the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche. The corporate conglomerate continued to poor-mouth the City of Denver over the cost of the proposed Pepsi Center, even as it raised prices on its world-champion hockey team, prompting Mayor Wellington Webb to contemptuously swig from a can of Coca-Cola at a press conference. Alleged financial troubles also afflicted the Elitch Gardens amusement park, which was sold to an Oklahoma company only two years after its much-ballyhooed relocation to downtown from north Denver. Park boss Sandy Gurtler predicted great things for the park under the Okie ownership, including flashy new rides and possibly even some shade trees. But Gurtler said little about the $14 million subsidy taxpayers approved for the park in 1989 after being wooed with the advertising slogan "Vote for Elitch's--It's Denver!"

The state's ski industry, meanwhile, was morphing into a monolithic entity the size and temperament of the abominable snowman. Vail Resorts, Inc., announced a $300 million plan to absorb rivals Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, prompting the U.S. Justice Department to send investigators into the mountains to size up the beast. Vail hired legendary Denver fixers Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland to help it close the deal--and skiers who'd already seen Vail raise its lift ticket to $50 figured they stood to take it in the shorts. They responded the only way they knew how: by decorating the resort's "underwear tree" with an especially colorful display of intimate apparel. Not to be outdone, Beaver Creek unveiled its own brief encounter, a display of designer undies not seen in the hills since MTV rolled into Steamboat Springs for a mountain bacchanal.

It was rough going this year for members of the U.S. cycling team, who toted the Olympic torch across the scorching plains of eastern Colorado on its long journey to Atlanta. Too bad the cyclists didn't have time to drop by CU's Boulder campus to give safety tips to the Buffs' football players. Three of the gridiron stars made headlines off the field when a campus police officer saw them riding their bikes without lights at night. When Officer Friendly told them to dismount and walk the bikes home, Coach Neuheisel's glee club refused, prompting the officer to call for backup and sending the campus into a tizzy.

Denver police played a little two-hand touch of their own with former Bronco cornerback Mike Harden after hearing him doing color commentary on a radio broadcast of the Carolina Panthers exhibition game. It seems the cops had been looking for Harden, who was wanted on a warrant for disturbing the peace. But don't be too hard on Harden. This year, not even Santa Claus was able to keep his nose clean. Down in the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, an inmate dressed as Kris Kringle for a holiday party was grabbed by guards after another con passed him a gift-wrapped bundle of cocaine and marijuana. It was left to a Department of Corrections investigator to deliver the sorry news to the revelers: "I've already opened my presents, but unfortunately for you, Santa Claus is going to jail tonight.


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