Going My Way
William Newton Byers gave Denver a newspaper and a street, and one of them is in no danger of disappearing. The same year he founded the Rocky Mountain News, in 1859, Byers bought 680 acres of land on the banks of the South Platte River. He named the northern border of that parcel Alameda — Spanish for "tree-lined avenue." There aren't many trees left on that part of Alameda today, but as the street stretches out to Lakewood's western edge and the eastern outskirts of Aurora, you'll find lush parkways and mature landscapes.
In between, a forest of ethnic, cultural and religious hubs call Alameda home, from the Buddhist Cultural Center, the Jewish Community Center and the neighboring Greek Orthodox church to St. Cajetan Cathedral and the Salvation Army's Denver Citadel. You'll also find restaurants and small businesses — alongside the chains — of every variety.
Alameda doesn't cut through the three cities as much as it flows — thinning out here and opening up again there. And while its history may not go as far back in Lakewood and Aurora, Alameda does offer a glimpse of the future. Both suburbs have used the avenue to help with large-scale renewal projects. To the west is Belmar; the former home of Villa Italia is now a massive upscale retail/residential development. To the east, the renovated Town Center at Aurora has livened up the once-downtrodden Aurora Mall. Other major landmarks on the way include the Denver Federal Center, a massive government office complex, and the former Lowry Air Force Base, now home to thousands of new homes and a shopping center.
Byers may have been looking only at the trees when he named Alameda 149 years ago, but the avenue has truly sprouted in ways he could never have foreseen.
Buckley Air Force Base
18500 East Alameda Parkway, Aurora
At the farthest edge of Alameda Parkway, just before the street turns south and becomes Tower Road, the early-morning sun glints off six giant white balls — the most striking, and mysterious, landmarks in this part of town.
Make that the most striking, and mysterious, landmarks in any part of town. At the other end of Alameda, dinosaurs left their mark. But these marvels are man-made. They sprang up seemingly overnight in the early '70s, when Buckley Air National Guard Base took on the mission of monitoring the globe and issuing early warnings of any ballistic missile launches. Not that the folks at Buckley were that forthcoming when the giant balls appeared on the horizon three decades ago. Their silence gave rise to all kinds of rumors — that the balls contained missiles themselves or housed aliens; conspiracy websites refer to Buckley as "the largest consolidated electronic intelligence base in the Western Hemisphere." John Spann, a public-affairs officer at Buckley, has a more succinct explanation for the mysterious spheres. "We call them the golf balls," he says. "It's the driving range of the Jolly Green Giant."
Spann has done a lot of driving himself during the 25 years he's worked at Buckley, heading east on Alameda daily from his home in Lakewood. But even as a kid, he was familiar with the street; his family moved to the farthest western subdivision when I-25 gobbled up their home in northwest Denver, and he can remember watching the traffic when the Beatles played Red Rocks in '64 and crowds followed their limo along Alameda.
Alameda has gotten considerably more crowded in the intervening years — and so has Buckley. The facility got its start in 1941, when the City of Denver purchased more than 5,000 acres that it gave to the Department of the Army for a flight training facility that would be an adjunct to Lowry. During World War II, more than 50,000 airmen got their basic training here. After the war, ownership was transferred to the National Guard, which used Buckley primarily as a fighter base. But then the Air Force built those huge balls, giant plastic spheres that house enormous radar dishes on moveable platforms. "They haven't changed since the '70s," Spann says of the devices, technically known as "radomes."
But Buckley has. "We are the fastest-growing Air Force base in the United States right now," Spann notes. The Air Force took Buckley back in 2000 — just in time for all the national security concerns coming out of 9/11 — and it's been building ever since, with three big projects a year, including a leadership center and the first chapel constructed by the Air Force in twenty years. Today, more than 13,000 people work at Buckley, and the facility pours over a billion dollars a year into Aurora's economy. Which Aurora can definitely use, judging from the number of For Sale signs on houses and businesses along the stretch of Alameda leading up to the base.
"For me, the most interesting thing has been the changes over the years," Spann says. "The people are absolutely amazing. Every service is represented, and the younger folks just surprise me every day. We are in good hands with the next generation."
Buckley has even built more balls, although what's inside them isn't public record — giving rise to more rumors of devices that can listen into radio signals and cell phone conversations. "We have a constellation of satellites," Spann says. "We are tied in to the Missile Defense Agency. That's really all I can give you."
But Buckley's already given Alameda its balls, and isn't that enough? — Patricia Calhoun
Assumption Greek Orthodox Cathedral
4610 East Alameda Avenue
The magnificent gold dome of the Assumption Greek Orthodox Cathedral rises like a vision from the prominent hill east of Colorado Boulevard. Glowing in the morning sun, the dome, which encompasses nearly the entire church, transports a hint of the mystical, a whiff of the Old World, to this stretch of bank buildings and fast-casual restaurants on the border between Denver and Glendale.
"Some people call it St. Peter's Basilica of the West," says Eva Andretson, the cathedral's executive secretary ("which means chief dishwasher and bottle cleaner") as she arrives to open the doors at 7 a.m. She kisses an icon near the door inside, gestures the stations of the cross across her chest, then crosses the pink marble floors leading into the center of the cathedral.
On the dome above her soars a kaleidoscope of startling color, a chorus of images that seem to sing out in the stillness. Bible characters and apostles and saints stretch across the deep-blue ceiling, their somber medieval visages enshrouded in golden halos, vibrant-hued robes and lustrous angel wings. It's no surprise that it took five years to paint these icons on individual canvases back in Greece and another year to assemble them here in the 1980s, using "a special type of Elmer's glue," notes Andretson.
Her favorite part is the "Plateitera," the immense painting of Mary above the mosaic-dappled altar. "She's a mother, I'm a mother," says Andretson. "I pray to her quite often. She understands mothers." She won't get too close, though. In the Greek Orthodox Church, the altar is off limits to women, except under special circumstances or with a special prayer — and that restriction is fine with Andretson. "The altar, for me, is just for the priests. I just don't have a feeling I should be in there."
So it's left to Claire Zinis to light the candles behind the altar for the 8 a.m. service; as a widow, she's allowed access. "This is one of the most beautiful churches in the area," Zinis says proudly, her voice tinged with vestiges of her native Corinth. Just yesterday, a different church denomination stopped by to behold its splendor. Zinis holds a loaf of bread she baked for the Holy Communion, its still-warm crust stamped with Greek letters spelling out "Jesus Christ," just like the loaves her Greek Orthodox forebears have baked for the past 2,000 years.
Father Christodoulos Papadeas arrives, his black monastic robes a stark contrast to the riot of color around him. "I was born here," he says, explaining that he's been part of the Denver Greek Orthodox Church for every one of his fifty years.
He remembers the building of this cathedral in the 1970s, when Denver's growing Greek population, which had been drawn to Colorado's mines beginning a century earlier, outgrew Saint Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Greenwood Village. "It was a bit of a miracle" how they came to this spot, he begins. But before he can continue his story, Father Vasileios Flegas arrives and tells Papadeas it's time to start the morning service.
That's okay. Some tales are best left unsaid. You can't have mysticism without a little mystery. — Joel Warner
William Frederick Hayden Park
Green Mountain, Lakewood
It's quiet at William Frederick Hayden Park, where the western edge of Alameda Parkway, as it's known here, gives way to the foothills near Red Rocks State Park — but not quiet enough to convince visitors that they're really in the middle of nowhere.
Because the park is also bordered by C-470 and Foothills Drive and in close proximity to I-70, the whir and swish of passing cars is ever-present. Fortunately, though, it's distant enough to be more of a mellow background soundtrack than an in-your-face symphony. As people get ready for the nine-to-five grind elsewhere, a woman walks her dog at a leisurely pace, in no rush to finish and head into her day. A man jogs the myriad trails, his breath panting and sharp, his feet pounding the dirt trails that run alongside Alameda, emitting small puffs of dust each time his toes push off the ground for another step.
The park is large, with more than 2,400 acres to explore; the walking woman and her dog and the jogging man are soon lost from sight. A smattering of wildflowers still dots the grass here and there, vestiges of a long-gone spring, but the sun is quickly rising in the sky, baking sweet scents from the native grasses. Sadly, the commuters can't enjoy the quiet pace of nature just a few yards from the freeway. — Amber Taufen
Alameda East Veterinary Hospital
9770 East Alameda Avenue
Question: How do you neuter a pair of chinchillas?
Answer: Very carefully.
If this sounds like a joke, then you don't know Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, former roadie for the Rolling Stones, former diver at Casa Bonita and leader of Alameda East, the vast veterinarian clinic and hospital on East Alameda. On the other hand, it could be a joke, because in addition to his day job and his TV gigs, Fitz, as most people call him, is also a standup comedian. "Is there anything he hasn't done?" one staffer asks another. If Fitz were a pastor, he'd run a mega-church; if he liked trains, he'd oversee Grand Central Station. But Fitz likes animals, and he's run this operation since 1971. Of course, it didn't always have 36 doctors (including an oncologist and a radiologist), underwater treadmills, an MRI machine, an ICU, a digital X-ray system or a chemotherapy treatment center.
"I've been lucky. I've been here 25 years," Fitz says. "There's been a change in the American public and how they perceive pets. They're willing to do anything." In 1957, he says, a study found that 54 percent of the nation considered their pets to be part of the family. Today, that statistic is 97 percent.
Fitz himself only has one pet, Yoda, a six-year-old charcoal-colored Chihuahua mix who recently had knee surgery and is undergoing physical therapy now in one of the underwater treadmills. "He's no trouble; we're both bachelors," Fitz says. In fact, Yoda is the only dog allowed into the cigar shop on Sixth Avenue where the doctor hangs out.
But back to the chinchillas. "They're cute little guys, aren't they?" Fitz asks. "But you have no balls, do you? No balls," he adds, turning his attention to the fuzzy little varmints. Aside from the chinchillas, Fitz has already seen a dog with a high fever this morning, a ferret who was mauled by a dog and is getting a blood transfusion, a dehydrated leopard gecko who belongs to a local school, a carpet eater who was vomiting and a constipated canine whose owner nervously paced the waiting room.
As vet to the stars, Alameda East has also seen its share of unusual creatures, including a monkey with a broken arm from the Denver Zoo, a bear cub, a hyena, a penguin from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and an alligator confiscated by police during a drug raid. Oh, and a tortoise named Nick.
"Yep," concludes the doctor. "We see whatever the streets of Denver spit up at us." — Jonathan Shikes
Solterra, 2008 Parade of Homes
West Alameda Parkway and South Indiana Street, Lakewood
The freshly laid squares of sod at the entrance to Solterra are already starting to look parched in spots. It's as if the land isn't quite ready to take on this odd graft of a master-planned community, with its sprinklers and puny trees, instant roads and checkerboard turf, planted brusquely on the bare, dun-colored hills.
But ready or not, here they come, pardner.
The upscale $550 million Solterra project is expected to sprout 1,440 homes on land that was once part of the Rooney Ranch, a scenic valley below the Dakota Hogback that was homesteaded decades before Colorado achieved statehood and remained in the hands of the same family for six generations. Only the ranch house remains now. The rest of the 4,500-acre spread has been broken up amid open space, the construction of C-470, and planned Lakewood and Jefferson County developments, centering around the new Alameda-470 interchange, just a lawn-tractor ride away from Solterra.
The valley is the last great unprotected chunk of land between the metroplex and the foothills, but much of it is scheduled to go under the bulldozer. In addition to Solterra, county officials have announced plans for a "Tech Center West" at the interchange — thousands of new jobs and homes, millions of feet of office space, that kind of thing.
The advance guard of all this hustle and muscle is the 2008 Parade of Homes, which will open at Solterra on July 26. The eight show homes are opulent expressions of the "European hilltown" style of architecture that's supposed to be the prevalent theme of the community: a mishmash of Tuscan villa, French Provençal and Andalusian delusion. They range in price from $1.95 million to $2.5 million — which, though a bit steep for your average cowboy, is actually a bit more "affordable" than some previous Parade monstrosities. In fact, they are a vast improvement over the maritime-themed offerings at last year's Parade in Aurora. Solterra's showcase mansions are both cavernous and airy, with eye-bugging views of the Front Range, the obligatory stadium-sized master suites, arena-sized closets and granite-islanded kitchens, and enough bathrooms, wine cellars, billiard rooms and home theaters to keep the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir in thrall (assuming the choristers shoot pool and sneak a drink now and then).
There's even a concerted effort to make these humble hilltown havens "green" — at least, as green as an 8,800-square-foot, luxury custom home loaded with imported materials, a four-car garage and a carbon footprint the size of Sasquatch can be. The Casa Vecchio E Nuovo, the top award-winner among the show homes, sports kitchen cabinets made of Brazilian lyptus, a tree that can be harvested every fourteen years; reclaimed timbers for ceiling beams; a high-efficiency furnace and high-rated insulation; dual-flush toilets, and so on. Other homes have similar features, and the Bella Vista next door even boasts cabinets made from beetle-killed lodgepole pine.
The homes also have plenty of mirrors and windows, to fully capture the views of the foothills, the surrounding open space and the proud homeowners. Just how wonderful all this feels probably depends on which side of the glass you're on. For the fortunate few, the Parade and Solterra represent a little slice of Ye Olde Europa situated in a lovely, unexploited corner of the city, just moments from the beltway. Que bella!
For the folks in the teeming suburbs beyond, it's another subdivision blocking the view. — Alan Prendergast
2200 West Alameda Avenue
This is Tom Tancredo's worst nightmare. This is the kind of shit that keeps Lou Dobbs awake at night, chilling his blood with visions of an America where people speak more than one language, know how to use chopsticks and are just as happy with a burrito as a burger for lunch.
This is Alameda Square, Denver's collision point, one of the greatest crossroads in the city, where the competing, abrasive, occasionally complementary layers of immigration, resettlement and suburban flight have piled up over decades to create a new vision of the New World — it's a place that's as borderless as an unassembled puzzle, as strange as science fiction.
I came for breakfast — the first, 11 a.m. rush at Super Star Asian: dim sum in the place that, for this moment, defines it in Denver. Two minutes past opening time and I am already eight or nine tables back in the lineup, being seated with a friendly wave, a suggestion that I just choose my own table, and quickly. There is no decor here, no attempt at pretending that this utilitarian space is anything but four walls and a ceiling with a kitchen in the back and some live, swimming fish unsuspectingly awaiting their own execution. But the steady stream of customers is colorful enough and, in their quick, confident passage between tables, around the paths of the dim sum carts making their halting transits, they embody the lapping waves of ethnic encroachment.
The restaurant is Chinese, serves heavily traditional Chinese fare (shu mai and scallion dumplings and chicken feet and taro balls covered in a crisp rind of sesame seeds) to tables full of Hispanic women in business attire, elderly Vietnamese men who chew silent as cows, mobs of young Chinese and Vietnamese teens and twenty-somethings sporting asymmetric hairstyles as if they're always walking into a stiff wind, and families out of a Benetton ad: splashes of white, yellow and cocoa brown, children squalling, shoving chopsticks up their noses, eating char siu bao by the fistful, with skin the color of a perfectly pulled cappuccino.
I want to bring Doug Bruce here for lunch. I want to see him stand a shift waiting these tables.
Alameda Square is a success in that it has always been something of a failure — dismal enough and run-down enough and just poor enough that it has mostly passed under the radar of those looking to fight over place, boundaries and who belongs where. Wal-Mart tried to move in a few years ago and was fought off through a series of court and zoning battles. And if you walk the cracked sidewalk that runs the arc of the storefronts, you'll see the history of the place spelled out in gang tags, in CLOSED signs and OPEN signs and billboards in three or four or five languages, sometimes one hung over another over another.
I eat my breakfast quickly, rushing through a bowl of congee rice porridge, dumplings and green tea. When I wave off the woman wheeling the pork bun cart, she looks almost insulted, almost angry that I didn't at least try to eat more. And at the front counter, moving to pay, I ask whether or not the kitchen serves congee every day. "Yes," says the woman running the register. "Every day." Then, pausing, "You like congee?" And I nod. "Absolutely. Wonderful breakfast." She looks surprised.
Generations of retail have come and gone through Alameda Square, until the layered billboards and competing ethnicities almost form an imaginary planet where the people all eat pho for breakfast and menudo for lunch and everyone has pig for dinner; where Mexico and Ho Chi Minh cities exist, not just next door, but right up on top of each other; where one's phrasebook must contain things like "Please, I need a doctor" and "How much for the eels?' translated into Vietnamese, Thai and Spanish. English is unnecessary. There are holistic fitness centers here, a Mexican/Vietnamese beauty and massage therapy college, places selling insurance, places selling dumplings, King's Land across the parking lot (near the Korean dollar store and the payday loan joint), a Rico Pollo around the corner, Juanita's Mexican Deli, cell phone stores and general stores that sell calling cards, herbal supplements, Asian travel services — and, of course, hablamos español. The owners of the Mr. Aqua fish store went on vacation at the beginning of May and haven't yet returned. But the New China King Buffet is booming.
At Viet Hoa Supermarket, you can take your pick of a hundred different kinds of instant soup, ten different kinds of coffee, three brands of shrimp paste. There are duck eggs, salt-cured and canned, Chinese thousand-year eggs looking terrifyingly black, and fat Asian pears, each individually wrapped with great care as if they were all tiny, powerful bombs. A hundred yards away, Pacific Ocean International Market offers all the same stuff and then some — its aisles crowded, pushed together claustrophobia-close. I pick up a bag of watermelon candies with a '40s-style pixelated cartoon woman on the front saying, by way of a word bubble, "It's so wonderful candy flavor." Passing through the lanes dedicated to Filipino and Indonesian foods, drifting on into the meat section, I can see the glazed ducks hanging in their case, the whole roasted pig, the sign tucked in among the coolers full of fresh fish (eyes still bright and clear) that reads: "For Patient Privacy Please Wait."
I love it here at Alameda Square. I have since the moment I found it, thrilling at the static charge of cultures forced to rub up against one another, at the way two and three and four of them, when forced, can become their own whole separate community.
But soon enough, it'll all be gone. After twenty years of fighting, twenty years of struggling, common sense and individuality have finally lost out. What Wal-Mart couldn't do, Brighton Corporation (out of Boise, Idaho) has done, acquiring the entire twenty-acre site in June with plans to raze it to the ground and build a brand-new $25 million shopping center with a Lowe's Home Improvement store as the anchor.
So if you're looking for durian, for congee porridge, a phone card or beauty supplies, for a glimpse into an imaginary America with truly open borders and freedom of movement for everyone, I'd suggest you go quickly. There's no place in this city quite like Alameda Square. And once it's gone, there probably never will be again. — Jason Sheehan
4301 East Virginia Avenue, Glendale
I should hate this place, this monolithic beige testament to all that is bloated and oversized and decadent about the United States of Obesity. The parking lot alone is larger than most parks, vast swaths of sizzling concrete, a gray, endless coffin top for the millions of dead prairie dogs below. At any given time, there are as many SUVs in the parking lot as there are on a mile-long stretch of highway, their pilots busily ducking into SuperTarget for some wares, then to Sports Authority for shin guards before sneaking into Fascinations for a mid-afternoon French Tickler.
SuperTarget sits at the middle of all this, a mammoth keystone in a one-stop capitalist black hole. And yet, remarkably, SuperTarget is one of my favorite places in the city. You can find anything you want here — except maybe disappointment. And even if you were able to somehow find disappointment, it would probably be on sale.
Is it the barrage of beautiful women who are inexplicably always at SuperTarget that so attracts me to this place? They help. Hotties browse the makeup aisles while sexy, irate mothers warn their incorrigible sons that they've told them three times already to cut that out. And, of course, one of the little bastards doesn't cut it out, and the mother jerks him by the arm like she's trying to snap a dislocated shoulder back into place. The kid starts wailing, and I sympathize, because that kid loves being in SuperTarget as much as everyone else. But I don't stay sad too long, because his mother be fine. And here at SuperTarget, you don't have to be a good mother to be a hot one.
Is it the fact that somehow SuperTarget has skirted this state's archaic blue laws and we can buy booze here — actual booze, not the watered-down swill they sell in other supermarkets, strange, produce-smelling places that really ought to be barred from using the prefix "super," they so pale in comparison? That helps, too.
But, really, it's more that SuperTarget is abuzz with activity any time of day.
"It's packed in here," I state the obvious to the employee who leads me to the section containing rug grips that you place beneath carpets to keep them in place so that when your ADHD puppy rips across the kitchen, she doesn't slide the rug out and slam her rock-hard head into the wall. The woman is elderly, kind, with white pants and a red Target vest, and she knows exactly where rug grips are kept.
"This is nothing," she says. "You ought to see it on the weekends." She tells me the place clears a quarter million dollars on weekdays, about $400,000 on weekends.
"Of course, all of that stays at the top," she says with a whisper and a wink. We laugh, oh, how we laugh, and then she bids me adieu to continue my fanciful SuperTarget feast. And what a feast it is — for the eyes, for the senses, for the savings, for the soul! Strolling through the bath section, I notice shower curtains featuring both Hannah Montana and Camp Rock, a Disney film starring those mop-topped little heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers. I briefly ponder which preteen sensation I would rather be naked and soaped-up in front of and decide it's the Jo Bros, because I think I could traumatize them into never singing again. And I'd do it all by leering. A hippie pushing an oxygen tank in his cart comes to the same decision, picking up the Camp Rock shower curtain and offering me a 'sup-bro nod.
I move on, past the Super Soakers, which are soooo much cooler than when I was a kid, and slowly I realize that at SuperTarget, if you pay attention, you can see the stages of life play out before you, in a beautiful, interconnected milieu: Over here is a high-school girl shopping with her mom for sheets to head off to college; in the next row is the next evolution of that girl's life, the clad-yourself-all-in-black-Spandex-eating-disorder phase, replete with flamingly gay male arm-toy to tell her her ass doesn't look fat and with whom she will cruelly judge others; down a little farther is the pregnant version of the girl, outfitting her cart in pink and massaging the small of her back; and finally, at the checkout, is the last stage, the struggling-with-the-newfangled-credit-card-machine-so-that-the-guy-working-aisle-13-has-to-come-across-and-do-it-for-you phase. After that, the girl/woman/mother/old woman will return to the earth whence she came, perhaps to be reincarnated as one of SuperTarget's ever-well-functioning carts.
It's the SuperTarget circle of life, and it moves us all.
I hadn't intended to spend any money here. Instead, I leave having dropped $188. I am content in this realization, because I know that anywhere else I would have spent $195-$198, easy. And though I really didn't need a six-pack of toothpaste or a cool, framed piece of brown wood that can hold up to eight photos of me and my friends, I can't say I'm unhappy that I now own them. Ditto The Darjeeling Limited on DVD.
I love this place. — Adam Cayton-Holland
4500 East Alameda Avenue, Glendale
Gunther Toody's sits atop a hill, a beacon of air-conditioned respite where Alameda and Leetsdale split. At night, this retro-themed diner is a neon-encased monument channeling the good times and great oldies of yesteryear. At lunchtime, it's a veritable enclave of retirees and beleaguered soccer moms toting around their toddlers.
Making our way into a wobbly, teal-green booth festooned with metallic coat hangers jutting out from the end caps, we sit beneath a framed print of venerated wiseacres Moe, Curly and Larry, who themselves are flanked by a pair of after-market, novelty-store tchotchkes, tin plaques the size of license plates bearing the Tootsie Pop and Hershey's logos. Just beneath them sits a miniature, antique Seebury Wall-o-Matic jukebox, just twenty-five cents a play. I drop a quarter in to see if it works. It doesn't. Just for show, this one.
We settle for the endless stream of forgotten yet classic songs such as "Cool Jerk" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" that waft in through the speakers. A waitress saunters over to our table and takes our drink orders. Over her shoulder, I notice a pair of headlights belonging to a vintage Corvair, just a few shades brighter than the booth we're in, staring us down. The car is mounted above a mammoth square-shaped bar, which itself is encircled with chrome bar stools with bright-red metalflake toppers.
At the edge of the bar, two men clad in denim shorts and T-shirts sit huddled over laptops. One of them must have stock in the joint, as he just showed himself behind the bar. Just a few stools down is a cluster of curtain climbers, one of whom is in obvious need of a fresh diaper.
Just then, the waitress returns with our drinks. Coke. Sprite. Diet Coke. Root beer shake with frozen yogurt subbing for the ice cream. After a few minutes of deliberation, we settle on a burger, no onions or tomatoes, and two plates of fries, one doused in chili and the other Elvis style, with gravy and cheese. Before the drinks are emptied, the food arrives. Flipping open the bun, I notice that there's bacon where there shouldn't be, along with tomatoes. Somewhat alarmed by the presence of the tomatoes, given the recent salmonella scare — and, well, because I'm kind of paranoid like that — I alert the waitress to the mistake. She asks me if I'd like for her to "let them know?"
Uh, yeah. Pshaw.
After a few minutes, she returns to retrieve my plate, explaining that she grabbed the wrong burger. More time passes, and still no burger. When she comes back around, I ask, somewhat tersely, "So, are you bringing me another burger, then, or what?" She tells me, "They're cooking it." Fair enough. By the time the plate arrives, I'm no longer hungry, and my family has already finished eating.
It's cool, though. In fact, it's part of the charm. If I wanted impeccable service, I'd go to one of those fancy-pants places with names you can't pronounce and food I wouldn't eat on a dare, the kind where you're still hungry after you eat. The waitstaff at this joint is clearly trying to evoke a bygone era, when carhops were gum-popping smart alecks. They're purposefully over-the-top, donning bowling shirts and enough flair to give Spencer's inadequacy issues. And they're supposed to be a little surly.
Once, we even had a waiter plop down in the booth next to us as we decided what to order. And you know what? That approach works for me. Coupled with the neon glow of the red and green fluorescents on the deco-style furnishings and reflecting off the glass bricks, it's easy to feel like the past fifty years never happened.
Sure, it's campy. It's supposed to be. — Dave Herrera
Surplus Tools & Commodities
1411 West Alameda Avenue
The stretch of Alameda west of the railroad tracks and east of Federal is a hardened industrial zone, a string of small repair shops, carnicerías and used-car lots, too gritty for the yuppification happening elsewhere on the avenue. This is the last stand of family businesses and old-school entrepreneurs, and the hardiest of them all is Surplus Tools.
Surplus has been operating on Alameda since the 1940s. Its founder, William Cox, started by selling war-surplus materials out of his car. Although Cox originally had a partner, the business has now been in his family for three generations and has grown into a one-stop shop for all kinds of used and remaindered hardware, doodads and tools, tools, tools. If you're on the hunt for auto hose clamps, cotter pin pullers, decommissioned grenades, obscure plumbing fittings, a horsehair brush, ball bearings of various calibers, ax handles, files, an Osama bin Laden target for shooting practice, tarps, wire, cable, wheels, casters — even, perhaps, the elusive rubber baby buggy bumpers — this is the place to go.
But don't try to pull anything funny. Back in the flood of '65, Surplus had a surplus of water and looters, and management has learned its lesson. "Shoplifters will be merrily beaten to a bloody pulp," announces one of the many signs over the crowded aisles of glorious stuff.
Rob Haider, a thirty-year employee, says Surplus does a raging business during the National Western Stock Show, when ranchers come searching for tools nobody else carries anymore. The store does a brisk trade in certain metals, now that prices have gone through the troposphere, and has become a not-so-secret source for sculptors and mixed-media, found-object visionaries up and down the Platte.
"We get a lot of artists looking for strange things," Haider says. "We get people from Oklahoma, Nebraska — all over, really."
The place even gets people from the Home Depot a few blocks away. The big-box stores may be shuttering mom-and-pop hardware joints elsewhere, but the staff at this big box know where to send folks who are looking for a hard-to-find fitting, accessory or tool. That's a source of consolation to Melody Cox, wife of the late founder's grandson. A couple of years ago, Cox tried to throw a party to celebrate the store's sixtieth anniversary but couldn't get the local media to cover it.
"I tried to get the newspapers and TV to come out, but they wouldn't come," she says. "Yet they go to Home Depot."
Yeah, but try to find a grenade at Home Depot. — Alan Prendergast
430 South Quebec Street
If you want to see a who's who of Coloradans, stop by Fairmount Cemetery.
Everyone is here, celebrating an eternal coming-out party. Governors Henry Buchtel and Ralph Carr. Mayors Quigg Newton and Robert Speer. Tycoons David Moffatt and Horace Tabor and leading ladies like Elitch Gardens founder Mary Elitch Long and famed madam Mattie Silks. There are even a few villains, such as Sand Creek Massacre instigator General John Chivington and Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon John Locke. And many are trying to show one another up with gravestones, monuments and mausoleums of ever more pretentious opulence.
"You can definitely tell people's egos," says Barri Boren, former executive director of the Fairmount Heritage Foundation, the cemetery's historic preservation organization, as she strolls down the cemetery's "Millionaire's Row."
Yes, agrees her companion and successor Patricia Carmody, one week into the job, though she adds, "Death is such an equator. Everyone went out the same way." The rich and famous might have gotten dolled up for the big party at Fairmount, the city's premier resting place since it opened in 1890, but this was one club that everyone was invited to, as evidenced by the grave markers: some big, some small, adorned with everything from Native American symbols to Chinese lettering.
With a nice breeze blowing through the cemetery's lush 270 acres and 4,800 trees, the mood here is far from funereal. It's always like that at Fairmount, which has long doubled as one of the region's nicest parks. When it first opened, Denverites would make a day trip of the five and a half miles to the cemetery to picnic and frolic in the oasis of green in the otherwise empty prairie.
They also came to enjoy the sculpture. "It's like an art museum," says Carmody, pointing out the statuary of good Samaritans and angels, and admiring obelisks and classically proportioned Greek temples. They're on the lookout for tree-trunk tombstones, a sign the deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal group, as well as stone lambs, moving symbols of infant burials.
Boren's worked at Fairmount for years: "As I got in there and learned all the history, it just kind of grabs you." Carmody, a nonprofit expert, has never worked in a cemetery, but she's excited — the 170,000 underground residents notwithstanding. "I don't need to hang around the bodies, but I'm not apprehensive about it at all."
They're planning to spread the word with a Colorado Day jazz concert on August 1 at 8 p.m. in celebration of the State of Colorado's 132nd anniversary. It will be just like old times: music and picnickers among the gravestones.
The two women are quick to add that Fairmount's a fun place to visit any time of the year, for biking, bird-watching or (deceased) people-watching. Not only that, points out Boren, but the cemetery's meandering lanes are perfect for teaching teenagers how to drive.
With everybody already six feet under, she points out, "You can't kill anybody." — Joel Warner
Town Center at Aurora
14200 East Alameda Avenue, Aurora
There's a fine difference between lounging and loitering. And at this mall, the mere whiff of loitering — particularly if it's coming from a young black male with a penchant for hip-hop wear — brings with it an increase in the high-pitched whirring sound of patrolling mall cops on Segways.
Cousins Dawan, Devon, Jaciani and Jake, on the other hand, have mastered the subtle art of the lounge. In the end, it all comes down to style. Maybe it's the particular pitch of their lean, hanging out around a bench on the second level, or the playful banter they maintain with each other and female passersby.
Dawan, who, at 21, is the oldest and shortest of the group, points to a couple of Lil' Wayne wannabes by the escalators and explains that the pair are loitering, because they look like they have nothing to do. "That's what you'd do when you were a kid," he says. "Now that I'm older, I'm able to go places that I want to go, but I come over here and buy stuff."
"We buy white T-shirts and black shoes. Over and over," Devon laughs. "Shoes, shirts. That's it."
But in between purchases, a man needs to relax, sometimes with friends, sometimes for hours at a time. Hence the lounge. The mall has changed a lot since Dawan first started coming here in his early teens, back when it was known as the Aurora Mall and many of the storefronts stood empty. A 2004 shooting near Champs Sports that killed nineteen-year-old Krystal Martinez was thought to be the death knell for the indoor mall, which had been losing business to the Cherry Creek and Park Meadows shopping centers. But a $100 million renovation spruced the place up with high ceilings, lots of tile and lick-and-stick flagstone built into the walls.
"It looks more professional," Dawan says.
"It doesn't look so beat," Devon, age seventeen, agrees.
"My mom, she didn't even used to come in here, that's how bad it was," Dawan says. "Now she comes in here all the time. My grandmother comes in here."
The fact that this mall is the most heavily secured in the state, with at least five private security guards and several Aurora police officers patrolling the interior at all times, does seem to bother them a little.
"You can feel them looking at you," Jaciani points out. "You can see their eyes just follow you around."
"That's why they got a police station in here," Devon says. "It's not a little security guard stand; it's an actual police station. After that happened, after that girl got shot, they put it in."
There's also the policy that prohibits anyone under sixteen from being in the mall without an adult on weekends. "To tell you the truth, the people, you've got to think about the people that live in this area," Dawan adds. "Because that's where their business is coming from — who's going to come in here. The way it was before, no one would come in here. I'm not saying that you got to get out of here, you sixteen, you got to get out is a bad thing or a good thing. But at the same time, it's sort of good because then they don't have to worry about it. To tell you the truth, when I was that age, we was bad. BAD."
"I'll tell you what the problem is, right there," Dawan says, pointing to a man, a white guy in handcuffs, being escorted out the door by police. They all laugh. "AAWWWWW!!!" yells Jaciani. "Damn, there he goes!" — Jared Jacang Maher
10955 East Exposition Avenue, Aurora
The border between Denver and Aurora is a mass of jigs and jogs that, taken together, essentially runs along a roughly north/south axis. On Alameda, the dividing line is Galena Street, and a few blocks east is the 57-acre Expo Park. Its location, just inside the city limits in what city planners call the "Alameda corridor," makes Expo Park the perfect spot for a gateway monument welcoming people to the city.
It's an idea that's just taking shape, as a huge sculptural composition is erected south of Alameda at the north end of the park.
The piece, a cycle of interrelated sculptures, is titled "Aurora Akimbo," and it was created specifically for this particular spot by well-known Denver artist David Griggs. Over the past twenty years, Griggs, who earned his MFA at the University of Colorado, has made many sculptures and installations that are on permanent view — at DIA, on the viaduct near Coors Field and in other locales throughout Denver and across the country.
"Aurora Akimbo" is a massive conceptual piece made of molded and painted fiberglass. It's 22 feet tall and sixty feet long, and it takes the form of a giant tumbling letter A depicted in three separate monumental vignettes. The A's are surrounded by hoops further suggesting that the A is rolling away down the lawn, despite the fact that all the elements are permanently affixed to the ground. For Griggs, the A doesn't simply stand for "Aurora," but for a set of free-association words that start with A, including "Achievement," "Aspiration" and, though the artist doesn't say so, "Alameda."
Griggs is just the latest prominent regional artist to be awarded a commission in Aurora. The municipal government here sees public art as a vehicle for some badly needed city beautification, as well as a way to inspire some sorely lacking civic pride. And though she definitely has her work cut out for her, public art manager Deana Miller has done her part by recruiting the best local talent for the job. — Michael Paglia
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison
The rain is still falling slowly on the staff greeting entrants to Red Rocks Park; Steely Dan is playing tonight, so every car pulling into the park is questioned by a person in a poncho. Do you have tickets to the show? Do you know where you're going? In the park, the roads are a maze — even for those well-versed in driving through Red Rocks. Several roads are blocked off entirely. The lower and upper south lots are still open, complete with port-a-potties for revelers who show up a bit early to tailgate in the park, but Steely Dan doesn't go on until 7:30 p.m., so right now the lots are almost deserted save for a few hard-core fans parked right up front. A haze hangs over the hogback, but the view from the park is still spectacular. All along the Front Range, the mountains turn various shades of purple, darkening as the sun begins to drop lower and lower in the sky. A parade of vehicles, just visible from this vantage point, is beginning to make its way toward the amphitheatre and up the hills into the parking lot. Soon all the entrances will be clogged with concert-goers. — Amber Taufen
The Great Clown's Inn
3800 West Alameda Avenue
Opened by former Shriner clown Don Easter nearly three decades ago, the Great Clown's Inn clown is a candy-striped landmark. But the red and white paint on the exterior offers just a hint of the decor on the inside. There's the makeshift clown shrine at the east end of the bar, with miniature clowns that look like they date back to the '70s, a bobblehead Juggalo, even a hobo clown statue with painted-on stubble and a clown in a parachute hanging above it. Over the other side of the bar is a stained-glass clown.
Norman, the bartender, who's been working here in one way or another since the day the place opened, says customers bring in a lot of the clown paraphernalia. And although Norman occasionally jokes around with some of the regulars (most of whom appear to be over thirty), there isn't a whole lot of clowning around.
About fifteen or so folks are taking advantage of happy hour, where you get two-for-one beers on your first round. A few ladies on one side of the horseshoe-shaped bar are chatting and drinking glasses of Franzia. The phone rings and a strobe light flashes, which probably comes in very handy when the jukebox is cranked up. Turns out the call is for a woman who had walked in about ten minutes earlier.
"I didn't tell anyone I was here," she says as Norman passes the phone to her.
Before taking the call, the woman had asked for a Michelob. After Norman told her they didn't have Michelob, she'd settled on a Bud.
"I only live a few blocks away," she told him. "If I would've known you didn't serve Michelob, I would've brought my own."
If she'd have looked around, she might've seen all the Bud banners and flags and realized the place catered to heavy-duty Bud drinkers.
A bit later, Norman plays some Chuck Berry on the juke, including "My Ding-a-Ling," which gets a few people singing along. A guy and his wife start a game of pool. A woman wearing a Broncos jersey and another guy finish their mugs of beer. A guy named Juan starts chatting up the woman who was on the phone.
It's all a bit melancholy, though, since the bar, which has been passed down through three generations, will close its doors on July 20. Mary and Gordon Eckley bought it from Easter in the early '80s, then gave it to their son Perry. After Perry died three years ago, his son Sean inherited it. But over the past few months, Sean has been pressured to sell by relatives who own the rest of block and want to unload it.
A sign in the back of the bar says, "There's a $5 charge for whining." But there might some be some cause for that when this circus ends. — Jon Solomon
100 East Alameda Avenue
At the corner of Lincoln, a panhandler holds up his sign: "Visions of an Egg McMuffin." — Patricia Calhoun
Cherry Creek Trail
Alameda between Steele Street and Leets-dale Drive
Alameda breaks just west of Colorado Boulevard — turning into Cherry Creek Drive North in one direction and Cherry Creek Drive South in the other — before picking up again on the other side of the creek near the Polo Club. But before it does, the thoroughfare lines up with the Cherry Creek Trail on one side and Pulaski Park on the other. In fact, Alameda plunges through an entire series of interconnected parks back here, including Pulaski Park and City of Karmiel Park.
Tonight, as storm clouds gather overhead, the trail is a serious place. No one is out for an evening stroll or bike ride. Like the cars whizzing by, every cyclist is on his way to somewhere, barely looking up from the pavement long enough to take in the green backdrop. Men still dressed in work clothes, with their iPods on and the straps of their man-purses worn diagonally across their chests. Women with backpacks and fanny packs. An occasional dedicated cyclist clad in neon spandex. Walkers and joggers stay carefully to the side because, even near the sign telling cyclists to "SLOW, Yield to Pedestrians," those on foot feel like they have to stay in the grass.
No one is sightseeing. But if they tried, they'd find that behind a thick swatch of weeds, the low water of the creek is muddy and almost stagnant until it comes to a mini-waterfall of smooth gray stones that match the steel of the office building behind them.
Pulaski Park, with its neatly mowed lawn, playground and the courts of Gates Tennis Center behind it, is nearly empty. There's one girl there, sitting on a blanket in the exact center of the park with two miniature dogs while she talks incessantly on her cell phone. The playground is empty until two kids run up with their mom trailing behind them. The mother falls heavily onto a swing while the excited kids chatter on, bouncing and flailing arms as they talk. In City of Karmiel (Denver's sister city in Israel) Park next to the mall, an older couple and their grown son pass by, carrying shopping bags from Cherry Creek. "Did you know Denver has the most parks of any city?" one says.
A few blocks east, at the intersection of Alameda and Colorado Boulevard, is another one: D.C. Burns Park. It's deserted save for a lone shirtless man who talks to himself and a cell phone alternately before disappearing behind an arch-shaped, untitled sculpture by Angelo di Benedetto. The park has several modern sculptures, but — having been erected in 1968 — whatever boldness the red pyramids and loops once possessed has come to look worn and faded. — Jessica Centers
Red Rocks parking lot
I'm walking down the ramp after the Steely Dan show and, clearly, my fellow concert-goers want to keep the party poppin'. "Why waste a good buzz, right?" quips self-proclaimed Steely Dan super-fan Ken, passing me a beer.
It's not quite as wild and free as the old Deadhead parking-lot fiestas, but it's in the ballpark, with a hint of the familial atmosphere that made the Grateful Dead after-show scene so enjoyable back when Jerry was still alive and kicking. The Steely heads keep the libations, kindness and merriment flowing for this impromptu session under the stars, and it's as much fun as the show itself, but in a very different, smaller-scale, laid-back way.
Kathy, a businesswoman from Oklahoma City, tells me about how she made up an excuse for a business trip to Denver so she could catch the gig. "There's just something about Red Rocks and Denver that makes seeing shows out here special," she says. "Take right now, for instance. Back home, when a show ends, everyone is rushed into their cars and off the premises right away. There's no after-scene in the parking area or anything like here. This is a freakin' blast! All different kinds of people from all different kinds of backgrounds just hanging out, sharing what we got and being cool to each other." — Jas Tynan
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