Off Limits

While Denver braces for political fireworks -- as well as a few explosions -- over Saturday's Columbus Day parade, the city's still getting fallout over an actual, if unheralded, fireworks show last Thursday that marked the Pepsi Center's first anniversary.

A full-page ad in Sunday's Denver Post (a Pepsi Center partner) noted that since the facility had opened October 1, 1999, it had hosted 2,553,675 guests; staged 219 concerts, events and games; poured 532,924 cups of Pepsi and 15,040,670 ounces of Coors; and served fourteen miles of hot dogs. It also scared the socks off hundreds of Denverites, who couldn't figure out what the hell was happening just after 11 p.m. on September 28. From up near Federal Boulevard (at the home of in-the-dark mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson, for example), it sounded like gunfire -- although the thirty minutes that the noise lasted would have given any shooters enough time to wipe out every resident of northwest Denver. Channel 9, which had been running late with the Olympics, provided the answer for frightened callers in its delayed newscast. Everyone could calm down, Adele Arakawa said; the noise was just fireworks in honor of the Pepsi Center's anniversary.

And if you weren't busy trying to quiet a crying baby, or calm a pet, or shut up a blaring car alarm, it was quite a show, too. Gene Felling, senior vice president of the Pepsi Center, counts the "gift to Denver" as one of the top three fireworks shows he's seen. Although the Pepsi Center is a private facility, the show had all the required permits, he says, had been mentioned in the ads for that night's Santana concert and had been hyped in announcements sent in advance to the media.

Even if none of those announcements found their way to Debbie Ortega, councilwoman for the district that got the biggest barrage of sound -- and whose office is still collecting calls from residents. "We were never alerted," she says. "We expect that courtesy. Normally we get it."

For example, she adds, they got it back in the days when Barry Fey presented his Father's Day fireworks. "We used to flier the neighborhood to make sure everybody knew to keep their pets inside," remembers Fey, who's created lots of fireworks of his own over the years. "If the pets got out, they could go to the shelter and get them at no charge."

North Denver residents are still trying to track down a few missing pets, even as Ortega's office tries to track down exactly how the city could allow a fireworks show so late on a "school night." Meanwhile, Santana fans are still thanking the musician -- wrongly -- for the light show. As any PR expert can tell you, it's not easy getting a bang for your buck these days.

Turf wars: The Platte Valley exploded with more big noise on Sunday, as Broncos fans made a play for immortality in the Guinness Book of World Records. Despite the pathetic performance of their team on the field, the crowds in the stands managed to shout their way to victory, cracking the current record of 125.4 decibels for the loudest roar in a stadium and becoming world champs -- at least for a day or so, until some other fans scream themselves hoarse. Unlike the Pepsi Center's fireworks, though, this effort had been lavished with plenty of advance notice from Denver's boosterish media -- as well as a few words of caution from Councilwoman Ortega. "Although this contest is being promoted as a proud moment for Denver fans," she warned, "if the Broncos want to promote this event, they should take the responsibility to protect the hearing of their fans."

At least fans in the stands couldn't hear national commentators rag on Denver as they completely ignored the Guinness campaign and instead expounded on the sorry, sorry state of Mile High Stadium's turf, not to mention the sorry, sorry state of the Broncos fumbling all over it. Had it been ten years or eleven since the Broncos had lost back-to-back home games? wondered Greg Gumbel. After counting on all fingers but no toes, he accepted that from 1990 until now is just ten years -- but it's still a major comedown for a team that won two Super Bowls during that decade. There's lots of noise, but no joy, in Mudville.

The Broncos continue to register as hometown heroes in some quarters, however, which is why the Colorado State Patrol has just introduced a trading card featuring tight end Byron Chamberlain. On the front is a photo of Chamberlain running for 88 yards against Green Bay last year; on the back is this admonition from the CSP: "Take Two Seconds for Safety! Take Two Seconds to fasten your seat belt. Take Two Seconds to be mindful of how unacceptable driving behavior can affect yourself and others."

Above all, Take Two Seconds to make sure that isn't a Bronco burning rubber on the road behind you.

Although several of his colleagues have driving records worse than the Broncos' game stats, Chamberlain volunteered his services to the CSP's seatbelt safety efforts after his friend, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, died back in February from injuries he suffered in a car crash -- when he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. "I realized it only took me two seconds to do something that could save my life," says Chamberlain of the revelation that a seatbelt makes you safer. "It was then that I decided maybe I could help save lives."

And why not? He can't save his team.

This isn't the first time the state patrol has employed the "Take Two" gimmick to inspire better driving. Two years ago, for example, Colonel Lonnie J. Westphal, the patrol's chief, tried to convince us to take two seconds to flash the "V" sign -- not to indicate victory, but to encourage courteous driving and discourage road rage. But while we've noticed many, many drivers making hand signals since then, none have been in the configuration Westphal desired.

"We kind of downplay that," admits patrol spokesman Captain Steve Smee, "because most people think it looks stupid." And then, of course, there's the fact that a driver can't make the gesture while keeping both hands on the wheel.

Westphal himself modeled for the "V" campaign; the patrol has high hopes for Chamberlain's more telegenic efforts, part of its ongoing ADAPT (Aggressive Drivers Are a Public Threat) program, with cards now available at all state patrol offices. "The young man is articulate," Smee says of Chamberlain. "I just hope he doesn't get traded."

Giving the Broncos what fore!: Chamberlain's teammates spent much of the loss to New England on their duffs, which makes sense considering how many of them are duffers. On Monday a bunch of Broncos worked off their aggressions by golfing on a suburban course. And how did they know they'd be guaranteed a tee time? Because one of the players had slipped off the day before -- during the game -- to make the reservation.

Bag it: "Dear Mayor Webb, having a lousy time here in the Eastern Colorado wilderness. Wish you were here," reads the sandwich board of one striking baggage worker out at Denver International Airport -- way out at DIA. Because while Denver officials continue to yammer about all the free speech involved with the Columbus Day parade, the city is forcing the striking bag handlers to exercise their First Amendment rights out in the Mount Elbert parking lot, an isolated spot about three miles from the main terminal that's usually assigned to overflow, long-term employee parking.

Bad enough that when they're working, these folks have to suffer the ignominy of maintaining the allegedly automated baggage system, a boondoggle that prevented DIA from opening on time when it began eating baggage six years ago and still doesn't function the way it's supposed to. Now they have a picket line that's impossible to not cross, since no one can see it.

When the strikers apply for a new permit starting October 6, they'd do better to skip the airport altogether and head downtown: A float in the front ranks of the Columbus Day Parade could net them plenty of attention.


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