Off Limits

Columnist and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu came to town to speak at the University of Denver last month -- but it was his trip back to New Orleans that made headlines.

"I waited two and a half hours to go through security at the Denver airport. The people were amazingly patient," begins his October 30 column in the Big Easy's Gambit Weekly, a column that's syndicated around the country. During the 150-minute ordeal, Codrescu relates, he became "line friends" with his neighbors-in-waiting, talking with them about their thoughts and opinions on life in America these days. "We never had to see each other again," he writes. "We rushed off to our planes. We were all late. I thought about my line-mates and actually missed them. I have been trained to wait in lines during my commie childhood. But where did these folks who had rarely had to wait for anything very long get their forbearance? I am writing this in praise of you, my line-mates, even as I try not to scream about the airline industry, which is making the general nightmare worse."

Wow, you can't buy PR like that! Which could be why, on November 1, when the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau unveils its new tourism campaign (number 877 in a continuing series), it will emphasize "leisure travel to Denver from throughout the Rocky Mountain Region." In other words, Denver's just a car trip -- rather than a plane ride -- away.

Noisemakers: The events of September 11 have been used to excuse many unrelated things -- DIA's already abysmal press office; the dire circumstances of many previously ailing businesses, including United Airlines; and, last month, the cancellation of Denver's New Year's Eve Party. The city's official role in the festivities, at least.

Back on January 1, Mayor Wellington Webb was the party's prime pusher. Invigorated by the successful bash of the night before -- albeit a bash delayed a year by the city's worries over Y2K -- the mayor announced that Denver would again host a party on December 31, 2001. If a few companies were willing to help pay for it, he later amended.

But while many downtown hotels and restaurants were willing to do just that -- and had promised to come up with several hundred thousand dollars -- party poopers were already surfacing this past summer. The big dud was the cost of police services: Last year the city had thrown in $75,000 worth of security, while private donations paid for $425,000 worth of fireworks and entertainment. But even before September 11, the police department was balking at again providing its services for free. "There was some discussion in the police department whether they could afford it," says one planner -- and the Denver Police Department was holding firm despite entreaties from the mayor. The events of September 11, which put the DPD on "high alert," just stiffened the department's resolve not to give anything away on December 31.

In fact, after the city accumulated $40,000 in overtime while protecting the marchers in the Columbus Day parade -- with only forty marchers taking part, that's $1,000 a head -- the Denver Department of Safety decided to revisit its entire policy on providing services for special events. No matter what that policy change may be -- spokeswoman C.L. Harmer says the matter is still under discussion -- it will come too late to help New Year's Eve revelers.

But downtown businesspeople plan to party on. Gadabout John Hickenlooper, owner of the Wynkoop Brewing Company and a major force behind the New Year's plans, was in Italy -- he'd taken ten key employees on a jaunt, terrorists be damned -- when the city's decision came down. "I missed all those quote opportunities," he laments. "But it was very disappointing -- not just for me personally, but for all the restaurants and hotels downtown. We'd all put a tremendous amount of work into it."

And they'll continue to do so, even without the city's financial support. "I think what we're going to do, rather than a street party, is a downtown party, some kind of fundraiser," he says. "Let's look forward, not back."

New York, incidentally, is still planning on its annual celebration in Times Square.

We'll drink to that: On October 11, Dine Out to Help Out day, Governor Bill Owens was doing his bit for charity by digging into a bowl of oatmeal -- the breakfast of champion ballot measures, according to his predecessor, Roy Romer, who ate his way across Adams County promoting Denver International Airport. Racines was packed that morning, and not just with TV cameras commemorating Owens's every bite. The community's response to relief efforts was one of the things that makes this state great, Owens said.

And here was another great thing, he told a fellow diner: In Colorado, you can drive all over the state with open beer bottles and roadies, and it's not illegal -- as long as the driver isn't impaired.

Not so fast, governor. Although there's no Colorado law prohibiting open containers of alcohol in cars, certain counties impose their own rules on cars passing through them.

For example, in the City and County of Denver, where the Governor's Mansion is located, it's illegal to have an open container anywhere in the car -- in the driver's hand or in a passenger's. The same holds true in Adams County. But in Arapahoe County, where Owens still really lives, Colorado law rules the road, and open containers are legal. Ditto for Jefferson and Douglas -- as well as Clear Creek and Gilpin counties, in case you'd like to take a few road beers on that Sunday-afternoon drive. (Summit County is far less tolerant -- it prohibits any unsealed container of alcohol within reach of the driver.) As for Boulder, well, Boulder had a little trouble coming up with its interpretation of the rules. On county roads, it's legal to drive with an open container. But in the city? At least we know it's illegal to ride a bike while intoxicated...

What prompted Owens's alcohol-related comment? It could have been the Bloody Mary photo opportunity that the governor turned down; press secretary Dick Wadhams isn't sure what inspired the discussion. But he's certain of one thing: Colorado's attitude toward drinking and driving is nowhere near as lenient as Montana's, where Wadhams has done plenty of campaign work and was stunned the first time a politico left the bar with one for the road.


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