Off Limits

The Thanksgiving weekend will be a little quieter at Denver International Airport this year, and not just because United Airlines has retired its entire fleet of rumbling 727s. For the first time in many years, there will be no musicians roaming the concourses, placating tense travelers and making merry.

"From the beginning, the International Performance Series has always been used to make things calmer during a hectic time of year," says Meredith Gabow, who manages the musical performances for the airport. "But it has been paramount that the entertainment not impede passenger flow. With the heightened security measures, it was decided not to hold the Thanksgiving series, and right now, we are going to wait and see about the December entertainment. There is great support for the series, but it's critical for us to focus on the airport's goal of passenger safety."

In the past, the acts have included Irish folksingers and dancers, school choirs, classical flutists, country-Western bands, jazz ensembles, and even a mandolin outfit called the Gypsies. In addition to the Thanksgiving and Christmas travel seasons, the musicians have performed at other times that are high-volume, high-profile or high-stress -- for example, during the great summer slowdown of 2000, when thousands upon thousands of flights were delayed or canceled all over the country, especially at DIA.

Now travelers will have to soothe their nerves with expensive airport beer -- and the knowledge that President George Dubya Bush recently signed a new law that turns undertrained, underpaid security screeners who work for private companies into undertrained, underpaid security screeners who work for the United States government.

Did we mention that expensive airport beer?

Off-fan-sive behavior: If it's overpriced suds you're seeking, there's plenty to be found at the new home of the Denver Broncos, which thousands of formerly faithful fans fled in droves on Sunday during one of the longest, soggiest, most miserable losses -- to the Washington Redskins! -- in team history. (Even the cheerleaders hid their pearly white, but chattering, teeth under the hoods of their gigantic fur-lined moon suits.) By the middle of the third quarter, the place looked nearly as empty and forlorn as Mile High Stadium next door. (Oh, and by the way, it wasn't just corporate club-seaters and Californians who were bailing out. Denver natives ditched, too.)

The sight of a vacant stadium was surely even less satisfying for the folks over at a certain Denver-based mutual funds company, the ones who slapped down $120 million for the naming rights to Bad Investment Field at Mile High. Now those money managers -- the ones who also invest your dollars in college funds and 401Ks -- have invested in a study by sports-marketing maven Dean Bonham to determine just how sound an investment the naming-rights deal was and whether there's anything they can do to make it better. Bonham, of course, also writes a column for the Rocky Mountain News -- the paper that, unlike the Denver Post, actually refers to the new stadium by its real name.

Maybe Invesco/Bonham could start by taking a hint from the often-pathetic Denver Nuggets, a team that's used to empty arenas. For the past couple of weeks, new Nuggets general manager (and former player) Kiki Vandeweghe has been milling about the upper decks of the Pepsi Center searching for hands to shake. This practice "isn't real common" for general managers, says team spokesman Tommy Sheppard. "He just likes to meet people. I think he wants to be hands-on, not just on the basketball side, but with getting fan feedback. When you talk about fans, you talk about the people who sit upstairs. They're not there on the corporate dollar. They're there because they love the game.

"I think it's something he'll do throughout the season," Sheppard adds.

Are you listening, Pat Bowlen?

Yikes! Over the weekend, CNN reported that the government of Jordan apparently thwarted a planned terrorist attack on two hotels outside the Jordanian tourist town of Petra; the attacks were allegedly "timed to amplify the September assaults on the United States," according to the cable news station.

Not familiar with Petra? Well, you would be if you'd read the Post's lead travel story on the city, which appeared in the paper on...September 9. And it may have been one of the last travel articles on a Middle Eastern destination that will appear in any U.S. newspaper travel section for a while, says Dan Leeth, the Aurora freelance writer who penned the story. "The editor had told me three or four weeks beforehand that it was going to be published that weekend," he says. "I can guarantee you it wouldn't have been published after 9-11. I don't know if I could give away a story on the Middle East now."

For the last few weeks, Leeth, who made his visit to Petra in 2000, has been concentrating on writing about the United States. "That's where the market is," he says. "What I'm finding is a lot of editors saying, 'I can't run anything foreign right now. What do you have that's local?'"

Goodland, Kansas, anyone?

Attention, Denver voters: The election is over, so please stop mailing your ballots to the Denver Election Commission. According to commission spokesman Alan McBeth, 272 mail-in ballots were received after the November 6 deadline, and "we're still getting about one a day now." The commission will keep the late ballots for two years just to be safe -- safe from what, he doesn't say -- but they won't be opened or counted.

Also not counted were any votes -- even those received on time -- for Denver School Board candidate Rita Montero. Although the News reported that Montero had finished second -- an amazing showing, considering that she'd dropped out of the contest over a month earlier (but after the ballots were printed) -- McBeth says that number didn't come from his office, since the Denver Election Commission didn't bother to tally Montero's votes. Incumbent boardmember Les Woodward retained his seat over challenger Dale Sadler.

Baker residents Luchia and Adrian Brown, who led Citizens for a Better Denver in the campaign against Denver's proposed new justice center, were two more surprise vote-getters in the election, the first in Denver to rely solely on mail-in ballots. It could have been the new voting system that skewed the vote the neighborhood's way, or it could have been the abysmal TV campaign urging a yes vote on Referendum 1A.

But there's no question that in successfully pushing for defeat of the center, Citizens for a Better Denver emerged looking like winners. And CRL Associates, Maria Garcia Berry's high-powered political lobbying and consulting firm that had led the pro-Referendum 1A forces -- and outspent the Browns by hundreds of thousands of dollars, buying lots of TV time for those scare-tactic commercials -- came up the loser.

The day after the vote, Citizens for a Better Denver held a press conference in front of the Denver City and County Building and revealed their "intention to work with the city to implement a cost-effective and immediate remedy to jail overcrowding as directed by the electorate." But the group would have sounded a lot less like sore winners if they'd invited someone, anyone, from the city they now wanted to work with to that announcement. And no fair counting Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, an outspoken opponent of the Sears site from the start, or Councilwoman Ramona Martinez, sounding more like a congressional candidate every day.

After all, the next election is just eleven months away, and the big match is heating up. No, not between Tom Strickland and Wayne Allard, but between their high-powered campaign managers, Mike Stratton and Dick Wadhams, respectively, who left the private sector (Stratton) and Governor Bill Owens's office (Wadhams) to join the fight. Since the ballot includes partisan measures, though, there won't be any mail-in voting in November 2002.


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