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Off Limits

Denver's fabled pretty house -- Casa Bonita to the gringos, transplants and otherwise uninitiated --- received the royal treatment on the idiot box this month courtesy of everyone's favorite F-bomb-dropping Technicolor fatass, Eric Cartman.

Incensed at being passed over for a party at the venerable south-of-the-border chow shack on West Colfax, the South Park fourth-grader masterminded an intricate plot of lies and manipulation that culminated in his visit to "the Disneyland of Mexican food." He convinced Butters -- whom Kyle had picked over Cartman to attend his Casa Bonita birthday soiree -- to hide in a bomb shelter, telling him that a gigantic meteor was heading toward Earth. But Cartman's plan was foiled when Butters, who'd been attempting to create a post-apocalyptic society in the town's garbage dump, realized he'd been duped. At that, the South Park dragnet was unleashed, and our rotund little buddy speed-freaked his way through Black Bart's secret hideout and a plate of sopaipillas and launched himself from the restaurant's infamous cliff into the wading pool below -- not, however, before telling one of the entertainers to "Dive, asshole!" South Park's finest finally caught up with Cartman as he was floating by and asked him if losing all of his friends and possibly being sent to juvie was worth it. His response: "Totally."

Mike Mason, Casa Bonita's general manager, says that while the pot-shot palace hasn't seen a dramatic increase in business since the episode aired on November 12, the restaurant's employees sure got a kick out of it. More than a few have been heard singing the faux jingle "Casa Bonita, Casa Bonita, food and fun in a festive atmosphere" -- which those South Park yukmeisters had set to the tune of "La Cucaracha."

"They really took some time and got the detail down," he adds, noting in particular the traditional raising of the flag for more powdered-sugar-coated treats. Mason says that according to the South Park production company, the nearly thirty-year-old, 52,000-square-foot restaurant is a favorite stop when former University of Colorado film students Matt Stone and Trey Parker roll through town.

Because, really, what else could induce the level of vomiting and psychedelics found in that bunch of fourth-graders?

So happy, not together: Last month, the losing mayoral candidates told us they were oh, so happy to be freed from their campaign duties (Off Limits, October 23), but that was nothing. Former members of the Denver City Council -- many of whom were prevented from running for their seats by term limits -- say they're much, much happier now that they have some breathing room.

Not all thirteen are completely gone from City Hall, of course. Charlie Brown, Kathleen MacKenzie and Elbra Wedgeworth retained their council seats. Dennis Gallagher, who was term-limited out of his northwest Denver district, won a heated race for Denver city auditor. And Happy Haynes got the cushy job of council liaison in Mayor John Hickenlooper's new administration.

But after 24 years representing District 2, Ted Hackworth was fine with surrendering his spot to Jeanne Faatz. "I'm just doing the regular things, catching up, getting things squared away with a retiree's life as opposed to an employee's life," says Hackworth, whose name now graces the athletic fields at Sabin Elementary School.

He took an extended road trip to Virginia to visit his grandchildren but was back in time to stump in this month's election. A former member of the Denver Public Schools board, he endorsed the DPS's winning bond campaign, but otherwise is keeping out of politics.

"It's tempting to stand up and say this thing is really mixed up," he admits. "For instance, that Hickenlooper is getting great coverage for keeping his campaign promise for parking. The problem is he's never identified where the money is going to come from to cover the revenue shortfalls. As a councilman, that would have been the first thing I'd have asked. I don't understand why he gets away with this stuff. The honeymoon time is over."

The honeymoon is just beginning for Joyce Foster, who moved to a new home at Lowry after giving up her District 4 seat to Peggy Lehmann. "We wanted a different kind of living, and Lowry had some wonderful opportunities," says Foster, who served on the council for a decade. "It is just a real community; it's exciting. It is walkable, very livable, and my grandchildren live very close."

She's been staying "absolutely in touch with the city," though she had little involvement with Hick's transition team -- "I think that the goal was lofty in terms of putting so many people on the transition team, but we'll just leave it at that," she says -- and gave up her Regional Emergency Medical Trauma Advisory Council board position. Instead, Foster's taking a sabbatical while she plans her own consulting firm and does some reading. "Mostly good fiction, something I didn't have a lot of time to do while reading contracts," she points out.

"I've worked ever since before I was married, so this is really the first time since I had very small that children that I haven't worked," says Foster, who is leading a ten-day mega-mission to Israel in December through the Allied Jewish Federation. "I am just loving this part of my life."

Also moving on is Ramona Martinez, a sixteen-year council veteran who gave up her Denver digs for a gated community in Lakewood. Now that Rosemary Rodriguez has taken over her seat in District 3, Martinez no longer needs to call Denver home. "We were looking for a gated community because we travel a lot and aren't around very much," she explains, "and my husband just feels in love with this place."

Much of that travel has been on Democratic National Committee business. As the co-chair of the DNC's Hispanic Caucus and a member of its executive and bylaws committees, Martinez has gone to New Mexico several times to chat with Governor Bill Richardson, the DNC's convention chair. In her non-DNC time, Martinez is starting two consulting businesses, one that will focus on local efforts and the other on national projects.

Former Denver cop Ed Thomas, who lost the auditor's race to Gallagher, is now head of security at Cherry Creek Mall, located in District 10 (where Jeanne Robb has replaced Thomas on council). But he has more exciting news than a shoplifting sting to share. "Our daughter called us this morning and said our granddaughter started to walk," he says. "If you take a look at the things that really matter, our granddaughter walked today. My wife was talking about me taking her somewhere exotic, but I said, ŒWhat are you talking about? You only care about that grandchild.'

"Life is paradise right now," adds Thomas.

Susan Barnes-Gelt is living large now that she's no longer an at-large councilmember. "Life is good," says the two-termer. "I'm writing a column for the Denver Post every other week, which is really fun because I can write an opinion without having to worry. Plus, there's this thing on Channel 12 with John Andrews, and it's fun."

Susan Barnes-Gelt, fun and Senate President John Andrews all in the same sentence? Say it ain't so!

"We do five issues every month -- one local, one state, one national, one global and one other -- and it's reopened my brain to the world larger than Denver," Barnes-Gelt says. "John's an interesting guy, and we actually get along pretty well. It's nice to know to you can debate someone you totally disagree with and still get along."

Denver's other at-large rep, Cathy Reynolds, had been in office since the mid-'70s and is now rediscovering the joys of the three-hour lunch. She's "been doing absolutely nothing, and it's been lovely," Reynolds says. "I've just been hanging out and playing with the grandchildren. After 28 years, it's pretty nice. I'm going to just get through the holidays before thinking about anything. That's what I promised myself."

Carol Boigon and Doug Linkhart, the top vote-getters in a crowded field, now fill the council's two at-large seats.

In the runoff, Marcia Johnson won the District 5 seat that Polly Flobeck occupied for twelve years (and for five years before that, Flobeck had worked for her predecessor). "I got myself settled, and I'm looking for a job," says Flobeck. "I've done so many different kinds of things, I'm not sure. I'm just looking around, and I've got a few leads."

In the meantime, she's still serving on the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District board and finishing up a few projects in her east Denver neighborhood.

"It is so nice not to be part of that regimented schedule that just ran my life for the last sixteen years," says Deborah Ortega, who also ran for auditor after being term-limited out of her District 9 seat. (Judy Montero won the race to replace her.) "It's so easy to be completely away from it. I haven't watched a whole council meeting, and I've only turned it on once or twice."

Ortega says she's starting her own consulting business, too, in addition to sitting on Hickenlooper's homeless task force, the Denver Foundation Strengthening Neighborhoods committee and the board of the Alzheimer's Association. "I'm really enjoying my time off," she says, "and I've got grandchildren, so I've been able to spend a lot of time with them."

Ain't life grand?


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