Joshua Richmond peddles Obama souvenirs, official and otherwise.
Joshua Richmond peddles Obama souvenirs, official and otherwise.

Speer Boulevard corners the market on views -- and Obama souvenirs

The whole world is in my back yard.

From the bluffs right above the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek, the layout of the Democratic National Convention spreads before me — from the Colorado Convention Center to the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field at Mile High, where Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination for president of the United States on August 28.

Even Republican National Committee officials appreciate the location, bringing dozens of staffers from their Washington, D.C., headquarters to my neighborhood, where they've taken over an accounting office (and paid a pretty penny to do so) on Speer Boulevard for just a few weeks. They've turned this into an anti-Democratic National Convention headquarters and war room, working night and day to debunk every word that falls from a Democrat's lips as part of their brand-new campaign: "A Mile High, an Inch Deep." (I just wish their rapid-response team would apply as much energy to chasing down all the rumors about where Angelina Jolie will be partying and which protester is about to heave a bag of urine.)


Democratic National Convention

At lunchtime on Tuesday, dozens of journalists head to this makeshift bunker, sweating as they navigate the twists and turns — "but it's a dry heat," I actually hear one say. Another makes his cab wait — a wise move, since this new mirage of cabs coursing through LoDo and downtown at night has never materialized in Highland during the day.

Since I've already been introduced to the war room on Sunday, when Colorado Republican Party chair Dick Wadhams welcomed the "ministry of truth" to town, I skip the rest of Mitt Romney's speech on domestic affairs and head back into the heat, the dry heat, to explore domestic affairs down the street, at the corner of Zuni and Speer. A month ago, I'd seen the Budget Host — $29.95 a night, "low weekly rates" — advertising a room on Craigslist for upwards of $600 during the DNC, which was only slightly more hilarious than the nearby Marriott Residence Inn listing an opening for close to $800 (shuttle service included). But while the Budget Host never quite realized that amount, it did fill up, with the Consumer Reports Health Cover America Tour van in the parking lot (could be the next Consumer Reports report will be on Budget Host), along with much better cars than usual — some with all four wheels. And you can't begrudge the Budget Host a last hurrah, since it's slated to come down soon and be replaced with a much fancier, up-to-six-story hotel, perhaps even a Comfort Suites.

The inspiration behind this plan could well be the Hampton Inn next door, which a few years ago took a sliver of weed-filled vacant lot and transformed it into a very nice business hotel. So nice that something very hush-hush has rented it out for the entire week, and a sentry with appropriate badges and buttons — including a buttoned-up lip — is guarding the door. "Can't say," is all he'll say.

Diagonally across Speer is the former Continental, once the headquarters hotel for the Denver Broncos. Today it's owned by the Ramada company and split into two facilities: the very budget-minded, 42-room Knights Inn and the 124-room Ramada Denver Midtown. But the two share a newly sodded courtyard that features a classic, fifty-year-old swimming pool, glinting aqua in the heat, a temptation for the guests staying here. And the guests who could be staying here, because despite all the hysteria over a lack of hotel space in this town, the Ramada, the second-closest hotel to Invesco Field, has vacancies.

Ginger Richardson of Colorado Hospitality Services, which runs six hotels in town (the Barack Obama look-alike is staying at the Howard Johnson's), says that from what she's hearing, many hotels have space, having fallen victim to double-booked DNC reservations. "I think everybody was surprised to have rooms available," she adds. The "Rooms Available" sign went up on the Ramada last weekend, and although many junior-junior Democratic National Convention Committee staffers and press types are staying here, she has room for more. Not that she's complaining. "I think it's going really well," she says. "It's really fun. I'm impressed with the people, and they're impressed with how nice everybody in Denver is." In fact, everyone's impressed with just about everything but the two-hour waits for cabs.

I watch one of those DNCC workers try to hail a cab. Finally, she asks the young man sitting under a tent of Barack Obama souvenirs at the Phillips 66 if he'll help her.

He does. Joshua Richmond knows what it's like to be a visitor in this town. He's from Arizona, and his uncle there has a souvenir business that regularly rents out this corner to sell football paraphernalia during Broncos home games. When he heard that Obama's speech would be at Invesco, he recognized the importance of location, location, location, and signed on to be here all week. That comes as a relief to the cabless DNCC worker, who hasn't had a second to buy mementos. And while Richmond even carries a few of the items authorized by the DNCC, he much prefers the specialty T-shirts his uncle has made (including a parody of the controversial New Yorker cover of the Obamas) and the buttons he created himself ("Obama Mama").

Just across Speer is a Conoco — one of the designated sites for official Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee souvenirs. Except that this Conoco, a family-run operation since 2002 that always advertises "Camel $, souvenirs, milk" above its gas prices and right now has a host-committee sticker by the door, hasn't bothered stocking any of the DNC paraphernalia. Instead, it has the same shot glasses, magnets, dusty Broncos memorabilia, pipes and martial arts items, including swords (don't tell the badged guy across the street). There's just no room for more, says the fellow behind the counter. But really, what other reminder of Colorado do you need?

Across the way, Richmond has just secured a cab for the DNCC staffer. And he's about to get another customer — the journalist whose cab was waiting outside the Republican war room. He has his eye on the "A Mile High, an Inch Deep" poster I just donated to Richmond's collection.

The world is in our back yard.


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