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Take an end-of-the-summer road trip down Colorado, Denver's boulevard of dreams

When one Village Inn closes, another takes its place.

Colfax may be America's longest main street, but Colorado Boulevard has it beat by miles. It's a highway through the heart of the country, missing beats here and there where development detoured the straight lines envisioned by the pioneers who staked out the West — pioneers like Casper Hartman, who platted Park Hill in 1871 and named Colorado Boulevard.

Today, Colorado gets its start up north, where Weld County Route 13 — which cuts through fields of sunflowers and drilling rigs and hopeful real-estate signs offering up old farms for future subdivisions — is prettified into a boulevard, heading south past the fancy lighting and median plantings in Frederick and the folksy community bulletin board and covenant-restricted communities of Thornton before suddenly being swallowed up by E-470 and the belching factories of Commerce City. But Colorado Boulevard makes a comeback — and how — in north Denver, passing warehouses and golf courses and museums, then rushing into a mad mash of old stores and strip malls and even a strip club. And at Denver's southern line, it leaves commerce behind, threading through golf courses and churches and more covenant-controlled subdivisions before disappearing again at the High Line Canal.

Even then, though, Colorado Boulevard does not give up. It re-emerges as a country lane, picking up speed and turning into a busy four-lane boulevard before plunging past C-470 and into the anonymity of Highlands Ranch — where it finally hits the end of the road.

As the summer season draws to a close, we've taken our annual road trip, this time along Colorado Boulevard, a stretch that Jack Kerouac traveled in his own epic road trip decades ago, when Colorado was as colorful as any stretch of asphalt in this state. For our previous trips — along Colfax, Broadway, Federal, Sheridan and Alameda — cruise here.

6:22 a.m. 1595 South Colorado Boulevard

I used to come to this address a lot, used to spend many late-night hours drinking coffee, reading spy novels and scribbling in notebooks at what was once an all-night Village Inn. I was a regular here, because not only was this place open all night, but it was a great spot for collecting stories. Not the kind that make it into print, necessarily, but stories just the same.

This Village Inn was where the dancers from Shotgun Willie's up the road would come when they got done humping the pole — looking for coffee and pancakes and a place to unwind. Some Diamond Cabaret dancers frequented the place, too, as well as girls from a couple of the other, less savory clubs around town. Like night-shift cops and C-shift ambulance crews, these ladies knew each other; it's a small sorority. Bounty hunters, skip tracers, bikers and drunks, they were all regulars. College kids studying, club kids getting weird with the sugar packets and shiny silverware, lonely old men who would filter in during the dark hours looking for a little warm glow of humanity. It was like one of those watering holes in the jungle — the ones where all the animals come together in wary peace to drink after the sun goes down, predators and prey standing shoulder to shoulder and flank to flank, keeping one eye on the water, one eye on each other in a fragile tranquility. One sharp movement, and everyone would scatter.

But as long as the peace held, it was a great place — a weird place, sometimes a dark place, always a vivid place where even a blind man could've seen the sparks that jump from rubbing worlds together. I'd been there so many times I probably could've found it with my own eyes closed.

Until, of course, it was no longer there. I actually drive clean by the address on the first pass — have to pull a U-turn on the quiet street and come back around again before finding the familiar lot and my familiar place in it. My Village Inn is gone, replaced three months ago by an IHOP. I would chalk this up to just another bit of scrambling Colorado Boulevard gentrification but for the fact that gentrification generally involves the improvement of an existing neighborhood, and the opening of an IHOP has never improved anything save, perhaps, one of those bump-on-the-highway towns in central Missouri where even the bumps come dear. An IHOP could open in the middle of the Marrakesh night market and it would be, hands down, the most boring square footage in all of Morocco.

Inside, everything is bright light and polished fixtures — an eternal morning full of exhausted, forced smiles from the bored night servers, sickly sweet boysenberry syrup and Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity breakfast plates. I sit in the booth that used to be my regular observation post. I order coffee just like I used to, pull out an old paperback spy novel just like I used to. Through the spotless windows I can see the parking lot outside, my car the only one in it, and Colorado Boulevard beyond. From my seat, I count the cars, watching the street starting to come alive as a true dawn breaks in the face of the false one burning all around me. — Jason Sheehan

7:15 a.m.

Colorado Boulevard and Eighth Avenue

For decades, the University of Colorado Health Sciences complex at Eighth and Colorado was the bustling heart of this neighborhood, the medical wonders inside helping to pump life into the businesses around it. But now the complex is boarded up, fenced in, with notes that the structures are closed, that the city has rezoned the property for a mixed-used development by Shea Properties. Two tattered signs, posted at the eleventh hour last September, note that the buildings to which they're affixed — the John F. Kennedy Childhood Development Center and the Children's Psychiatric Day Care Center — will be considered for landmark designation. But while last December the Landmark Preservation Commission approved saving the two structures, both classics of '60s Usonian design, Denver City Council voted against the proposal this summer, essentially signing their death certificates.

The two doomed buildings still stand — for now — not just as models of mid-century modern architecture, but also as reminders of the men who designed them: Victor Hornbein and Ed White, a local architect known not just for his buildings, not just for his work in founding Historic Denver and saving other historic structures around town, but for the role he played in inspiring the greatest road trip book of them all, On the Road.

An architectural student at Columbia in the '40s, White was drawing skyscrapers in New York when he met Jack Kerouac and suggested that the would-be writer start carrying notebooks and creating his own-word sketches, to capture what he saw and felt. Kerouac had some of those notebooks with him when he traveled on a Greyhound bus to Denver, where he met up with White and the legendary Neal Cassady. His travels became the basis for On the Road, an epic that Kerouac typed on one continuous scroll and which included a character based on White, later changed to Tim Gray when the book was finally published in 1957.

"We left Ed in his yard on the plains outside of town and raised a cloud of dust," Kerouac wrote of leaving Denver, heading south. "I looked back to watch Ed White recede on the plain. That strange guy stood there for a full two minutes watching us recede on the plain and thinking god knows what sorrowful thoughts. He grew smaller and smaller, until all I could see was a spot — and still he stood motionless with one hand on a washline like a captain with his shrouds and watched us."

White's son, Jamie, led the crusade to save his buildings. "My brother was remembering as a child going to city council meetings with my father who was trying his best to save many worthy buildings and even blocks of downtown Denver from being turned into parking lots," Jamie told council at the hearing before the final vote. "He has worked tirelessly for decades, often against all odds, trying to save, landmark and preserve some of Colorado's most recognized and cherished structures. It certainly is ironic that he is now in the situation of having two of his buildings being declared non-historic. I do feel I not only owe it to my father for all he has done for the city to try and landmark these buildings, but because they also are worthy of it and deserve it, as the Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously agreed."

Although city council members disagreed, Jamie White hasn't given up the fight. He might have lost this round, but he's now working to save other structures created by his father around town. And even if he's unsuccessful, Ed White will always be remembered in Kerouac's book, in the letters that he and the author exchanged for decades.

"You told me to start word sketches, how in the Dickens did you know?" Kerouac wrote his friend in 1957, shortly before White would design the buildings that for decades were standouts on the medical campus, the buildings that will soon become dust.

— Patricia Calhoun

9:30 a.m.

South Colorado Boulevard and Orchard Road

There's a point on its long, wayward journey to the Gulf of California where the once-mighty Colorado River seems to all but disappear. So does Colorado Boulevard as it heads into the southern suburbs. Like the river, it becomes a plaything for developers — tamed, diverted, disgraced.

South of Hampden, stripped of its girth, Colorado is a precious little country lane, rolling through the faux-country estates of Cherry Hills Village. It dead-ends at Quincy, at the property line for the Kent Denver School, then resumes briefly south of Belleview as a no-outlet gravel road. When it reappears again at Orchard, it's a meandering cul-de-sac into The Preserve, a Greenwood Village subdivision for those who find the rest of Greenwood Village — and the assorted Cherryvilles, Cherryvales, Cherrydales and Cherrypits of the southern 'burbs — far too common.

A product of the perpetually sunny luxury real-estate market of the 1990s, The Preserve is newer and quite possibly snootier than the more established, cherry-themed enclaves that lead up to it. You can get in without a gate pass, but if you're driving something less auspicious than a Bentley, you will probably be mistaken for the help. And at midday, that's about all that's moving on Colorado as it winds past the manicured lawns and supersized houses: plumbing vans, home-theater installer vans, window-treatment experts in SUVs. The place seems utterly depopulated, possibly because everyone's out earning the sugar to sweeten the second and third mortgages on these sprawling family manses and pillaging trust accounts in order to afford the soirees at The Center, the members-only clubhouse and pool, scene of the annual lobster bake (don't forget to RSVP).

Some of the houses truly are empty. The housing downturn has affected even the tastemakers of Greenwood Village, and a surprising number of the pillared and porticoed lifestyle choices along Colorado feature FOR SALE signs out front. The humble little ranch house at 5870 South Colorado — five bedrooms, six baths, four-car garage, the usual billiard room and "media room" — is billed as "Colorado Lifestyle Personified" and has an asking price of $2.5 million (that's below its current assessed value, mind you). But then you stumble on the place a couple of doors down — six beds and seven baths, an intriguing floor plan showcasing casual elegance, plus close to two acres along the High Line, an absolute steal at a smidge under three million — and how will you ever decide?

Fortunately, you don't have to. You're just the help. The road turns into a weedy track just north of a fire hydrant, at the lonely edge of the development, and there's no way out but to double back, through the circular and hypnotic street layout of The Preserve. South of Orchard, Colorado wanders through an older and less pricey subdivision before straightening out, a north-south boulevard that has found its dignity again. — Alan Prendergast

11:01 a.m. 2816 Colorado Boulevard

If he were still alive, Lefty Martin would have celebrated his birthday this month.

At least that's what the folks at Appliance Factory Outlet believe. And what better excuse could there be for a sale! Washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves and microwaves — all marked down! The concept would probably have made Lefty happy, especially if he'd gotten to see his longtime customers, the customers he knew and recognized even if he hadn't seen them in years.

Lefty — even one of his longtime employees, Bill Reed, doesn't know Lefty's real first name — founded Lefty Martin Appliance in 1961. He later added another store, but it was the original Colorado Boulevard location, and its signature sign, that people knew.

And the sign will stay put, even though Appliance Factory Outlet, a Colorado-based chain with nine Front Range stores, bought Lefty Martin's out of bankruptcy in November 2002. (The previous owners had bought the store from Lefty's son in 1991.)

"That's what I tell them to look for," says Sterling Knight, who mans the floor of the showroom. "The sign is a landmark in the community."

But there's very little left of Lefty. Almost no photos or memorabilia of the man, who died in 1989, which is making a birthday celebration difficult. Even his ashes — which remained inside the store's safe for two years — are gone, taken in 1991 by his widow, who has since passed away herself. "A supplier had agreed to take them to Wrigley Field and spread them. Lefty was a huge Cubs fan," Reed says.

There's a lot of lore and legend around Lefty and his store, a store that has witnessed a great deal of change in the neighborhood over 48 years. The century-old building itself may have held as many as seven businesses, including a grocery and a gas station, Reed says; the basement is haunted, and some people refuse to go down there, adds Appliance Factory Outlet CFO Ann Diddlebock; Lefty himself was a minor-league baseball player — thus the nickname — in the 1940s, Knight has heard.

But whatever's behind those rumors, one fact remains. "Lefty was a great salesman," says Reed, who worked for him for a decade. "He had an unbelievable memory for people and for what he had sold them. He got to know those people, who they were and about their families, and he had a very loyal following." — Jonathan Shikes

12:23 p.m. 2725 South Colorado Boulevard

Mary Simms has owned A Repeat Boutique, touted as the place "Where Socialites Sell Designer Clothes," for "27 freakin' years," she says with a laugh. During that span, the economy has gone up and down more times than Paris Hilton's bedsprings. When folks talk to Simms about the historic nature of the current recession, one question springs to her mind: "Were you people not alive in 1982? I started in the '80s, during Reaganomics. You want to talk about tough times? Those were tough times."

Back then, Simms was a single mother of a three-year-old with a job title (account manager for a medical firm) more impressive than her salary or the supposed perks that came along with it. "You'd get a week's vacation every year and no sick days," she recalls. "It was like, if your kid's sick, let him die. What are you going to do when he has chicken pox? Put him in the trunk?"

Luckily, Simms had a vision: a store featuring high-end clothes that members of the moneyed elite had either grown bored with after a couple of wearings or never bothered to put on in the first place. In A Repeat Boutique's early days, gathering merchandise was difficult, since Dynasty-era glamazons would have rather thrown themselves in front of a moving train than be seen taking frocks into a secondhand shop. But Simms managed to reach the right suppliers by advertising in hoity-toity publications, like brochures for what was then the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and putting her business cards in the ladies' rooms of the nicest joints in town. Finally, to clinch the deal, she would go pick up the finery herself to guarantee her sellers' privacy.

If buyers were less concerned about confidentiality, they had other hangups — including a fear of HIV that rivals today's H1N1 paranoia. "People would ask, 'Have these clothes been cleaned? I don't want to catch AIDS,'" Simms recalls, still slack-jawed at the memory.

This stigma faded over the years, and so did any shame associated with wardrobe recycling. Today, Simms notes, upper-crust types are as happy to bring in their castoffs as the less well-heeled are to find bargains. A rack of T-shirts selling for a quarter apiece stands next to displays of ultra-pricey merchandise still sporting original sales tags, including a Jean-Paul Gaultier skirt valued by Nieman Marcus at $1,299, which Simms marked for $299.

Reselling clothes — even ones that cost more than major appliances — isn't a "get-rich-quick" business, Simms concedes, and in the past year or so, she's begun supplementing her income with weekly sales on eBay. (One of her sons — she's got two boys and a girl — lists the items for her, because "I don't have the patience to take all those pictures," she says.) Still, she's got no intention of shutting her doors. After all, "small businesses sustain this country," she notes. And besides, the boutique symbolizes her philosophy: "There's definitely more than one use for everything."

Especially during tough times like these — and the tough times that came before. — Michael Roberts

1:30 p.m.

11151 Colorado Boulevard to 88th Avenue

The official name of the facility at 11151 Colorado Boulevard is the Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center, though no one who lives in this sprawling suburb centered on Colorado Boulevard seems to call it that, despite the fact that there's a dignified portrait of the former Thornton mayor and city council member, who served the community from 1973 to 1999, on display in the center's lobby.

A sign on the door informs you that the Lazy River Leisure Pool is closed through September 8 and that the center's other pool will be closed this Friday for maintenance, and closed again through the second week of September. But still, the $6.50 rate for drop-ins – residents and non-residents alike – at this big, immaculate facility is a bargain. The exercise area is segregated into two rooms, one dedicated to free weights and the other outfitted with Nautilus equipment. In the weight room, another sign informs you that "this sound system is permanently fixed to the station and volume level," and then thanks you kindly for understanding.

The music is Jack FM, and it's all you hear in the weight room until a guy wearing a red football jersey momentarily breaks the silence to announce how positively stoked he is to have attended the Poison show last night. "It was awesome," he enthuses to an older Hispanic gentleman, who's resting after a set of concentration curls. "They played some old stuff and some new stuff."

Earlier in the day, he adds, he'd visited his chiropractor. "With as many crashes as I get into a year," he says, "I need him."

"Crashes?" asks the older man.

"Yep," he replies. "I get in at least thirteen a year. It's a risk of doing what I do."

"What's that?"

"Boardercross."

"Motorcross?"

"No, boardercross — snowboarding. A bunch of guys, first one down the hill wins."

"Ah, I see," the older guy says, though he clearly doesn't.

For more solitary recreating, Thornton has the South Platte 88th Avenue Trail, which gets its start at a Colorado Boulevard dead-end and snakes along the South Platte River. By the parking lot, there's a pavilion with three metal picnic tables; along the way are a series of park benches designed for birders. If you come early in the morning or at dusk and sit quietly, a sign advises, good things will come — things like songbirds and butterflies. No matter what time of day, though, you can count on the quiet, partly thanks to another sign warning that the discharging of firearms is prohibited.

Which means that the sportsmen who frequent the Gravel Lakes Fishing Facility — stocked with a half-dozen types of fish, including trout, largemouth bass walleye, catfish and bluegills — at the end of the trail must stick to more old-fashioned means of fishing. Since this 82-acre reservoir also serves as the primary drinking-water supply for Thornton, another sign advises against wading or using any sort of flotation devices, such as belly boats or canoes. Off in the distance, the oil refineries rise up above Commerce City's skyline. But that sight doesn't deter the few fishermen, scattered solo along the shoreline, their lines cast in the placid waters.

Like the weightlifters, these fisherman don't know how good they have it in Thornton. — Dave Herrera

3:21 p.m. 2254 South Colorado Boulevard

In a desert of fast-food outlets and chain retail stores along Colorado Boulevard, this block of modest kabob shops and hookah cafes provides a welcome whiff of ethnicity. The linchpin of the whole experience is the modest but astonishingly well-stocked Middle East Market. The place has changed owners over the past twenty years, but claims to be the first truly Middle Eastern (as opposed to Mediterranean) grocery in the city.

Think of J.K. Rowling by way of the Arabian Nights: The market is a Baghdad version of Harry Potter's Room of Requirement. Need a phone card to call an uncle in Cairo to inquire which fancy crystal hookah you should buy and fill with a variety of fruit-flavored tobaccos? (The market stocks pineapple, mango, double apple, even chocolate, all with "the incomparable special taste of Al Fakher.") Need some Arabic pop-song CDs, guava nectar and yogurt soda to go with the couscous and honey-with-comb you're serving up to that special exchange-student someone? This is the place for you.

The market sells tea sets and tea, Greek baklava and Turkish delight, butter ghee and grapeseed oil. It offers what may be Denver's longest continuously operating olive bar and a selection of halal meats, the Islamic version of kosher, including some tinned meats. (Halal police, at ease: no Spam.) Its greatest glory, though, may be the spice bins. Whole nutmeg and ground vanilla, turmeric and cumin, curries and paprikas — wonderfully fragrant stuff gleaned from the crossroads of three continents, beckoning the beleagured palate drenched in sodium and sugar. They could charge burger-besotted foodies just to stand there and inhale the pungent promise of it all.

In the end, though, the market is about more than aromatherapy. It's a window on a larger world — and for many of its customers, a taste of home. — Alan Prendergast

4:05 p.m. 760 South Colorado Boulevard

Hiro-Kala, son of the Incredible Hulk, just can't catch a break.

First off, the teenager is the bastard child of a giant green monster-man and a long-dead galactic queen — talk about dysfunctional family. He spent most of his life enslaved, and just when he wins his freedom and things start looking up, Galactus, aka "the most awesome living entity in the cosmos," comes by and eats his entire fucking planet for breakfast. What an asshole.

Nor does he get to do any of the fun stuff enjoyed by other superheroes featured on the shelves. Deadpool, the mentally unstable immortal mercenary, for example, gets to crack wise with Amazonian babes. The buxom alien princesses and female samurais in Ninja High School get to make out with each other. And what does bald and pasty-white Hiro-Kala get to do in Son of Hulk issue 14? He travels to the savage planet Giausar to face an army of baddies hell-bent on his destruction. La-dee-fucking-da.

At least the vastly outnumbered Hiro-Kala has the number-one rule of comic books going for him: Hell hath no fury like a superhero with daddy issues.

Universe-spanning, world-shaking stories like these are a dime a dozen at Mile High Comics. The place itself has an origin story more incredible than Hiro-Kala. In 1977, small-time Mile High Comics owner Chuck Rozanski stumbled upon the world's greatest trove of Golden Age comics stacked away in a Boulder basement and vowed to use the windfall to launch an industry-changing comic empire (with great power, he realized, comes great responsibility). Now Mile High is reportedly the country's largest comic retailer, with 14 million comics that it sells through its website and at its four Colorado stores.

As Mile High's flagship operation, the Colorado Boulevard store boasts a bounty of mythical proportions, from thousand-dollar back issues to Batman marionettes to obscure action figures (there's a market, apparently, for a naked Wolverine with a car battery strapped to his leg). Epic clashes transpire over the counter between erudite masters of their domain, such as whether District 9 is a commendable sci-fi flick and how exactly you unlock the super-secret ending in the video game Halo. There are great weapons of power here, like a plastic replica of Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, that just came in last week and causes a real-life superhero, Denver Veteran's Affairs Medical Center AIDS researcher Leland Shapiro, to stop by and pick one up along with his regular dose of X-Men titles. "You gotta have discipline in the laboratory, because otherwise it will lead to all sorts of mayhem," says the physician, swinging the hammer about his head.

There are real super-villains around, too. Television news stopped by recently to film segments about the local meth ring that had been caught laundering money by buying old comic books. "I just think it's a crack-up," says Mile High employee Marc Zimmerman — though he's been salivating over "the phenomenally good deals" that could come from the authorities' eventual auction of the comic contraband. Who knows? Maybe it'll become the next great comic-book haul.

Meanwhile, what's become of our hero, Hiro-Kala? Will he vanquish the Giausarian hordes? Will he get some nice quality time with his big, green daddy? To these questions, Son of Hulk # 14 offers just three simple words, an oft-repeated phrase in the superhero business that's likely to keep Mile High Comics going for a long, long time: To be continued... — Joel Warner

5:20 p.m. 35th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard

It's hard to imagine a stretch of asphalt where drivers are more likely to take a Titleist through the windshield than Colorado Boulevard. A wayward three-wood on the closing hole at Wellshire, the charming muni course at Colorado and Hampden, could easily tag an afternoon commuter. One corner of City Park's course also reaches Colorado, and a duffer as powerful and as drunk as John Daly could surely hook one into traffic. And then there's Park Hill, that stubborn plot of sod at the corner of 35th and Colorado: The public course is cut so close to the road, and the road left so vulnerable by a pitiful stretch of trees, you're not sure whether to duck or switch lanes. Or both.

The threat level is reduced this afternoon; midday showers sent some of the less obsessed home after work instead of here. But the rain can't chase them all away. When golf gets inside you, there are times when you can't get it out, and that's when a place like Park Hill becomes an unfortunately large part of your life. Much to your spouse's dismay.

It's a simple course on a shabby end of the Park Hill neighborhood, and it does its best to welcome the shabby: The dress code requires not a collared shirt but any shirt, not golf shoes but just shoes. The clubhouse is covered with ivy, but in a way that somehow seems more lazy than charming, as if one day it will completely engulf the place, and everyone will just shrug and go home.

The driving range, guarded by nets and tucked safely away from Colorado, is busy as usual this afternoon, getting ready to watch the sun set on broken golf swings like it does on every summer evening. Much like the course, what the range lacks in tidiness it makes up for in space; it's an expansive pasture where the newly addicted can work out the shanks and the sprays and all sorts of other fatal-sounding swing ailments.

But it's the first tee where you can glimpse the role that the Park Hill course has played throughout its almost eighty years: Two men, not a collar between them, take turns violently swinging beat-up clubs, sending their balls everywhere but the fairway. They were probably in their cars not long before, booking from work, watching their dream of playing eighteen fade with every red light on a clogged Colorado. But they made it, and with their erratic first swings you can see life's disappointment vanish, replaced happily by golf's. With any luck, the sun will still be high when they reach fourteen and fifteen, the holes that practically share a lane with Colorado. With any luck, you'll be off the road. — Joe Tone

6:30 p.m. 1700 South Colorado Boulevard

This Village Inn just north of I-25, now proclaiming itself a more streamlined "VI" with a motto on which we can all agree ("Let's Eat"), used to compete with another Village Inn almost right across the street, until that older store closed. Today that address holds an IHOP, located just yards from a Le Peep. The VI is maybe half full, if that, and peopled by multi-generational families, gal pals on a night out, little old ladies the staff knows by name, loners and middle-aged daughters with their aging mothers.

This spot is about as close as I can now get to where the Tiffin Inn Coffee Shop once stood. That's where my father, the Brooklyn boy, an incorrigible night owl and media geek who had to somehow reshape the reality of what was then a near-suburban community to loosely fit his urban core, wandered down the street nearly every midnight for coffee, to chat with the waitresses and read the most current edition of the newspaper. (In those days, there were still several editions published each day, and it, along with the transistor radio plugged into his ear, was how he kept up with the baseball scores from the West Coast, where his beloved Dodgers played.) A couple of those waitresses he knew later opened another boulevard stalwart that's since moved on: Annie's Cafe at Eighth, which has at least morphed into its new identity on Colfax. The coffee shop was part of Writer's Manor, a tony motor hotel, and the little sister of the Tiffin Inn Dining Room, an elegant room with white tablecloths that itself had moved from its original home in an Uptown mansion. My family always ate in the swanky section when my grandparents visited. And we swam in the pool there, too, pretending like we were rich kids in our own mansion.

I lived nearby, down the block on Mexico Avenue, in a sturdy red-brick box built by the Writer brothers (who clearly owned the neighborhood for years). I walked to school, as all the kids did then, and there were still vacant lots on the street, where we rode bikes and played out our imaginary dramas in the summer. We played war and tag and hide-and-seek in the dusk. Those empty lots are now filled with high-rise apartments and office buildings, and the greenhouses down the street, where roosters once crowed, are gone, too, replaced by an enclave of modern houses. Writer's Manor itself gave way to the big-box strip mall that now stands here, hawking electronics, shoes, discount clothing and pet food.

There's so much in this neighborhood that's changed. Time marches on, and the mountains, which once seemed close enough to touch on a crisp October morning, now fall back in a haze. And I march on, too, pay my bill and drive away from this last ghostly dive into the past.

— Susan Froyd

8:45 p.m. 490 South Colorado Boulevard

The petite brunette has just finished dancing to George Thorogood's "I Drink Alone," and while she's getting dressed, I want to ask her about the tattoo on her lower back — a heart with a dagger through it, wings on either side of the heart. I decide not to, though, since the music is a bit loud and she's having a hard time talking — the result of having had her mouth pierced a week before. There's a stud poking out above her right upper lip, and she thinks it might be a little big, because it keeps brushing up against her teeth. And she's just itching to rinse her mouth with mouthwash so the hole doesn't get infected.

Strippers normally intimidate the hell out of me, but this one is easy to talk to — or at least, easy on my end. But then, girls at strip clubs know it's important to make guys think there's a connection between you, some magic or spark, something that makes you feel important, even if it's just for a few songs. And dollar bills help, too: Stuff enough in her T-bar, and the gal may rake her fingernails through your hair and drape her long hair over the back of your neck.

I wonder if the two gray-haired guys chatting her up directly across from me also have a close, personal attachment to this gal. And what the middle-aged guy wearing a tie and an oxford-cloth shirt, sitting by the edge of another stage where a girl is lying on her back, head near the edge, is talking about — when she could be waving boobs over his head.

Another guy is sitting by the wall. Nearly every time I've been to a strip club — there haven't been that many times, in the grand scheme of things — I've seen guys like this. They rarely sit by the stage, I'm guessing because they don't want to tip the girls or they're just waiting for one who's worthy, who'll recognize their special qualities. I don't want to be "that guy."

Another guy I hope I'll never be is the loud asshole smoking the stogie, acting like a big shot with his buddy. Chance are good that every strip joint will have a guy like this, too.

Somewhere between canned songs by Stevie Wonder, the Black Eyed Peas and Earth Wind & Fire, a guy gets on the mike and announces a special on T-bones this night. And, hell, there's nothing more manly than eating a T-bone, smoking a cigar and watching mostly naked ladies. Even if you're in Shotgun Willie's, which is the leading corporate citizen of Glendale, a once-sleepy dairy town, and Colorado Boulevard is right outside the door. — Jon Solomon

11:55 p.m.

Colorado Boulevard and Colfax Avenue

A sign proclaiming "Royal Palace" in metal calligraphy set on a crest of blue and yellow, adorned with glass jewels and a disco ball, is the only hint of a different time, a time decades ago when this motel wasn't surrounded by gas stations, when doctors visiting the nearby hospital might have spent dignified evenings at the Royal Palace. Most of the lights in that sign are dead now, except for the marquee at the base. It's still glowing, advertising all the amenities: clean room, HBO, ESPN, microwave, refrigerator.

Taped to the stairwell and the elevator of the two-story motel are stern warnings about visiting hours. No one without a room key is allowed upstairs after midnight. You will be asked to leave if you have visitors after this time. Please, these signs might as well say, don't sell your body or your drugs here. Down-on-their-luck families living here in the mid-'90s told the Rocky Mountain News that they fell asleep to the smell of burning crack anyway. That was around the time a man was found lying in a bed at the motel, dead of a gunshot wound.

There's another sign in the main office, this one from the West Metro Task Force, advising that people have been known to cook meth around here. The sign shows the ingredients and supplies you might find in a makeshift meth lab: cold medicine and alcohol and Pyrex containers and batteries and coffee filters and matches. The owners of the motel must have decided it was worth posting the sign in order to warn potential drug chefs that they're wise to their ways, even if the sign might alarm a few travelers simply looking for a place to stay.

The sign on room 411 is missing entirely; the room number is simply written on the door in marker. Many of the doors of occupied rooms are propped open. One room on the fifth floor has the lights on and the curtains open. A young couple is inside; neither has a shirt on. The trash cans on the balconies are filled with tall boys of Steel Reserve and empty cases of ramen noodles.

Most of the motel residents walking around meet your eye and extend some sort of greeting. For all its hard edges, the Royal Palace is clean and quiet. Manager Charles Shah has been working here for three years. He says he sees "all kinds of mixed people," coming through the motel. "Everyday people." No royalty, though. — Kiernan Maletsky

1:30 a.m. 960 South Colorado Boulevard

A Starbucks is attached to the Barnes & Noble Bookstore like the smaller half of a Siamese twin. It's larger than most of the Starbucks shops, with floor-to-ceiling windows and dozens of tables spread across the wide front sidewalk. But other than that, the place has all the same grandes, ventis, chai lattes and half-caff soy caramel macchiatos that can be found at the Starbucks down the street, the Starbucks up the street or the twenty other Starbucks locations within a three-mile radius.

If there were a mascot today for South Colorado Boulevard — Denver's first true experiment in the type of auto-only, strip-mall development that has come to define the American landscape — it would be the iconic green mermaid on the Starbucks sign. Her hands held aloft, she seems to beacon weary voyagers of the upper-middle class to take caffeinated respite during their constant journeys to Whole Foods and Super Target and King Soopers. To coffeehouse purists, of course, the inescapable ubiquity of that sign represents the ugly sameness of global consumer capitalism, with its homogenized branding and corporate logic combining like tank treads to efficiently roll over anything that is local, pure and unique.

The thing is that this Starbucks, astride a big-box bookstore, seaside to an unremarkable parking lot, just may be the most diverse coffeehouse in Colorado. Part of that may be because the shop stays open until 2 a.m. and then stays closed only until 4:30 a.m.; part of it may be its relative proximity to both the University of Denver and the diverse neighborhoods of west Aurora. Whatever the reason, this Starbucks can look like a veritable United Nations. Late at night, the tables remain filled with students hunched over laptops and text books, some with requisite white earbuds plugged into the sides of their heads, others, the females, wearing head scarves, the fabric bunching loosely around their shoulders. At other tables, twenty-somethings chat energetically in a variety of languages, including Korean, Spanish, Polish and some from North Africa and India. They drink grande coffees and concoctions towering with whipped cream and eat pre-made sandwiches from the Starbucks case. Friends arrive, and they rise to greet with kisses, left cheek, right cheek, left cheek. This could be a Starbucks in London, or Singapore. But out on Colorado, the cars don't stop. There will be another Starbucks coming up soon enough.

— Jared Jacang Maher

6:35 a.m. 700 Colorado Boulevard

This day has gone from pancakes to pancakes, from the dulling and dumbing-down of a classic Colorado Boulevard oasis for those finding themselves on the wrong side of last call to a real gentrification and an honest improvement: the recycling of a defunct Boston Market that never did anything good for anybody into a second outlet of Jon Schlegel's breakfast juggernaut and temple of pancakes, Snooze.

The thing that people will tell you about Snooze? You've got to get there early. If you want a table without a wait, if you don't want to wind up waiting inside the glass fish bowl of the new Colorado Boulevard location, smelling everyone else's pancakes without being able to have any of your own, you've got to get up really fucking early, find your pants and get a hustle on before the sun is even decently over the horizon.

Which is what I have done, because I like Snooze and I love pancakes, but don't fancy waiting on either of them. The doors at this Snooze open at six-thirty in the morning. I roll up just a couple of minutes later, and I am not even the first person here.

Snooze 7Co, in the house parlance, is bright and it is cool. It has the same nouveau/retro diner vibe as the original on Larimer Street — drawn straight out of Schlegel's worship at the altar of gentle curves and high-grade Formica — and an identical menu full of half-bent takes on classic American breakfast fare. But most important, it is busy, just like everyone says it is. I get a good seat along the wall, but before long, I am walled in by neighbors, by doctors and nurses from the hospital up the street (half of them dragging and just coming off shift, the other half energized and just ready to go on) and businesspeople stopping off for a quick hit of black coffee and pineapple upside-down pancakes before making for the office. Soon the floor is full and the bar beginning to stack up, and I am eavesdropping on two conversations at once — two old ladies talking about Jesus on one side of me, two old men discussing bank fraud on the other — while the servers quarter the floor and Schlegel himself moves through the crowd pressing the flesh, welcoming guests, chatting with regulars.

This stretch of Colorado Boulevard is changing almost faster than you can track. There are new condos just down the street; a hotel is slated to break ground next year in the space that Annie's vacated. And now there's Snooze, which is beginning to look like ground zero in the battle for the soul of this particular piece of blacktop. By 8 a.m., you can see the temper of change coming to Colorado Boulevard and, for the time it takes to devour a stack of pancakes, peer into the future. — Jason Sheehan

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