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TAKEN FOR A RIDE

Here comes Mayor Wellington Webb. Look! He's got four empty suitcases--three soft-sided vinyl, one American Tourister--and a very short pair of skis. No poles or boots.

"Look's like we're all ready to take a trip," he says. Then one of his aides rushes up with another, longer pair of skis. Mayor Webb shoves the luggage into the bowels of the bus, and we're ready to go.

It is 9:30 a.m. last Friday, four days before the scheduled opening of Denver International Airport, and I'm accompanying the mayor as he travels to DIA "from the perspective of a traveler." My fellow passengers are almost all RTD boardmembers.

9:33 a.m.: We file onto the bus. I weasel into a spot directly behind Wellington Webb. I study Hizzoner carefully. He has short hair and a ski-jump nose and wears New Balance running shoes, a blue suit with a chalk stripe and a tie illustrating cooperation between the children of the world. I have interviewed him once before. It's a long story, but I had gotten him to say only two words: "sugar cookies." I have a feeling there is more to the man. But just as I am about to lean forward to pose a trenchant question like: "Ski much, Mayor Webb?" he decides to move to the front of the bus to "read a few reports."

9:34 a.m.: An RTD spokesman welcomes us aboard and asks the mayor if he'd like to say a few words. "No," the mayor replies.

9:39 a.m.: Mayor Webb has two bodyguards. Each has a cellular phone. 9:53 a.m.: We arrive at the bus station at 30th and Downing. "I don't feel safe here," a reporter complains to RTD spokesman Andrew Hudson.

"For what it's worth, we do have security guards," Hudson replies.
"Well, I don't think people from the suburbs will like it up here at all," the reporter insists.

9:56 a.m.: Our bus driver misses her turn to Stapleton, drives around the block and starts over.

9:58 a.m.: An RTD speech ensues. Highlights include "assessing demand," "extensive in-depth surveys," and something that sounds like "multifaceted lunch structure."

10:06 a.m.: Mayor Webb de-buses at the Stapleton Airport parking lot, from where commuters will be encouraged to take the Sky Ride bus to DIA. While TV cameras whir, he strikes several Montgomery Ward catalogue poses with RTD muckety-mucks.

10:14 a.m.: We depart for DIA. "Have you ridden the light rail yet?" Andrew Hudson asks our section of the bus. "It's really neat."

10:32 a.m.: We arrive at Denver International Airport two minutes ahead of schedule. Mayor Webb praises the Sky Ride bus for being tall enough for him to stand up in. "It was a good ride, and the price was reasonable," he tells the crowd. (If he had paid, it would have cost $6.) Then he is set upon by no less than four United Airlines skycaps and ticket agents, all of whom rush to help him unload his suitcases and skis. Reporters deluge Webb with questions about how long it really takes to get to the new airport. Webb does not crack. He suggests that one always "set aside enough time" when leaving on an airplane trip.

10:47 a.m.: We watch Mayor Webb's skis and bags disappear down a conveyor belt. Mayor Webb claps his hands and yells, "I'm for that!"

10:50 a.m.: Mayor Webb announces we will now be heading inside.
10:51 a.m.: We head inside, gladhand a group of baggage handlers and shoot up an escalator to the second floor of the Elrey B. Jeppesen Terminal. Mayor Webb detours quickly into a shop called Creative Croissants. He shakes two sets of hands. The third gives him a small white paper bag filled with what might be doughnuts. Mayor Webb says thank you and begins snacking absently. (If he had paid, it would have been a couple of dollars.)

11:01 a.m.: Two escalator trips later, we wait for a train to take us to Concourse B. A melodious P.A. voice announces, "No boarding at this position."

"Know who that is?" Webb challenges. "The male voice is Pete Smythe. The female is Reynelda Muse. Neat, huh?"

11:06 a.m.: We arrive at United's Gate 338, where Mayor Webb pretends to board a flight to Aspen. (If there had been a plane at the end of the jetway, he might have boarded it.)

11:14 a.m.: Mayor Webb shakes hands with bookstore clerk April Hollins, leaving her bouncing up and down with excitement. "My pace is accelerated," she says. "I feel supreme."

11:18 a.m.: Director of Public Works Mike Musgrave herds us into the United Airlines Red Carpet club, where we stand around in a sea of leather armchairs. Mayor Webb sneaks off to peek out the window. "Hey," he says softly, "great view of the mountains from here."

11:27 a.m.: "Yo, mayor!" a couple of drywallers shout. "Nice airport!" Mayor Webb smiles graciously, then hands his doughnut bag to a bodyguard. 11:36 a.m.: Musgrave takes the group off to see the airport's Control Center, promising a look at hundreds of feet of "pneumatic dispatch tubes." I demur. The bodyguard hands the doughnut bag to a nattily dressed young man who introduces himself to me as John Roberts and says he is an "airport guy." As such, he says, he arranges tours and writes brochures. "You're going to love this airport," he assures me. "It's so cool. It's slick. At night, it glows." John Roberts's favorite parts of the airport are the Mayan gardens at Concourse C and the statue of Elrey Jeppesen in the main terminal. "I'm glad they didn't pick some jerk to name the airport after," he reflects. "Jepp is very cool."

11:40 a.m.: A second-grade field-trip nightmare comes alive: I have become separated from my group. Mayor Webb and his entourage are nowhere in sight. Having nothing better to do, I take the train to the Mayan gardens. I get there and find them well worth the trip. I watch some floor-buffers eat yogurt.

11:56 a.m.: The Concourse C ladies' bathroom features two changing tables with mirrored sides and somewhat alarming toilets that flush themselves when you least expect it.

12:03 p.m.: Arriving back at the Concourse B food court, I find John Roberts killing time with janitor Harold Cantu until such time as the Mayor Webb tour reappears.

"Let's look at the doughnuts," I suggest.
"Let's," Roberts agrees. The mayor's bag turns out to contain 2.5 Danishes. We each eat one. "I just hope the mayor doesn't find out about this," Roberts observes, just before his beeper goes off. I am left holding the bag.

12:11 p.m.: Harold Cantu moves slowly past me with a bucket and sponge. "All of this must be clean," he mutters. "This stainless steel, this glass. All clean. All the time."

12:13 p.m.: A sudden traffic jam at the Concourse B McDonald's prefaces Mayor Webb's arrival. While aides procure a burger for him, he chats with a reporter about how the time is right for DIA. "For women," Webb adds, "it's important to note that there are changing tables in the women's bathrooms."

"That's right!" I blurt. "I saw them." Mayor Webb turns to look at me. "I have your Danishes," I add. Emitting a strangled laugh, Mayor Webb quickly finds someone else to talk to.

12:16 p.m.: An AP photographer named Joe has been standing around photographing the escalators with no one on them. I alert him to a killer photo op: Mayor Webb taking the first bite of his Big Mac. "Oh, I don't think so," Joe says, and goes back to photographing the escalators.

12:42 p.m.: Mayor Webb stands up, shakes a few hands, drains his soda and heads over to the Body Shop to get acquainted. I lose track of him again, because John Roberts picks this moment to begin herding us back onto the bus.

12:58 p.m.: We arrive at the RTD ticket counter at Jeppesen Terminal. We look it over pretty thoroughly, even though it is not yet open for business. Several RTD spokespeople announce that this is where you buy tickets for RTD buses. I wonder where the mayor is.

1:34 p.m.: We arrive back at our bus, only 21 minutes late. We board the bus. We are advised that there may be a delay because the bus is broken. A phone call is placed to RTD mechanics, who are only twenty minutes away.

"Where's Webb?" someone asks.
"Oh, he went off in a big Lincoln," someone else replies.
1:47 p.m.: "A dead battery?" says an RTD flak. "That's the problem?"
The driver confesses she may have left the lights on.
2:02 p.m.: The RTD mechanics give us a triumphal jump. We head for downtown.
2:42 p.m.: We arrive at the corner of 16th and Blake.
2:43 p.m.: I finish the last of Wellington Webb's Danish.