Terms of Endearment
Denver cut a strange psychological profile this past year, as schizo as a Colorado winter. The Nuggets filled the Pepsi Center, and the Broncos fumbled. Suburbia got hip, and Colfax got somewhat civilized. It was a good year for the young and upwardly mobile, and a bad year for homeless people, babies and prosecutors of sexual-assault cases.
Before we dive headlong into 2005, join us on a whirlwind tour of some high, and very low, moments from the year that was.
In January, the University of Colorado at Boulder suddenly knocks the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from its perch as the most sexually hostile campus in the nation. The push comes from a deposition given by Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan, and leaked to the press, in connection with a federal lawsuit filed against CU by three women. The women all claim that they were sexually assaulted at, or after, a recruiting party in December 2001; although her office does not press charges, Keenan makes a case that the CU athletic department uses sex and booze to woo desirable football players. The CU scandal continues to grow throughout 2004, even as the school loses its number-one-party-school status. Meanwhile, the Air Force Academy reports a record number of female applicants for the Class of 2008.
In February, smartie astronomers at the Boulder-based Space Science Institute use a high-powered telescope in Hawaii to detect hydrogen peroxide in the Martian atmosphere -- a discovery that could explain why the Red Planet hasn't yet made contact: Hydrogen peroxide, a kind of cosmic bleach, kills living organisms. But even gallons of that life-killing chemical wouldn't be enough to spiritually sanitize the Grand Junction courthouse where Michael Blagg's murder trial gets under way in March. A former acquaintance of Blagg's testifies that, at a dinner with female co-workers, he boasted he felt lucky to be "a single guy out for dinner and drinks with three beautiful women" -- at a time when Grand Junction was plastered with posters pleading for clues in the disappearance of Blagg's wife, Jennifer, and six-year-old daughter, Abby. Though Abby is never found, Jennifer's body is discovered five months after that dinner, a bullet through her skull. In April, Blagg is found guilty of shooting his wife in the face while she slept.
In May, the Belmar development opens on the former site of Villa Italia, bringing an unlikely union of retail shopping and scrappy, progressive art to beautiful downtown, ahem, Lakewood. The mother of all planned communities takes a similar cultural cue in November, when the Tattered Cover opens a third store in Highlands Ranch.
The Downtown Denver Partnership commissions six "safety ambassadors" to spread goodwill to conventioneers and consumers on the 16th Street Mall, lest they be scared off by the outstretched hands of homeless people and other mall rats. The Do-Good brigade is dispatched in May to help said homeless find food and shelter -- and to encourage them to skeedaddle from the pedestrian tourist-fare, which soon christens a new, marginally improved Skyline Park in July. But even the smiling safety squad has to admit it doesn't have a lot to offer the city's homeless. In July, Mayor John Hickenlooper's Commission to End Homelessness rejects Denver Tent City's proposal to erect a non-permanent shelter on open space somewhere in town; commissioners argue that tent dwellings would be a temporary fix that falls far short of their stated goal of eradicating homelessness in Denver by the year 2014. By the end of the year, however, that population is estimated to have swelled to 11,000, with a record number of homeless deaths.
Jefferson County can't be bothered with such petty issues as homelessness; it's got bigger troubles closer to home. On May 18, a man who looks suspiciously like county commissioner Rick Sheehan is videotaped sending obscene faxes to Mike Zinna, muckraking maestro of the virulently anti-bureaucrat website JeffcoExposed.com. Over a two-month period, Zinna receives other colorful missives from "Pinky T," an anonymous mother-faxer with a fondness for pink leather thongs. Fortunately, Sheehan is not seen wearing this undergarment on camera. Even so, by the end of the year, fellow commissioners are calling for Sheehan to resign.
Lovelorn yuppies in search of thong-wearing babes get a boost in June when Forbes anoints Denver the nation's "Best City for Singles." The online description of our lusty population is positively gushing: "Looking for jobs galore, cheap beer and highly educated, unattached young people? Head for the mountains!" But editors follow that coo by warning, "The nightlife is still in its adolescence. The Lower Downtown area, where the action is, is dominated by beer-swilling, crowded fraternity fests." (Not to quibble, Forbes, but you forgot mace-wielding cops and riot police.) Elsewhere, as Marvin Heemeyer thrashes Granby in a bulldozer, Hunter S. Thompson trashes Denver in the pages of Vanity Fair with "Prisoner of Denver," a disjointed rant on cowboy culture, the felony-murder case of Lisl Auman -- and the Denver Police Department.
Good thing Thompson's piece goes to bed before the July shooting death of 63-year-old Frank Lobato, who's lying in bed when he makes the mistake of pointing a soda can at a Denver cop. By August, the city has logged 61 homicides, including the stabbing deaths of Colorado Free University founder John Hand and cab driver Mesfin Gezaghn; nineteen-year-old Amber Torrez is charged in both men's murders. In another unsettling crime wave, three babies are found dead and abandoned -- one in a dumpster, one in the restroom of a Cherry Creek bar.
Phil Anschutz gives the entertainment world a sappy hit with Ray and a global miss with the unfathomable remake of Around the World in Eighty Days. Denver dramatists serve up two musicals -- Brooklyn! and The Immigrant -- to savage reviews on Broadway. And ruddy-skinned, cane-toting Coloradans find their way to the unreal world of reality TV, on The Apprentice, Survivor, Who Wants To Marry My Dad?, even the gender-bending He's a Lady, on which a basketball-playing Denver transplant dons a dress. But the state's oddest cultural export is shipped in August, when a full theatrical production based on Reverend Keenan Roberts's Hell House opens at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. The cast, which includes Bill Maher as Satan and Andy Richter as Jesus Christ, closely follows the specs outlined in Roberts's $200 script and production kit, right down to the mangled aborted fetuses and singeing flames of eternal hellfire. Roberts's own production remains hunkered down at the Life Temple in Arvada.
Denver gains a dubious distinction in September, when Men's Health toasts the town as the "Drunkest Big City in America." The mag bestows the title after surveying drunk-driving arrests, alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-related liver diseases in 101 of the country's biggest cities. The distinction might be merely pathetic if not for the creepy timing: The magazine is still on the stands when two college students, Colorado State University's Samantha Spady and CU frat pledge Lynn "Gordie" Bailey Jr., turn up dead after binge-drinking marathons.
Those deaths come just in time to pick up the national media slack after the Eagle County District Attorney's Office announces on September 1 -- even as jury selection is under way -- that it is dropping the sexual-assault charges against basketballer Kobe Bryant. With the accuser no longer willing to participate, there's just one pair of tainted panties too many for the DA. But the story lives on, because the accuser had filed civil charges in federal court a few weeks earlier. When a judge rules that her name must be on the suit, the worst-kept secret in Colorado spills wide open.
Even so, Katelyn Faber isn't the most omnipresent name in the media that month. No, that honor belongs to Bill Owens. Fresh off a televised debate with Howard Dean and guest spots on Real Time With Bill Maher, Colorado's governor signs on to host a sports-talk show on Altitude, Stan Kroenke's fledgling cable upstart. The monthly program helps fill time that would otherwise be occupied by the Colorado Avalanche, a teamona non grata since the NHL lockout. While the shiny-faced guv talks Nugs and Broncos, everyone else is trying not to talk about his ongoing separation. (Maybe he took Forbes's description of Denver as a bachelor's paradise too seriously?)
Owens stays away from October's big sports story, when superstar Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is popped at Denver International Airport for the teeny bit of marijuana found in his carry-on bag. A month later, prosecutors drop the charges against Melo and pin them on James "Slim" Cunningham, a pal who signs an affidavit indicating that the weed was his. The story seems almost as unlikely as the fact that the Nuggets, with Anthony and import Kenyon Martin, are now the state's most winning athletic franchise. The formerly sucky team seems downright spoiled come late December, when head coach Jeff Bzdelik is canned after a six-game losing streak.
Former Colorado Rockies slugger Larry Walker becomes a star by cranking game-winning homers for the St. Louis Cardinals during the World Series. The closing Rox record leaves no doubt who got the best deal when Walker split D-town: Denver lost more than ninety games this past season, finishing 68-94.
Colorado Democrats bat about .500 in the November election. Although the state goes for Bush, by the time all the counting and shouting is over, the Dems again rule both houses of the Colorado General Assembly, for the first time since 1960. In an unrelated development, Denver's place on the Department of Homeland Security's list of cities most likely to be targeted by terrorists drops from nine to 39. Whoever compiles the list obviously hasn't heard the Coalition of the Willing, a Boulder High School talent-show band that draws the attention of the FBI for an endearingly angst-filled rendition of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War."
In December, Denver unveils its new Colorado Convention Center, a massive structure that sits on 2.2 million square feet, cost $310.7 million and came in on schedule. In coming months, the center will get its finishing touches, including the addition of a forty-foot, 10,000-pound sculpture of a bear that will hover by the main entrance, blue as the oxygen-deprived Denver sky. But there's no time for a civic celebration, because Hickenlooper's casual comment that he may replace the "Merry Christmas" sign on the City and County Building's annual holiday display with "Happy Holidays" has Scrooges from around the country whining about our anti-Santa sentiments.
To which we offer, in the immortal non-words of loser Jake Plummer, a one-finger salute.
So what do we have to look forward to in 2005? Two words: Hooters Air. At the end of January, the fledgling carrier begins service to Denver, the town where sex and booze made all the news in 2004. All aboard!
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