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The Usual Suspects

Denver remains the Sally Field of cities. "You like us, you really like us!" we cry out in gratitude whenever anyone pays us the slightest bit of attention. Best city for pets? We're there. Best city for bikes? Ditto. Biggest laundromat? Then-congresswoman Pat Schroeder offered that sop back in the late '80s after another Denver Broncos humiliation. That was two Super Bowl victories back, of course, not to mention two Stanley Cups ago. Best city for sports fans? We're number one!

City filled with rubes most likely to fall for a hoax perpetrated by Maxim? You bet. Last month, the magazine for dudes with 'tudes distributed thirteen versions of a story naming the top town in the country -- and dissing twelve other towns that each received the same tricky treatment. For example, while the fake article sent here lauded Denver for its easy snow bunnies, other cities' mock Maxim pieces dismissed us with this: "Welcome to a city so screwed up that deep-fried testicles are a popular local delicacy. Good luck finding the right wine to go with a plate of pan-fried Rocky Mountain oysters. What's for dessert, a bobcat's asshole?"

Good question.

After all, this is a town that still turns out for the opening of a supermarket, as hundreds of movers and shakers proved at last week's debut of Marczyk Fine Foods (although it is one fine market). A town that first attempts to wrest the Guinness Book of World Records award for the most noise made in a stadium (the old Mile High), and then, on Monday, the largest number of people to turn out for the groundbreaking of a behind-schedule convention-center expansion. The crowd of 1,200 -- with Rocky, the Nuggets' mountain-lion mascot, front and center -- beat the old record by several hundred people; too bad so many of them were given miniature shovels that misspelled the name of our state. Dig we must!

This is a town that really thought it had a shot at wooing Boeing's headquarters, but as Chicago celebrated its victory over Denver last May, we got to enjoy the consolation prize of the millionth meatball served by Maggiano's, a restaurant group based in Chicago.

This is a city already sweeping the streets -- of litter, if not protesters -- in anticipation of next week's international trade gathering.

And this is a town so desperate for stars that when ten-year-old King Oyo of Uganda announced his visit last month, Mayor Wellington Webb's office sent out an advance heralding the arrival of the "reigning monarch of the 170-year-old Toro Kingdom." Every major news outlet was at Denver International Airport to capture the boy-king's arrival, reporting on his lack of humor and filming his short highness being pelted with rose petals. They subsequently followed him out onto the ski hills (boy-king still not smiling, missing dog), into his meeting with Webb and First Lady Wilma at the mayor's office on April 22 (Webb gave King Oyo a boy-sized Broncos jacket), and then on to brunch at the Denver Public Library (where staffers scrambled to arrange a tour after handlers found a minute gap in the schedule). Just about the only aspect of the boy-king's visit that didn't rate coverage was the dubious accounting of ChristAid, the Aurora-based nonprofit that's supposed to be raising funds for a hospital back in Toro for children orphaned by AIDS. (Jean Torkelson of the Rocky Mountain News deserves kudos for finally digging into that last week.)

If Gary Coleman, the boy-king of '70s TV, still lived in Denver, he'd probably have a convention center named after him by now. Hey, Yaphet Kotto only lived here a few years, and he got to run a mayoral campaign! (His candidate lost, by the way.)

Since it's so starved for celebrities, this town often satisfies itself by snacking on lists -- some self-produced, some dropped down upon us. Even the Denver Police Department's spy file, a who's-boo of 2,300 as-yet-unknown names, has a certain cachet. But list-making has its limits. No sooner did 5280 magazine name its 22 People to Watch in 2002 than Avs player and cover boy Vaclav Nedorost was transferred. As a consolation prize for the big bust that was New Year's Eve 1999, Denver introduced the Mayor's Millennium Awards in late 2000, honoring a politically correct roster of seventeen individuals and institutions that had contributed to making the city what it is today -- or was eighteen months ago, at least. But since the millennium comes but once every 1,000 years, in 2001 the city switched to the Mile High Legend Unsung Heroes Awards.

And the song remains the same.

Next week, Denver will lunch off yet another list when the A&E Network brings the Biography 15 Years Celebration Tour to town. Denver is one of only ten cities on the itinerary (they like us!); the multimedia exhibit opens May 10 in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center (a mall that this weekend hosts the Mask Project, a benefit for the Hospice of Metro Denver that's crammed with artifacts created by celebrities large and small -- some very small). The A&E show starts with a taped welcome from Biography host Harry Smith, a genuine celebrity who started his career as a Denver DJ -- back when the term referred to radio jocks, not club gurus -- then moved into TV and subsequently split town for the bigtime. There's also a "Who Am I" game show, wax figures on loan from Madame Tussaud, and the Biography Community Heroes Exhibit, recognizing the "achievements and contributions" of ten individuals living in the Denver area -- none wax. Yet.

Take a minute to guess who made A&E's top ten for Denver, a city whose star power is of very low wattage. Here's a clue: You can eliminate Rocky the Mountain Lion, Rocky the Leprechaun, Shagman from Rocky's Autos (don't bother with Officer O'Dell or Audra, either), Jake Jabs, Tom Shane and both Dealin' Doug and O'Meara Ford's Bonnie -- they're not A&E's style. Thinking about how the rest of the country thinks about us, I guessed seven of the usual suspects, including:

Gene Amole (that Amole had written about Harry Smith in four straight columns was a red herring; it turns out that Smith is planning to do a segment on the News columnist -- "currently dying of multiple causes," according to the A&E release -- for his Travels With Harry show). Wilma Webb (whose husband will open the exhibit). Former mayor Federico Peña. Developer Dana Crawford, who saved Larimer Square. Construction company owner Linda Alvarado, the first Hispanic to own part of a Major League baseball team. Dancer/ choreographer Cleo Parker Robinson. John Elway (you may have heard of him).

I struck out with my pick of Phil Anschutz, the publicity-shunning billionaire who even now is drastically altering our cultural landscape (he owns a majority of the country's movie theaters and is now making films, too); Eric Weihenmayer, the first blind man to top Everest (admittedly, his is not a household name even in Denver homes); and Gary Hart, former senator, presidential candidate and Monkey Businessman who made a strong comeback last year with his prescient report on terrorism.

Instead, A&E rounded out its list with restaurateur and do-gooder Noel Cunningham; Richard Castaldo, the courageous young Columbine survivor; and Thomas Cech, whose 1989 Nobel Prize win wasn't too shabby.

Still, no Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstores, who keeps fighting on behalf of both independent booksellers and the independence of book readers -- a battle that went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. Blessedly, no Hunter Thompson or Goldie Hawn, or any other borrowed Aspen glitz. No John Hickenlooper, a relative Johnny-come-lately who's become a gossip-column favorite, always good for a quote -- such as this one: "Denver must indeed be celebrity-starved if you would go so far as to consider a humble pub owner a celebrity," he says.

And not even Barry Fey, one of the few recognizable locals who doesn't have a regular gig on TV or in a sports arena. "Denver is short of celebrities, isn't it?" muses Fey, who has seen plenty of national stars burn out during his more than thirty years in the concert business. "How else could someone like me hang on?"

Hey, ask Rocky the Leprechaun.

There's a lot to like about Denver -- all of the regular citizens who do their bit for the community without a lick of recognition, for starters. We sometimes forget that this city doesn't need star power to shine. Just don't tell that to A&E.


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