We were somewhere around the Capitol on the edge of downtown when the booze began to take hold. All night we had been drinking, pouring alcohol on top of thick, prime-cut steaks devoured with gluttonous glee in celebration of a friend's birthday and the NBA All-Star Weekend. I remember sourly slurring something like "This is it?" when we were let out at a near-empty Colfax bar, smoky and indifferent to all the percolating nonsense no more than a mile or two away.
"You ought to see downtown," our cab driver said, staring at us intensely through his rear-view mirror with sunken, hollow eyes, as though we could only imagine such a scene.
But we had seen it. On the television in my apartment, filmed from every angle by TNT helicopter-mounted cameras that swooped low before rising again, dramatically capturing twenty years of downtown Denver development in quick, succinct shots -- shrewdly misinforming the national audience that things here were never any different. Come to Denver, the heli-cameras shouted, there's a Niketown, a Virgin Megastore, the Hard Rock Cafe, just like everywhere else. You can spend $300 on sneakers here, too.
Denver looked good from above, like any other big city, really: lights, buildings, cars huddled together like small animals in a storm, busy, ant-like people streaming into the country club of the Pepsi Center. For the people who live here, it might as well have been any other city. It was all off-limits. Did we have the money for a ticket to the show? Were we on Puffy's VIP list? Our best bet was to go to the convention center and watch suburban white kids measure up against cardboard cutouts of Earl Boykins.
Inside the bar, Carmelo Anthony hoisted an MVP trophy from the rookie-sophomore game on a television in the corner, sheepishly warding off questions about being denied a spot on the All-Star squad. Just happy to be an ambassador for the city, he said. We wondered how much of Denver our ambassador had actually seen outside of his penthouse, the Pepsi Center and the Palm. We ordered round after round of vodka tonics and tried to watch more television highlights of the madness supposedly hemorrhaging around us. But there was no madness inside the bar, no licentious insanity, just a table of unaccompanied flight attendants, all Southern, all blond. Madness enough.
The papers the next day oozed salaciously with gossip about the goings-ons of visiting royalty. Reporters recently schooled in terms like bling, crunk and Ying Yang Twins deftly used them to tell us things about Jadakiss and Vivica A. Fox, howling parties at Cherry Hills mansions, VIP rooms and Cristal. Back on earth, life was the same. People jogged in the sun. Dog parks were full. Sheer and utter normality.
Later, downtown, deep inside the belly of the beast and high on artificial enthusiasm, not much difference. Patrons of a bar with no cover drank alcohol and Crunk Juice and chattered excitedly about Amare Stoudemire and Josh Smith, but that was all. No fashion models lounging in dark corners, no sweaty wads of hundred-dollar bills working their way across counters, no In the VIP pornographic adolescent fantasies filmed behind thin walls. The bar wasn't even full. Nor the streets. Another LoDo night, just limousines instead of cabs. We tried to call a taxi, first sevens, then threes, but with no success, just that noxious on-hold music, Cab driver, take me home, sounding like it was recorded in a Dr Pepper can. Then a limousine pulled over and asked if we needed a ride. We piled in, sitting on each other's laps, excitedly thinking that this was it -- this was our All-Star experience. But when the hairy Neanderthal dropped us off at our car near the Church, he demanded far more than we had initially discussed. We gave him the pre-determined amount and left him swearing furiously.
Shivering girls in Saturday's whore-fits lined the walls of the Church as spotlights searched for terrorist aircraft in the night sky. A woman held a sign that read, "You Could Feed a Family of Five With Your Earring," while limos queued around the block. Inside a nearby 7-Eleven, three men in dark suits bought cigarettes and Red Bull.
"You guys going to the Church?" I asked.
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No response. Not even a glance. They kept their bloodshot eyes tuned forward, or at each other.
The next day brought more tidings of excess, the actual All-Star game itself and belligerent radio ads for a final blowout party at Club Carmelo. Nobody seemed to care that he's still underage. You'd think some asshole cop would have a field day with that.
The papers, the TV and NBA Commissioner David Stern were all full of praise for our city. We carried it off, they told us, verbally patting our heads. The little cowtown that could made the stars feel at home, and for that we should all feel real proud. Next year, the swirling, whirling dervish of frenetic activity makes its way to Houston, where they hope those Don't-Mess-With-Texans can pull off as good a show as we did. But those of us who live in Denver and watched the festivities on television at spots that seemed familiar yet somehow foreign, unreachable and unfair, know that they can. That weekend ought to feel exactly the same.
In honor of Hunter S.