Off Limits

Runaway train: If the primary election seemed rough, fasten your seatbelts--we're in for a bumpy ride through November 5. But the toughest fight promises to be not the Senate race (pitting the Pillsbury Doughboy against the Democratic doughboy), not the First Congressional race (Pat Schroeder Jr. against a guy named Joe), but the battle for a seat on the once-sleepy RTD board. Funny how a few million bucks in federal funding can up the ante. At stake is the future of light rail--which proponents would like to get moving full speed ahead down the Santa Fe corridor and opponents would like to stop in its tracks. Leading the latter group is Jack McCroskey, former RTD chair and current thorn in RTD's side, who's thinking of taking another run at the board.

As critics of light rail gather speed, fans of big public-works projects are running scared. In a survey of RTD candidates now making the rounds, the Amalgamated Transit Union asks would-be boardmembers about their experience with public transportation and their experience with unions, then slips in this ringer: "The Independence Institute is a Golden-based 'think tank' which has taken an active interest in the RTD board and policy matters. Are you familiar with this group and, if so, what is your opinion of them?"

Here's a clue: In the opinion of the slim majority of current RTD boardmembers who favor light rail, the Independence Institute is evil incarnate. As for its head, former Reagan appointee Tom Tancredo, could he be Satan? Not only did the Independence Institute fund a well-researched study that exploded a few myths about light rail, but last election it also hosted a confab for new boardmembers to suggest how they could put a spike in the wheels of progress.

Meanwhile, amid news that Amtrak is canceling two of the three passenger trains through Denver, plans to actually add another train to Colorado this month hit a major roadblock. The Colorado Department of Transportation and Amtrak had proposed importing the high-speed IC3 Intercity Train from Israel for a month-long demo along five Colorado routes, including Denver to Fort Collins and Denver to Pueblo. So far, so good. The catch was that while CDOT was willing to throw a paltry $50,000 into the half-million-dollar pilot project, it needed to collect $375,000 from local governments and another $100,000 from the private sector before the train could leave the station. No surprise that effort ran out of steam.

Light mail: While living in Boulder, Nan McCarthy found herself spending more and more time online, sending e-mail to far-flung friends. That experience inspired her cybernovel Chat, originally published on the Web and coming out this month in low-tech paper form via Peachpit Press. Although the book recounts an online romance with nothing more than increasingly torrid e-mail messages, McCarthy says it's decidedly non-autobiographical. The author, who just moved to Chicago after her husband got a job there, met her spouse the old-fashioned way: in person.

Paper trained: Life on Mars? What does it matter compared with the opening of a Nordstrom department store? Both daily papers are doing their damnedest to prove that point with a string of puff pieces on the Park Meadows "retail resort." For instance, the Denver Post daringly sent a reporter to Seattle to go shopping at Nordstrom. "The first thing I had to get used to at Nordstrom," she breathlessly reported on August 11, "is the number of times I was asked if I'd been helped." The Rocky Mountain News was beyond help, with a blockbuster in last Sunday's Business section about how the new Nordstrom will be stocked. "Welcome to the world of a Nordstrom buyer," the News reporter cooed. "Part-soothsayer, part-salesman, a Nordstrom buyer has to learn the quirks of local customers and buy merchandise that satisfies." But many "buyers" of Nordstrom on Wall Street aren't so satisfied. As former Post business editor Henry Dubroff so ungraciously reported in last week's Denver Business Journal, Nordstrom's stock plunged from $53 per share in May to just $37 more recently. The stock hit a 52-week low August 9, after the company reported a 17 percent decline in second-quarter profits. However, none of that fazed the Post, which last Sunday positively simpered about that new star in the galaxy known as Park Meadows. Gushed the paper's correspondent, "Who knew shopping malls could be so pleasant? So gracious?"

Or so willing to buy full-page ads?