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Busker Do!

Lunchtime. Downtown Denver. The 16th Street Mall. Is there any better place in the world? Of course there is. There are probably 200 to 250 better places in this state alone, never mind the rest of the planet. I mean, have you been to Paris? It's beautiful this time of year. The way the soft evening light collapses in a thousand fluttering pieces across the Seine, you get the feeling that those guys almost couldn't help but invent impressionism.

Still, the 16th Street Mall, not the Seine, is what runs through downtown Denver, which is why the numerous city boosters behind Pimp My Downtown are hard at work trying to make this stretch the place to be. And they're going to do it by adding...buskers! That's right: They want to change the image of the 16th Street Mall from one of a ragged, homeless teen injecting crystal meth into his eyeball to one of a ragged, homeless teen injecting crystal meth into his eyeball while juggling.

But I actually like the 16th Street Mall as it is. Yeah, it's kind of shitty, and a lot of the stores are shlocky, and it doesn't give off the sophisticated air that many of the new upper-crust in this city think it should, but you know what? It was never built for that. That mall reflects a time when Denver was a smaller city, not the Real World-and-Democratic National Convention-attracting, quick-build-more-useless-light-rail-tracks-that-we-can't-afford behemoth that it is today. It's a simple pedestrian mall that the citizens of a dusty town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains can use at their leisure. And I don't think there's anything wrong with leaving some things as they were, as reminders of a different era (mixed-use-condo developers, you'd best believe I'm looking in your direction). Besides, despite what the bureaucrats whispering about the need to improve downtown may think, there's plenty of culture to be had on the 16th Street Mall.

During a busy lunch hour last week, I set out to prove this. But after finally finding a parking spot, I nearly abandoned my search for culture when I heard this exact conversation:

WOMAN 1: I'm dead serious, I haven't swam in a public pool in over 25 years.

WOMAN 2 [expressing genuine, heartfelt disbelief]: Get out!

So powerfully insipid was this banter that I stopped in my tracks to ponder just how boring the conversation these women were having actually was. There's no imaginable context in which that exchange could be interesting. Not even if these two women were matching-pantsuit assassins sent to destroy some evil enterprise, and that was the pre-arranged code for when to pull out giant guns and start spraying up some office building. Because even then, I would just wonder why they hadn't chosen cooler code words. I almost got back in my car and drove off, but then I noticed the staggering amount of hot women on the mall and chose to stay.

I mean, hello! Ladies! Where have you been all my life? In every direction, I turned, there were beautiful women! Tall ones, short ones, brunette ones, even one on crutches! If the powers-that-be are concerned about the image of the 16th Street Mall, send them to the LoDo portion of it about noontime. Problem solved. Something about those businesswomen out there power-strutting to their lunches sent my heart fluttering. And by heart, I mean penis. For them, I'd shave and get a haircut and wear a suit! (As a side note, these women don't like it when you attempt to photograph them for a slide show to accompany your column on the web. Leave comments!)

Not only did I find beautiful businesswomen in my trek up and down the mall, but lots of culture. Including buskers. To my right was an Irish kid with his hat on the ground, singing chanteys. To my left, three black dudes banging away in a drum circle. Straight ahead, a homeless man rising from his slumber on a bench, then launching into a game of "Feel How Hard I Am," a crowd-pleaser of a busk if there ever was one.

And the lineup of stores was an exact mix of the types of people in Denver, a perfect pastiche of what our socio-economically diverse consumers need: Here was an upscale market and deli; there was a shit-shlock shop selling fake tomahawks; here was a place to buy a flat-screen TV; there was a window display of Broncos jerseys. Illegal Pete's here, Taco Bell there. Looking around, I couldn't help but feel that there was something for everyone on the 16th Street Mall, and that it was just fine as it was — the places, the people, everything. But then I overheard this conversation:

DUDE 1 [walking past a new restaurant named Earl's]: Dude, have you eaten here before?

DUDE 2: Dude, this place is the bomb right here!

DUDE 1: For real?

DUDE 2: Dude, like bomb bomb.

So I left the mall immediately before I could change my mind.

To see the slide show, click here.

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Adam Cayton-Holland