Life wasn't a bitch in Colorado this year; it was a bear. Denver International Airport opened in a snowstorm and Coors Field made its debut with replacement players, but it was a pair of cuddly polar bear cubs that really captivated the Mile High City. A mud-splashed mayoral election came and went, former U.S. senator Gary Hart briefly rose from the dead, and Elitch Gardens opened a very un-gardenlike new amusement park in the middle of a downtown parking lot. But that was no reason for locals to be distracted from the truly important matters at hand: namely, whether the Denver Zoo's ursine assets (latest estimated merchandising value: $250,000) had been successfully burped that day by the human nannies who adopted them after their mother's rejection.
What would you do for a Klondike bear? Channel 4 became the Official Station of Klondike and Snow, airing nightly reports that answered every conceivable question about the dynamic duo with the possible exception of what a bear does in the woods. Its Goldilocks and the Two Bears coverage--anchored by bear-huggable newsbabe Aimee Sporer--inevitably led to the marketing of a Klondike and Snow videotape. And the TV station wasn't the only local business to help bring the miracle of birth and the visceral satisfaction of a dead-bang marketing campaign to the children of Colorado. King Soopers won the merchandising rights to the cubs, rolling out a product line that included beach towels, coffee mugs, posters, Christmas ornaments and greeting cards. The zoo's cut of the action: a meaty 10 percent.
Not that the profit center born when Big Mama Ulu popped out her wondercubs on November 6, 1994, was limited to the over-the-counter retail trade. Attendance at the zoo soared 37 percent as a direct result of the pair's arrival and five times as many people plunked down money for zoo memberships as had the year before. Said an appreciative zoo spokeswoman, "The bears were an unexpected gift."
The bear's civic honeymoon, though, was shattered with all the brutal force Nanook of the North might have used in clubbing a baby seal into submission. Having grown older, bolder and considerably more likely to bite off the hands that had fed them, Klondike and Snow were traded this fall to Orlando's Sea World in a secret deal that reportedly included promises of a climate-controlled habitat, unlimited duck-slaughtering privileges and three Arctic foxes to be named later. Exactly one year, six days and 27,000 grade-school show-and-tell presentations after their birth, the bears blithely boarded a cargo plane at DIA and jetted to their new digs in Florida, touching off an orgy of blubbering not seen since Captain Ahab and crew set out to sea.
The city began to mourn even before its great white hopes left town; a group called Save Our Bears (SOB) gathered 10,000 protest signatures, and Mayor Wellington Webb felt compelled to soften the blow for schoolchildren and other fragile souls, somewhat anthropomorphically assuring the citizenry that, at the very least, the bears would not be allowed to leave town in the middle of the night because Denver doesn't treat people that way. Even the director of the Captive Wildlife Protection Program for the Humane Society of the United States weighed in on the change of venue, noting, "With all the hype that has surrounded these bears, we feel that real concern for their welfare has been lost, and the difficult and stressful future they face in any captive setting has been ignored."
In the end, the polar pair easily earned a historic role as the city's all-time animal attraction, surpassing even "Pirate," the Denver dog that earned national headlines when his owner, Charles "Stoney" Jackson, ran him--three times--for president. In fact, the death of Pirate last year at the age of fifteen went largely unnoticed in all the hoopla. And it wasn't the only benchmark event you may have missed. Bear with us as we swat a few salmon for the year that was.
LAW AND ORDER Things spun out of control crime-wise last year, prompting hard-nosed Attorney General Gale Norton to put her foot down and call for a return to chain gangs to "combine hard work with humiliation." Norton hoped to occupy prisoners' time so they would no longer be able to file lawsuits such as the one complaining that only single-ply toilet paper was available in the prison latrine, and another from an inmate who said the confiscation of pornography from his cell had wrongfully interfered with his pursuit of a degree in gynecology. An especially passionate case was made by a group of Sunni Muslim inmates who sued the state demanding the right to conjugal visits since "celibate life is against the teachings of the Holy Koran."
Much to Norton's likely satisfaction, however, humiliation was hardly in short supply for the state's criminal element. A woman who lifted a $7,500 necklace from another woman in a department-store dressing room was tracked down by private detectives and apprehended while wearing the bauble at her own wedding reception. The hired dicks generously allowed her to duck out of the ceremony before they put the squeeze on her, keeping hubby none the wiser.