Shape Up Or Ship Out

Page 8 of 9

Jennifer, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, had parked on Pennsylvania the day before. Although she lives at Sixth Avenue and Williams Street, she parks in Capitol Hill so that she can catch a bus downtown, where she works and takes classes at the University of Colorado at Denver. After working late the night before, she got off the bus and couldn't find her car. "I walked around for thirty minutes," she said. "At first I thought that I just couldn't remember where I'd parked. Then I thought it had been stolen."

Since she didn't feel safe walking home at 11:30 p.m., Jennifer called a taxi. In hopes of finding her car in the daylight, she had her mom drive her around the neighborhood on this morning. "It seems like a total waste to tow cars and then move them back just to sweep the street for one day," she says. "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen."

Comments like these roll right off Anderson's back; it's not like people weren't warned. Bright yellow pieces of paper had been posted throughout the neighborhood, advising car owners of the potential for towing. The Unsinkables also posted notices in apartment-building lobbies.

The group estimates that between 120 and 140 cars are moved each year during the street-cleaning effort. The reason they go to such extremes, Anderson explains, is that the streets are so dirty that simply sweeping around cars doesn't accomplish anything. "This is the only time of year that the streets of Capitol Hill really get clean," she says.

The Unsinkables have also planted trees and flowers, installed additional lights and trash cans, and improved bus stops. (Grants from CHUN, the city and the Regional Transportation District have made those projects possible.) One of the group's next goals is to remove the pay phones outside Cafe Netherworld, at 13th and Pennsylvania.

Sheila Weisenborn, general manager of the cyber cafe, would like the same thing: The phones attract drug dealers and others who are bad for business. "There are always five or more people milling around the phones, and when other people walk over to 7-Eleven, they get harassed. It's Hey baby,' or some kind of threat," she says.

But according to Weisenborn, the building's owner refuses to remove the phones, because they bring in a lot of revenue. (The owner declined to comment.) She's hoping the Unsinkables will circulate petitions about the pay phones; if they can show the city that enough people don't want the phones there, maybe the owner will be pressured to remove them.

"The Unsinkables are great," Weisenborn says. "They keep our sidewalks clean, they clean graffiti off our building and they walk the neighborhood. I've never heard anything but good things about them."

10:30 p.m.,
13th Avenue, between Pennsylvania and Pearl streets

The neighbors are teasing Larry Dickinson about his stuffed dog, Admiral. They've decided they don't look very threatening with Admiral as their mascot, so they tell him he can't bring his toy on the walks anymore.

"Well, if I can't bring him, I'm going to start wearing a dress," says Dickinson, a self-described right-wing drag queen. He tells everyone that he's working on Governor Bill Owens's re-election campaign and that he has political aspirations of his own. "I'm going to run for city council," he says.

As the group nears the alley between Pearl and Pennsylvania, Dickinson announces that he must go home and put Admiral to bed. As the group turns down the alley, Goss points out the back of a boardinghouse where drug dealers once hid in the shadows and bushes; after the Unsinkables asked the owner to fix up the place, he removed the foliage and installed lights. Now the alley is eerily quiet -- so quiet that Calcamuggio says, "Someone needs to commit a crime."

Minutes later, her wish comes true. She and Goss spot two men walking along Pearl, and one of them is drinking a beer. But since he apologizes and hands Goss his can of Coors Light, she lets him go with just a warning.

A half hour passes with little activity, and then, as the group approaches a parking lot near the Office Depot on Colfax, a man jumps out of the back seat of a car, hops in the driver's seat and speeds away. The top of a woman's head can be seen as he takes off. "Looks like they just finished doing...something," Goss says, shaking her head. She's disappointed that she didn't catch the john.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon