Wheels of Misfortune

They arrive before the sun, traveling from Longmont and beyond to the corner of Champa Street and Park Avenue West. The small man carrying two plastic grocery sacks stuffed with clothes. The adolescent boy wearing a pressed white shirt and perfectly parted hair. The old woman huddling inside a plaid blanket. They lean against storefronts, slouch on the curb, sit on top of suitcases, backpacks and cardboard boxes. And they wait.

For them, and for the hundreds of other men, women and children who come here every day to catch a bus to Mexico, this busy intersection has become a kind of purgatory, a grimy way station where they must bide their time until the next passenger coach rumbles up. Three bus companies operate out of this corner, shuttling passengers back and forth from the border as often as six times a day. Each company has a small waiting room with plastic chairs, TV novelas and whirring fans, but come rush hour, there's not enough room for everyone. The travelers and their families spill over into nearby businesses and residential areas, darting through traffic, crowding sidewalks and pushing this edge of Curtis Park into chaos.

For years now, tensions have been rising and falling with the ebb and flow of traffic. The city has held meetings, discussed solutions and applied band-aids, but every year, as more immigrants arrive in Denver and Curtis Park continues to gentrify, the situation grows a little uglier.

Late last month, the neighborhood celebrated a small victory when the Los Angeles-based Golden State bus lines, which had the heaviest schedule, stopped its operations in Colorado and six other states, laying off 280 employees, including three in Denver. The embattled company, indicted by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft last December for allegedly smuggling illegal immigrants, had been struggling financially. But the neighbors' cheers were soon drowned out by the sounds of buses from other lines, including Los Paisanos, gearing up to fill the void; still other bus companies are interested in renting Golden State's former terminal on Champa.

The neighbors know it. The bus companies know it. Authorities know it. This intersection is, as one Denver official says, "a collision waiting to happen."

As morning commuters roar by, the man with the plastic bags, the boy with the pressed shirt and the old woman with the blanket file onto a crowded bus, which lurches from the parking lot and disappears into the stream of traffic on Champa. Back on the corner, a rumpled man hawks packages of disposable razors from a backpack, a homeless couple rattles a shopping cart along the sidewalk, and a bus-company employee wearing a black T-shirt sweeps corn cobs and cigarette butts into the gutter. Slowly, another line begins to form.

When John Hayden arrived in Curtis Park eight years ago, he considered the neighborhood one of Denver's best-kept secrets. Just blocks from downtown were rows of elegant Victorian homes, tree-lined streets and endless potential. But Curtis Park also had a blend of culture, history and demographics that he hadn't seen anywhere else in town. As he settled into his first home there, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that neighbors were committed and active, not at all shy about hosting July Fourth barbecues, Valentine's Day parties and spring picnics.

"I just fell in love with it," Hayden recalls. "Everyone knows everyone else. We take care of each other. We're not just neighbors; we're friends."

That's not to say that Curtis Park is perfect, he adds. The neighborhood has seen more than its share of drugs, petty crime, poverty and decay. And although things have improved, getting police, firefighters and code-enforcement officers to respond to complaints can be like pulling teeth. One night in January 2001, Hayden arrived home and found a man in his living room, stealing the original stained-glass windows that he'd planned to use for a renovation project in the Champa Street house. Hayden confronted him, the burglar pulled a knife, and Hayden fled to his yard and dialed 911. The police arrived twenty minutes later.

"Their response was, 'Well, there's a lot of transients in this neighborhood,'" Hayden recalls. "It was like, 'It's your fault for living here.' There were tracks in the snow and everything, but they didn't go after him. They didn't seem to care."

Yet few problems have plagued Curtis Park like the crowded conditions at the bus terminals. The companies began arriving in the early '90s: first Turismos Rapidos (now Americanos USA) at 2147 Broadway, and then El Paso-Los Angeles Limousine Express, at 838 Park Avenue West. But Turismos Rapidos stood on a wedge of land about five blocks from the Victorian homes along Champa, and both companies had parking lots that accommodated the flow of buses and passengers relatively well.

As immigration increased, though, Turismos Rapidos and Limousine Express expanded their schedules, and more bus companies appeared on the scene. In 1996, Golden State moved into a space at 2301 Champa that had once been a drugstore. Of all the bus lines, neighbors say, Golden State was the worst. At its peak, it ran ten buses, from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m., and hauled about 400 people per day. The company didn't have an on-site parking lot; coaches simply wheeled up to a curbside passenger loading zone and loaded and unloaded passengers.

Every day, but particularly on weekends, Golden State's buses roared through the neighborhood, idled outside homes, stole parking from nearby businesses and double-parked on Champa. Passengers, meanwhile, overflowed the narrow plastic benches inside the bus station and moved out onto the sidewalks. They congregated outside shops and left trash everywhere. With the added traffic at Limousine Express and Camionetas Chihuahua, which opened at 2249 Champa in October 1999, the scene grew chaotic.

"It was just really unsafe," recalls Hayden, who lives a block away from the Golden State station. "Huge groups of people were milling around, with no way to separate passengers from their families. Instead of being allowed to use a regular terminal, they were being unloaded on a street corner. I often thought, 'Someone is going to get killed here.'"

Which is exactly what happened.

On July 20, 1998, a studious and deeply religious fourteen-year-old named Alfonso Carrillo Jr. accompanied his mother to the Golden State station to say goodbye to an aunt who'd been visiting from Chihuahua, Mexico. As the bus pulled north onto Park Avenue West, the boy, who'd been waving goodbye, stumbled on the curb and fell beneath the rear wheels. He was killed instantly.

Hayden happened to pass by the intersection after the accident and saw the sheet covering Carrillo's body. After that, he and his neighbors demanded change.

"When a child died, I thought that would galvanize the city into doing something," Hayden says. "If this would have happened in Highlands Ranch, the city would be all over it. But nothing happened. Nothing changed."

Joi Afzal, who owns the Hue-Man Experience bookstore at 911 Park Avenue West, became just as frustrated. Buses have taken her customers' parking spaces, rumbled by her window and filled her shop with noxious fumes. Passengers have lounged on her front steps, trashed the alley, puked on her sidewalk. But no matter how many calls she's placed to the city, the problems have remained. "It's been one big headache," Afzal says.

Melissa Muñoz's family has operated Foto Muñoz, at 2253 Champa, since 1957. Their shop is surrounded by Chihuahua, which stands next door; El Conejo, which opened two doors away at 2255 Champa in 2001; and Limousine Express, which operates across Champa. Although bus passengers occasionally visit her shop for passport photos, their business doesn't make up for the squeeze.

"It's like they moved in and took over everything," she says. "On weekends, it's like little Mexico."

When Bill Muff opened B-Line Snowboards at 2239 Champa this past June, he had no idea the buses created so much congestion. If he'd known, he says, he wouldn't have moved there. Although he and his buddies enjoy sitting outside the shop on weekends, watching the activity and munching on the palateros' banana popsicles, the crowds have become too unruly. Every morning, he picks up the litter on his property. Every night, he watches people congregate outside.

"I've been here at midnight, and they're still out there partying," Muff says. "It scares customers. Not only can't they find parking, but when they come out here and see this, they really don't know what's going on. It kind of creeps them out. There are shady people out here sometimes. It's a real mess."

Eugene Tepper was born in Curtis Park. For eighty years, his family operated a plumbing shop at 2300 Champa. He remembers the drugstore, the market, the laundry, the gas station, the bar, the printing company and the barbershop that have all come and gone. He's seen the intersection grow and change and grow and change again. But the bus lines and the traffic they bring are a "blemish," he says. And once the nearby Stout Square and Park Avenue West apartment buildings are completed, the congestion will be unbearable.

"If you draw a two-mile circle, you've got close to 4,000 units in that area," Tepper says. "And that's all you need is those bus stations in the middle. Can you imagine trying to sell those units with the buses coming and going and the people wandering back and forth? It certainly does not enhance the value of the property. Those buses should be gotten out of there. They've been a very deteriorating factor."

Hayden accepts that the bus companies are providing a necessary service. The nationality of the passengers has nothing to do with his complaints, he says. He prefers to live in a diverse neighborhood. In fact, he feels for the customers who've been dumped onto a crowded street corner without adequate facilities. Still, he says, this many bus companies should not be allowed to operate side by side on the edge of an expanding neighborhood. The city should not allow it.

"The city is not doing the enforcement job it should be doing," Hayden concludes. "They say they don't have enough people, but they seem to have enough people to make sure no one's parking meter goes ten minutes over in LoDo on a Friday night. This is unsafe."

At City Hall, the files are thick with explanations. First, the bus companies are operating in an arcane pocket of Denver zoning -- B-8 -- that aides describe as a "no-man's-land." B-8 was established in 1956, when this edge of downtown was a hodgepodge of homes and businesses such as auto shops. Although over the years, zoning administrators had modified B-8 regulations in neighborhoods such as the Golden Triangle and the area around Coors Field, they had not gotten around to Curtis Park -- because no one had asked them to.

"It's the type of zone that does not take into account incompatible uses next to each other," explains Kent Strapko, the city's zoning administrator. "There's not a lot of controls."

When bus companies asked permission to do business in this neighborhood, city officials essentially opened the zoning books, ran their fingers down the list of acceptable B-8 uses, found "bus stations" and said okay. As long as the companies followed basic regulations, such as property maintenance, they could haul as many passengers to and from Mexico as they wanted. They could even load and unload customers on the sidewalk.

"If the ordinance says you can do it, it's automatically allowed," Strapko says. "There's no negotiating."

But in the late '90s, as neighboring businesses and nearby residents became increasingly vocal in their complaints, the city gathered all sides around a table with a mediator and tried to negotiate.

It wasn't easy. Authorities couldn't simply "down-zone" the area and add more restrictions -- not without a fight. Many of the area's landowners believed that this part of town could become the next LoDo, and they resisted any suggestion that might restrict development.

Not only that, but the bus lines already had permission to operate and had more or less complied with the provisions of the B-8 zoning. Changing the rules after the fact could result in a nasty court battle. "You can't just change the law and make them go away," Strapko says.

Instead, the city tried to crack down by citing a Denver regulation that limited idling to ten minutes, but then the feds stepped in and overruled the city, saying that buses must idle more than ten minutes to operate safely, so a compromise of up to thirty minutes was reached.

Authorities could, however, make sure the bus lines followed noise, litter and traffic laws, which the companies agreed to do. Among other things, Golden State ordered its drivers not to park outside homes or businesses, and it stored coaches overnight at a maintenance lot on 58th Street. Limousine Express, meanwhile, hired security guards to help buses maneuver in and out of traffic, ordered employees to pick up trash, asked the city to empty its dumpster more often during the busy season, and directed customers to park in a nearby paid lot.

In September 2000, officials finally amended the B-8 zoning to require that any new bus companies moving into the area provide parking and passenger loading and unloading on the same lot. But since most of the bus companies were grandfathered in under zoning's original provisions, they were exempt from these changes.

And the newest arrivals on the block, El Conejo and Chihuahua, managed to wriggle their way through the amendment by sharing a single parking lot and knocking down a brick wall behind their terminals to give their coaches more room. Strapko had denied the original permit, saying the configuration would cause traffic problems, but he was overruled by the city's Board of Adjustment.

"Most urban problems are usually solved through give and take," says Denver City Councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt, who has wrestled with the issue for years. "With this one, there really is no give and take."

Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, who represents the area, agrees. In hindsight, she says, none of the bus stations should have been allowed to operate at a busy intersection near a residential neighborhood. But once the city has given permission, it's hard for officials to rescind it.

"It's a real catch-22," Wedgeworth says. "We cite them and things are fine, and they try to make improvements, and then it starts all over again. Basically, our hands are tied."

Jose Mendez leans against a wall facing Champa. Beside him, his wife bounces their shirtless seven-month-old son in her arms while their seventeen-month-old daughter fidgets nearby. Mendez is here to say goodbye to his mother, who's been visiting from El Paso. He checks his watch, folds his arms and watches the elderly woman in blue slippers shuffle off to check the departure time.

He and his family picked the worst time to come to this corner: 6 p.m. on a Friday. The sidewalk is packed, almost festive. Paletero bells ding, ding, ding over the grind of rush-hour traffic, vendors hawk bottles of Gatorade and peach nectar from ice chests, norteño music jangles from passing cars, and the muggy air carries the aroma of hot grease from a nearby lonchera.

Mendez comes here about once a month, he says, and it's always the same: crowded, dirty, noisy. The service is bad, the parking is nonexistent, the security is minimal. Sure, the ticket prices are reasonable ($40 one way to El Paso), and the eleven-hour bus ride to the border beats driving himself or forking out a few hundred bucks to fly. He's not happy -- not happy at all -- about his family having to wait outside and breathe in diesel exhaust. But what can he do?

"I have no choice," he says. "This is where the buses are."

Across Park Avenue West, near the El Conejo office, Leticia Flores waits with her husband, two daughters and a niece, who's returning to El Paso. A dozen yards away, outside the Chihuahua bus station, a Ford F-150 jumps the curb and parks on the sidewalk beside a Cherokee, which had done the same thing a few minutes earlier. A family carrying pillows and suitcases piles from the pickup and joins the mob.

It's not right to have so many people so close to a busy street with so many buses pulling in and out of traffic, Flores says. Like Mendez and many other Mexican nationals, she prefers to travel by bus, which usually offers Spanish-language videos and popular music. But whenever she comes to this corner, which is several times a year, she keeps a close watch on her kids. And like Mendez, she can't understand why the city and the bus companies allow passengers and their families to be treated like cattle, particularly in the winter, when they must squeeze into the narrow waiting rooms. She suspects it has something to do with the size of their wallets.

"There's nothing but working people here," she says. "If we were rich, the service would be better, but since we're not upper class, no one cares."

On the other side of Champa, in the packed parking lot of Limousine Express, Leticia Calderon stands in the lonchera line. A departing bus inches through the lot while a security guard waves men, women and children out of the way. The bus lumbers into the middle of Champa and negotiates a jerky K-turn while commuting cars stack up behind it. Suddenly, a burly guy in a sleeveless shirt elbows Leticia out of the way. Hard. Her two pigtailed girls watch wide-eyed as her husband, Louis, flags down a passing police car.

The bully says Leticia cut in front of him, but Louis maintains that "the assault" was unprovoked. The cop calms everyone down and cajoles a tepid apology from the smirking assailant, who then disappears into the crowd. The cop doesn't issue a single citation.

"People are pretty mellow here," he says. "They're either going home or picking up a relative, so they're usually in a good mood. We hardly have any problems here."

The Calderons offer another assessment.

"It's terrible," Leticia says. "I'm mad. People have no respect for each other out here. And the security guard just stands there and doesn't do anything."

"I hate it," Louis agrees. "I mean, just look at this: People all over. Buses turning in and out. People selling burritos from their cars. Is that safe? Now, don't get me wrong: These buses are cheap and convenient, but there's got to be a better way to do this. A two-year-old kid can run right into the street any time and get hit. I'll do whatever I can to change this. And you can quote me. And while you're at it, take a picture of the restroom, too. It's inhumane!"

Petra Vasquez stands beside a fence on the edge of the Limousine lot, nodding in agreement. Her son and his family will guide her through the mass of people and make sure she gets onto the bus safely, but she understands why everyone is complaining.

"I don't like it," she says. "Too many people and too much traffic. It looks terrible. I'm looking forward to going home. It's better in Mexico."

Tony Barrios, local manager of the El Paso-based Limousine Express, sits in his station's waiting room and carefully considers the complaints. He hasn't heard about any problems in quite a while, he says. As far as he knows, he's complying with all of the city's regulations. Still, he admits that the 36-year-old company has probably outgrown Park Avenue West.

"It is a pretty confined area here, and it has gotten pretty hectic at times," Barrios says. "But we are trying to deal with it. We are trying to find an arrangement that works for our neighbors, our employees and our customers."

But those customers must realize that if they want more amenities, such as parking and bigger passenger loading areas, they may have to pay for it. "We provide reasonably priced tickets," Barrios explains. "If they want more services, then the prices might go up."

Raul Ortega, manager of Americanos, says his business, too, has "grown so much that it's hard to handle everybody." In fact, now that Golden State has closed, the schedule is supposed to increase from eight buses per day to ten. To accommodate the extra customers, Americanos will remodel its Broadway station and modify the parking lot to improve traffic flow.

"Complaints?" he says. "We've had nothing. Nothing at all."

At Chihuahua bus lines, Jose Hector Nevarez leans across his broad white counter and shrugs. When he opened, the city gave him a long list of rules, and he's followed them, he says. His employees pick up trash. His buses park in an adjacent lot. His customers wait inside his station or on the adjacent blacktop. "I don't use the street," he says.

Like most of the other companies, Chihuahua started as a mom-and-pop operation. And it set up shop at Champa and Park Avenue West because that's where the other bus lines were. Customers already knew the location; Nevarez was simply following the business.

"I'm just doing the best I can," he says.

Jorge Oliva is a mechanic who runs GOP diesel on 58th Street, where Golden State serviced its fleet. He believes the bus companies are being treated unfairly.

"Sometimes, when the neighbors look at Mexican people, they automatically see a problem," he says. "But these companies are doing their best for their neighbors. The economy is growing. This is a big market. A lot of people ride these buses, and a lot of families work for these companies. They're helping the business here. More people come on these buses every day. It's good for everybody."

Socorro Martinez, who operates the Salon Libertad beauty shop, is one such beneficiary. In the five years her business has been at 2305 Champa, she's had more trouble with homeless people and Curtis Park drug dealers than with bus lines, which bring customers to her shop for a trim, a phone card and a little chitchat. Without the buses, she might have to shut her doors. The closure of Golden State is "awful," she says.

"It's better with them," Martinez adds, above the whine of hair dryers and TV chatter. "They're not my friends, but they don't bother me. People come for a few hours, then they leave. Without them, it would be lonely."

Frank Esparza, an assistant at the Dallas-based El Conejo, says that if neighbors want a solution, he has one. He waddles behind his Champa Street building with his cane, cowboy hat and grizzled chin and points toward two brick duplexes off Park Avenue West.

"Knock 'em down," he says. "Then there will be room for the buses. If people are complaining so much, why don't they get a petition and take it to the city? Have them knock these buildings, and that would fix it. If people have a problem, take it up with the city. They have all the money."

El Conejo is just trying to make a living, he says. It doesn't cause trouble, because it only handles a few buses a day. Esparza doesn't know anything about B-8 zoning or amendments, either. All he knows is that the city gave El Conejo permission to use a curbside passenger-loading zone in front of the station, and that's what it's doing.

"Hey. We're trying to clean up our act," Esparza says. "But you know what? No one is happy. That's the bottom line. No matter what you do, there are going to be complaints. Things could be better, sure. But things could be worse, too. Come on. Look on the bright side."

Curtis Park neighbors are trying to do just that. On August 29, Golden State, which had served 1.5 million passengers across the country each year, shut down after financial reorganization failed to return it to profitability. It had lost its leases in Tucson, El Paso and other key markets; rising insurance costs also squeezed the company hard. The 39-count indictment against Golden State for allegedly smuggling thousands of illegal immigrants did not influence the decision, according to Wade Gates, a company spokesman in Los Angeles.

"There was just a lack of working capital to fulfill all of our obligations," Gates says. "The company has pleaded not guilty with regard to the matter, and no trial date has been set. Other than that, I can't comment."

Although neighbors finger Golden State as the worst of the companies, Gates says they hadn't received any complaints regarding its Denver operations in quite a while. "We did meet with local officials and business owners and did make several changes to improve conditions and relationships with neighbors," he says, "but we have not heard of any issues since that time."

And anyway, Curtis Park doesn't have Golden State to worry about any longer. "We had leased that space, and we closed all operations," Gates says. "We no longer operate."

Joi Afzal welcomed the company's demise. "We might not see immediate change, but eventually it will help," she says. "And I look forward to it."

"The worst offender is gone," Hayden concurs. "But we're taking a wait-and-see attitude on how the other stations proceed and whether it's going to be safer now."

Which could be wise, because competing companies are already interested in taking Golden State's place. Chuck Capehart, Golden State's former landlord, says there's "a good possibility" another bus line will slide into 2301 Champa. If city officials and Curtis Park neighbors are upset about that, Capehart doesn't know why. The problems that existed with Golden State were solved years ago, he says.

"No one's approached me about problems," Capehart says. "And I'd hear about it, don't you think? If I go to the grievance department right now, do you know how many complaints they'd show me? None. But let me tell you something. We could walk up and down this street for two days, and I could show you complaint after complaint that needs to be fixed. You're going to have complaints. That's just the way it is. But if the city says I can't put them here, then have them find me another place."

Which, as it turns out, is just what the city is trying to do.

Late last month, city officials embarked on another round of meetings to solve the Curtis Park bus situation. They talked about possible places to move the terminals, including the RTD lot at Alameda and Santa Fe, and discussed incentives to make the companies do it, such as economic-development funding. But discussions are very preliminary.

"I really feel it's our responsibility to do something, not just on behalf of the neighborhood, but for the people who are using a service that right now is not safe," Wedgeworth says. "We have to be culturally sensitive to what's happening here. We're a changing community. We recognize that. We want to involve everyone in this process. We need to find a win-win for everyone."

The simplest solution, city officials say, would be to move the bus companies to the Greyhound/Trailways station at 1055 19th Street, where passengers could enjoy air-conditioning, a gift shop, a diner, 25-cent TVs, enclosed loading areas and a rooftop parking lot. Through a subsidiary, Sistema Internacional de Transporte de Autobuses, Inc., Greyhound owns stock in Americanos and the defunct Golden State; Greyhound executives attended the 2000 meetings on the problems at Champa and Park Avenue West. But the company has no plans to invite Limousine Express, Chihuahua, El Conejo or even Americanos to join it at 19th Street.

"In our current terminal, we simply don't have space to accommodate other carriers," says Jamille Bradfield, a Greyhound spokeswoman in Dallas. "To our knowledge, we have not received inquiries from them."

As for Golden State's demise, Bradfield says that was a separate company with its own management team and its own board of directors, and "it was Golden State's decision to make."

"This is in no way an indication that Greyhound is in trouble," Bradfield continues. "While business is down, the company is healthy and in no danger of going out of business."

In fact, Bradfield says, Greyhound is looking forward to relocating to Denver's proposed transportation hub at Union Station -- which city officials suggest could ultimately offer the best solution for Curtis Park, as well. In theory, the intermodal hub will be home not only to Amtrak, RTD buses, light rail, Greyhound, the Ski Train, shuttle vans, limousines, taxis and bikes, but also to shops and offices. Yet squeezing all that onto a 19.5-acre site won't be easy. And project completion is six years away, at least.

Suzanne Oldham, Union Station Alliance project manager, says the alliance is dealing with the largest chunks of the puzzle first, such as Amtrak, RTD, the mall shuttle and Greyhound. Once those are hashed out, they'll move to smaller components, such as additional bus lines. "We feel there is probably the ability to provide access for all of the transportation lines on the site," she says, "but we have not evaluated how they fit into specific plans yet."

"There's a lot that needs to go onto that site," echoes Shannon Gifford, advisory committee co-chair. "This really and truly is just beginning."

But even if the Union Station plan could accommodate more bus companies, those companies would have to want to make the move. Right now, they're operating without too many city regulations. If they move to the transportation hub, rules would be tougher. And rents could be much higher than what they're paying now.

"Maybe people want a big station, but a big station costs money," says Chihuahua's Hector Nevarez. "Unless everyone goes, I don't think anyone will go. People already know this place. Why should they move?"

Tony Barrios, however, doesn't rule out a move to Union Station -- if the price were right and it benefited passengers. "I don't object to that," he says. "Maybe it's time for us to leave. That's something we might like to do in the future."

If all other options fail, Barnes-Gelt says, Denver officials may just have to bite the bullet, down-zone the intersection at Champa and Park Avenue West, and boot out the bus companies on public-safety grounds.

"When the city invokes the powers of public health, safety and welfare, the courts usually agree," she says. "We have the public-safety authority. The issue isn't authority. The issue is backbone."

A gray sedan peels out from a parking meter across from Limousine Express, shoots across two traffic lanes, then speeds through the intersection. A big guy with a beer gut watches the light change, then jaywalks across Park Avenue West, cursing at the honking motorists as he does. On the curb, a wrinkled man with scuffed cowboy boots sits on a green backpack and groans through a loud yawn.

Hayden and his neighbors are pleased that the city is examining the bus-station situation again. This fall, members of Curtis Park Neighbors plan to work with Denver officials to review the B-8 zone. And in the meantime, Hayden says, they also intend to pressure Capehart into changing his mind about leasing 2301 Champa to any other bus company.

"We would be very disappointed and very upset if that were to happen," Hayden says. "We still think these buses create a safety hazard and that this is the wrong place for them. We've been working on this a very long time, and we'd like to see results. If he puts another one in there, he's going to have a fight on his hands."

He has bills to pay, Capehart says. If he agrees to not rent to a bus company, will neighbors and businesses help make his payments?

"Look," he says. "I'm not trying to cause problems for people. I'm just trying to look out for my investments, especially in this time when everything is down. If the city has something in writing about all the bus stations leaving at once, then I'd be more than happy to close the whole place up and run my people out of here. But if they get someplace that raises the rent to five grand, it ain't going to work. It's got to be somewhere they can afford."

Alfonso Carrillo Sr. hopes the city can strike a deal. He still comes to this corner when family visits from Mexico. But four years after the death of their son, he and his wife, Maria Elena, cannot easily speak about the intersection.

"It is dangerous," Maria Elena says through a whisper. "Very dangerous."

"My heart beats very fast when I see the children there," Alfonso says. "There are too many buses and too many people and too much traffic. Everything is all mingled together. I'm afraid something else will happen there, and that will be real sad."

Instead of pointing fingers, the Carrillos think the city and the bus companies should see this as a chance to improve conditions and attract more customers.

"Immigration is not going to stop," Alfonso says. "It's only going to increase. There is an opportunity now to make things right. In Mexico, everything is separate between the buses and the people. It is like a DIA for the buses. It is time for the authorities to follow other countries."

But until that happens, this corner of the city continues on its collision course. A Limousine Express bus rumbles forward at the same time as the Chihuahua bus, inspiring a chorus of horn blasts. A boy and his father come out of a parking lot and approach the curb alongside Champa. They gauge traffic a moment, then dart into the street.

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