They're everywhere, the foot soldiers of the political process — clipboards and pens in hand, earnest fervor oozing from their eyes and dripping from every "Are you registered to vote, man?" The answer, from me and almost everyone, it seems, is a piqued-though-not-pissed "Yep." Not so from an off-balanced gentleman with a dark stain on his V-neck and a khaki hat barely clinging to the crown of his head. No, exactly one hour into the 39th annual Oktoberfest (www.oktoberfesdenver.com), with an empty Paulaner beer stein dangling at his side, this guy tells the well-intentioned volunteer wearing a MooTang Clan tee, "You bet your sweet ass I'm registered! And I'm gonna vote like a sonuvabitch!"
Hell, yes, dude. Hooray, beer!
This demonstration of grog-logged voracity is all the motivation I need to saunter back up to a Bier tent and order myself a $24 stein of Paulaner Oktoberfest. Earlier in the evening, flying solo porque todos mis compañeros flaked at the last minute, I simply wasn't ready to commit. "Come on!" hooted and hissed the Air Force folk hawking brews as a fundraiser for their annual Christmas party. "Get the stein. You want the stein!" And I did want the stein; I just didn't know it yet. Instead, I'd settled on a $5 plastic pint, promised to return when my balls eventually dropped, and went on my merry way. Back now in front of my critics, I am heralded as a hero when I tell them I'm ready. "Say," questions one of the cashiers over the cheering of her comrades, "did you happen to pay with a credit card last time?"
"Do you have that credit card, by chance?" she continues.
"Do you have that credit card, by chance?" I respond, realizing exactly what's going on here. She does. "Wow. Good thing I came back here as promised."
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"Yeah, good thing," she replies, a coy smile stretching across her cheeks. "Now, how much would you like to tip?"
I would like to — and do — tip her generously, then shuffle away sheepishly carrying with two hands what feels like a cinderblock's worth of delicious German beer. I wander around for a while — past the kids' rides, the authentic food stands, the Great Clips stock car on display, the bright-orange Jägermeister stands on every corner — and finally find myself in front of the German music stage, where the Rheinlanders are playing the "Too Fat Polka" and telling the growing crowd that "the more beer you drink, the better we sound." When their set ends, the official hostess of Oktoberfest explains the festival's history, teaches everyone how to say "cheers" in German (prost!) and declares that one of the best moments in Munich every year is when 10,000 festival-goers stand on the benches in the beer halls and sing along as the band plays John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Her declaration elicits hurrahs and high-fives all around, as does the tapping of the first official wooden keg, a process involving a large mallet and beer shooting out into the street. The crowd goes apeshit, and I join the masses as they huddle around to catch a free, foamy refill.
A warm, setting sun turns into a temperate twilight as two of the Ballpark neighborhood's most burgeoning blocks overflow with dancing, drinking and laughing. Front patios of bordering bars spill onto the sidewalks, and I can't help but notice that everyone seems infinitely happy to be alive. When Cole and Jermaine eventually join me, I follow them into the beer line and pony up $16 to refill my cinderblock. We then set up camp at the intersection of Larimer and 21st streets and, as the stoplights click through their endless color rotation and the bleary-eyed swell of ecstatic tranquility undulates all around us, we share in the collective euphoria that is a Friday-night beer festival on the streets of our fair town. And it repeats again next weekend.