We were in Civic Center Park for a few hours shooting the sunset behind bland Denver buildings. Some Mad-Eye Moody looking dude in Birkenstocks marched up to us to tell us True Grit was playing in the park, “the good one”, he said (whatever, I liked the Coen Bros. one more). He did the same to everybody that passed by. Maybe he was more together in the 1970s, but this guy definitely drugged himself out of the rat race. I guess that’s one way out.
We shot a view from a ground angle, up over an urban garden and bench that would occasionally seat lovers, or a runner with untied shoes, or a family. The tops of their heads were in the shot, but luckily Mad-Eye was around to scare them all away. He stared at this guy’s girlfriend so hard I started to get offended—started talking to them, first about True Grit, then about I-stopped-caring. Whatever it was, it was enough to get them to stop looking into each others eyes and focus their attention on getting the hell away from this guy. The same happened with the family, and the lace-tiers. And would have been us—if we weren’t NY (and one Cali) assholes.
A group of three, fresh out of an exercise session in workout gear, asked about the camera and photography in general. Mom cornered Mark and Ronald while Jim and I talked to daughter and her boyfriend. They talked a different Denver than I was seeing: a beautiful place to live with so much to do and see. Mom talked loud, I could hear her bragging about her homeless son in Barcelona.
“Oh yeah, he’s homeless! He can’t find a hostel! Hah!” She was smiling, happy he was having an experience. Something told me this woman had some money. Something told me “homeless son” was exactly 1 phone call away from safety.
“He’s studying abroad in Barcelona, but he’s living on the streets for a few nights.” Poor fella, getting an education in another country while pretending to be impoverished. Smart money is on you thinking you’re gaining enlightenment for doing this while mom cheers you on from her Mile High ivory tower.
This is the Denver I saw. The buildings are bland and the place seems like a hub for unaware self-aware people. 16th street is home to every kind of person: some depressed-clown-like dude wearing different color Crocs, people playing instruments poorly, and the homeless playing public pianos very well. Things are inverted here: the buildings look old, crops are brand new. The actions are forward-thinking, the thoughts are stale. The talented are homeless, the talent-abled pretend to be before calling it quits at 5 to hit a smoke shop.
Mad-Eye talked to some more passerbys before marching around the park, unwashed curly hair wafting a distinctly Denver-Progressive scent. Mom, daughter, and boyfriend took off after a long conversation drifting between her son’s study-abroad poverty tour and her own photography.
“Oh, you guys are going to Boulder tomorrow? Denver’s nice but…ooh, Boulder. You’ll LOVE it there!”
Mile High City can be a nice place, I’m sure—I just don’t know what the focus is here. There’s a two block long amusement park that costs $40.00 to get in. There are tons of bars and restaurants, lots of dispensaries, but it somehow seemed lacking for such a “progressive” place. The city of plants doesn’t even find itself on the top 25 list of American Green cities. Lots of makeup, lacking in substance. Is this it?
To Denver’s benefit, I did think it cool that the city played movies for whoever wanted to watch ’em. I liked the community gardens that are tended to by residents of the city. I liked seeing (through squinted eyes) the Rocky Mountains in the distance—and the weather was really nice. And you guys are doing pretty great with the legalization thing (you’d think you’d see people smoking everywhere—not true). But Compared to the lost juggernaut of Detroit and beautiful Chicago, Denver is behind in either case. The characters in Detroit and Chicago were weird and strange, but in a genuine way. They weren’t fakin’ a thing, they were unapologetically out there. Denver had an overall blandness to it—even with its’ 60 sculptures and whatever, something not found in Detroit or Chicago. I’m not sure what the city needs, but it seems like they’re trying to install artificial soul. Denver’s 88.4% white people are made up of people keeping the city moving forward and people like Mad-Eye who swear they’re a part of that progress. It’s sad clowns, artists, ethically-corrupt-proud-moms, and pot-minded businesspeople mingling together. For many residents and tourists, it’s an escapist’s fantasy come true.
Mom was right. Boulder’s better.