Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Denver’ Category

Tiny Dancer

In Denver, Learning, women, work on October 16, 2017 at 10:11 am

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Yesterday, I met a new waitress at Carl’s named Sam. A petite redheaded twenty-something, she wore an over-sized Bronco shirt with her long hair pulled back into a low ponytail.

Carl’s is a North Denver institution serving pizza and Italian meals for over 60 years. It’s a friendly, authentic neighborhood kind of place. Almost everybody knows John, the owner/cook and customers frequently know one another. Even if they don’t they chat across the booths like it’s a big family meal. The original space contains six red vinyl booths lined up three by three under pictures of Frank Sinatra and Rocky Marciano, plus three two-seater booths by the door. I sit by the window where I can see everything going on. As I watched Sam work, it occurred to me that some people are made for their jobs.

Waitressing is hard work.

You’re on your feet all day, dealing with sometimes crabby customers and men with roving hands all while continuing to smile. Sam juggled her multiple tasks with grace and good nature.

That day most of the six original red booths were full and a few tables in the back as well. Destiny acted as cashier and took orders over the phone. It was busier than usual with fewer takeout orders at noon, probably because the Bronco game didn’t start until that night.

A Denver police Sergeant came in, and Destiny said, “I swear it wasn’t me, Officer,” to which he replied smiling, “yeah, I seem to have that effect on people.”

Two elderly men at another table chatted with him about playing bocce ball while Sam went about her business, seating people, taking orders and delivering orders, delivering and refilling drinks, wiping down tables, supplying placemats, napkins and silverware, writing and figuring tickets, all while continuing to smile and make small talk with the customers, calling everyone Luv.

When they had a few free minutes, Sam and Destiny folded towers of pizza boxes for the rush sure to come later during the game.

Watching someone who’s good at her job and seems to enjoy it is like watching an accomplished dancer performing intricate choreography and making it look easy.

I’m giving Sam this week’s Tiny Dancer award.

And, of course, a good tip.

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Homeward Bound

In Church, Denver, Home on August 9, 2017 at 6:48 am

“Daddy, everyone should have a place to live,” said five-year-old Joey.

When we started talking about homelessness, we quickly realized what a huge and overwhelming topic it is. In the Denver metro area, more than 6,000 people are unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure and adequate housing. Efforts to solve the problem run into ignorance and misconceptions.

A 2015 report from The Denver Foundation, found that 64% of homeless people are families with children, not single men. They are more likely to stay with friends or live in their cars than on the street while working or looking for work and trying to save enough to cover the ever-increasing rent and deposit requirements for housing.

The family living in my church’s studio apartment have a typical story. Both the husband and wife were working and, with their sons, living a good life in New Mexico. Within one month both lost their jobs. It seemed as if we blinked and found ourselves struggling to stay above water,” the wife said.

They came to Denver to find work and spent the last of their savings waiting for the new job to begin. They found help through Family Promise, a nonprofit that helps families with shelter and support services.

The wife’s favorite thing about living in the church apartment is being able to do normal things like clean dishes, cook meals, watch TV, and be together as a family. She also enjoys spending time alone with her husband after they put their sons to sleep.

Soon, they will move into permanent housing and their lives can really get back to normal.

They are among the lucky ones.

As T.S. Eliot said, “Home is where you start from.” Without a home, you’re untethered.

The Denver Foundation survey revealed that homelessness is much more common than many believe. One in ten respondents had once been homeless themselves, and one in five had come close. Many of us are only one crisis away. What would you do? What would you miss?

Our extraordinarily low unemployment rate (2.1%) helps, but housing costs continue to rise. We’re a long way from Joey’s vision that “everyone should have a place to live.”

Meanwhile, we’ll keep working in our own little corners to do what we can to help one or two or ten people and take some comfort in knowing we made a difference to them. We’re trying, Joey.

Now for a Brief, Mad Interlude

In Denver, Learning on July 19, 2017 at 6:19 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My worst date ever was more an ambush than a date. A date implies planning, an invitation, and acceptance. None of those things happened, at least as far as I knew.
In 1972, I was 24, newly divorced, and had recently learned how to smoke pot from my friend George. I heard a knock at my door and opened it to find Arnie, a high school friend of George’s and also his dealer. I’d met him once or twice. He was my age with long, greasy, blonde hair beginning to thin on top.
With some trepidation, I invited him in. He pulled a baggie of pot out of his jeans pocket and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said wondering why he was there.
He let me know that he wanted sex.
I said I wasn’t interested, so he took off his clothes. All his clothes.
I was appalled and ever so slightly amused and asked him to please put his clothes back on. Yes, I said “please.” I try to be polite even when the situation doesn’t merit it.
He ignored my request and proceeded to wander around my apartment in all his glory looking at my stuff as if this was a perfectly normal, everyday occurrence. I don’t know. Maybe for Arnie it was.
I asked him to leave. Instead, he plopped his naked butt on my couch and just looked at me.
Did he think that if I saw him au naturel I’d be overcome with lust? Boy was he wrong. Men can be so clueless.
Did he think I was so grateful for the marijuana that I’d sleep with him out of appreciation? Boy was he wrong.
Did he think I’d sleep with him just to get rid of him? Boy was he wrong (although I was growing increasingly desperate).
After he ignored my repeated requests that he put on his clothes and leave, I called Gail, George’s wife and described the situation to her, asking if she had any suggestions how I could get him to leave. She couldn’t stop laughing.
Eventually, I guess he realized it wasn’t his lucky night and he left.
To his credit, he let me keep the baggie.
I breathed a sigh of relief and disinfected the couch.

Sit a Spell

In Church, Denver, neighborhood on July 13, 2017 at 9:04 am

Every other week a small group from my church gets together to talk about current events. This summer, the gathering moved from the church to the parsonage front porch.

Yes, my church still has a parsonage, right next door, which makes the pastor’s commute to work about 30 seconds. The house, built in 1915, sits on a busy street in one of Denver’s most popular neighborhoods and features an iconic wraparound porch.

Our discussions have become more like casual chats, as we sit there and watch people come and go from the pizza place across the alley as well as neighbors out for an evening stroll.

That’s what front porches are for.

Almost uniquely American, porches emerged in the mid-1800s as cities grew and people started living in single family homes. Backyards still contained outhouses, trash heaps, and vegetable gardens, so front porches became the place for families to relax in the evening, catch a breeze, and get to know their neighbors.

In the 1950s outhouses disappeared and television captured the family’s attention inside. Air conditioning and computers led us increasingly to forsake the front porch. Today, while still popular house features (53% of new homes have front porches ), they are typically only decoration, rarely used as intended.

In some ways, I suppose, that makes our pastor a throwback because he loves and uses the parsonage porch. It gives him a unique eye on the neighborhood he serves and lets him get to know people who might not otherwise come to our church.

When I did a google search for front porches, I was astonished to find that the first several pages listed only commercial entities with the name Front Porch, from bars and cafes to realtors and newspapers. The name suggests a relaxed ambiance from a bygone era. Eventually, I found a series, Summer on the Porch, on NPR exploring the role of the front porch.

I also discovered a quotation from the famous fan dancer, Sally Rand, who said, “I’m not the type to sit on the porch and watch life go by.”

We like sitting on the porch and being a part of the life going by.

Y’all come back now, y’hear?

White in America

In Denver, spirituality on July 6, 2017 at 6:55 am

My dear friend, a 66-year-old black ordained minister feared for her life Friday night after being stopped by a police officer. Maybe you read her words that I re-posted here yesterday. It was late at night, and she was leaving the theater where she had just seen Wonder Woman when a large black truck blocked her exit from the parking lot.
As she watched the white officer walk toward her, she asked God if this would be the way her life ended. She thought of all the innocent black people who had been murdered by police in just such a trivial traffic stop and wondered if her name would be added to that long list.
I cannot imagine the terror she felt. When I’m stopped by the police, my first thought is usually, “How much is this going to cost me?” not “Will I live through this?” That’s pretty much the definition of white privilege. I don’t have to worry that someone might want to kill me because of the color of my skin.
This incident did not turn deadly. The officer merely told my friend that she hadn’t turned on her headlights and wished her a good evening. For that, I and all the people who love her feel eternal gratitude.
I want to apologize to her and my other black friends for all the insensitive things I’ve said and done. You know I try not to be racist, but I know that we both live in a racist society, so things come out of my mouth that I don’t even realize are offensive. I’m sorry, and I promise that (to paraphrase Maya Angelou) when I know better, I’ll do better.
The officer probably saw the fear on her face and carried that with him on his patrol. It can’t feel good to know that someone is terrified of you when you only want to help. I’m sorry about that, and I am thankful for the legions of good cops who don’t target black people. But until these things stop happening, until my friend can feel safe going to a movie, don’t ask me to re-post those memes in support of the police. Until they hold themselves to a standard of human decency and weed out the bad seeds instead of helping them avoid prosecution or conviction, I don’t support them.
Every time I see a police officer, I’ll wonder, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy?” And I’ll err on the side of caution.

Sometimes My Inner Child

In Denver on June 13, 2017 at 5:58 am

Sometimes my inner child wants to

Clamp on roller skates and sail down the wide, smooth promenade outside my building, which is perfect for skating, but nobody ever does.

Lie in the grass and watch the clouds.

Spend the afternoon watching old Charlie Chan movies on TV.

Hunker down in the back corner of my closet.

Take off my shirt and play in the sun like my brother.

Roll down the backyard hill at our house on Beekman Place.

Dress like Annie Oakley (the one on TV).

Read again The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

Scream at the top of my lungs.

Search through the treasures in my little red suitcase.

Dance and dance and dance.

Play jacks on the porch with my best friend.

Pretend to be asleep so my dad will carry me in from the car.

Sing “How Much is that Doggie in the Window.”

Sometimes my inner adult wants to take care of my inner child. It should be the other way around.

One Too Many

In Arvada, Auntie Flat, Denver on May 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

English has dozens of ways to say “drunk,” more than any other word, which tells you how important a concept it is. I’ve written before that when I moved to Highland neighborhood in 1978, the area didn’t have the most stellar reputation.

A good part of that came because of the number of bars we had. Rowdy, sleazy bars, for the most part.

The one that was catty corner from my apartment, Eddie’s Dog House Tavern, reliably spewed drunks into the street almost every morning at 2 a.m. to partake in the liquor enhanced pleasures of public urination, littering, noise, fights and who knows what else.

My landlord, who lived upstairs from me, routinely called police reporting guns whether he’d seen any or not.

Meanwhile, I would just roll over and go back to sleep. Sometimes being oblivious to other people can be a good thing.

When I joined the neighborhood association, our highest priority was to systematically shut down nuisance bars. We always had representatives appear at hearings for liquor license renewal to testify about police calls and problems for neighboring homes.

As bars disappeared and the neighborhood climbed into the upper echelons of desirability, I moved to another up-and-coming area, Olde Town Arvada. The rapid development here comes about because light rail is on the way, this year they tell us. They told us that last year, too. While apartment buildings spring up on every available plot, I’m also starting to see old houses torn down to make way for two- and three-story townhouses, just like in Highland.

In Olde Town proper, the most prominent development is the increasing number of – let’s call them drinking establishments. We have retained a few old taverns and added three breweries, a beer hall, and a bourbon lounge. Almost all of the restaurants serve alcohol, and the School House Kitchen and Libations features over 1,100 different whiskeys.

Whenever renovation begins on another empty storefront, we wonder what kind of bar or brewery it will be. We were pleasantly surprised when the old motorcycle shop was converted into a credit union, albeit with the puzzling name of On-Tap Credit Union. As far as I know, you cannot get a drink there. Refreshing.

It strikes me as ironic that the same type of businesses that brought down the reputation of one neighborhood signals new life in another. Maybe the difference is in the quality of the well-lubricated customers – inebriated or stinko.

I think instead of trying to revitalize the Ladies’ Temperance Society I’ll just call for moderation. One more bar in Olde Town would be one too many.

How the Light Gets In

In creativity, Denver, spirituality on May 9, 2017 at 8:21 am

 

A nasty hailstorm hit the Denver area yesterday afternoon, hurling golfball and baseball-sized ice bombs that dented cars, battered roofs, and wiped out gardens all over town. Some of the stained glass windows at my church took a beating.

Pastor Brad called in some help and cleaned up the glass shards and rainwater in the sanctuary, using press and seal plastic wrap for a temporary fix on the shattered panes. I’m a member of the Board of Trustees, a committee charged with caring for our building, so we will have to make some decisions about the repair soon.

That isn’t as easy a fix as it might seem. The stained glass windows were first installed around 90 years ago and fell into disrepair as church membership dropped and finances became precarious. We have rebounded over the past five years, and a successful capital campaign allowed us to begin planning for restoration and protection of our treasured windows. Just last week we submitted a grant proposal to help with this prohibitively expensive project.

That money won’t come through for months, but clearly we will need a more permanent solution than cling wrap before then. At any rate, we will repair the windows, and within the next year restore them so they’re ready to withstand another hundred years or so.

As I stood in the sanctuary and gazed at the late sunshine streaming through the broken panes, I thought of the late Leonard Cohen’s brilliant song, Anthem, that proclaims “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And I couldn’t help thinking about the cracked and broken United Methodist Church (see To Love Somebody) and hoping the universe is letting in some light.

A Real Small Town

In Auntie Flat, Denver, Home on May 4, 2017 at 10:08 am

So I moved to Olde Town Arvada. The word my friends and family most often use to describe my new home is “perfect,” and that annoys me. Perfect is boring.

True, my apartment is exactly what I wanted and much better than I had any hope of finding. And Olde Town is “authentic,” a real town, according to the Colorado Real Estate Journal. It’s something that can only happen over time, in this case over the span of 120 years. “No matter how hard new developments across the metro area may try, it’s impossible to design and build a place this authentic.”

It’s also convenient. Within a couple of blocks of my condo are numerous restaurants, bars (including three breweries), retail shops, coffee shops, a bank, a candy store and ice cream shop, a town square with a popular splash pad, a yoga studio, a bakery, a mechanic, a post office, a park, a gallery, churches, and, most important for me, a library. For music, we have the Olde Town Pickin’ Parlor and for fishing, Charlie’s Fly Box. To keep things from getting too precious, we have the Army and Navy Store. Now that I cannot walk as far as I used to, Olde Town offers convenient benches every 50 feet or so where I can sit and rest.

If I head the other way, we have big box stores, a hotel, and a multi-screen movie theater, currently undergoing remodeling and set to reopen in the fall.

Sometime this year (fingers crossed) we will finally have our commuter rail line open,which will give us direct access to Union Station and bring hundreds of new people here to enjoy the charms of a real small town. We are also slated to get local high-speed internet someday, so I can finally stop paying the hated Comcast every month.

The only thing we don’t have is a grocery store. And a deli. I’d really like a deli. See? It isn’t perfect.

On the other hand, it is precisely the best place for me now. It’s been fun watching the changes happening over the past five years, and it will be fun watching the continuing inevitable development.

Maybe my problem is that it is too near perfect, and I’m more comfortable swimming against the current. At any rate, there is no denying that my superpower is picking great neighborhoods.

Down Among Them

In Denver, Home on May 3, 2017 at 6:24 am

My block on Alcott Street

I went to brunch in my old neighborhood with a couple of friends, and it made me a little nostalgic.

When I moved to Highland neighborhood in 1978, a coworker who lived in North Denver advised me to stay north of 38th and west of Federal. Of course, I did neither of those things. I moved to the heart of the “bad” neighborhood. Friends didn’t feel safe visiting me. One who gave me a ride home one night said, looking around, “you really live down among them, don’t you?” A pretty racist thing for a smart, educated man to say, and I never looked at him the same after that.

About half of my neighbors were Chicano.

It had always been an immigrant neighborhood, just above the Platte River and downtown Denver, housing first Italians and then Irish before the Chicanos and Mexican immigrants moved in. Churches in the area reflected the residents’ ethnicity: Mount Carmel, Saint Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Houses dated from every decade since Denver was founded in 1858, and it was rare to see two houses in a row that looked alike. We had tiny Italian markets, some of Denver’s best restaurants, businesses, government offices, community gardens, galleries, a community center, and more than our fair share of bars and liquor stores. I delighted in walking all over because there was always something interesting to see. I loved it.

Then in 1995, two things happened that changed Highland forever. Denver Public Schools ended court-ordered busing and Coors Field opened an easy walk away across the 20th Street viaduct. Young white families started to move in, and seemingly overnight we became the “it” neighborhood.

New owners gutted little old houses, expanding and modernizing them to suit their suburban sensibilities. Then developers started to tear down houses and replace them with big boxy glass townhouses. Bars, liquor stores, even a gas station and a mortuary metamorphosed into chic restaurants.

Because I had always liked the mix of housing stock, I never lamented the addition of contemporary houses. “You mean you like them?” people would ask. While others seemed to think the neighborhood should be preserved as a kind of living Victorian museum, to me the new construction just increased the variety that I adored.

Those friends who were afraid to visit me in 1978 now said, “I wish I could afford a house in Highland.”

Did you expect this to happen?” one friend asked.

Yes, I did. I just didn’t expect it to become quite so high-end. I always loved Highland and never did understand why others looked down their noses at it. I love it still, but it is no longer my neighborhood. Its shabby quirkiness seeped into my soul decades ago, curled up and made a permanent nest there.

Although I’ll never again be a part of Highland, it will always be a part of me.