the public pay phone
an unfamiliar concept
in this techno age
Sleeping in Walmart parking lots gets old pretty quick, so we took off for the weekend to enjoy the Rocky Mountains before we leave them behind. We have been living in our vanagon for almost a month now. This is Penny, our van called Betty, and her split window VW bus tent at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A place to escape the city that isn’t too far away from it. It saves us gas, and we get to sleep to the sounds of silence that only a forest could provide. It snowed while the sun was out, and one evening I stood in front of our fire, stoking it for hours just enjoying the heat of the flames and the mountain surroundings. We watched chipmunks and birds plot and scheme as to how to steal ours and other camper’s food. It was a great time. Ten more days of camping in Denver parking lots, and we will finally be leaving it behind. I grew up here, and I love this town, but I can’t wait to leave. We have proven to ourselves that we can do this. Urban camping boot camp is just about over. The road beckons.
Sitting on the bench in Walmart. Listening to people talking, coughing, shuffling by. Michael Jackson is belting out “Oh baby give me one more chance,” and I’m posted up on the end of lane 13. People in colorful outfits, pink and yellow shorts with matching socks and hat, a white jogging suit. Clusters of humans pushing carts. Basking in the glow of a thousand fluorescent lights, and getting the feeling Walmart is reading this over my shoulder as I type. There are an overwhelming amount of cameras. I just realized that you never see the smiley face anymore, it’s like a Walmart sun logo or something, a circular pattern; six yellow lines arranged like the sun. Keys jingle from someone’s belt hook as they pass, managers letting cashiers off their shift. The guy that just walked by said he lost a friend because he refuses to play Black Ops 3. The main cashier rings up bananas in the robot line.
The beeping sound of profit, each beep seems to have a slightly different tone, a concert of dollars, a symphony of profit. The rolling wheels in carts, squeaking by in their own rhythm, the rustling of plastic bags being filled with goods. It feels like I’ve been sitting here forever. I’m sure the girls will come out of the bathroom soon. How long have I been here anyway? Ominous sounding wheels approach, getting louder and louder, and then they were gone, and I’m still not sure what it was. Defective cart maybe. I try to close my ears to the onslaught, but it’s hard to tune out. Phones ringing, conversations going on, the salon just closed, and some perfume just invaded my nostrils as a heavily scented woman walked by, it wasn’t horrible, but it did take me aback for a moment. “Always something there to remind me” floats down from the ceiling and the doors whoosh open as I run to catch up with the girls.
The night is odd. It’s beautiful, a crescent moon hangs above us in a dark purple sky, the fringe of light on the horizon is orange with shades of pink. Low flying helicopters are circling directly overhead. It feels like I’m that guy in Good Fellas suddenly noticing the helicopter following him everywhere. They shake the ground as they fly by, exhibiting strength. They’ve flown over at least five times in the past five minutes.
My water boils, tea waits. I need to relax. My daughter is fighting sleep even though she’s exhausted which is exhausting in and of itself.
We lay down to sleep. The helicopters continue their relentless circle, directly above our heads. I can see them through the back window as I lay here. Blinking lights, a dark shadowy helicopter shape. No where to hide.
Even though we are stuck in Denver till May 8th, we are transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle. We say goodbye to my hometown, and head to Maizy’s place of childhood, St. Joseph, Missouri. Then we’ll head out into the great wide open in search of everything. My daughter celebrated her fifth birthday today, and this is her the day before helping us pick out school supplies for the road. Let the Road Kindergarten commence.
I met a girl who lived in the Blue Spruce Hotel when I was still in elementary school. She was Asian and I had a crush on her. I grew up in Aurora and I lived two blocks from East Colfax. I didn’t find out that the Mon Chalet was a nude orgy hotel until I met the girl I was dating in the early 2000’s. I used to walk these streets as a young boy, oblivious to the seediness that was going on around me. I walked to the Gas-Rite with my sisters, and we bought candy cigarettes and slushies and just hung out doing nothing but eating candy and goofing off.
I used to walk this street in my teens in the wee hours of the morning after I finished my closing shift at Taco Bell. It’s a miracle I never got jumped, with my Sony Walkman with the digital readout, playing Digital Underground or the Beastie Boys or Iron Maiden, I never would have seen them coming. Maybe that’s why they didn’t bother. I just blended in I guess. I would walk that mile or so to my house at like 2:30 in the morning, let myself in the house, still smelling like I took a bath in tacos and burritos and I would fall asleep to nightmares of that night’s shift. My mom would tell me that I was talking Taco Bell lingo in my sleep. I made $2.85 an hour.
I worked at a car dealership as a customer relations guy for a few years, back when I wasn’t completely socially inept. Something happened between the late 90’s and now that soured me on social interaction and I’m still recovering. Being on the road is going to change that. I’ve already been befriended by a woman named Han. She made my daughter sandwiches and seems to enjoy having conversations with me. So we’re making strides. Little by little. So it’s the late 90’s and East Colfax is the place I go every day for work. I learned that “coolo” means asshole in Spanish here, I learned how a prostitute and a John make a transaction here. I learned that car dealerships are a sleazy place to work.
East Colfax is home to me. My Grandmother, Joan, died on this street, on a hospital floor, at Fitzsimmons Hospital, from a stroke. They didn’t even give her a room to die in peace. She had a curtain for privacy in a row of three or four beds. I held my grandmother’s hand on her deathbed, listening to strangers conversations on either side of us. I visited her every night until she passed, and lamented her lack of privacy. It really bothered me. The family has never been the same since she left.
I watched Unwritten Law play the Bluebird, and walked up and down these streets time and again, something about this street just pulls me in. So much of my life has been spent exploring its alleys and bars and hotels and places of employment. Many people would tell you to avoid these streets, and probably with good reason, but Colfax is a part of me and if I died there it would be appropriate. To my mind, Colfax is Denver. And even though I’m leaving, this city will ALWAYS hold a special place in my heart, and if you asked me where I’m from I’ll always say Denver, and I’ll say it with pride. There is no other place like it.
A woman in a blue blazer with her jet-black hair fashioned in a bob, walks through the parking lot to join her friends at the tavern for happy hour. The power steering from a Toyota RAV4 whines. The crowd gurgles off in the distance from the unseen outdoor patio. A man walks out of his car, head buried in phone, clueless to his surroundings.
A couple of guys walk by, the man on the left is big, muscular with thick thighs and bulging biceps. His company is the opposite. Skinny legs and arms that pale in comparison. A bald man and his brunette companion put take out dinners on the roof of their sedan, a Super High Output Ford Taurus, white. The smell of steak on the grill permeates the air, the sound of traffic forever in the background, never resting.
Motorcycles scream, big trucks let out their guttural sounds from tricked out mufflers, and I write. Only it isn’t writing as much as it is tapping on a piece of glass. A black bird flies through the frame of the vanagon windshield just as a surly face behind the wheel of a gold Toyota truck comes barreling around the corner. He’s lucky no kids are wandering around as he would smash whatever unlucky soul stepped out in front of him, the kind of guy who runs over squirrels and bunnies on purpose, your basic asshole.
A man with fancy sunglasses perched on his head rifles through the dumpster looking for boxes. He is wearing a grey golf shirt. The asphalt lot is surrounded by chain restaurants and other strip mall fare. Lil’ Ricci’s Pizza, Cuba Cuba Sandwiches, Floyd’s Barber Shop, Espresso Americano, Bam Bu, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Scotttrade, Half Hour Power and Lyons Den Liquors.
This is the Denver Tech Center, the belly of the corporate beast and these people are the employees who work for it.
A couple sit in a car behind me laughing into their phones. A girl in baby blue shorts strides through the lot, her pony tail bouncing behind her, scantily clad in a tank top.
I wonder if she’s freezing because it’s cool and windy and I’m sitting here in a hoodie. Watching the world go by, waiting impatiently to get on the road. Waiting for the eighth of May, the day when this family leaves the Mile High City.
Days and nights bleed together, sleeping in parking lots, biding our time. Slaves to the dollar bill, rent-less, bill-less, house-less. Eating fast food dinners and breakfast in shrink wrapped packages. Taking pills to quell the acid burning in my heart and stomach. Where would I be without the drugs? Where would I be without those crutches holding me up, aiding my escape from reality? Songs from the seventies fill the van, barely audible over the strong breeze blowing in from the window. The boys are back in town, driving all the old men crazy.
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