America, Life, Photography

Remembering East Colfax

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.

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Friends and Enemies

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In response to today’s Daily Prompt:

Witness Protection

When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? Why?

Personally, I’d rather have my friends around in uncertain situations. Someone to give you that knowing glance when you are struggling. To provide support when everything might not be going well. A friend in the crowd. 

The scariest situations I’ve found myself in I’ve experienced both ways. I had a 7 1/2 month stay in the Denver County Jail back in 2001. I didn’t start out with any friends in that situation. I’ve also been in combat zones with fellow Marines, surrounded by my brothers in arms. Both situations were scary as hell.

When surrounded by strangers I have found that if all of you are in the same boat you have nothing to lose by supporting each other. In the Marines we began boot camp as complete strangers but we ultimately learned to pull together in order to overcome extreme adversity on a daily basis. I still talk to the Marines I served with to this day, but there was a time when we were all strangers, wet behind the ears, most of us broke, young and dumb, the adventurous sort that can’t afford to go to college. I only spent four years in the Marines, but the friendships I made there have stood the test of time. Nearly 20 years later we still look to each other for moral support and guidance. 

In jail it’s a little bit more shady but the same approach works wonders. It’s easier for a room full of strangers to be able to relate to each other because none of us really know each other. So we are all in the same boat. Going to court appearances, shackled to each other at the wrists and ankles. There is no dignity to be found in the county jail. There is no privacy, you eat together, sleep together, shit together and suffer together.

There are unwritten rules that you need to learn fast or else you will find yourself a social outcast in a real hurry. My first full day in my squad bay (pod) I tried to take a shower while another guy was in there. There were two shower heads on opposite sides of each other, and every gym in every high school I’ve ever been in, guys showered at the same time. So I walked in there and stripped off my towel and started taking a shower.

The dude on the other spiget wasn’t too pleased with this, and he stormed out of the shower mad dogging me the whole time. I had to find a friendly face I could talk to to find out why this guy was so pissed off. It turns out that in this squad bay, the showering is done one at a time. Lesson learned. 

During my time there I made many friends and very few enemies. Of course there were a couple of jerks that I was forced to stand up to, but my ability to get along with others always made it easier. In the real world I’m anti-social but in extreme situations I find a way to do what’s necessary to survive. Knowing how to make more friends than enemies is a great start. It’s nice to know that a few people have your back.

Looking at it from my current perspective as a college student I prefer presenting in front of people I know. I don’t really know them per say, but we’ve been in class together for a few months and there isn’t a single one of us that gets to get out of it if we want to pass the class. I still get awkward and nervous but I know I can count on my little clique within the classroom.I look to them for encouragement.

I’ve been in classes before where a person might be giving a bad presentation, one where it is obvious that this person might not pass the class, and someone in the crowd starts peppering her with really intense questions, knowing they don’t know the answer. I witnessed one man badger a poor girl with questions just to watch her squirm and go through the embarrassment of not knowing. The one thing I have the most trouble understanding in life, the capacity of us humans to be cruel to each other. The worst part is having to accept that you cannot change it, and you have to carry on knowing the problem will never go away. 

I had to help that girl a lot in class, and after watching her go through that I admired her ability to shake it off and not let it destroy her. It was obvious she had already moved on from it or just didn’t know or just didn’t care. My skin was hot from watching it, but she was entirely calm as far as I could tell. I clapped loudly and shouted a compliment her way when she was finished. She made the best of it and pulled through. Maybe her presentation wasn’t an A+ performance, but her composure in a tough situation was commendable.

So I prefer friends in scary situations. I’ll be your friend too if you need me. If someone is picking on you I got your back, we might not win but at least we’ll go down together standing up for what’s right. Kindness, compassion, and good will towards all. The “Do the Right Thing” mentality. 










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This post wins the prize for longest title in the existence of the blog.

As a journalism student I like to practice by submitting stories to CNN’s iReport. One of the current assignments is to send in some photos of rogue shopping carts found abandoned in recognition of February’s designation as National Return Your Shopping Cart Month. Seems silly really, but it is a real thing. The stolen and lost carts represent a loss of around $100 each and I can imagine that probably hurts a smaller store owner more than a giant corporation, but a loss is a loss.

So one morning after dropping my daughter off at preschool, I decided I would take my hour and a half of freedom and seek out a shopping cart. I drove around in circles through Denver, and spotted a red one behind a Dumpster in the snow. I thought to myself “Hey I have this big car, and maybe if I return this cart I’ll get to talk to somebody or get their picture.” A little human interest added couldn’t hurt, especially with an assignment like National Shopping Cart Month.

All I did was return the cart to the store. Once it was back with the rest of the carts, I took a quick snapshot of it. That’s it. One picture. It isn’t even really that good, just a boring old shopping cart returned to its rightful home.

This worker from the store comes running out. “Why are you taking pictures?,” she says with a stern look on her face. I tried to explain what I took the picture for. That I just found their cart abandoned in a parking lot and decided to return it to the store on a whim. It’s National Shopping cart month they said. It’ll be fun they said. Now here I am, sitting here watching this angry lady wagging her finger in my face and telling me that I HAVE to delete the images on my memory card. I told her straight away that no I absolutely will not delete anything from my memory card.

Demanding that I delete images from my memory card is intimidation. I will not be intimidated by the manager of the Family Dollar. I laughed in her face and told her that it wasn’t gonna happen. All this after a simple picture of a shopping cart. A shopping cart that I returned after finding it behind a trash can in a local apartment complex. The whole stupid thing started over my attempt to do a good deed.

I would of let myself get arrested over it. Over my dead body will you delete a picture from my camera or try to force me into doing so. I didn’t say that, but the phrase was repeating itself over and over in my head while I just smiled and waved as I was backing away. She got on the phone while giving me a disapproving glare. I imagined to myself what that phone call must have been like. Was she calling the cops? Her corporate office? The head of security?  I guess I’ll never know because I wasn’t sticking around to find out.

I suppose that’s a little extreme, especially over a picture of a shopping cart, but it’s the principal of the thing. If I let you intimidate me into deleting my photos what kind of precedent does that set ? Who are you to enforce a law that you do not even understand? And most importantly why couldn’t you just say thank you for returning the shopping cart?

I don’t feel as if I have done anything wrong in this instance. I can see if I was harassing someone or causing a disturbance, but I wasn’t. There was NOBODY in the store, the parking lot was empty, the $100 I saved them is probably more than the store made all day. They didn’t even have to lift a finger. It’s trivial. I get that. I was just having a bit of fun, trying to participate in a corny awareness month.

I will NEVER delete that shopping cart photo. In fact I’m going to have it framed and hang it in my office. I’ll never share it online because I can respect that a privately owned store can ask me not to take photos, but they do not have the right to force me to delete images from my camera.

What is the Family Dollar so worried about? Why are their employees demanding people who take pictures inside their store to delete images? Especially one as innocent as a memoir of a good deed gone bad.

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A Funny Thing Happened to Me While Hunting for Shopping Carts in Observance of National Return Your Shopping Cart to the Supermarket Month

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We celebrated Halloween with my daughter Thursday. We drove 45 minutes out to Boulder. On the way we stopped at a Starbucks, got some tea, coffee and muffins. The bag was marked by the barista as Blu Muff, and I instantly conjured up an image of a really sad vagina. I couldn’t help it; it just popped up in my head. Of course they meant blueberry muffin right? Or else that is one twisted sense of humor. I’m not sure.
My girlfriend was really excited to go out to this farm and get some pumpkins from the pumpkin patch. We got there and the place was overrun by elementary school children. It was a bustling center of activity for the K through 5 crowd. Shouts of “Hey no cheating, you can’t climb over the hay bales!” were repeated by several of the concerned parents and other supervisor types.
There were groups of children separated by their own unique t-shirts. Some groups had pink tie-dye, while others stuck with the primary yellow, green and blue. It looks like a tough job, being a teacher. My daughter loved it; she sprinted through the hay bale maze about 100 times, with me frantically trying to keep up just enough to keep her within my line of sight. I just can’t let her run free yet, I have to know where she is at all times. I don’t care if I am the only parent chasing his kid through the maze; I’m not letting that girl out of my sight.
From there she took us over to the corn maze, and we walked through muddy corn rows, rife with an abundance of dead corn and dying stalks. The pumpkin patch was decimated. The only pumpkins left were carcasses of their former selves, the ones that didn’t make it out alive. Pumpkin guts were splayed all over the battlefield, the only evidence left of an unruly child who hadn’t had his or her nap and threw that poor pumpkin to the ground in a fit of anger. I imagine the parents just moved on to the next pumpkin, and properly scolded their kid. That’s how I would play it anyway.
We ended up with some small pumpkins; I don’t really recall where they found them though. My girlfriend is making us a pumpkin pie, she always does. It’s good too. 100 times through the hay bale maze, Check. A hundred times through the corn maze, Check.
Penny has a nonstop motor when she gets out there amongst the other children. She wants to be everyone’s best friend right away. She jumps in on class pictures and cries when she can’t get on the bus with all the other children. I try to relate to her 3-year-old brain, but I just can’t. She loves all people, and I try to avoid them at all costs for the most part. It creates an interesting dichotomy when it’s just her and I out in public. I put on a brave face, an hold awkward conversations with the parents of the children she befriends. It’s agonizing for me. I look at the ground, and try to be polite, constantly avoiding eye contact; I’m just sure they think I’m such a weirdo.
The ones that are worth talking to get over that, they try a little harder and eventually I get over that initial freak out of meeting new people. That’s what it is like being cross-eyed. I’m better at it now, but it’s still a struggle for me. Social awkwardness is so damn embarrassing.

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An Average Family Halloween

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