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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Fly Like An Eagle: Steve Miller Band

Whenever I hear that song I am instantly transported to the back of my Amtrak in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Just before midnight on February 27, 1995 I was part of an amphibious landing that consisted of 1,800 U.S. Marines and 350 Italian Marines. Our job was to secure the airport as well as the seaport.

I pulled duty in the ship store and was able to buy an old ghetto blaster at a discount rate. I just wanted to create a little levity so I popped in the Steve Miller Band cassette and we all let the music relax us before we hit the beach and our mission began.

When Fly Like An Eagle comes on, I remember the distinct smell that wafted into our vehicles as we approached the shore. Someone said it was the smell of dead bodies in shallow graves. I can feel the sting of the salt water and the taste of it on my lips. The smell of diesel fuel and the roar of a 903 cubic inch Cummins Turbo Diesel. At full throttle it’s more of a high pitched whine then a roar.

I remember thinking at that moment that I would never forget that song. It was like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. I guess that is fitting, as most of us were Hollywood Marines out of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. We were stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Isn’t that how most civilians view Marines heading into battle? Blasting The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” or Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries?”

I happened to be the rear crewman for this operation. I’m glad I played that cassette on that midnight ride to the eastern shores of Africa. A little something to remind us where we came from. A little something to lighten the mood and relax the nerves.

“Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free
Fly through the revolution”

Operation United Shield’s objective was to safely “assist in the final withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping troops from Somalia.” These peacekeeping forces were there to try and assist in providing humanitarian efforts. By 1994 the United Nations decided that the situation In Somalia had become to dangerous to stay any longer. We went there to assist them in withdrawing.

The children in Somalia fit the description of those lyrics. They were starved, poor and mistreated. Many of the children carried weapons. I didn’t think about the lyrics when I popped in the cassette, it was just a lucky coincidence that it happened to be this particular song.

Another odd coincidence: Today is the 19 year anniversary of the completion of the successful and final withdrawal of U.N. Forces in Somalia.

My platoon was among the very last off the beach on this day in 1995. The song will always be my soundtrack for this memory. There was a large firefight that night and I ended up on a different ship than I embarked from three days earlier.

Some of the men I served with say that hundreds of Somalians died that night. I honestly don’t remember that. I often wonder to myself if that is something that I saw and blocked out subconsciously or if it was just so dark and hectic that I literally just didn’t see it happening.

The song conjures up all the old memories, the highlights of my life so far. The saddest part is, Somalia isn’t any better now then it was then. Operation United Shield was a success but the United Nations goals of achieving enough stability on the region to administer humanitarian aid was a failure. They won’t let us feed the children.

That’s what I think about when I hear this song.

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Daily Prompt: Always Something There to Remind Me

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