A Stroll Along An 'Un-Conventional' Denver Street

Obama in a Bottle i i

A pickup truck advertising "Obama in a Bottle" drives through downtown Denver on Tuesday, the second day of the Democratic National Convention. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Obama in a Bottle

A pickup truck advertising "Obama in a Bottle" drives through downtown Denver on Tuesday, the second day of the Democratic National Convention.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

So, what's Denver like these days?

I know the question is coming when I get home from the Democratic National Convention that's been going on in the Mile High City all week.

My answer was going to be: the Pepsi Center was dimly lit and chaotic, Invesco Field was loud and vast, and the room at my airport hotel looked out on ... more of the hotel.

Then I took a late afternoon break and strolled up and down 16th Street a few times. Finally, I had time to savor the flavor of the "un-conventional" Denver. And something to tell the homefolks.

The street I walked is a long northwest to southeast artery — about 20 blocks — that stretches from the historic Union Station train depot to the heart of the city, the stately state Capitol. For much of the way, 16th Street is a boulevard. And during the Democratic convention, it's an election-year esplanade that evokes this Rocky Mountain city and America beyond.

Yes, the street is touristy. But Denver is touristy, and so it is authentically Neo-Denver, from the pimped-out pedicabs to the struggling street musicians.

There was a man playing "Yankee Doodle" on a melodica in the median strip under the honey locust trees. There was a mime performing near a bucket drummer on the sidewalk, making for visual and auditory irony on this breezy eve. A slender woman played a stout man in speed chess.

The street, which only allows buses and bikes, is somewhat pedestrian-friendly. Its name, 16th, is purely pedestrian. But it is crossed by thoroughfares with more exotic names, such as Larimer Street and Glenarm Place.

At 16th and Arapahoe, Jim Pittenger — aka Biker Jim — stokes up his "Gourmet Dogs" cooker a little before noon on weekdays and serves elk sausage and reindeer hot dogs. On Wednesdays, he changes up the menu and serves really strange stuff. Pheasant sausage, for instance.

He says the Democrats have not given him a rough time about his carnivorous offerings.

"My favorite," he says, "was a woman who came up wearing a T-shirt that read, 'Meat Is Murder, Tasty Tasty Murder.'"

Beginning at the corner of Curtis and 16th, on the sidewalk near the Federal Reserve, I walked a few steps southwest along Curtis beside the Federal Reserve branch bank, and listened to the taped sounds in the sidewalk grates. According to the Los Angeles Times, it's an installation by artist Jim Green called "Talking Sidewalk." Mystified walkers hear bird calls, a freight train, a gurgling cauldron or tap dancing.

A woman on stilts, wearing a blue bikini and a flag shirt, tried to lure people into Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret — between Arapahoe and Lawrence streets — to watch gavel-to-gavel coverage of the convention and then stay for the girlie show afterward.

A boater-sporting barker played a small accordion and yelled out off-color jokes to passersby. "Come on in, folks. It's a family show. After you see it, you'll want to go home immediately and start a family!"

I have a family, so I walked on, past boutique dress shops, bars, electronics stores, what seems like a million Starbucks cafes. Some of the stores are familiar. There's a TJ Maxx and a Hard Rock Cafe.

But there are a lot of independent enterprises, too, like the legendary Tattered Cover Book Store at the low end of 16th, and Tokyo Joe's sushi shop higher up. Writer Square, between Lawrence and Larimer, has a great chocolate shop. And plumes of sweet barbecue from Boney's cart wafted through the air.

There were scads of street vendors selling pictures of donkeys — and of politicians. Straw Democratic Party hats. Obama in a Bottle.

Wait, Obama in a Bottle? Michael Herold, a real estate broker, had put together a lot of Obama and Democratic stuff — Obama pins, sunglasses, bracelets, etc. — in a plastic bottle. He stood near his red pickup truck.

He said he has made 10,000 of the things. He had only sold 100 or so at this point. But, he said, he has been on TV and in the newspapers. "I have succeeded," he said, "at getting attention."

So, what's Denver like these days? Sights are strange, sounds are fascinating, smells are enticing. At least on 16th Street.

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