Playboy magazine once called it “the most wicked street in America,” but for me it’s a highway to heaven paved with history and diversity. I’ve encountered every type of person you can imagine on Colfax Avenue in Denver and chatted with as many as I could.
I like to call the strip of East Colfax in Capitol Hill from the Ogden theater to the Bluebird theater Sal’s Paradise. It’s a nod to Neal Cassady and the famous protagonist he inspired, as well as my own nickname. I thought of Sal, Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel quite a bit yesterday, while watching Colfax come alive for St. Patrick’s Day. I wondered how many Ed Hardy wearing dumb-asses knew the historic footsteps they were walking in.
As I strolled by East High, the school that Cassady attended, I remembered a story about how legendary actor Douglas Fairbanks (Sr.) was expelled for a St. Patrick’s Day prank where he dressed up all of the strange statues on that school’s campus. I thought about how Don Cheadle, Pam Greer and Judy Collins all attended that school, and wondered which of the hundreds of kids pouring out of it at 3pm would be an artist I’ll admire one day.
Judy Collins had her first gig at the Satire Lounge, my favorite Denver dive-bar, at Race and Colfax. So did Bob Dylan. I’ve heard this story a million times with a million embellishments, but here’s what I gather as the actual facts: Bobby Zimmerman had taken an apartment at 17th and Williams, and renaming himself after Dylan Thomas, wandered down to the Satire hoping to play some Woodie Guthrie music, where he was booed right out of the joint.
Capital Hill has always been full of misunderstood artists.
I love the Satire Lounge, especially for their Mexican food, which for over 20 years has been delivered to you by Joey, who will always tell you, “Plates are hot. Have a nice time.” I’m told he lives in the apartment above the bar, which used to be occupied by the Smothers Brothers. The Smothers Brothers were supposedly a couple of party boys back in the day. They were goofing off and playing pool at the Satire, making everyone laugh, when spotted by a talent manager who encouraged them to go into comedy. I’ve made folks laugh while goofing off at the Satire myself, but the most I’ve achieved from that were some drunken make-out sessions.
After passing East, it wasn’t long before I came by the 7-11 in Every Which Way But Loose. I stopped in and got a pack of gum, thinking about how fun it would be to be traveling with an orangutan that day.
As I passed the Bluebird Theater, I thought about how much they’ve cleaned this city up since I fist came out here in the 90s. Colfax is no longer that scene in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, where you can hire a streetwalker near the Bluebird. Other than some pan-handlers, it’s pretty safe to walk around Sal’s Paradise, even late night. I wouldn’t have made that claim just 12 years ago. I wouldn’t even try walking the walk I was on yesterday. In the 80s there was a famous murder near the Bluebird, when a Jewish man was gunned down by white supremacists. Today a little black boy, I’d guess around 9 years old, smiled at me with a big toothy grin while he rode by me on a bicycle.
And THAT is MY Colfax experience. I’ve been back in Sal’s Paradise for 6 months, and have been treated with so much friendliness, kindness and respect from perfect strangers, from all walks of life. Even from the pan-handlers. I’ve had amazing conversations with diverse sets of people. From discussing the true definition of art with an old man painting watercolors of strangers to comparing religious writings about the apocalypse with an elderly Irishman, his voice still heavy with a brogue, to flirting with other lost souls around my age, trying to find their way; Colfax makes me believe in humanity again.
I’d lost that. I had started isolating myself because of distrust. It took interacting on the “wickedest street in America” to bring me back. I’ll say it again. Colfax makes me believe in humanity again.
There’s nothing wicked about that.