My town-by-town tour of wacky Colorado came to an end as I traveled to the Denver metro. Over the years I had visited Denver a number of times – at its airport. I do not recall setting foot on its streets.
I had no plans. I simply wanted to experience the city and to learn about its vibe. But I was also dead tired and so I was also looking forward to some sleep. That doesn’t make for scintillating reading, I’m afraid.
The first day passed in that way. On the second I was motivated and ventured downtown on the free train from the ‘burbs where I stayed. Denver was unremarkable except in fine detail. I came across the Daniels and Fisher tower (right) – the damndest thing really. Poking up from a low-rise block, it soars twenty stories high, thin as a needle. Wikipedia notes it was designed to replicate the Campanile of the Piazza San Marco in Venice (Italy, not California). It stuck out like a charming sore thumb.
The tower is located on the 16th Street Mall, a blocks-long stretch of urban street flanked by fashionable shops and centered on a wide median with plenty of seating. Walking the Mall I noticed that my friends, the down and out, the homeless, were well represented. My natural urge to talk and to learn kicked in.
I sat at a concrete chess board beside Bob, a middle aged man of mixed heritage. Bob shared his story of life on the street, of illness and of hunger. He sat with what I was sure was his net worth – a small cart loaded with bags filched from convenience store dumpsters and filled with clothing and trinkets. I spotted a small bottle of booze.
Bob touched my heart and we hit it off. I shared my own story of challenge and illness and striving. Our talk lasted 20 minutes. I left feeling I knew him. I wished him God’s blessing and gave him five. He needed it and I did not.
Just down the Mall was an amazing sight. A rickety upright piano was played by a scruffy dude of about 23. He introduced himself as Jerry and said he had been on the street for five years. He played well, despite the fact that the instrument was badly out of tune. I asked where it came from. He didn’t know. He was simply glad for the chance to play.
Jerry broke from his playing to talk. He surprised me by saying he had been selected for a scholarship that would pay $20,000 toward his education. I asked how he qualified and he was vague, but I sensed he was truthful. Jerry said he hoped this chance would take him from the street to what he considered a normal life. He begins his classes in August.
I thought of Cody, the young man I wrote of in On the Streets in Paradise. Cody, like Jerry, was intelligent and talented. But Jerry, unlike Cody, has taken steps to improve. He means to leave the streets as soon as he can. Perhaps climate matters. Key West is seductive and enervating and laid back with its tropical pleasures. Denver is cold and uncompromising, building resolve greater than found in places where it is always warm.
I left Jerry to his music with a wish for peace and retraced my steps up the Mall. After two blocks I saw a shirtless young man seated on the verge. Josh was a street kid, about 21, who was out to raise some cash. He strung colorful beads on string to make bracelets. This was a product that was easy to carry and which gave him some sense of self-worth as he panhandled his daily bank.
Josh spent time telling me of his challenges, which sounded all too familiar. He had no consistent shelter. He was often hungry. The problem was that feeding programs were a distance away in parts of town he shied from. He was lonely and had just two friends who like him were marginalized by all they encountered.
I shared with Josh my concept of a ministry for homeless youth, something I have spoken of to no one. My concept is unformed but he liked the idea. He liked any idea that might give him the support he needed.
Josh struck me as another smart young man, forced by circumstances to age far too fast. I bought a bracelet and left him with a hug that he initiated. That hug stayed with me through my arrival at my room.
On the way home I thought about the day. Denver was a disappointment intrinsically. It was, though, a delight personally. Once again a day was made by the people I met.
While I found most in Denver to be taciturn and closed, the “least” among them were friendly and open. This lesson was not new to me. Instead it is one I learn over and over, wherever I travel. God gives each the ability to relate. It seems those who have all else stripped from them are left with the ability to know their fellows better than most. To me this is wonderful and magical. It makes each day an adventure in connections.
Now it is on to Jackson Hole, the culmination, the “cherry on the cake.” It was time for another long drive, then Paradise.