Democratic Convention 2008

The Clean Capital

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While eating lunch earlier today at a dreary fast-food joint ("Burgers and French Custard"!) on downtown Denver's happenin' 16th Street Mall, I overheard a table-wiper and a customer discover that they were both recent transplants from Detroit, and then compare notes on the Mile High City.

"Sure is a lot safer!"

"Yeah, and it's clean."

This subject actually comes up a lot. While talking with Colorado State Sen. Bob Hagedorn, I was trying to articulate the through-line that seems to connect the agreeable cities of Boise, Seattle, and Denver, and he said the same thing: They're all clean. Nice modern buildings, thriving repurposed downtowns full of high-ceilinged microbreweries, no graffiti, whirring light rail that nobody uses–clean.

It's because they're all new cities compared to the tired, built-out East Coast, Hagedorn explained. Roads are wider, more manageable. Sewage systems and storm drains are separated, not combined, which he swears makes a big difference in something or other. No real soot on the buildings.

All this despite the fact that 16th St. is just lousy with street musicians, not normally known for their cleanliness. I usually quicken my step and cross the street when confronted with such humans (having been a busker myself in a previous life, I generally despise the form), but in fact Denver street musicians are not only reasonably washed, they're the best I've seen of the genre for years. I watched one guy take the risky step of playing The Who's decidedly unacoustic "Won't Get Fooled Again," and pull it off with almost breathtaking virtuosity. Three kids a few blocks down played and sang so well that I actually listened to a Dave Matthews song. And one dadaist genius was hacking away at a mandolin-sized mini-guitar, making up madcap lyrics as he went. For example, when he asked me what kind of access my press pass got, and I said it got me close enough to shoot Hillary Clinton, he made up a song on the spot about how he's gonna take that laminated pass, gonna go into a building, and shoot Hillary's ass.

I asked the trumpet player accompanying the harmony kids whether they needed some kind of permit, or had to pay a fee. "Nah," he said. "This ain't like Boston."

Clean!

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  1. I would love to hear details about Matt Welch’s adventures in Buskering.

    It’s because they’re all new cities compared to the tired, built-out East Coast, Hagedorn explained. Roads are wider, more manageable. Sewage systems and storm drains are separated, not combined, which he swears makes a big difference in something or other
    I’m going to guess the answer is somewhere in the ball park of “shit doesn’t get everywhere.”

  2. example, when he asked me what kind of access my press pass got, and I said it got me close enough to shoot Hillary Clinton, he made up a song on the spot about how he’s gonna take that laminated pass, gonna go into a building, and shoot Hillary’s ass.

    I hope the Secret Service did a freestyle rap that tastefully incorporated the sound of him being tasered repeatedly.

  3. Sounds like someone ought to get out more often.

    Beltwayitis will set back in soon enough.

  4. I found Denver to be very nice when I visited last year. What stands out from this narrative is what the hell were you doing eating crappy fast food in downtown Denver? Can’t a Reason editor find solace in a nice clean, safe, Boston-emancipated microbrewery?

  5. The perfect location for the DNC then, clean, bright, and carefree. Perched far above the mean streets of Chicago from whence the leader rose up to teach us the progressive vision and how to achieve it.

    “The air was free from gnats, the earth from weeds or fungi; everywhere were fruits and sweet and delightful flowers; brilliant butterflies flew hither and thither. The ideal of preventive medicine was attained. Diseases had been stamped out. I saw no evidence of any contagious diseases during all my stay. And I shall have to tell you later that even the processes of putrefaction and decay had been profoundly affected by these changes.

    ‘Social triumphs, too, had been effected. I saw mankind housed in splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and as yet I had found them engaged in no toil. There were no signs of struggle, neither social nor economical struggle. The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone. It was natural on that golden evening that I should jump at the idea of a social paradise. The difficulty of increasing population had been met, I guessed, and population had ceased to increase.”
    HG Wells – The Time Machine

  6. “It’s newer” is the universal refrain of politicians looking to excuse their failures. Detroit is a cesspit because of how it’s run by its government, not because it’s old.

  7. “won’t get fooled again” on acoustic is impressive? even i can do that one credibly. jeez, you must have been a pretty sad busker.

    best street musicians anywhere: vienna, not exactly a “new” city. even saw a balalaika trio doing mozart and vivaldi.

    having prevailing winds to keep the shit from settling is a major asset. compare santa barbara with riverside.

  8. I’m going to guess the answer is somewhere in the ball park of “shit doesn’t get everywhere.”

    “What’s that then?”

    “I dunno, must be a Western city.”

    “Why?”

    “It hasn’t got shit all over it.”

  9. As a Bostonian, I can confirm that you pretty much need a permit to take a leak around here.

  10. 16th Street Mall, aside from Larimer Square, pretty much blows.

  11. Boston-emancipated microbrewery

    Microbrews started in the west.

    In Boston you will find Seattle-emancipated microbrewery. In Denver it is just a microbrewery.

  12. That sounds awesome Matt. Wish I was there.

    I watched one guy take the risky step of playing The Who’s decidedly unacoustic “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and pull it off with almost breathtaking virtuosity.

    MEET THE NEW BOSS!
    SAME AS THE OLD BOSS!

    Best couplet in rock n’ roll, and never a more appropriate place and time.

  13. Microbrews started in the west.

    In Boston you will find Seattle-emancipated microbrewery. In Denver it is just a microbrewery.

    Indeed, but Seattle? Make that Portland, which is where it started and is home to more breweries than any other city in the world.

  14. Make that Portland, which is where it started and is home to more breweries than any other city in the world.

    I’m thinking San Fran with the best beer in American, “Anchor Steam” is the oldest.

  15. joshua corning,
    Yeah, my phrasing was horrible. What I meant was more along the lines of “microbrewery free of Boston-style nannyism”.

  16. So, did they get rid of Denver’s infamous smog?

  17. Sewage systems and storm drains are separated, not combined, which he swears makes a big difference in something or other.

    No seriously, this is quite important! Ever walk in Chicago after a storm? Smells like shit–for this very reason!

  18. I would love to hear details about Matt Welch’s adventures in Buskering.

    I recall from a post on Matt’s old blog that he did it in Prague.

  19. “won’t get fooled again” on acoustic is impressive? even i can do that one credibly. jeez, you must have been a pretty sad busker.

    The fact that the song is easy and percussive power chords makes it *worse* for busking, not better. I didn’t desribe it well at all, but he turned it to a weird slow jazz number, playing somewhere halfway between the original and Jeff Buckley’s work on “Hallelujah.” Plus, with the super-well-worn political slogans, it’s tough to take seriously without a convincing delivery. It was very impressive. Then he played “Purple Rain,” which was special.

    best street musicians anywhere: vienna,

    I played one whole consecutive month on the balmy Graben, and it ranks as one of the worst, though most interesting, experiences I have ever had with petty bureaucrats and tyrannical border guards. We did everything exactly right to get all our permits, paid the man, waited in a thousand lines…. and we would get maybe 90 minutes a day, usually at times totally inconvenient to our train schedule (we lived in Bratislava) … and though everything was legal, the Austrian border guards hated the fact that we were doing this & would randomly kick us off the train in the middle of nowhere. Also, any busker will tell you there’s nothing in the world worse than Italian tourists.

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