The Clean Capital


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."