Wandering around Uptown

I started this blog a little over a month ago, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention and the day after my forty-sixth birthday. So far it’s been exhilarating and scary by turns. I’m so grateful to everyone who has stopped by and commented.

I’ve found other bloggers, like Writer Dad and In Other Words, who have made me feel welcome. I hope to meet many people in the blogosphere who will learn about Denver through my eyes and words.

But sometimes while writing this blog, I’ve felt the way I did today, wandering around the Uptown neighborhood, wondering why 17th Street didn’t have any benches along the street. Where’s a girl supposed to sit down and write?

Uptown (there’s a map at Denver Infill; go to “Center City Districts” and click on the section marked “Uptown”) is my subject for October. I’ll post on other subjects (including MonHaibuns), but Tuesdays and Thursdays will be devoted to this neighborhood, north of Capitol Hill and east of downtown Denver.

Uptown is off the beaten path for tourists, a little gritty, and bounded on its southern side by Colfax, formerly a notorious red light district.*

So while I was perched on a planter today (because of the lack of pedestrian-friendly seating street-side), I was thinking of how much this area reminds me of living in DC after college. (Luckily, Denver’s not the murder capital of the country, as DC was back then.)

The mix of restaurants and shops with residences took me back to living at 70th and Holmes in Kansas City or up Wisconsin Avenue from Georgetown in DC. You could walk a few blocks and find something to do, people to watch. The spectacle of urban living—or at least eating: In Kansas City, as a child, I’d walk to Friedson’s and get a chocolate coke. In DC, I’d walk to the American Café and get cheesecake.

I can do that now, of course, in Broomfield—walk to Starbucks, Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli, Noodles & Company, Massage Envy, Face Logic…yeah, chains. Useful, reliable.

Or, as I like to say, SSE. Same shit everywhere.

Uptown, although in transition, in the process of gentrification, is not SSE. (It has a lot of one-way streets, too. I wonder if there’s a correlation?)

It retains many a parking lot built in the 1970s, when Denver planners decided all these houses dating from the Gilded Age should be torn down to make spaces for the automobile. All over downtown Denver, in a nice bit of poetic justice, those lots are being turned into new housing, but plenty of eyesores are left in other parts of the city.

I tried to find a park where I could sit down in the shade, but there are not many in the western part of Uptown. For refuge I sought out Illegal Grounds, a spacious coffeehouse on 17th Avenue. I entered through a lovely patio and hid in the back, where the voices of other patrons and the jazz were unobtrusive. I called my husband and told him I might not be home for dinner; it depended on whether I could get out of this oh-so-comfortable chair in time to catch the bus.

And I suggested we visit the Uptown Lofts next door and see if we liked the floor plan.

*Saturday night I learned where the term “red light district” comes from. In the nineteenth century, railroad workers carried red lights to signal trains to stop. When they were off duty and felt like visiting a lady for the evening, they would hang their red lanterns outside the brothel door (to avoid starting a fire indoors, I suppose). Thus the houses festooned with red lights became well known as the places for men to go.
Anyway, that’s what Phil Goodstein said. And he’s a famous Denver historian.