Leaving the gritty street scene on Colfax, I opt for lunch at the other end of the Denver's social spectrum: the Brown Palace Hotel. Although it's another stunning gold-medal summer day in Colorado, the diners inside the Ship Tavern seem oblivious to it. Inside the wood-paneled pub, the dark blinds are closed to sunlight, and the only nod to the season comes from the blue-and-white checked tablecloths and the irresistible smell of burgers and fries. Each square table is full, surrounded by serious men and women engrossed in serious conversation.
Working the crowd is Don Stevens, who's been a waiter at the Ship Tavern for 17 years—or 43 pounds, as he puts it. Stevens is 45 years old, has never been married, wears cool Euro-style eyeglasses, and jumps at the chance to talk about Denver when I tell him what I'm up to. And one of the first things he tells me is that he thinks Denver should be known as Menver.
"Seriously," he says, looking around the restaurant. "There are so many dudes in this town. There are all these young, educated, good-looking guys who are into sports and nightlife and the outdoors." While Stevens says this is certainly a good thing for women, it's hard for single guys to find someone. "With so many guys out looking for honeys, you've definitely got to tighten up your game. If you don't, you won't get laid. That's why there is so much tension in LoDo when the bars close. It's because no one is getting any action, and when they don't, they get pissed."
Thankfully, this is a side of Denver I haven't seen, and I tell Stevens this. He laughs. "Yeah," he says. "It's not pretty."
Over the next couple of weeks, I think about what Stevens said about the male influence of Denver. It seems to me that Denver's male "energy"—if we can be a bit metaphysical about it—is not just felt in its dating demographics. It comes from the unflagging frat-boy air of activity and ambition you can't help but absorb when you live here for a while. And that activity and ambition seem to affect everybody, men and women, young and old.
One morning, I drink coffee on a covered patio in front of the tennis courts at the Denver Country Club with Bill Wilbur, who's 86, a retired schoolteacher, and has been a member of the country club for 47 years. A lifelong athlete, he tells me he's really been slowing down lately. "I only manage to golf one or two times a week."
Another day, I meet a woman on the 16th Street Mall named Bernice. Bernice is 81 years old, wears oversized, black cataract glasses, and tells me she's been thinking of getting into a new career. "I want to give counseling a try," she says. "I think I'd be really good at it."
Perhaps nowhere else is this insane liveliness better seen than in the city's devotion to professional sports. To fit in in San Francisco, I learned how to fake my way through conversations about past lives and Ralph Nader and ginkgo biloba. In Denver, I've learned to appear wise—or at least charitably tolerant—whenever the conversation drifts, as it inevitably does, toward the Avalanche, Broncos, Nuggets, Rockies, and whomever else might be chasing a ball or manning a stick somewhere that week. And why not? Sports teams give people something to identify with, a way of shaping their identity and cementing their relationship to a city—and one another. Since so many adults in Denver have moved here from somewhere else, screaming "Red Wings suck!" may be just another way of saying "I belong!"