If I were to stop my quest right now, I'd think everyone in Denver was mostly slap-happy and satisfied and out for a good time. But I wondered: What about those people in Denver who aren't satisfied? Whose fortunes haven't risen with the influx of loft projects and fancy martini recipes? To find out, I head to Globeville, to a small residential neighborhood with I-70 running through it and a railroad switching yard to the south. The neighborhood is virtually surrounded by bleak industrial-plant aesthetics. Almost every child in Globe-ville participates in Denver Public Schools' free lunch program, and housing values are among the lowest in the city.
On the corner of Pennsylvania Street and 45th Avenue sits Panaderia Emmanuel, a Mexican food market and bakery that has served local residents for the past 12 years. Inside, the aisles are spotless and the smell of warm doughnuts fills the air. Irma Valenzuela, a short, kind, motherly figure, owns the market with her husband. Wiping flour from her hands onto a blue apron, she sits down to talk.
Like the rest of Denver, she says, their business had been growing for years. She paid off all their loans within the first year and profits rose every year thereafter—that is, until January 2007, when Colorado's new immigration laws went into effect and sales dropped a sickening 50 percent. This year, rising foreclosures in the neighborhood have caused sales to plummet even further.
"Today," she says, "we are making no—how do you say it?—profit." The bills are being paid but the money isn't there. Does she think it will get better? Valenzuela shrugs and excuses herself to greet a customer.
While waiting for her to return, I begin chatting with a man at a nearby table. He's wearing a gray shirt with an embroidered name badge that says "Danny." "Danny Perez," he says, extending a friendly hand across the table. Pointing to his name badge, he explains: "I drive a tow truck."
What does he think of Denver? He cocks his head and makes a sour face. "In my neighborhood, Alameda and Federal, it's all about stealing and gang-banging and racing in the streets." Perez tells me his home was broken into two weeks ago and he lost everything of value—his computer, television, VCR, jewelry. "I don't even lock my tow truck any more because they'll just break the window and I'll have to pay for that." Like Valenzuela's, his business also dropped by half following the change in immigration law.
I ask if he ever feels resentful of all the seeming prosperity in other parts of the city. "Yeah, but what're you gonna do? I have good friends and customers here. And I love my job because I love traffic. I guess that's the good part of Denver's growth. Traffic. I love it!"
When Valenzuela returns she agrees it's difficult to watch the city grow shiny while not feeling like she's a part of it. But, like Perez, she's working to keep a good attitude. "It's hard right now," she says. "But there's really nothing I don't like about Denver."
Until this moment, I had no idea that Denver was a Scorpio with an ascendant in Sagittarius and a moon in Virgo.
I'm sitting with Julia Stonestreet Smith, an "intuitive consultant," inside her small office above the Hornet restaurant on South Broadway. The room is dark—blinds drawn against the midafternoon sun—and a small deck of goddess cards sits on the table beside me. Swirling with hundreds of different impressions of Denver, I've come in a last-ditch effort to see if Denver's essence can be divined from its astrological chart. Much like they do with flesh-and-blood clients, astrologists can take the birth or incorporation date of a city, see where the planets were aligned at the time, and create a profile designed to capture what the city is all about. I'll confess upfront that I'm a skeptic. But I'm also desperate because I feel I'm no closer to defining Denver's personality than I ever was.
Sitting behind her computer, wearing a red, sleeveless tunic over black jeans, Smith interprets the city's elemental breakdown, modalities, and planetary positions while doing her best to put it all into lay terms.