Denver, CO

6 things that surprised me about Denver

David Heitz

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When I decided to move to Denver from Illinois in August 2018, it largely was sight unseen.

I had come to the Mile High City only for a week to visit, and just days before I moved here. I came as part of a vacation trip with Colorado Cannabis Tours. I already had my medical marijuana card in Illinois, where they once were hard to get. I became fascinated with marijuana and knew I wanted to live in the epicenter of it all.

So, like so many people before me, I moved to Denver for the weed.

Plus, I always had heard Denver was a nice place. I remember having an editor when I was on a fellowship at The Arizona Republic who offered to hook me up with an editor from The Boulder Camera. This would have been 1992.

I passed on the nice offer, intent to move to Los Angeles. That’s what I did.

1. Strangely, what surprised me most about Denver upon arrival was its resemblance to Los Angeles.

Traffic is a nightmare. Motorists are aggressive and horn-heavy here, just like in L.A. I rented a car a few times when I first moved here. I have to say I was far more nervous driving on the freeways of Denver than the freeways of Los Angeles.

And then there’s the pollution. Some days in the summer Denver has a brown cloud hovering over downtown. That’s so L.A., and not in a good way.

2. It’s so sunny and hot. The Denver sun is strong, and it shines more than 300 days per year in Denver. It will burn your skin without sunscreen. It also will make you work up a sweat if you’re not dressed appropriately.

Imagine how homeless people suffer in Denver’s elements – the brutal sun in the summer (often there is nowhere for people experiencing homeless to get a drink of water), harsh winds, cold and snow in the winter.

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Denver has some art in surprising places.Cody Engel/Unsplash

3. The size of Denver’s homeless population was perhaps the biggest shocker to me. One wonders how such a wealthy city, and a liberal one at that, could have this problem. I never thought I would become homeless, but I did. That was by far my lowest, scariest time in my life.

I suppose it helped that I was not alone. Homeless people in Denver are everywhere. I can’t imagine being the only one looked down upon, spat at, and cussed out. I suppose there is strength in numbers.

4. I did not expect Denver to be so wealthy. Oh, this city is rich all right. You see it all around you in the form of every fifth car being a Tesla, it seems. Again, Denver reminds me of L.A. and the fancy cars are yet another similarity. Of course, you need to be well-off to own any home in Denver, one of the most expensive places in the U.S. to live.

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Expressive art allows Denver to poke fun at a stinky alley.Frankie Lopez/Unsplash

5. I did not expect Denver to be so gay-friendly. When I worked at The Advocate, the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, back in the 1990s Colorado was known as the “Hate State.” It earned the moniker because of a ballot initiative called Amendment 2. The initiative prohibited ending discriminatory practices for gay men and lesbians. Its approval by voters sent an unwelcome message to the LGBT community, who boycotted Colorado.

6. I did not expect Denver to be so sexually liberated. Where I used to live in Glendale, Colo. (one square mile of weirdness) was known as Tinder Alley. Apparently, my neighborhood was a great place for a hookup.

Denver is loaded with sex establishments, especially on Colfax Avenue. There are bookstores, spas, and baths aplenty. Topless dance clubs are plentiful.

A limousine with the Playboy Bunny all over it regularly travels Colfax.

I once read a report in Westword about a group who enjoyed sex in ways I would never have the guts to write about.

But then again, Denver is young. People in their prime like to have a good time.

In younger years, a John Denver fan

When I was young (and I mean young) all I knew about Denver was folk singer John Denver.

For the Eugene Field School Gong Show, I sang “Country Roads, Take me Home.” I was in the fourth grade and played the guitar and sang the song. I won second place in the contest and was rewarded with a 13-inch black and white television for my room.

Funny that more than 40 years later, indeed I sang, “Take me home, to the place, I belong,” as I no longer felt at home where I grew up. I felt like a stranger there after my dad died, but I had no idea where I would go.

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Wouldn’t you know my real-life “Country Roads, Take me Home” would lead to the mountains of Colorado. Thankfully, most of the surprises I’ve encountered here have been pleasant ones.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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