The Wire(s) in Denver

Governing writer John Buntin and I were in Denver in February to look into that city's use of DNA testing as a means of ...
by | March 17, 2010

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Governing writer John Buntin and I were in Denver in February to look into that city's use of DNA testing as a means of catching crooks. Our plane was delayed at both ends of our trip and as a result, we had to drive from the airport to the Denver Police headquarters as quickly as possible. I was the wheelman while John worked his phone, filing a story he had written in his head on the plane. I noticed two things on our rapid drive into town: One, Denver drivers are a courteous bunch who share the road and obey the posted speed limits. Two: A police car was following us.

As John dictated his story about the recent governor's conference in Washington, I rehearsed what I would say to the officer when he pulled me over. But eventually the patrol car slowed down and headed off down an exit ramp to who knows where, and soon enough we were downtown looking for a place to park. Denver is pretty easy to get around, and parking didn't seem to be much of a problem either.

We later heard, from multiple sources, that California's Governor Schwarzenegger is a mile-high parking lot mogul. But no one could agree on exactly which of the many surface lots he owns. Looking down from the window of the district Attorney's office, you can see a patchwork of lots where three-story brick buildings once stood. But now, in many blocks, the voids seemed to outnumber the remaining structures.

I've finally gotten used to paying for parking the modern way, which is to park in a numbered spot, swiping your credit card at a sleek-looking ATM-type device that spits out a ticket, which you place to be seen through the windshield. These things have been around for a number of years now but I resisted until it was futile. I saw them long ago in Europe before I ever saw them here. The Old Country was way ahead of us on the parking payment front.

But paying to park here was not going to be so easy. I wheeled the rental Chevy into a beautiful spot and strode toward the payment machine. But what I found was a decidedly low-tech yellow box with rows of slots. Each slot had a number corresponding to a space on the lot. We needed to put five dollars into our slot, with no hope of a receipt. So I took a picture of John pressing a folded bill into the box, as proof of payment when we submitted our expense report.

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Perhaps because we were headed to see the Chief of Police, the District Attorney and the head of Denver's crime lab, we were in a law enforcement frame of mind. The first building we saw, or that we at least paid attention to, loomed just beyond the parking lot. Clean and tall, with narrow windows and devoid of ornamentation, we decided it was the new jail. But instead, it turned out to be a museum of art.

Further adding to the impression that this art museum might be a jail was the jumble of telephone poles and power lines that ran along side the place. It really doesn't look very nice, especially for a place that exists to bring art to the masses.

(It wouldn't have looked nice as a prison either.)

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I married a girl from Holland almost 25 years ago. For 25 years she has been saying "I can't believe that in America you have these ridiculous telephone poles everywhere. They look awful and are so old fashioned." My weak defense has been that the wooden poles add character to cities and towns. Their charm is derived from their utilitarian nature. They are pretty in an ugly sort of way.

But I know my European wife is right. The Old Country is embarrassing us with their modern ways. You wouldn't see a visual mess like this in Holland, except of course for the jumble of wires overhead that power all the trams in every city. I'll have to raise that point the next time she brings it up.

Colorado is going to elect a new governor this year, and the state's unsightly power lines have become a platform issue for at least one of the candidates, Republican Y. J. Mager, who says on her Web site:

Our infrastructures need updated [sic]. It is of my opinion that we have fallen behind the world in this area. The existing outside, uncovered utility lines are antiquated and need to be placed underground. This will be a huge undertaking but will create jobs and will make Colorado a safer state to live in.

Except for her views on utility poles, I don't know anything at all about Ms. Mager and have no idea as to whether or not she ought to be the next governor. But I do hope that her ideas about exposed wires are embraced by all and that this sparks a revolution that spreads across the country.

But I don't think elected officials should get involved with art museums. Beauty is still in the eye of the beholder.

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