Sunday, June 30, 2019. Denver, Colorado.
I woke in the Aloft hostel. It had been fine the night before, when I was so drunk I couldn’t see, but that beautiful dream was burning away, as if in morning sunlight. Not literally, since the shade was broken, and there was no sunlight. Just pretend.
Desperation had driven me to this chain before. The Dublin Aloft was an exercise in the grotesque, but it was also my first hostel and I mistakenly believed every hostel would be like that, and that’s why they are all like $20 a night.
I quickly determined that our toilet was broken. The reason we had a broken toilet is some brain genius left the instructions in the tank upon installation.
I peeled the lid off the tank and found a plastic bag containing a swollen bundle of pages the size of a telephone book, bobbing in the water like it belonged there.
“Hmm,” I said.
I called down to inform the front desk. Nothing happened for fifteen minutes. I also went down in person to inform the front desk. We were assured it would be taken care of. I asked when. The timetable was unknown.
Also, plumbing ree!
The showers worked, for the time being, and we made use of them and then had breakfast at a place called the Delectable Egg. It delivered as advertised.
Everything in Denver is craft. How do dog silhouettes relate to hot sauce, you may ask? Well, another reason this magnificent city is the modern shangri-la is no one has fewer than two dogs at any given time. You walk around these huge, open streets, breathe the clean air, and exchange smiles (smiling! in a city!) with the population of rangy, athletic people walking multiple dogs.
It’s like Bizarro Philly.
We made our way up the 16th Street Mall, a collection of big-name boutiques with a fleet of big red shuttle buses running on each block for free. We had grand designs to catch one of the shuttles and ride it to the end of its track, then cross the bridge into downtown proper, allowing us to absorb more of the local flavor than would be accessible at Dunkin and Old Navy.
The block down from the hostel had a little outdoor topiary garden and avant garde sculptures, as well as just a regular-ass cow with Denver facts written on it.
While we were admiring the shrubbery, the shuttle rolled up, and kept rolling, directly into a homeless guy.
The driver waddled out of the bus, stricken, literally chewing her nails as a mob formed. The homeless guy lay next to the bus, alongside his metal walker, both sprawled in the decorative hedges. Concerned locals circled like vultures. I started to call 911, but a screaming lady was already on it.
Some bald guy was whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He was howling all sorts of invective; the details escape me, but the general implication was that this was no accident, but rather, premeditated vehicular homicide, and if we did not act soon the obese middle-aged immigrant bus driver would get away with it again.
“For TOO LONG they’ve been getting away with this! When are we going to stand up and ACT!”
The wolves were closing in. Everyone was getting louder and angrier. It was approaching the event horizon. I helpfully interjected with the fullness of my Thu’um.
“Everybody shut up!” I roared. “The man is hurt, and this isn’t helping him! Back up and give him some air!”
I am big, and rarely roar these days. The majority of my work is with women, and they find it distressing. It was risky to inject that kind of visceral fight-or-flight response into an already escalated crowd, but I maintain adolescent delusions of physical invulnerability, and I doubt those middle-aged women and Left coast soyboys could actually kill me. They could kill the bus driver, though. Metabolic syndrome had done half the job already.
So I drew their attention, and everyone’s head whipped around to me like I’d farted in church. Most of them were suitably abashed. The bald kid was not. Rather, he was immediately in my face.
“Don’t fucking talk to me like that!” he yelled. “Who the fuck are you, to talk to me like that?”
“You’re making it worse,” I said to him. Quietly, now. Conversationally. Within the newfound intimacy of our range. “Rein it in.”
“Fuck you! You fucking dork.”
He spat this as though it were the most devastating slur in his arsenal. I looked down at him, at the roadmap of veins bulging on his male pattern pate. The modern parlance would place him firmly in the manlet zone, 5’6″ or so, and visibly winded from all the excitement.
Though I felt a yearning to break him down into his component parts, I knew it was vestigal instinct, and not real useful. How embarrassing would that be? Ruining my first Bastard Travel in months by getting arrested at the scene of a vehicular manslaughter for punching the skin off this tubby progeriac? “It was self-defense! He called me a dork.”
“All right, buddy,” I said slowly, as though talking to a small, dull child. “This isn’t about you. Somebody’s hurt.”
He said something clever about “fuck you” again, so I walked past him, giving him the opportunity to do something aside from snarl. He did not.
I crouched by the homeless dude. He was breathing. No blood or anything. The shuttle just knocked him off his feet. Or off his walker, I guess. His shoulder was pressed against the side of the shuttle, into a billboard ad for knockout dentistry. A few bystanders were also pressing their hands into the ad to ensure the bus driver didn’t make a quick getaway.
The ambulance pulled up. Cops would be there soon. Though I’m no longer the hood rat criminal I once was, I continue to make it a point to be where cops aren’t.
The bus driver wasn’t stoned to death, so that was a plus, depending on where you were standing. I went to go find Ladygirl.
“Listen man,” the bald kid said, drifting back into my line of vision, “I’m sorry. That’s my bad. I was caught up in the moment, and I was out of line. It’s just, this shit keeps happening.”
“The bus keeps hitting people?” I asked.
“I’m an activist,” he told me, suddenly and jarringly. By rote. He had been preparing this. When had he prepared this? We stopped talking sixty seconds ago. “So I use my voice a lot.”
“Okay,” I said.
He limply shook my hand, then started to describe more of his activism to me. I said I had somewhere to be and bounced.
Ladygirl was half a block up, sitting on a bench next to all the horticulture and looking perturbed. You can tell she’s perturbed because her eyes triple in size, so you can see the whites all the way around. Whenever there’s a loud noise, she briefly looks like an anime character.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The bus hit a homeless guy,” I said.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Is everyone okay?”
“Nobody died while I was there,” I said. “Although this bald dude came close. Let’s get out of here.”
“Yeah,” she said, “maybe… maybe let’s catch the bus the next block up.”
“Sure,” I said. “Just be ready to dodge.”
On our return journey (spoiler: we survive the day), we would find the bald activist howling incoherently on the same street corner, to no one. Motioning frantically to the scene of the crime. The lack of an audiance did not discourage him from “using his voice”.