Elephant Talk

By Kristin Pazulski

Photography by Adrian DiUbaldo

At the request of a friend, two years ago Randy Harris visited a church food pantry in Denver’s Villa Park neighborhood, just west of Federal and south of Colfax. A few loaves of bread and canned goods sat on the shelves. A girl came to the church with her father. She was irritable and grumpy; the reason, her father explained, was she hadn’t eaten in three days. They took their bread and cans of vegetables and went home.

Harris was horrified not only that she hadn’t eaten in three days, but also by the quality of the food they left with. When Harris asked the church why there was a lack of fresh food, he learned that they didn’t have the money to buy much more and donations from food drives are focused on canned and boxed non-perishables.

 Harris, a former corporate and government research consultant, started looking at Colorado’s current food pantry services. What he found, he says, is an unorganized business model, with scattered pantries full of well-intentioned people, but not much food. In his mind, why not pool the services?

“There’s plenty of food. We’re trying to parse it out to way too many places,” Harris said.

 

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Mulling Over the Mall

By Kristin Pazulski

Photography by Adrian DiUbaldo

Another group of casually dressed business people runs by you, trying to catch the bus, talking about the latest speaker and wearing lanyard tags naming the convention they are attending at the Hyatt.

You look down at your jeans and sweater, and wonder if you’re supposed to be wearing a suit to be on the 16th Street Mall, because that’s all you can see. But no, it’s just that Denver’s downtown is different. With fewer people living in Denver than working and visiting, the downtown area’s one dominating street, the 16th Street Mall, sees more traffic from the more than 100,000 office workers and 2.1 million annual visitors than it sees from Denver residents.

Not only that, but walk a block off of 16th Street and the story is much different.

Downtown Denver is dominated by a 15-block strip of stores, restaurants and vendors that attract most of the area’s pedestrian traffic. The Mall Ride is beeping, bags are rustling, conversations float from cafes and the street furniture as people take a rest from shopping or walking. But the adjoining streets are quiet. There are shops and restaurants—plenty of shops, some which have been there for years. But the bustle is missing. Cars whizz by in four lanes of one-way traffic. The white-walking-man lights go on, but only a few people saunter across the street—most on their way to a hotel, a bus stop or the Mall.

Those side streets could be the future of Denver’s downtown development, but having oriented the city around one street, what will it take to build a more balanced city-center—one with shopping, entertainment, residences and pedestrian areas throughout?

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People's Polo: This game comes down from the King's court to a street near you

Adam Smith of Denver (left) and Nick Applegate of Boulder (right) reache toward the ball during a game at the Boulder Foothills Community Park.By Kristin Pazulski

Photography By Adrian DiUbaldo


Brandon Carter had just reawakened his long defunct love with the bicycle when he learned about bike polo. “I saw it on xrocksthespot, a blog about cool shit to do in Denver. I saw videos of bike polo, and I was with that,” he said.

Before setting foot, or more accurately wheel, on a hardcourt, he was addicted. He went home and made a mallet in his backyard with an old ski pole and plastic piping (the typical mallet materials for bike polo). Riding his Goodwill-purchased bicycle, he made it to his first pick-up game with the then recently formed Denver bike polo club, the Mallet Mafia (now going through a name change to "Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo").

“I sucked when I went,” Carter said. “I was all afraid ‘cause I don’t ride a fixed gear bike and everyone else was pretty much on a fixed gear bike and I was afraid they were going to judge me, which they did. And then I sucked at polo for a really long time. I still suck at polo, but I really sucked then. I couldn’t hit the ball.”

Despite his self-proclaimed lack of talent for polo, Carter was obsessed, as are most of the bike polo players, many of whom play two to four times a week.

“I’m definitely addicted to bike polo. There’s no doubt in my mind about it,” Carter said. 

 

The first time I saw a typical polo game, I was at Will Rogers State Park outside of Los Angeles. Returning from a hike, there in front of us was a lush green field. There was little cheering, and most of the spectators were accidental, having also returned from a hike or picnicking when the game started.

I was enamored by the grace of the horses and amazed by the accuracy of the players’ shots. The mallet poles looked thin and long, dangerously fragile. Not many goals were made, but the game was fascinating to watch all the same. Graceful, peaceful, and impressive.

Hardcourt bike polo is a whole different kind of impressive.

On a hot, sunny, Wednesday summer evening in Capitol Hill, I stood in the shade of a tree in the Morey Middle School yard, eating a mini cupcake and watching a bike polo match.

There was grace, agility and some accuracy, but this was a much different kind of polo. Lush grass was replaced by asphalt. Mallets flew at a ball among crunching gears, whirring petals and wheel guards protecting vulnerable spokes from mallet blows.

Players circle in the Foothills Community ParkNot having played, I couldn’t tell if the players were good or if their shots were accurate. I just saw that the ball sometimes made it between the two orange cones.

Hardcourt bike polo is exactly what it sounds like—players riding bicycles on a hard surface (usually a hockey rink or converted tennis court), handling the ball with a mallet, trying to score. The game is rugged, not in an outdoorsy way, but in a hipster bike culture way. And like Carter, it’s easy to assume that bike polo is for a fixed gear, messenger bike subculture. But in the past 10 years, bike polo has grown into its own subculture, with teams popping up in almost every major city in the U.S. and internationally.

The first world tournament was held in Philadelphia last year, and tournaments are held regularly throughout the year. Colorado players travel around the country to attend club-sponsored tournaments monthly. They pay travel costs themselves and crash at fellow polo players’ homes to save money.

“At this point [bike polo] is very DIY,” said Nick Applegate, who started playing in upstate New York and started a Boulder team this year. “The whole culture is very like, you got to figure out what works for you. There is a huge array of different kinds of bikes that people ride, from road bikes to mountain bikes and fixed gear bikes and everything in between; it’s a really interesting culture to surround yourself in.”

Players are impossible to pigeonhole demographically. The players in Colorado range from 18 years old to their mid-30s, though there are a few older players in other clubs. In Arizona and New York, there are players in their 60s. The male to female ratio is disproportionate, but women are always welcome, and are often encouraged to join.

“You could argue that it’s part of the urban bike culture, but if you want to narrow that down to anything more than that, like fixie culture, I don’t think Brandon [Carter] and I view ourselves as fixie kind of guys,” said Ben Turner, who started playing with Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo last May. “I think what it is, is people that have a passion for bikes.”

But like any do-it-yourself (DIY) activity rising in popularity, the sport and its local clubs are confronting an identity crisis.

For the most part, hardcourt bike polo is played similarly everywhere. Teams of three play against each other, usually in 10- or 12-minute games, or until five points is reached by one side. The players are usually chosen by blindly holding up six mallets, each mallet representing a player, and throwing three to the left and three to the right.

The main rules are simple, and there are really only three.

1—If you put your foot down, you need to tap out then come back into play.

2—Score with the end of the mallet.

3—Don’t be a dick.

But each club has tweaks to the rules that differ from other clubs, so a league has formed among the die-hard polo players to create a governing body over the bike polo clubs in North America; part of the league’s plan is to determine a set of standardized rules for tournaments. Some players see the standardization as a threat to the culture of the sport and a step toward commercializing it.

“It’s a tough group to set up because they are anarchists, sort of, and don’t want rules and regulations,” said George Wall, who started a bike polo club in Colorado Springs.

“There’s a lot of anxiety in the polo culture because people don’t want to let go of that DIY, that organic evolution of the sport,” said Applegate. “I think it’s a mixed blessing. I’m in support of it becoming mainstream; I’m not super excited about it being ridiculously commercialized.”

Carter supports standardizing rules for tournaments. He said it will provide broader access to the sport, and he doesn’t see the DIY aspect of it leaving anytime soon.

“[Creating a set of rules] is necessary, because when you go to another place to play polo and the rules are totally different ... then it kind of rocks your brain a little bit,” Carter said, adding later, “I think it will still be DIY. I mean, maybe you’ll be able to go to Wal-Mart and buy a bike polo bike in a year, but you still need to do stuff to make your bike feel good for you.”

Scooter Sackerson of Denver (left), Dallas Harvey of Colorado Springs (Middle) and Duncan “McCloud” Taylor charge the ballAs I watched the June pick-up game, Turner explained that Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo is also at a sort of crossroads. Taking a break between games, he pointed to the group of 14 players. He said most of these and the other 15-or-so players that attend pick-up games regularly have been playing since Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo started last year. With more than a dozen tournaments behind some of the players, Denver Hardcourt's skills have vastly improved, but he and others are wondering where they go from here.

One development that most Denver Hardcourt players agree would help the team is a home court.

Currently they hold games anywhere a central space large enough to play on can be found. The primary location has been a middle school playground yard at 13th Avenue and Emerson Street in Capitol Hill. But the location is less than ideal. Cracks and dips threaten riders and without wall boundaries, the players spend as much time chasing balls as they do playing polo.

“We very badly want a court. It’s hard to get a good idea of bike polo on this court because there are so many things wrong with it,” said Cherri Czajkowski, one of the girls who play with Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo. “[The Capitol Hill court] is awesome in that it’s a central meeting spot and we can kind of just hit around the ball. But it’s not ideal because you don’t have boards, you’re chasing around the ball, there are cracks in the pavement.”

Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo, including Brent Tongco who works in the Mayor’s office, has approached the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation about a place to play. The players are willing to repair and maintain a dilapidated tennis court or similar space in order to earn their right to play there.

Parks and Recreation’s Mark Tabor said he doesn’t have a formal proposal from the group yet, but added that court space may arise when the city looks into installing multi-use courts in currently unused tennis court areas.

But even with a lack of a regular pitch in Denver, interest in the sport is growing.

The Colorado Springs club, Polo High, began around the same time as Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo. About 10-15 players come out to the twice-weekly pickups in the summer, and more in the winter, when other activities like mountain biking aren’t battling for riders’ attention.

In April, Applegate started the Boulder club, which usually sees four to six people show up to its pick-up games.

“I’m definitely addicted to it,” said Applegate. “I think it’s a good outlet. There’s different ways of playing the game. It can be a lot of finesse. It can be a lot of release of tension. A lot of people really get angry and emotional on the court. But I think it’s like any other sport where you develop camaraderie and you really have to be intimate with your machine and know how to fix things as they break.”

Watching the club play in June, I witnessed both the intensity of the game and the passion the players have for their club and it’s future.

“We’ve been trying to figure this out for a while,” Carter said, referring to bike polo’s hold on its dedicated players. “There’s something about riding your bike in general that’s awesome. It just can’t be explained. I think a part of it is that you are literally in tune with the machine. You can feel it … and then combine that with a competitive sport. … Biking and polo together are pretty fucking amazing.” •

Feature: Crime or Punishment?

Published April 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 4

by Margo Pierce, with contributions from Kimberly Gunning and Ross Evertson

photos by Adrian Diubaldo

Economic profiling treats homeless people as criminals.

In 2007, approximately 3.6 million people were homeless at some time in North America, according to a number of non-profit organizations. “Homelessness” is defined in a variety of ways, so it is impossible to paint a uniform picture of what this reality looks like, but the numbers show that homelessness has reached epidemic proportions. And looking around the country, for many communities a popular response is punishment.

 A man holds up a ticket in Denver for camping ilegaly . The ticket had no fine, but required him to go to Homeles Court.

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Local Buzz: Jazz & Gentry

Published March 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 3

Will Denver Have its own Harlem Renaissance?

written by Tim Covi
reporting by Dwayne Pride
photography by Adrian Diubaldo

Standing at the corner of Welton and Washington Streets, if you look hard enough you might still see throngs of people coiling around the sides of the Rossonian Hotel. Young men standing under tipped fedoras and women in cocktail dresses and heels lined up to hear some of the best jazz the country has to offer. You’d have to look hard, mind you. Past the dusty, lightly sootsoiled brick, past the 1993 renovations, around the light rail that sidles up to the hotel’s flank and comes to a slow, furtive stop at the traffic light before rushing off down Welton with its payload. You’d need to look beyond the empty shell being remodeled, well into history. Because for several years, this corner has been a husk of what it was.

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Local Buzz: Schooling Shelters

Published January 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 1

text by Michael Neary

photography by Adrian DiUbaldo

Living at the Salvation Army Lambuth Center in Denver, Luz Hernandez and her two children face some uncertainty about their future. But uncertainty and all, their lives clearly feel better to them than they did last spring.

About six months ago, Hernandez was holding down two jobs while the family lived in a Westminster apartment. The jobs—part of an effort to emerge from a deepening financial trench—left little time for Hernandez to spend with her daughter Lesley Velasquez, 13, and her son Adrian Velasquez, 12.

“I would hardly see them,” she said.

Hernandez, who spoke quietly, seemed to relish the time she could now spend with her children.

Hernandez talked about her move to the shelter as her son worked on lessons in a tutoring program begun this year by Denver Public Schools. Luz said her daughter, who wasn’t at the shelter that afternoon, would also be taking up the lessons. With wooden floors and modest but comfortable chairs, the shelter is an inviting place, and the moods of the families staying there seemed serene.

The children at the shelter are studying in ways they wouldn’t have been able to a year ago. DPS started the tutoring program where Adrian was learning with federal funds made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The ARRA funds are part of a big increase in federal dollars available to Colorado public schools to help homeless students this year—but the problem itself is growing at a daunting pace.

Adrian Velasquez, 12, works on a math worksheet at the Lambuth Center.

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Freature: Magazine Crew - Human trafficking may have knocked at your door.

Published November 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 10

by Margo Pierce
photos by Adrian Diubaldo

 Some of the 27 million people worldwide who are bought, traded or are unwitting victims of human trafficking live and work in Colorado. It could be the person in the fields you drive past or on your doorstep telling you about a magazine offer. It’s not clear if Jose Garcia was a victim of human trafficking. He had one of those jobs that operates in a grey area. But one thing is certain: he is one of the lucky ones who was able to escape that possibility.

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Local Buzz: Mental Health Cuts

Published October 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 9

by Dwayne Pride
photographs by Adrian Diubaldo

 

“The difference between the closings before and the closings now is that this time half of the hospital will be closing down.”
—Steve Wager

As the state budget gets carved up, Colorado residents, state workers, service providers and clients are all scrambling to figure out what the looming budget cuts mean for them. One area of concern is among the health and human services. These services are directly responsible for supporting homeless and poor people in the metro area and across the state, a portion of whom are considered disabled. Fort Logan Mental Health Center is among the organizations taking large cuts to balance the budget, and the cuts could mean as many as 200 people won’t get needed mental health services.

Fort Logan provides hospital services for the mentally ill. It serves patients with complex, serious and persistent mental illnesses. There are 153 inpatient beds and 20 residential beds. Each year about 650 patients are admitted, according to hospital admissions at Fort Logan. Cuts could mean that most of these patients would need to be redirected to other institutional facilities or not hospitalized at all.

Fort Logan Mental Health Institute is losing much of its resources due to state budget reform.  Beds and employee hours are being cut, leaving employees unhappy and many homeless people without a place to recuperate. Photo by ADRIAN DIUBALDO.

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Feature: Aftershock - Addressing secondary trauma in a setting mindful of both clients and service providers

Published August 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 7

by Mandy Walker
photos by Adrian DiUbaldo

Barbara molfese sits in her small office at the Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center and remembers a client she counseled about an unintended pregnancy. The young woman, dressed in boys clothing, told Molfese about the incest and sexual assaults she’d experienced beginning when she was just five-years-old.

“You could just feel the pain sitting in a room with her,” said Molfese. “I felt heartbroken for her for the next couple of weeks. Sad, depressed. I just kept seeing her, picturing her in my mind.” Molfese, counseling supervisor and chaplain at the center, knew she was suffering from secondary trauma.

Like Molfese, Rene Brodeur, program director at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, can recall traumatic events, like attempted suicides or violence and the impact they’ve had on him. He also knows there are times when he can’t identify a single specific incident and yet has found himself experiencing secondary trauma.

Rene Brodeur, left, and Janet Walker of the Boulder Shelter for the homeless have a meeting along the trails west of the shelter.

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Feature: Outsmarting Crime

text by Margo Pierce
photo by Adrian Diubaldo

Christie Donner, Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, works at her desk

When a street cop says that simply throwing criminals in jail isn’t the way to protect the public, it’s worth listening. And when that street cop has worked his way up to a top position in the Colorado Department of Corrections, it carries that much more weight.

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