on the street

R.I.P. Shelby's 2019

By the time you read this, the last of the old school downtown dive bars will be ground into dust. (That’s a lie, but let’s perpetuate it so we can keep the last two, or three, secret.) I don’t have many stories from this place. I’ve been here precisely three times. These are what remains of my memories of it:

This was the one place in Denver I remember feeling overwhelmed by cigarette smoke. It was like a smack to the face when you opened the door. The place still smells like that. I miss second hand smoke.

During the day it was the business lunch crowd, but not for the suits. Clerks, temps, tellers and the like could sneak in an afternoon beer in order to keep from opening their wrists back at their desks.

At night, the crowd was friendly enough, but felt like it could boil over into a mob at the smallest provocation. And they seem to take their cues from the ownership and staff behind the bar. The bookie and the drug dealer that held down stools there would leave at the start of happy hour. It wasn’t worth the trouble.

In the end, that’s the best way I can sum up Shelby’s.

It wasn’t worth the trouble.

The four of us sat in the back of the bus.

First was the guy with his backpack spread out over the backseat. It was easy to tell that he liked to drink. He was maybe 25, but his face already had the red blown out gloss of someone who drinks heavily so he looked 10 years older. The tallboy tucked between his knees was also a clue. He was already on the bus when I sat down and opened my book.

Two stops later she got on. Blue hoodie, jeans, slack jaw, steady, knowing, eyes. She sat in the corner in the only space left on the back seat. She immediately got on the phone and (pretended?) negotiated the purchase of, “10 for $20”. She had her feet on the seat next to me with her legs cocked wide open. I got the feeling that she was waiting for someone to look at her.

The twitchy guy got on next and sat across from me. His legs were a mirror of my own, spread wide to claim his space. I didn’t see much else beyond his dark blue jeans and his baby blue and white hi-tops, one heel bouncing up and down. I flipped the pages of my book, pretending to read, and was alert. Some kind of chemistry was taking affect and I waited to see if it became a cocktail or a conflagration.

By the time we got to the stop where black teenagers heading home from school usually spill onto the bus and crowd the back of the bus, it was quickly established that these three knew each other from a nearby halfway home. Tonight, the teenagers huddled in the front half of the bus.

“You start collecting your workers comp?”

“Yeah, but it’s only 60%. The fucked up thing is they want to cut me open and shave the bone off my disc. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on pain meds. It’s bad enough I can’t snowboard anymore.”

“You’re not taking your pain pills?”


“You should sell them to me. What they got you takin’?”

“Perc, Oxy…”

“Are they blue?”


“You’re talking about Roxy, they’re slow release.”

“How much you want for them?”

“Man, I’ve sold so many pills. I can’t take ’em, I know how I roll. I’m an extremist.”

I closed my book and got off at my stop.


(I’m trying to make an informed decision, We might just legalize pot in Colorado…not really. We’ve got a crazy Libertarian streak here, but if Amendment 64 passes it won’t be because of Gary Johnson loyalists or Boulder hippies. South Park Republicans and Soccer Moms are gonna have to vote for it. If it does pass, it might mean Obama loses in Colorado.)

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