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Elitch Gardens: A Celebration with Altitude brings out the attitude

Quick question: What’s more fun than a couple thousand members of the traveling press getting tanked on free beer and then shoved on a rollercoaster?

Answer: Almost anything.

Yeah, I get it: This wasn’t supposed to be work. This was just supposed to be fun -- a chance for the hacks, flacks and snake-oil peddlers to unwind and eat some corndogs in the sun. But with the entire city drawing dangerously close to the event horizon of the DNC black hole and truck-mounted squads of SWAT cops rolling through the parking lots like something out of the opening scenes of a Michael Bay film, the whole scene seemed just surreal.

Credit where it’s due, though, the Denver Newspaper Agency, which sponsored the party, laid on quite a spread, opening the entire park to an invasion by the international press corps (I met a guy from a Mexican news operation trying to figure out how to pronounce “Elitch” so he could file over his Bluetooth headset, so the party counts as work), allowing mojito-drunk freelancers from New York to ride the Mind Eraser and fill the skies with their high and girlish screams, MSNBC and Fox News back-stage crew to sit together in the arena with no fear of sudden political brawls in the stands, and any ambulatory knucklehead with a yen for a giant stuffed Homer Simpson to play at the carnival games and win (it seemed) no matter how poorly he performed.

In addition, everyone was fed, liquored up and given free shit at every turn. By 6:20 (following a 6 p.m.opening of the main gates and a quick pass by the re-purposed high school lunch ladies providing security—proof of how much the Secret Service and Homeland Security cares for the safety of the press), I’d managed to find the Molson-Coors-sponsored beer garden, secure my Mick ass a brace of Killian’s (poured in Coors Light plastic cups, but still free for the asking), get a seat and started drinking. Within three minutes, I’d been offered, as passed apps, pretzel nuggets (twice), chunks of brownie soaked in chocolate, nachos, buffalo meatballs that tasted troublingly skanky in a viscous sauce of (just a guess) dehydrated onion flakes and recycled crankcase oil, and a sombrero. All but the sombrero came from an army of volunteers from America’s Road Home (or at least an army of T-shirt fillers) who turned out in such numbers that there had to be two for every stunned and inappropriate-sandal-wearing member of the media in the park. The sombrero? That was from a gorgeous, dark-haired girl in press tags and heels who’d apparently purchased a sombrero at some point between the front gate and the beer garden and already realized what a bad idea a sombrero is under any circumstance that doesn’t involve a stripper’s pole or tequila-drinking contest.

I demurred. I already have a sombrero and I was smart enough not to bring it here.

By about 7 p.m., the crowds had really begun rolling in. Producers, cameramen, fixers, lots of what I had to assume were print journalists because I recognized precisely no one. There were rumors of everyone from Oprah to Wolf Blitzer being in attendance (no to both of those; Blitzer and his news commandoes were already set up and broadcasting from the floor of the Pepsi Center), but I managed to run into exactly two people I recognized: Aaron Harber (local, long-form political talk show host) and David Carr from the New York Times. Oh, and our own Kenny Be, who was den-mothering a group of out-of-town cartoonists up under the tents where Epicurean Catering was running its front-line food ops.

Would I have paid good money to see Blitzer strapped into that thing where they wrap you up like a mummy, drop you from a tower and let you swing out across the park on the end of a rope, spraying the crowds below with a fine mist of urine and vomit? Yes, I would. Double for Bill O’Reilly. And triple if they would’ve cut the rope right at the top of his shrieking arc. But it was no joy. Elitch’s had even set up a VIP area at the back of the park which, convenient for me, had a smoking area. But while the booze was better in the VIP-zone (cocktails and wine rather than beer in plastic cups or cans) and the food of a somewhat higher caliber, I saw no one but staff, volunteers, the Captain Morgan girls (who were running an impromptu “Captain for President” shtick in the park, walking a pirate around and handing out free T-shirts to anyone they could buttonhole), and a few inappropriately dressed women who were obviously under the mistaken impression that this Elitch’s hootenanny was supposed to be some sort of garden party, so had broken out the glittery silk and taffeta for the occasion. The entire scene was almost like a premonition of the coming week: lots of people acting very busy, lots of bodies moving here and there, flurries of press credentials, rumors of excitement, a buzz of possible action but no one knowing exactly what’s going on.

From a dependable source (read: a complete stranger who only had two or three beers in him and swore it was true) I heard that Anderson Cooper was up towards the front of the park watching a man do a chalk portrait of Obama. “He walked right by me,” I was assured, but I never managed to lay my own eyes on the man. Somebody else (less dependable and a couple more drinks towards the good side of happy hour) told me Candy Crowley was in the park but that, too, would’ve been tough considering she’d been following Obama through the Midwest just that afternoon. Maybe Candy Crowley has her own CNN teleporter? If I were to pass that rumor to enough people in the park, would that make it true?

In any event, I gave up on Elitch’s around 8 p.m., just before the Flobots were due to hit the stage. I’d already seen a scattered crowd of stiff-limbed and saucy reporters trying to dance to “Get Up, Stand Up” down in the waterpark and didn’t need to see a whole lot more of them trying to shake their various groove things to the boys doing “Rise” in the arena.

Unless, of course, someone could promise me that Blitzer would be there. From what I hear, that man can really move. – Jason Sheehan

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