Where is the heart of Denver? A case can be made for Confluence Park. Perhaps the Capitol. Maybe the City and County Building. Locating any city’s thoroughfare named Broadway is usually a clue.
My skyscraper window at 1600 Broadway faces southwest and directly across Broadway at Colorado’s wildest McDonald’s. I’ve visited for French fries a time or two. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more. Is there a tastier, piping hot snack anywhere? Did you know French fries contain far more natural potassium than supplements, and can be good for you (alas, baked not fried)?
I’d have gone to that McDonald’s more often, but the crowd there can be challenging. Envision the Star Wars cantina sprinkled with tourists and working people. Add in many people attracted by this location’s well-earned reputation as a bastion for those down on their luck.
Way back when I was 32, a key prosecution witness in a first-degree murder trial had a screw come loose while testifying, and vociferously belittled defense counsel. It was awful. The judge told me to calm the witness down during a hastily called hour recess.
I took him down Cleveland Place to McDonald’s. The Brown Palace was not an option. He was schizophrenic and confided to me he was off his meds. Before we could enjoy a single fry, he started making booming proclamations on a wide range of topics, startling the crowd. I reported back to the court. A mistrial was declared.
On June 29, 2016, Clarence Seeley made international news outside this same McDonald’s by ranting while violently swinging a lengthy PVC pipe at several people. Seeley, age 32, told Denver 7’s Jennifer Kovaleski that he was homeless, schizophrenic and off his meds.
Seeley claimed people coming out of McDonald’s were part of a violent group that had stolen his backpack, meds and phone. Seeley explained he was new to Denver and homeless. He utilized that McDonald’s for its bathroom. After being found competent to proceed, Seeley was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He’s now out on parole.
The McDonald’s kept going while Seeley served his time, but then the inconceivable happened. COVID-19 and repeated violent protests on Broadway were followed by the shocking closure of this McDonald’s. Glass doors were boarded up. Even the Brown Palace shuttered and closed for a while. It was dispiriting.
All this summer, while commuting south down Broadway, I kept noticing the same youngish homeless woman. She was maintaining her lone open-air campsite at the hectic southeast corner sidewalk of Ellsworth and Broadway. It got me to wondering. How and why would someone exist like this? Is she really living there 24/7?
I stopped. I introduced myself. I explained my curiosity, and that I write columns for the Colorado Sun. She assessed me and began conversing, asking great questions about my family, my jobs and background. She told me her name was Tori and she was pleased to talk and to have it recorded.
Victoria Smith is a smart, friendly and ambitious 32-year-old Colorado native. She said she never expected to be homeless as she grew up in Littleton and graduated Columbine High School. Tori told me she worked six years at Starbucks. Tori told me of a bad car wreck when she was young, but she feels OK now. She appears sober, clean and healthy.
I asked how hygiene was possible, and Tori told me kind people in the area let her use their facilities. Tori is quite aware she is living in the geographical heart of Denver. Broadway and Ellsworth are Denver’s zero hundred blocks.
Even though she’s homeless now, Tori is determined to someday form an organization to assist dispossessed people. This will be a “rags to riches” story, she told me with a genuine smile and apparent determination. As for food and liquids, Tori was surviving on the compassion of humans.
Since my first conversation with Tori, I’ve returned several times. I’ve brought her food and some necessities. She always remembers my name and asks about my welfare.
On Saturday afternoon, I stopped by to tell Tori I was going to my downtown office to start this column. Perhaps more people would stop by to converse as a result. Tori said she hopes so. If you need some new perspectives, I suggest you visit Tori.
And if you need another pick-me-up, let me suggest a vanilla ice cream cone or French fries at McDonald’s. Our heart of Denver Golden Arches just recently re-opened. And with a walk-up window!
Colorado native Karla Carrillo, age 32, is the impressive and likable general manager. The whole restaurant has been magnificently redesigned. Karla was proud to explain the improvements on video.
New ownership and Karla are aware of this McDonald’s special challenges. Rather than treat disabled and/or homeless people unkindly, they try to be courteous to all their patrons. McDonald’s futuristic design has enhanced technology, security and semi-open common sink areas. Stop in and experience this Denver iconic restaurant!
French fries and vanilla cones are wonderful. So are Tori and Karla. Spending time with them made my old heart feel good, and in the heart of Denver.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggest writers or give feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.