August 23, 2007

Cripple Creek, Zombie Town

Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek, ColoradoBustling Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek's gambling street, on a sunny summer day.

In the early 1980s, when I was a reporter for the Colorado Springs Sun, I spent a lot of time in the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor, on the ghosts-and-gold mining beat. Then in the early 1980s Cripple Creek (but not Victor) got casino gambling, along with Blackhawk and Central City.

(I worked six months once in another state as a slot-machine tech, so I must have been inoculated against the charms of playing them.)

M. and I don't go there much now. For one thing, we moved, and what was then a one-hour trip now takes more like two and a half.

Before the gambling, Cripple Creek was gift shops and lazy antiques shops and bars and the melodrama. There were always the visiting bikers, the miners and former miners and wannabe miners, and the young actors from the melodrama, plus a sprinkling of summer people and a few town "characters." The town was living in the past, but some people liked it that way.

Now it's Zombie Town. The Rambin' Express bus pulls up, disgorges a bunch of retirees, and they go into darkened rooms where lights flash and electronic music that sounds like Eighties video arcade games plays over and over and over. (One of these days someone will prove that that combination accelerates Alzheimer's disease.)

Reno it's not. We heard two couples chuckling over a sign outside one casino promising "Free burgers at your [slot] machine."

Not drinks, burgers. You're not in Atlantic City either.

There is not much to do for families when every doorway says "No one under 21 admitted." They could ride the historic tourist train, I suppose.

Over in Victor, always the workingman's town, not so much as changed. White-hard-hat management types stroll in and out of the AngloGold mining office -- the action is at their huge open pit mine that swallowed up the old Cresson mine, which now exists only in the negative space of memory. The associated gigantic cyanide leach pad (a flat-topped mountain of crushed ore) perches ominously at the headwaters of Eightmile Creek.

In Victor they're drinking beer on the sidewalk, selling antiques in a half-serious way, and waiting for the next big thing. Zeke's Bar has moved into a larger space but the Gold Coin bar disappeared in a spasm of gentrification that seems to have abated. The past is always just around the red-brick corner at the end of the street.


Anonymous said...

Chas - a former student drops by, just browsing around and happened upon your blog.

I enjoyed this insight. My husband works in Cripple Creek and I feel completely dead every time I turn the corner onto "the strip." I can't stay there for more than a few hours, not even enjoying the mindless entertainment.

Hope you're well.

- Holly Snow

Chas S. Clifton said...

Holly, it's good to hear from you. CC must be an odd place to work. I wonder how many casinos are really profitable.