32nd and Columbine

I went to high school in the middle of an urban gang war. I grew up in Denver, CO. In the late 1980’s, while I was still in school, there was a war between the Crips and the Bloods. Drive-by-shootings became commonplace. My high school was in the middle of it. The school colors, blue and red, were the colors of the two gangs.

While the gangs were a small part of the school, they had a powerful presence. There were so many social groups defined by race, gender, and economics, but the gangs united us all. And it was with drugs. Drugs were everywhere, and we all did them.

This kind of access made it much easier for me to start with drugs myself. And to think back now, about how naive I really was, I found myself not only in some situations way out of my control, but in situation beyond my element.

Our quest for drugs led us to some damaged parts of the city. When my friends and I first started with pot, we went to a house on 32nd and Columbine to buy. It was in predominantly black neighborhood, a housing block just off Martin Luther Kind Boulevard. The dealer was located in a small block of about five or six units, all red and orange brick.

It’s strange now to think how lawless this neighborhood was back then. On a Friday afternoon, there would be hundreds, literally hundreds, of people waiting in line to enter the house to buy pot (and for all I know, a variety of other things). There was no attempt to hide any of the activities.  My friends and I would wait, all just 16 or so, and maybe being just three or four of the six white people in the line, perhaps in the whole neighborhood. In the house, I’m sure there were a number of guns and things I certainly was blind to, it all being so far from my experience.

32nd and Columbine, that’s what we always called the house, was really our first spot to buy. In ways it got more sketchy from there — crack houses in neighborhoods I couldn’t find again today, strangers in the back of my car, barbershops. In hindsight, it’s not unlike Mark Twain’s novel Innocents Abroad. We were angry, naive, desparate, and really just wanted to be high.


2 thoughts on “32nd and Columbine

  1. I also grew up in Denver during that same time period but I don’t remember it being that bad. There was crime, sure but nothing like The Wire or even close to that. There were so many wannabe’s during that time that it was ridiculous. Montbello was bad, 5 points, the east side etc…but I never feared going anywhere in that city because it always felt like home and I knew it like the back of my hand. I can’t say that now because I live in the murder capital of Florida.

    I used to always think that Denver was pretty hard core until I moved away. I know now that I was wrong. In retrospect, even during the gang and crack days of the 80’s, Denver is pretty mild compared to a lot of other cities, especially Baltimore (where The Wire is based). I know a paramedic in Baltimore and they wear body armor there.

    Great post. Made me remember a lot about growing up there.

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