Michael Huwe sets up two telescopes on the sidewalk some days, not far from the well-worn Royal Tavern in cool and sometimes goofy Manitou Springs, and the tourists swarm around him like miller moths, stooping to stare at the sun through his safe-viewing lenses before plunking a few dollars in his tip basket.
Huwe is a smart young guy. He talks about the solar flares — one of them last week, he says, as large as Earth but only a speck on the edge of the brilliant crimson sun as it appeared in the scope. He talks about the speed of light and how the image in the telescope is already more than eight minutes old.
He thanks everyone. He smiles a lot.
What Huwe does not do, and never will, he says, is pay to park in this hectic summer tourist gathering spot at the foot of the Rockies.
Parking on the main street, Manitou Avenue, and on all streets in the town had been free since, well, since forever, since the first bearded mountain man stumbled from the towering mountains with pelts or gold to sell.
But a few weeks ago, after lots of warnings because some folks in this town greet change with a snarl, the downtown streets became a pay-to-park zone. And from some corners, the hootin' and hollerin' began.
From an online comment by "Ben Dover" to an Indy story about the parking: "What a dumbass move by the mayor and his brain dead council."
And from Andre Dufour: "I can tell you ... that I won't be visiting Manitou near as often, if at all until this ridiculous tax is lifted."
Not everyone is barking, though.
Newlyweds Ryan and Sandra Heinze of San Diego (she's originally from the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch), stopped at a pay-to-park kiosk on Manitou Avenue last Thursday and chuckled at the uproar.
"At Doheny State Beach [north of San Diego, in Orange County], you pay $15 to park just to go for a swim, even if it's for an hour or two," Ryan said. "Here it's a dollar an hour. That's pretty cheap."
The rate jumps to $2 per hour after three hours, and $3 per hour after five hours with a daily maximum of $28. That's about three pitchers of Bud Light at the Townhouse Lounge.
Recent Manitou visitor Barbara Varner said her town, Northern California's Placerville, made a similar change two years ago.
"Took everyone a while to get used to it," she recalled. "I imagine the same thing is going on here."
She imagined correctly. Except in Placerville, according to that city's website, the first two hours of downtown parking are free.
In the meantime, as Manitouites ... Manitouians ... uh, the townsfolk get used to the new rules, please excuse the Jesus bus parked — for free — smack in the middle of Manitou Avenue last week, forcing cars to squeeze by.
It was labeled the Adventure Bus. It was from Alabama. And in big letters on both sides it said, "Exploring God's Creation," which, apparently, includes the shops and taverns of Manitou Springs.
Huwe was watching more than just solar flares.
"That bus has been parked there for more than two hours," he said, with a hint of disgust. "Just stopped right there in the middle of the road."
He smiled, but the whole parking thing was making him as hot as the sun.
"I've been doing this for a long time and I've never paid to park," said Huwe, who lived in Manitou for two years but now lives down the road in Colorado Springs. "I won't pay. I just won't. Not ever."
On the days he sets up shop on the sidewalk, he cruises the side streets until he finds a place — a free place — and then lugs his heavy telescopes several blocks. "Maybe a three- or five-minute walk," he says.
Such a walk remains an option for the town's anti-government and anti-"tax" folks.
Let's pray they don't get run over by the Alabama Jesus bus.
Rich Tosches (firstname.lastname@example.org) also writes a Sunday column for the Denver Post.