At 8:30 a.m. on a cloudy Tuesday, business is booming for Brian Ratterree.
One after another, he greets people bound for the Manitou Incline, people who have filled the lot here at the Iron Springs Chateau, across the street from one of the region's most in-demand trails.
The stair stepper stretching a mile up the mountain at the end of Ruxton Avenue has, in turn, created a rather controversial demand for parking. Heading into summer, the options in this dense canyon beside this congested tourist town are fewer and more expensive than ever.
But Ratterree is here to provide.
"Wassup, man?" the chateau's long-haired part owner says to one hiker, stepping out of his car to pay $5 for as long as he wants - compared with the weekday fee of $10 an hour on the avenue's meters.
"How ya doing, dear?" he says to a woman, a regular at the 50-spot lot.
Another regular shouts praise to Ratterree: "Best guy in the world right there!"
Ratterree, though, admits to not feeling his best. Over the past 2 1/2 years, while the city of Manitou Springs raised Ruxton's hourly meter rates from $1 to $5 to $10 most recently in September, Ratterree has remained something of a renegade, keeping his daily $5 fee the same.
It will stay that for his loyal customers through the summer. But from Memorial Day on, he'll charge everyone else $10 for four hours.
He shrugs. "Had to do it."
An eccentric businessman, he is nonetheless a businessman who knows to abide by the rules of supply and demand.
The Pikes Peak Cog Railway next door will not offer parking to hikers this summer, as Spencer Wren, the railway's general manager, says he wants the spots for train customers. And for a first season, spots along Ruxton will be reserved for residents only on weekends - as has been the law in the canyon since the City Council's September vote that raised weekday rates and fines for nonresidents who park on Saturdays and Sundays.
Ratterree thought the changes would encourage people to park at the city's free lot on the other end of town, where they can catch a free shuttle to the Incline. "But man, it didn't put a dent in what we do," he says.
And he expects to be busier than ever this summer. He'll open at 5:45 a.m. every day, he says, 15 minutes before the leg-burning, heart-pounding trail opens. "By 6 o'clock, this'll be full," he says, "and it'll stay full the entire day."
The desire for pain is the chateau's gain. Ratterree points to renovations: the building's coat of red paint, the new roof, the fresh concrete below the new staircase. Inside is a new lighting and sound system, a new convection oven and a new dishwasher. All of that, he says, is thanks to parking revenues.
"Man, I ain't even gonna lie," he says. "If we did not have this, yeah, it'd be very difficult to stay open."
He stands to draw the people whom city leaders have tried to draw away from Ruxton. The parking decisions have come with stated attempts to "restore quality of life" to the canyon's residents, who've complained about traffic and rowdiness over the years.
Also, those leaders would like to see good use of an investment. City Administrator Jason Wells said $1.2 million has been committed to the free parking lot's property. The city's contract with Mountain Metro Transit calls for $346,000 to cover the shuttle through 2017.
Keeping spots and rides free will be at the center of "very serious conversations" in the future, Mayor Nicole Nicoletta says. She's pleased by the popularity: City data show rider numbers more than doubled last May. And Nicoletta predicts the lot will fill this season - "24/7 would be my guess."
Ratterree expects he'll continue to see people on Ruxton feeding the meters on weekdays. On weekends, he says, he'll keep warning nonresidents who park on the street. "I mean, I don't know how many times a day I go over to people: 'Hey, you park there, (you) get a $70 ticket.'"
As of May 18, the city had collected $35,582 from citations since the increases in September, data show. Over that time, Ruxton meters collected $59,144.
City leaders are pleased to report the avenue isn't as crowded as it once was. But from Ratteree's view, from where the Incline looms above, it remains "a gold mine."
Beyond money, he's made good friends in the lot. Sometimes, when he has backup, customers talk him into tagging along for the trek up the mountain. He tends to get enough of a workout meeting people up and down the lot.
"By the time I get outta here, I'm wiped," he says.