Got no place to stay
God I hate this town
Depending on the day”
—“Lift Me Up,” by Jon Anderson of Yes
Not so long ago many of us locals were convinced that things in town had taken a permanent turn for the worst. The big indicator was that the sacred off-season was vanishing like a once permanent high alpine snowpack. There was too much traffic, too many pissed-off people, too much stress compared to what we were used to. The new state bird might as well have been the undocumented migrant worker, the new state flower a plastic bag hanging in a bush or tree, and the new state song the reverse beacon of a dump truck — beep, beep and more beep. What it really boiled down to was there was too much work. Sour grapes, we got ‘em.
Then came the big economic downturn. Real estate prices plummeted, people lost their homes and jobs, and there was a great deal of conjecture and finger pointing as to who or what was to blame. Some people threatened to leave. There was even dire talk of a mass exodus of wealthy first and second homeowners. Things in Aspen really changed, or did they? In retrospect I’m fairly convinced that had I isolated myself from any media exposure during that time, I may not have noticed anything was actually different, because it’s not.
Some locals looked at the economic downturn as a blessing, not in the sense that they wished ill financial will or hardship on others. It was just that the sympathy meter wasn’t necessarily registering for all of the reported cases of suffering.
Back in the ‘90s, before the great depression, one of the biggest complaints that came along with the rampant new development and the influx of high-end chain stores was there was nowhere in town to buy basics like socks and underwear. People here were passionate about socks and underwear.
Ironically, what no one was saying was that there is a place to get socks and underwear in Aspen, and there always has been — Carl’s upstairs. It’s an inside joke for locals when they’re looking for something that no one else carries. Hey, where can I get a baby alligator in this one-horse town? Secrets of Aspen, I guess. It was still refreshing to know that people in our town were so fanatical about socks and underwear though.
Another point of contention was that there were so many Range Rovers in town. They were being singled out as the snooty elite vehicle that only new “look at me” self-proclaimed locals would have the nerve to drive.
Not only that, but the real joke was that none of the shiny Range Rovers you saw all over town had ever left the pavement, or ever would for any matter. Thank the lord for that I always said — can you imagine what a zoo the high county would be if that wasn’t the case? The thought and sheer horror of Jeep roads swarming with Range Rovers in the backcountry? To this day I will admit I’ve only ever seen one Range Rover off-road. It was a few years ago on Express Creek Road, and the guy driving it has actually done a lot for the community, so I’ll give him a “local for a day” pass, just this one time. Can you believe judging someone by the car they drive? I do it every day.
As Aspen crawls slowly into the future on its hands and knees like a baby with a soiled diaper, it seems like our cherished off-seasons are becoming an endangered species, which reminds me — when was the last time you saw a deer, a bear or an elk? Seeing one of these animals, particularly a bear or elk, used to be a special occasion, a rare treat more like seeing a unicorn. Now a days, it’s hard not to see one.
It’s actually gotten to the point where I’ve had to take evasive action to avoid hitting each one of these creatures on my way home after work on a regular basis, it’s that bad. Now every time I see a deer or elk on the side of the road, I honk my horn and accelerate directly towards the wildlife in an effort to scare it away from humans and their machines of death. They just don’t get it. Message to wildlife: Stay in the woods, you bore me nearly to death.
It makes one wonder, back in the mining days, what did people complain about? Was it the great divide of wealth? Was it the weather, the wildlife or the food? Was it horse poop in the streets, or the kind of carriages people drove? Was it the immigrant workers? Was it the city government or the state of the union? Was it too much work?
In retrospect, there was probably less of an off-season back in the mining days of Aspen than there is now. I miss off-season, what little of one there was this year. The town is already ramping up to be busy as ever. It seems that the older we get, the busier things are in town.
The other day someone asked me how long I’ve lived here. They wanted to know how Aspen has changed. What’s different about Aspen? Besides everything, nothing, I told them. I still see the same town I did when I was a kid. It’s a little busier perhaps, but still much the same.
As our town enters another over-busy, event-saturated summer season it becomes clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same. What, no off-season? People like me complain about the strangest things.