If stress were a marketable, mineable, saleable commodity, Aspen would be a leading exporter. There’s something perplexing to me about the amount of tension and anxiety our small town is capable of producing. This is the West — people are supposed to be mellow. It’s not really surprising, though, when you combine a fatefully chosen collection of highly motivated, vastly educated, extremely successful, strikingly gorgeous bunch of people with washboard abs together in one little town. Don’t hate us because we’re beautiful! Fabio said that. Poor, misunderstood guy …
You can feel the anxiety building the closer you get: the city limits, the county line, or sometimes even as far as the Aspen boarding gate at DIA. Stress in Aspen ebbs and flows with the seasons. As the town gets the color of money, exponentially more beautiful with each rainstorm, the stress level here is a metaphor of the spring runoff, in that it inevitably peaks. Right now, the tide is starting to rise.
The older I get, the less I like winter. That’s why summers in Aspen to me are so stressful; there’s a real chance and fear of screwing the whole thing up. There’s a multitude of activities to do, arguably too many. We’re already at the point where events are double- and triple-booked, and you have to make really tough decisions on what you’re going to attend.
It’s understandable. The lush summer season is fleeting. Everything has to be just exactly perfect. Your fitness, your wardrobe, the menu, your hair, your lawn, the precarious balance between work and workouts. It’s a competition. Every decision is like a geometric “if/then” postulate lifestyle equation with consequences just as significant as, gasp, missing a powder day. Aspen’s hardly a rat race, it’s more like a field mouse 5K fun run.
“Messy vitality,” our town’s funky brand of resistance now teetering on the very knife-edge of extinction, used to mean an overgrown lawn without a sprinkler system, stubble, an old unwashed jeep, a boat in the front yard, different colored socks. Now it means having an older model smartphone with a cracked screen, not getting waxed before Food and Wine, skiing in last-year’s Obermeyer, or having a single token dandelion on your weekly-mowed lawn.
The more moons I see come and go, the slower I get. The person in town I now most admire and strive to be is the older retired guy who walks slower, drives slower, and pulls over to let other people pass. His stress-level meter is resting confidently on the pin. Whenever I see him casually ambling along, kicking a rock down the sidewalk, not a worry in the world, that’s who I now aspire to be. My days of getting ahead of everybody died imperceptibly with my 20/20 eyesight. Now reading glasses are a token of my well-earned place in life, and a reminder to let the bigger picture come into focus instead of constantly getting hung up on the fine print of Aspen.
What’s the biggest change in Aspen to me? Everyone’s always in a big hurry. That’s why it’s fascinating to witness — on a fairly regular basis — people losing their cool and the ensuing public shaming in downtown Aspen. It’s usually over something inconsequential like a driving-, parking-, pedestrian- or bicycle-related infraction.
What Aspen could really benefit from is some tangible way of measuring stress, and issuing stress forecast warnings, much as we do for the weather, avalanches, fire danger and the like. My thoughts are something along the lines of a digital message board “Stress-ohmmeter” in the roundabout as you’re coming into town.
The preposterous idea came like a mirage driving down into Baker, Calif. — where they have the world’s largest thermometer and damn fine gyros at the Mad Greek.
That way, as you enter town, you are mentally and emotionally prepared for what you’re about to experience. There’s no being ambushed. What would also be helpful? A solar-powered, vehicle-counter display at the Castle Creek Bridge — “You’re the 2,500th car entering/leaving town.” You were given ample warning at the threshold. Stress level “Red” today — quick, take a yoga class or go to the nearest dispensary or Zen rock garden!
“Relax it’s Aspen?” Try “Relapse it’s Aspen.”
Before you know it, all the locals are going to switch gears from complaining about how cold and snowy the spring has been to how hot it is, how busy it is, and how horrible (borderline unlivable, I’ve been told!) Aspen is in the summer. That’s when I train my sociological radar to the tourists who are quick to point out, unsolicited, how relaxing it is here and how friendly all the locals are.