It wasn't anything I haven't heard before - "Get over it, Tony. Aspen has changed." The stealth of the email surprised me a bit, arriving late in the night as it did, but then, is there ever a good time to get an unwanted lecture? However, it did serve to beg the question: Has Aspen really changed?
Driving down the street the other day, I spied an old friend, a fourth-generation Aspenite who moved away 30 years ago to find fame and fortune in the entertainment world. "What the hell happened to this place?" asked the recently repatriated native son. "It's become a landing zone for crazies." Then, with a stoic grin, he added, "In the end, though, the draw is still here, that special something that never leaves us."
In the 1960s, I'd sometimes ride my horse to town from Woody Creek to go to the movies at the Isis Theater. She'd be waiting for me afterward, still tied to the same utility pole where I'd left her. Then, in the '70s, we'd sometimes bring my big Belgians to town for an impromptu parade, pulling a large hay wagon around. Last year about this time, Greg Poschman and I (along with my good horse, Drifter) spent an afternoon filming one of Greg's insightful documentaries about Aspen characters, and after a stop at the Jerome bar, my horse and I had to cross Main. Drifter wasn't too impressed about having to wait for the "Walk" signal. I guess you could say that's change.
Ironically, for Aspen's increasing allure and fame around the world as both a watering hole for the rich and famous and a sports and cultural mecca, we are slowly allowing provincialism to overtake sophistication. Even in these divisive times, it's not so much about on which side of the political aisle one ruminates but more and more on which side of the roundabout one lives.
My friend, the entertainer mentioned above, moved back to Aspen because he couldn't help himself. A visit here and there, and all of a sudden, he's found himself walking the streets like he never had a 30-year hiatus. Visit Facebook, and wonder at the allure Aspen still has for well more than a thousand expatriates, kids who lived here in the 1960s and '70s and who will never give up their memories of a magical time. For the most part, they don't like what they see when they visit today, but deep within their hearts, they carry a piece of Aspen. If they moved back, they'd likely fit into this community of lively, interesting people, and they'd soon find their niche. Aspen is an idea - but not in the Aspen Institute sense. No, Aspen is a kaleidoscopic treasure we can all dance in whether we live here now or remember it from an unforgettable sojourn in our past.
Oh sure, the rents go up, the floor tile gets a little more intricate under increasingly elaborate exterior facades; there's the slow hum of those who don't understand, saying they "didn't move here to put up with uncontrolled growth." Gondolas and boot-packed bowls change our skiing habits but not our love of the sport, and many of our ebullient party friends either quit, move away or die.
Since I was a kid, I've witnessed the playing of the overused trump card - how many years one has lived here (seven for the person in the opening paragraph) - as though clarity and common sense could be absorbed through longevity. Don't kid yourself: There are some in our midst who claim decades of residency but who wouldn't know downtown Burbank from Aspen if they suddenly ended up there.
Part of Aspen's great draw is that we can be whoever and whatever we want in our lives. Pedigrees aren't necessary for acceptance, but an independent spirit certainly helps. Our personal vision, no matter how flawed or factual, becomes the reality of what Aspen is, just as it always has. Has Aspen really changed? I don't think so.