Given the tyranny of newspaper deadlines, I am forced to file this column pretty early on Tuesday, which means that, as I write, I do not know how the latest chapter in the Sad Saga of Little Annie’s will play out. (Or from your point of view on Wednesday, how it already has played out.)
But many people consider the fate of this well-loved Home of Hamburgers and Hangovers (and if Annie’s survives, I offer that slogan free of charge) a harbinger of the fate of Aspen itself. So I cannot move on to other topics without this note: As of right now, it seems that everyone’s favorite villains (well, mine anyway), the Hechts père et fils, are trying to be the good guys.
If newspaper stories are to be believed (and you all know how I feel about that), the father-and-son team of Andy and Nikos Hecht, Little Annie’s landlords, have said they will try to place a preemptive bid at the state’s tax auction of everything in the restaurant.
If that succeeds, the Hechts say they will keep the restaurant intact, pump in some money to get the business back on its feet and turn it over to the employees to run — at least until the lease runs out in April.
Frankly, I love throwing stones at the Hechts (hey, that is the name of this column, after all), and I do think that they have been responsible for some terrible things in this town. But if they pull this off and do what they reportedly have promised — well, that will make them heroes of the moment.
And if that comes to pass, let me be the first to say: Good for them! May they continue to deserve the title of “good guys.”
Now on to a very different topic.
As you may recall — and please, no giggling — a little while ago, Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick suggested that the answer to some of the problems with the poorly located Rio Grande parking garage (“A Garage Too Far”) might be solved by a fleet of “pedicabs,” bicycle rickshaws.
Hey! I said no giggling. Knock it off!
The point of this Operation Pedicab would be to haul the terminally unadventurous up the near-vertical slopes of Mill Street, traveling the daunting one, two or even three blocks from the subterranean garage to the promised land of shopping and dining in downtown Aspen, the shining city on the hill.
I know some of you (I’m talking about you, the ones still giggling in the back of the room. Don’t make me come back there!) would like nothing better than to measure Barwick for his own personal dunce cap.
But I think you’re missing the point.
Please remember that the city manager was speaking in response to the movement to dig up Wagner Park for an underground parking lot so that women in high heels (no, I’m not making this up) wouldn’t have to struggle up the hill in order to shop and dine.
With that in mind, I think we can see that Operation Pedicab was simply Barwick’s witty attempt to join in the Ludicrous Ideas Sweepstakes.
Whether you consider it a winning entry depends on how you balance: 1. the image of those pedal-powered tricycles slewing around in fresh-fallen snow with shrieking, panic-stricken matrons in the back; against, 2. the thought of digging up the heart of Aspen for a year — or two or three — and spending millions of dollars on a new parking garage that would save a two-block walk and bankrupt the existing Rio Grande garage.
Well now, with all humility, I would like to put forward my own entry in this delightful competition.
I propose — ta-da! — sedan chairs!
Yes, sedan chairs. You know, little luxury cabins suspended between two poles, carried on the shoulders of strong young men.
These devices have a lengthy history, from way back in ancient Egypt, where the pharaohs found them a delightful way to zip out and watch the slaves building the pyramids, through ancient Rome, where assorted Caesars considered them the perfect conveyance for a quick trip to the coliseum to watch Christians being fed to lions.
And, lest we think that Christians were always coming out on the short end of the deal, we should note that for many centuries popes were hauled around in a device known as the Sedia gestatoria, which sounds fancy and must mean something — and which has been, sadly, replaced by the Popemobile within the past 50 years.
Pharaohs. Caesars. Popes! Who in Aspen could object to that kind of heritage?
But wait! There’s more!
As the British Broadcasting Co. points out in a website devoted to the history of the world, “Sedan chairs permitted passengers to be carried from door to door, and even from inside one building to another, avoiding the need to walk along the filthy streets, where their expensive clothes and footwear could get dirty.”
Filthy (well, slushy) streets. Fancy footwear. Sounds like Aspen, doesn’t it?
But wait! There’s still more!
As the BBC also noted, “Rich people sometimes had their own elaborately decorated chairs, but plain black painted chairs could be hired, a bit like hiring a taxi today.”
Sure, pal, you’ve got a private jet. Very nice, I suppose. (Yawn.) But I see you’re still riding around in one of those nasty public sedan chairs. Please, let me give you a lift into town in my private chair. Watch your step! Careful of the gold leaf.
Oh, yeah. That’s Aspen, all right.
OK, Barwick. The ball’s in your court.
Hot-air balloons, you say? Hmmm.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.