Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
July 8, 2009
In recent years, I have been fortunate enough to have a flexible schedule.
Since I don’t do anything important – or even useful – I can do what I do whenever I want.
That means, among other things, that I have been able to time my trips into Aspen so that I avoid rush hour, coming and going.
I come into town mid-morning and head home either mid-afternoon (short work days are another benefit of not doing anything that matters) or wait until evening.
Either way, I miss the worst of the traffic jams that have made life so painful for so many.
This week, however, having (to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen) “debts no unemployed man can pay,” I was forced to take on some actual responsibility.
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And that involved getting to town bright and early (early anyway), which put me right in the middle of the morning commute upvalley – and the evening commute heading home.
And – amazement! – it wasn’t too bad, morning or evening.
Here it is just a few days after the Fourth of July. There’s still a lot of heavy metal – those huge private jets – at the airport. Parking spaces are hard to find in the West End. When I took a lunch break, the malls were pretty busy. Wherever I looked, there were, not mobs, but certainly crowds.
I know business is down, but this still felt like summer in Aspen.
And yet, the commute wasn’t hideous. And, standing in the middle of town, I realized I wasn’t being assaulted by the roar and clatter of non-stop construction.
In short: Wow! What a delight.
The difference in the drive, of course, was the absence of the squadrons of pick-up trucks filled with cranky construction workers.
That was a double benefit: Less traffic clogging the road and fewer recklessly hostile drivers who careen down the highway in venom-filled bubbles of hate. (Or should that be hate-filled bubbles of venom? Take your pick.)
And the difference downtown was part of the same phenomenon: Those construction workers weren’t driving to Aspen because there was no construction for them to work on. Aspen, for the moment, is at a peaceful standstill.
There’s a long-standing saying about New York City: It’ll be a great place when they get it finished.
In fact, I found a poem from 1919 on exactly that topic. It goes, in part:
The city is cutting away,
The gasmen are hunting a leak,
They’re putting down asphalt today,
To change it for stone in a week.
The builders are raising a wall,
The wreckers are tearing one down,
Enacting a drama of all
Our changeable, turbulent town. …
Our suburbs are under the plow,
Our scaffolds are raw in the sun,
We’re drunk and disorderly now,
But – ’twill be a great place when it’s done.
That used to describe Aspen, didn’t it? But now, this summer, suddenly Aspen is finished.
No, not “finished” as in washed up, all over, stick a fork in it. “Finished” as in complete, at peace, no longer Under Construction.
What a pleasure.
People are always longing for Peace and Prosperity.
But for now, for here, it seems as if the slogan ought to be a choice: Peace or Prosperity.
Our prosperity might be taking a hit, it’s true – but we seem to be getting a little blessed peace in exchange.
And, forgive me, but I guess I have to wonder exactly what “prosperity” has brought us, as a community.
I stood on the Hyman Avenue Mall on Monday and I was amazed at how few businesses looked familiar.
In fact, of all the storefronts on that block, only two seemed to have any real history in my mind.
Bizarrely enough, they were a T-shirt shop and a fur store.
And that’s bizarre because, years ago, people were saying that T-shirt shops and fur stores were a plague that would descend on Aspen and steal our character – and now they’re the honored elders of our retail community.
Raise your gaze to the second story and you’ll find one more business with at least a little history: New York Pizza, around since the early ’90s.
And I think that’s it.
So what have the years – decades, if you will – of prosperity gained us?
Not a stable business community. That’s for certain.
We all know this story. We know it well.
From the Silver Boom of the 1880s to the Real Estate Boom of the 1980s, fortunes have been made in Aspen, but not many of them have stayed here.
Yes, there are businesses here with long and glorious history. But they are almost all just shells of their former selves, under new out-of-town ownership – from The Aspen Times (sorry, folks) to the Red Onion.
So that’s what “prosperity” has given us.
Money in other people’s pockets.
And now, all of a sudden – and probably just for a little while – the roaring engine of prosperity on the march has fallen silent.
The visitors, as I said, seem to still be coming – perhaps not in such overwhelming numbers and perhaps not for as many weeks.
But those who come are not stuck in hellish traffic or harassed by construction from sunrise to sunset.
Certainly there are people who have been hurt by the economic slowdown.
Let’s be very clear: People have lost their jobs and that hurts. I’m not celebrating that painful reality.
But still: Peace or prosperity.
For now, at least, I’m enjoying a little peace.