Sousa: 34 and 1st
December 12, 2014
The idea for this column is simple: What happens when you throw a slim-jeaned, skeptical writer-musician from Boston headfirst into the powder-obsessed town that is Aspen?
Not intrigued yet? What if this urban 34-year-old (it's myself we're discussing, in case you're reading at Silverpeak Apothecary) promises to experience as many drastically unfamiliar scenarios as possible?
The results might vary: perspective change, personal growth, utter embarrassment, even crashing a bike into a river (see later in column). In any case, I'm going to detail all of it here, and I hope you dig it.
August 2013, Boston, Mass.: My girlfriend and I were burnt out — myself from years of teaching, her from the city's lack of jobs. Our abrupt decision shocked even us: We gave our stuff to charity and packed our tiny Honda. Twelve years prior, I'd driven cross country to Lake Tahoe, but back then my delinquent friends and I slept under the stars, drinking whiskey by the fire and dreaming of Sierra powder.
This time, leaving brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it was my dad's trademark high-five, quick goodbye. My mom's tight hug, my sister admitting she was upset. My two nephews, one of whom waved from the window with big, sad eyes.
We blurred through Buffalo and Cleveland, Chicago and Nebraska. Blank hotel rooms, windmills and corn. Tired miles melted, Katie took pictures of each state sign, we survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and laughed a lot. At Red Rocks, we watched one of our favorite bands exult against a sunset backdrop, and then, one hangover later, we were here.
But the hustle of our sports-obsessed home had been replaced by a populace that seemed too relaxed, as if everyone carried a medical marijuana card in their wallet. Castle Ridge, Centennial? Why did the apartments here sound like amusement parks? The "slow season"? Was that why no one was hiring us? And I consider myself pretty outdoorsy, even if just in the Boston version of the word. (Katie and I hiked for powder in Vermont and surfed Rhode Island swells, and we own a lot of aluminum water bottles.) But why did everyone in town dress as though at any moment, they might need to ski a gnarly chute?
One morning, I went for a run under the shadow of Mount Sopris, and every person I encountered made fun of my fluorescent-orange sneakers, a dime a dozen in Boston.
"Hey, I saw this crazy rare bird!" I reported when I got back.
"That — is a magpie," Katie scoffed. "They're like pigeons here."
Maybe this whole move had been a mistake, I thought a few days later, as we sat at the Square Grouper in stony silence. I closed my eyes and dreamed of the Atlantic swell that had all my friends in the ocean.
Fast-forward five months. It's 2014, Aspen has cast its snowflake-laced spell, and I've realized first impressions are as temporary as powder on the Face of Bell. Katie's got a great job, I've found some writing gigs, an editor has taken up my novel, and the music scene here is welcoming. And, though our studio features a Murphy bed, we walk two blocks to the gondola.
I've also taken my first hut trip, which showed this disbeliever the importance of turning the TV (even the Patriots) off on Thanksgiving and watching the stars shine over the mountains. Although the journey in found me violently cursing my girlfriend's entire family, by the end of the weekend, I didn't want to leave.
Most importantly, our move has been enhanced by the people we've met: an athletic, artistic community of strangers who feel like old friends.
The transition wasn't perfect. Since being here, I've melted a kettle on a hot plate, almost burning down Katie's brother's house in the process, slammed hard dropping into the Carbondale skatepark (I should really wear a helmet at all times) and taken a job that requires skiing (which I haven't done since age 11).
And the aforementioned biking incident: the reason I might start wearing a wetsuit around town? Riding home from the Carbondale Oktoberfest in the black autumn night, I flew past the pack, missed the bridge and catapulted into a river. For a full minute, the sounds of silence streamed through my head. When I clambered out, freezing, drenched in silt, I was greeted by a blazing curtain of laughter.
Nevertheless, with five months in Aspen, I'm beyond stoked for many more. And if you see me cruising around town in a wetsuit, orange sneakers and a helmet, stop and say hello.
Brian Sousa appears every other Sunday in The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.