The McDonald’s-whore complex in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

The McDonald’s-whore complex in Aspen

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

The good news is that the sudden and permanent closure of the Aspen McDonald's on Friday didn't evoke the same kind of tearful nostalgia for as many people as when Boogie's Diner unceremoniously shut down last spring. The bad news is that while Boogie's $8.50 extra-thick malted milkshake provided emotional comfort to the 1 percent, for that same price at McDonald's, the other 99 percent could eke out five cheeseburgers plus an order of small fries and a jug of milk.

Tracking down a costly milkshake is hardly difficult in Boogie's wake (starting with the Hotel Jerome's $14 Aspen Crud), although finding the same volume of food at McDonald's rates east of the roundabout? Good luck, and Godspeed.

McDonald's spent 31 years providing Big Macs, Happy Meals and Sausage McMuffins to bus riders, desperate housewives, X Gamers, weed worshipers and day laborers (and, apparently, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo). Its departure may not be a Boogie's-like wistful punch to the gut, although it will certainly make plenty of them rumble.

It was Aspen's go-to walk-of-shame restaurant whether out of financial necessity or as a result of being drunk, hung over or lacking the grit necessary to park at City Market to buy groceries for dinner. Really, McDonald's required little more than a few dollars and perhaps some patience if a visiting lacrosse team happened to arrive a minute or two ahead of you.

Of course, this is Aspen, so for as many who are sorry to see McDonald's go, at least twice that number are surely thrilled to see the collapse of the Golden Arches. McDonald's stands for precisely what so many here are against, including chains, commercialism and carbs. In essence, though, a McDonald's in the downtown core neatly summed up Aspen's Madonna-whore complex: As much as locals love a business committed to a long-term presence, if it doesn't feed our righteous demands for everything provincial, organic, grass-fed, free-range, gluten-free, fair-trade and sustainable, we have a hard time getting aroused by it.

But arguing that McDonald's has no place in such a wholesome (ha!) community due to, say, a failure to provide its workers with a living wage and customers with sufficient nutrition hardly makes those just getting by any better paid or fed than before it closed. Turning a blind, judgmental eye doesn't diminish the fact that there are more than enough people in Aspen for whom the difference between the $11.95 fish-and-chips lunch at Main Street Bakery and $5.49 Filet-O-Fish meal at McDonald's is significant.

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Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron summed it up nicely when he said in the Times on Saturday, "I always prefer homegrown to chains serving our local community. But I think McDonald's offered an important price point that I'm sorry to lose."

When the building, owned by McDonald's Corp., sells, the new owner will be under no obligation to open another fast-food joint or not to turn the space into, say, a Cartier boutique or some restaurant peddling a $24 kid's plate. (Think a children's meal with that kind of price tag is impossible, even in Aspen? Check out one of McDonald's down-the-street neighbors, Ajax Tavern.) Still, it'd sure be nice to see another legitimately inexpensive eatery open up so those with limited means will have an option in addition to pizza.

Diversity has certainly never been abundant in Aspen in either its population or its business types — and their corresponding net worth and price tags. Sometimes, though, Aspen has a flair for mixing it up and tying it all together. Only in Aspen can you see people wearing Jimmy Choos and $1,450 Food & Wine credentials waddling out of a Danny Meyer cooking demonstration in the St. Regis and then popping into McDonald's for a snack before stumbling into a Grand Tasting in Wagner Park.

More than just a necessity — although that's not to be taken lightly — there's something to be said for allowing people a guilty pleasure. While few will flaunt a McDonald's to-go bag like a Fendi while walking down Mill Street, few will also deny that an order of fries and a McFlurry aren't just what the doctor sometimes orders. (OK, probably not a cardiologist, but still.)

There's no question McDonald's absence will be better for Aspen's hearts. Aspen's soul, however, is a whole other story.

More at http://www.meredithcarroll.com.

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