I wonder if my facial expressions change when I read a letter to the editor explaining simple solutions to one of Aspen’s complex problems. “Eliminating traffic jams on Main Street is simple. We just …” “The solution to Aspen’s affordable housing shortage is simple. We just …” “Parking downtown can be easily fixed. We just …” “Addressing our high depression and suicide rates is simple. We just … develop more skiing.”
If you can’t see my eyes scrunch and the corners of my mouth screw counterclockwise, it’s because these contortions of bemusement are camouflaged against the permanent wrinkles from the accelerated aging process from living at 7,908 feet above sea level for longer than Snowmass Ski Area has. Quick fixes for our woes have been suggested for years. They have been discovered, discussed, dissected and discarded many times over. Note to newcomers: It’s best not to show up and assume the locals are a collection of know-nothing knuckleheads.
There was a time when simple solutions worked. In 1972 when traffic backed up all the way from the Maroon Creek Road traffic light to the S-curve in front of the Agate Lodge, an astute roads department worker might have noticed some fallen orange cones around a pothole near Cemetery Lane as she was heading to the golf course for evening rounds of golf then beer and stopped for a second to move the impediments out of the way. Traffic problem solved!
It doesn’t work that way anymore. Traffic is snarled when everything is perfectly in place today. Congestion is normal. The hard truth is that we are too big for simple solutions. In lieu of them, we must resign ourselves to either expending massive amounts of time, money and energy that complex solutions demand without any assurance of resolution, or accept incremental change which, more often than not, is hardly noticeable.
Some question whether or not Aspen really was better in the old days. “Didn’t the erection of the gondola make Aspen better?” “Certainly the Labor Day music festival in Snowmass Village did, right?” “How could more skiing terrain not, too?”
Much like the way our problems become less solvable, new amenities in Aspen become less enjoyable the bigger we get. The first ski lift in Aspen undoubtedly had the most positive effect. The next one slightly less so. The new one they will build to replace the old Lift 1A, probably not much at all.
One thing I have learned in this land of never-ending fun is that it is a mistake to take these individual amenities and activities, draw circles around them, and pull them together expecting the sum of the parts to add up to a whole lot better life. It just doesn’t work that way.
From a philosophical perspective the explanation is simple. If you are already as happy as you can be, as so many profess to be in amazing Aspen, then how much happier can you get by adding more to it? Already so close to perfection, there isn’t much upside potential. The risk is on the downside. We have a better chance of screwing things up.
On the practical side, the addition of the Aspen Mountain gondola, the Labor Day music festival and opening Highland Bowl are fun things. And yet, these along with other “improvements” have not made Aspen a better experience than it was before. That is my observation. I have doubted this many times, chalking up good times past to a figment of youthful perception, but that never rang true. Aspen really was a nicer place to live in pre-gondola times.
The problem of accumulating improvements to Aspen is the same as accumulating in general — you make clutter. The food processor was a great kitchen addition until it ended up in the pantry jammed between the snazzy coffee bean grinder and the incredible homemade bread maker. Now it’s a chore to find a place for the Oreos.
The Silver Queen Gondola is great, even though all the powder is gone by 10 o’clock. The music festival is a blast, even though we dread having to make a trip into a packed downtown on Labor Day weekend. The prospect for expanded skiing terrain is exciting, but it will bring more people, otherwise why would they do it? It’s not cynicism. It makes sense.
“Already enough” is a simple way to express contentment. “Enough already” is a fair way declare nonsense. Either way, we should put these two words together more often in Aspen.
Roger Marolt wonders if pursuing the simple life in a place becoming increasingly complex causes graying hair amid male pattern baldness.