A ringside seat for the White Shirt slugfest | AspenTimes.com
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A ringside seat for the White Shirt slugfest

John Colson

The gauntlet has hit the dirt, now let’s see who picks it up.A citizens group that’s been tagged The White Shirts has declared open season on development projects that displease them, starting apparently with plans to demolish the old Cooper Street Pier restaurant, bar and locals hangout – which, by the bye, at some point gave in to vernacular pressure and now is officially called Cooper Street, period. I guess it’s appropriate that the group not bow to conventionality even in referring by an outdated name to the building it wants to save.Anyway, there’s excitement brewing among the desperate and depressed denizens of Aspen’s old guard. A fight’s coming soon and it looks to be a doozy.Naturally, given Aspen’s rather dark sense of humor, the jokes have begun to circulate about the group, which got its start in the mind of former airline pilot and historic preservationist Les Holst.For example, there’s the symbology involved. To wit, the white T-shirts emblazoned with the legend, “We Love (in the shape of a red heart) Aspen,” which the group was wearing that fateful Monday night when they challenged the city council to a duel.Let’s see, white shirts, white hats, is there a Hollywood-style cowboy connection here? An image of Tom Mix weeping at the funeral of Wyatt Earp springs to mind, only in this case the saddened mourners have decided they’ve arrived in time to resuscitate the subject, or at least give it a decent change of clothes before nailing the coffin lid.Then there’s the inevitable contrarian effect. I’ve already heard snide comments questioning what color T-shirts will be sported by whatever group of pro-growth apologists arises to give battle in return. So far, brown and green seem to have the lead – brown in observance of Aspen’s historic connections to the losing side in World War II, both German and Italian, and green in a kind of sardonic salute to the town’s environmental posture.And we can’t forget the motto. Just about anyone in this benighted community, if asked, will profess a deep and abiding love for the place, each in his or her own special way.Walter Paepcke, as has been famously recalled, loved Aspen dearly, so much that he wanted to choose the colors for his neighbors’ houses and offered to buy the paint so they’d go along. Some did, I’ve been told, but a sizable number told him to take his paint and put it away in a dark place.Mohammed Hadid, the erstwhile developer of a large hotel once known as The Ritz Carlton Aspen, loved Aspen, too. But his detractors, and there were many, thought his love for the town was more along the lines of greedy lust, and his method of consummating that lust was more like rape than courtship.And Mohammed, of course, was not the only one cast in that dark light by the legions of local commentators who also proclaim, “We Love Aspen.”I think Ralph Trapani, the highway engineer once charged with turning two-lane Highway 82 into the marvel of four-lane engineering it is today, probably loved Aspen, too. But opponents of the four-lane idea cast him as the devil, and his mission as something akin to the snake’s demand that Eve take a bite of that damned apple.I empathize with the White Shirts, an admission that probably comes as no surprise to those who know me. I abhor “progress” that actually is nothing more than greed dressed up for social acceptance. And I agree that our current city council seems to have lost its rudder, even though I also think all those sitting on the council firmly believe that they have the best interests of the town at heart.I also enjoy a good fight, and as I noted earlier, this one is shaping up to be a doozy. I’m glad to have a ringside seat.


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