Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I assume that you, wise reader, listen to the news on TV or radio, so you’ve undoubtedly heard newscasters (or news-throwers or news-wreckers … whatever they call themselves) prattling on about the “staycation.”
The idea, during this summer of our national discontent, is that gas prices are so high that no one can afford to go on a real vacation, so everyone’s staying home. And when you combine “stay” and “vacation,” you get … staycation!
But yesterday I drove into Aspen, slogging through traffic jams, dodging heavy construction equipment, picking my way through a maze of orange cones and watching gravel chip my paint. And whamo! ” as a rock cracked my windshield ” I realized we here in Silver City are offering something special, something different.
Never mind a staycation. When you visit Aspen this summer, you get a vacation combined with aggravation ” an “aggravacation”! (By the way, that’s trademarked.)
Whee! An Aspen Aggravacation ” fun for the whole family!
Really, it is amazing that after three endless years of work building the new Maroon Creek Bridge, those wizard highway engineers suddenly realized that ” oh, yeah ” some work on the rest of the highway was also required. So now, with two lanes of the new four-lane bridge open, the intrepid crews are back at work and have gleefully torn up the road on either side of the bridge.
Fortunately, they waited until the height of the summer season to do the work, so all our visitors can enjoy the new, fabulous Aspen Aggravacation!
Coming soon, full-page ads in all the glossy magazines:
– Test Your Skill and Nerve as you Battle Through the Orange Cones of Death!
– Don’t Miss the Traffic Jam of Love ” Fall in Love, Get Married and Raise a Family Just in the Time it Takes to Drive the Amazing Endless Mile!
– Find Your Fortune at the Mining Days Silver Shower Gravel Fest When You Take a Trip Through Aspen History Under a Genuine Rockfall of the Very Same Kind of Rocks That Once Held the Fabulous Silver That Made Aspen Famous (Paint Chips Included at No Extra Charge)!
– And If You’re Hungry, Don’t Miss the Exclusive Silver Celebrity Double-Dump Sandwich as You Travel the Highway Sandwiched Between a Dump Truck Filled with Even More Rocks That Just Might Be Silver Ore and a Fragrant Garbage Truck Carrying the Discards of Aspen’s Spectacular Hollywood Celebrities (Also Available in Diesel-Smoke Flavor).
I thought it would be cool to have a Caterpillar dodge-’em ride, in which brave drivers would do their best not to be crushed beneath bright yellow behemoths. (Please keep your hands inside the car at all times.) But the problem, as I noticed while driving into town, is that it’s pretty darn difficult to find any bright yellow behemoths that are actually moving.
I came to town late, figuring I could miss the traffic jam (hah! idiot!). I entered the Thrill Zone at about 10 o’clock, and as I crept through the Orange Cones of Death, I couldn’t help but notice the vast array of idle equipment alongside the road: Dump trucks, bulldozers, steamrollers, graders, front-end loaders … all just parked there.
Finally I did pass one machine that seemed to be doing something. At least it was emitting clouds of black smoke. One man was at the controls, and two or three others were standing in front of the machine, carefully examining the hole it was digging. Or maybe filling in.
Somewhat bizarrely, it made me think of the cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, which I visited back in the early 1960s. Work on the cathedral had started in 1883, proceeded apace and then pretty much stalled when its architect, the visionary Antoni Gaudi, died in 1926 (crushed by a trolley car ” another reason to avoid the scourge of light rail … but never mind that for now).
By the time I got there, nearly 40 years later, the “cathedral” looked more like a bombed-out ruin than a magnificent holy temple under construction. Several towers and a few walls were standing, but Gaudi’s drawings of the planned cathedral made it clear that the finished work amounted to just a tiny portion of the vast building he had envisioned.
At first there was no sign of anyone actually working. But when I climbed to the top of one of the towers, I could see a huge, empty lot filled with building materials and one tiny figure, a workman, shuffling through the piles and heaps of stone and brick and tile. It was heartwarming to see that the project hadn’t been completely abandoned ” and it was deeply depressing to think how long it was going to take to get the darn thing finished.
And as I drove Aspen’s Endless Mile I experienced those exact same emotions ” except for the heartwarming part.
Interestingly enough, the original Maroon Creek Bridge was started in 1887, just four years after the Barcelona cathedral. Even more interestingly, the original Maroon Creek Bridge was finished in just six weeks.
Let me repeat that: The original Maroon Creek Bridge was completed in six weeks, starting in December 1887.
The new Maroon Creek Bridge was completed in … um, three years, starting in 2005.
It is tempting to conclude that construction techniques haven’t made much progress in the past 120 years. But that wouldn’t really be fair. Engineering progress has been amazing over the past century. Back in the 1880s, nuclear reactor safety was very marginal. Microchips were limited to less than half a megabyte. And it was darn near impossible to get a decent meal on an intercontinental jumbo jet flight back in those days.
But my, oh my, they did know how to build bridges. And build ’em fast.
Maybe their secrets have been lost over the decades, like the techniques the Incas used to fit the stones in Machu Picchu. Or the techniques the Egyptians employed to build the Great Pyramid. (I’m sure, even now, we could slap together a Mediocre Pyramid ” but a Great Pyramid … no way.)
Still, all in all, we’re doing great. Well, mediocre anyway.
Over in Barcelona, they’re back at work, full steam ahead, on the cathedral ” and they plan to have it finished in another 30 years. Or so.
And here in Aspen we have perfected the Aggravacation.
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While many are breathing a sigh of relief at the loosening of local restrictions, some are feeling hesitant and are questioning whether the county is moving too quickly.