Cleansing the new Aspen of ‘local riffraff’
I’m sorry, I can’t help myself; I just have to share the excitement over my new promotion. Apparently I’ve been promoted from “local riffraff” to “undesirable element.” Of course I’m not the only one; as far as I can tell, all “local riffraff” has received the same promotion. Maybe there should be T-shirts and bumper stickers.If memory serves, it was in the late ’70s that the term “local riffraff” was first used to describe those of us who for years had considered ourselves to be reasonably hardworking ski bums, just looking for a little fun on the side. A venerable local eatery/saloon had changed hands and the new management took over an adjoining space, shined up the old space, and fancied up the menu. At the time this didn’t bother anybody. It wasn’t part of a trend, it wasn’t the last straw, it was more like the first straw. Along with the physical transformation the new people announced that their aim was to no longer cater to “local riffraff.”I don’t think many people were offended at first, as major jerks weren’t as prevalent then as they are now. Unfortunately for the jerk, the media (which is traditionally made up almost entirely of local riffraff) picked up on the comment and made a big deal out of it. As we all know, timing is everything, and this guy was ahead of his time. If the place lasted that season, it didn’t last much longer. People decided it was rude for someone to refer to those around him as “riffraff” and the guy was out of business.The importance of good timing was evidenced over the next few years when, on a couple of occasions, people tried to open exclusive private clubs in town. Aspen was, at that time, still sufficiently egalitarian that people were shocked at such an elitist notion and those places went nowhere fast. It was later that Harley Baldwin stuck his finger up into the wind and decided the time was right. He pushed the envelope of elitism about as far as possible and successfully appealed to the new sort of Aspenite, folks who didn’t have the slightest interest in hobnobbing with their carpenter or ski instructor, people who didn’t wish to be around riffraff or undesirable elements. The Caribou Club came bouncing into the world.Well, that was that, and that’s the direction things have been going ever since. When a Red Mountain doyenne famously stated that “It’s not their town anymore, it’s ours … we bought it.” Some of us were immediately sent into a homicidal rage. We were ready to do battle for the soul of Aspen. It was sad – we didn’t know it but the battle was already lost, and we hadn’t even been issued spears. The woman was right.In the beginning these people sort of kept their disdain for anyone not like themselves to themselves. They weren’t sure how things stood. That attitude is a thing of the past. Now they openly want to purge “their” town of undesirable elements. They actually write letters to the newspapers with their own “final solutions.” The underprivileged and the disenfranchised must go; if you do anything to help them it’ll just encourage them to stick around. Get rid of the last vestiges of character, sanitize the place. Unfortunately there are people all over who feel this way … they’re called Republicans. The Aspen business community seems to have lost all interest in catering to anyone but the super-rich. Working-class joints are dropping like flies out of a Pub taco. How many are there left? Even the reliable Woody Creek Tavern has succumbed to the purge mentality. Shep and Mary are gone and the new owners, with their financial backer, local rich guy Boogie Weinglass, are getting rid of loyal employees at a rate that would embarrass even the most evil corporate hatchet man. Somehow people who have been supremely competent and honest and taken untold amounts of grief from customers for years have overnight become incompetent crooks and are being fired, or are being made so miserable that they have no choice but to quit. Longtime customers are following their old friends out the door – a one-way trip. It matters not; the idiots on the bicycles are where the money is, and the money is all that counts. Of course there are still some decent human beings around. They write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces correctly pointing out that “undesirable element” is a highly subjective concept, and that perhaps some people might want to think twice before they throw the term around too freely. We all remember when the millionaires started whining about being shoved out by the billionaires. That pushed all my compassion buttons.As one surveys the countless construction projects around town you have to wonder, when they’re completed, if there’ll be any reason to ever set foot in any of them. Will there be even one of these new projects with a business that will cater to normal people? I don’t know. This doesn’t count Sarpa’s 1A project, of course. If that goes through, I’m going to hang out there all the time – it’ll be the new Tavern.In the words of Bob Dylan, “The zeitgeist, it is a changin’.”
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the decent that poses a challenge.