Gary Hubbell: The Redneck Tree-hugger
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
I knew we had to move from Marble when the phone rang one spring day. The principal of the little school up there was on the line, telling me that my 12-year-old son was being argumentative and causing a disturbance. I asked her what the problem was. It seems they had a fundraising project ” a quilt was to be raffled off, and the children were asked to draw a picture representing the history and traditions of Marble, Colo., which would be sewn into the quilt. “So? What’s the problem?” I asked.
“He drew an elk hunting picture,” she said.
“So?” I replied.
“It has a gun in it,” she said.
“So?” I asked.
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“We can’t put a picture with a gun in it on that quilt, and he’s been arguing with us for 45 minutes. The entire upper classroom is shut down. We can’t get anything done.”
I gave her a piece of my mind. The world record elk was killed just over the ridge from Marble in 1899. As the outfitter in Marble, I was part of a long tradition of hunters and hunting guides. We outfitted 45-50 hunters a year, and many dozens more enjoyed their annual hunt in the mountains around Marble. While some of those were archery hunters, most of them were rifle hunters, and none of them were throwing rocks at the elk they pursued. I told her, “Tell him to keep going, and if you kick him out of school, I’ll come get him and take him fishing.”
That nugget of political correctness was just part of a larger problem. I couldn’t foresee putting my boys on a bus at 7 a.m. for a 60-mile round trip to Carbondale every day to attend high school ” my alma mater ” where 60 percent of the students struggle to speak English. The wrestling team had disappeared; the football team was struggling; gangs were starting to appear in the Roaring Fork Valley. The school’s academics were slipping.
So my wife went over to Crawford, where we already had purchased some ranchland, and found an old farmhouse on the edge of town. We bought it and moved.
I knew the move was the right thing to do for the family. Both boys picked up an instrument and started playing in the school band. My older son won a trip to the state spelling bee (a competition in which Marble didn’t even participate), the “Math Counts” competition, and had a strong showing in the western Colorado Science Fair. My younger son played Little League baseball, pee-wee football (the kids in Marble weren’t allowed to even play touch football on the playground), wrestled, and got straight A’s.
The problem was making a living. I worked through the courses and got my real estate license, but any broker can tell you it’s tough to get started, even when you know your local area, but I was new in town.
We sold a majority interest in our outfitting business, with a promise from the new owner to buy out the rest in 2008. In the meanwhile, I broke my ankle and had to have surgery. It was an extremely painful injury and a tough rehabilitation. For the first time in 22 years, I was unable to kill an elk to fill the freezer. I took my son hunting, hobbling through two feet of snow on a broken ankle, and he killed a 300-pound calf elk. That was our winter meat.
We sold 18 horses at prices ranging from $1,800 to $9,000. I hated to see that nice big foxtrotter gelding go to Kentucky, but $9,000 is $9,000.
Then the real estate market tanked. Just as I got my feet on the ground and got some deals going, it was like someone pulled the plug. The North Fork Valley, which had been a very active real estate market, slowed down. The tank ran dry. My dad floated me a loan, with the strict understanding that it had to be paid back ASAP. We ran up the credit cards, using them basically as a business loan.
We were counting on the new owner of our outfitting business to make good on his promise to buy out our remaining shares, and he reneged, then offered us 40 percent of what we had agreed upon. No deal.
I did some location scouting for a couple of photo shoots, making good money, but it wasn’t enough to keep up. We fell behind on payments. The acceleration clause kicked in on the credit cards, and at least three or four times every morning we got a call from “Roger” or “Sam” from Advanta. Do you know how humiliating it is to get a call from some guy in India, speaking heavily accented and barely comprehensible English, dunning you for an overdue credit card payment? The interest rate went to 36 percent, right as the banks were lining up for a $700 billion gift from the taxpayers. My wife got a letter from some asshole at Advanta, one Senior Vice President Anthony C. Morelli, that could only be described as threatening.
Despite the tight real estate market, I kept the faith and kept focusing on building my websites and my contacts. I remember one particular showing where the other broker and I looked at each other, faces tight, as we lunched with our clients. Neither of us had enough money in our pockets or credit on our cards to pay the bill. Fortunately the client picked up the tab.
There were times when I wasn’t sure if I could drive to town and back on the gas that was in the tank, and I damned sure couldn’t pull out a credit card to fill up. I sold all my old camera gear. I cashed in my life insurance policy and our IRAs.
I made calls to people for help. None of the wealthy friends even returned my calls. Our neighbors, a retired schoolteacher and his wife, planted several rows in their garden for us, calling over to us as they worked the soil, asking what we wanted them to plant there. I remember one meal in particular where everything on the plate came from Jeannie and Leonard and their farm ” beefsteak, potatoes, applesauce, salad. They knew we were in need and they helped us.
One family member reluctantly agreed to help us with a short-term loan, and insisted on attaching a lien to four pieces of real estate worth 200 times the amount of the loan as collateral.
My parents floated us another loan, and another one. My Swiss brother-in-law, the one that drives either the Ferrari or the BMW, depending on the day, told us to declare bankruptcy.
And then the dam broke. Between Christmas and the New Year, I closed real estate deals that brought six figures into our bank accounts. My wife is writing checks as I write this column, and everybody is paid off ” Advanta first and foremost. I called up two friends in similar dire straits and sent them a check. The crazy thing is that it only brought us up to even, but there’s another big deal in the pipeline, and the phone is ringing.
I know that I’m one of the fortunate few. We paid Leonard to raise a steer this year, and we killed two elk and a buck during hunting season. The freezer is full, we’re all healthy, and the bills are paid ” for now. I know that for many people, it’s tougher than tough. People are losing their homes, they have no way to pay for groceries and the most basic needs, and desperation is in the air. If there’s any way we can help, we will. We know what it’s like when times are tough all over.
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