Gaylord Guenin: Letters from Woody Creek | AspenTimes.com
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Gaylord Guenin: Letters from Woody Creek

Gaylord Guenin
Aspen Times Weekly

I was extremely pleased to read the news June 26 that Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland’s bicycle, which apparently was stolen from in front of the Aspen City Hall a couple of days before, had been returned. We all know what an enthusiastic cyclist the mayor is, so the loss of a favorite bike must have been a bitter pill to swallow.

But my joy for the mayor quickly turned into a bout of depression when I read that his cycle was worth $5,000. Jeez! It didn’t take any serious calculating to realize his bike is worth about $3,000 more than my only automobile. And adding to my depression was the nasty realization that Mick daily goes about his chores gas- and pollution-free, which is something we can applaud, while I am driving a 1993 Suburban that should be in rehab.

It would make sense to purchase a vehicle that gets better mileage but that’s pretty much out of the question. First, I live on a fixed income (Social Security), which is a reason gas prices are beginning to really hurt, and secondly, trying to unload my gas-guzzling pig in this market would be akin to selling a fox to chicken farmer.

Good lord, the price of gas is impacting the price of just about everything else we purchase, even heroin! According to a story in the Aspen Daily News on June 26 about a couple of alleged heroin dealers who supposedly were bringing the junk from Denver to sell in Aspen, there was a “gas surcharge” added to the price of the drug if the Denver connection had to drive it to Aspen. Now heroin is a very pricey drug to begin with, so a surcharge because of gas prices should make addicts very nervous. We live in a strange world, don’t we?

As with most everyone else, aside from the excessively wealthy, I am beginning to feel the pinch, trying to abandon such delightful treats as crab legs and porterhouse steaks, and attempting to figure out how to spice up such things as Top Ramen and Spam. In truth, it is a rather enjoyable challenge, one that encourages you to be creative. So far I haven’t hit on anything I could sell to a restaurant but I will keep trying.

If nothing else, this miserable economy has put me in a rather reflective mood. While agonizing the other day about rising prices and a steady if minimal income, it dawned on me that I was born near the end of our Great Depression, brought on, as you all should recall, by the collapse of the stock market in 1929. That was a bloody period for this nation. In 1932 it was estimated that there were between 15 and 17 million unemployed in the U.S. and that 34 million Americans had no income of any kind. For those who had jobs, the average pay was said to be $16 a week. Banks closed, as did thousands of businesses; an equal number of farmers, including my mother’s father, lost their livelihoods through foreclosures. In 1933, gasoline was selling for 18 cents a gallon, which may have seemed like an outrageous price at the time.

On top of the depression, the Dust Bowl ravaged Western states, driving an estimated 350,000 farmers to abandon their farms and move farther west toward California. There were endless soup lines in big cities and men selling apples on street corners trying to scratch out a living. It had to be an ugly time for those who lived through it all. Yet what intrigued me in looking back on my own childhood is that I cannot remember my parents ever wringing their hands in self-pity. I know they also must have struggled because our family certainly wasn’t wealthy, yet I don’t recall ever hearing any references to the Depression, aside from one.

I was born in Buffalo, Wyo., a tiny town with a huge public swimming pool that was the pride of the community, even if it did have a sand bottom. FDR, our president during the depression, created endless government agencies to help American farmers and workers get back on their feet. One such agency was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which funded endless public works programs. The swimming pool in Buffalo was one such project.

Our family left Buffalo when I was about three years old, so I wasn’t even aware of the pool. When I was a tad older, we were there visiting my dad’s parents, his sister and her husband, and we visited the pool. My dad explained, with pride, how the WPA had built it for the town. My uncle then offered that WPA didn’t stand for Works Progress Administration; it stood for “Whistle, Piss and Argue.” I was too young to grasp the sarcasm in that remark but looking back I now realize that was about the only reference to the Depression I ever heard from anyone in my family.

Times may be a little tough right now, but thinking about how horrendous the Great Depression was, well that forces me out of my bitching and moaning mode. I am outraged at gas prices and convinced that we are being screwed by greed-heads, but I know it could be worse.

So I’ll drive my gas-snorting Suburban less, try to acquire a taste for Top Ramen and see if I can’t find some nice recipes for Spam. It appears a new era is upon us!


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