January 17, 2007
When Jan Kraayeveld passed away in his sleep a couple of weeks ago, it was a shock because he was only 56. Otherwise, it may have been fitting. For a big and gregarious guy, he lived pretty quietly and died the same way.He was part of a wave of Southern Californians to hit Aspen in the late 1960s and early ’70s. They followed an earlier generation of surfers who were also skiers, and they shook up town and definitely changed my life and that of many others who lived here then. I only got to know a few of them well, and for a while early on I considered Kraayeveld and his partner Pat Richards at the old Village Pantry breakfast restaurant to be their ringleaders. But it didn’t take long to figure out they weren’t a ring of any kind, and they couldn’t have been led under any circumstances.The Village Pantry was the perfect early morning hangout prior to hitting the mountains winter or summer, although looking back I think I wouldn’t have suffered from ingesting a little less coffee. But the food was good and so was the company. The employees who hadn’t come here with Jan and Pat from Redondo Beach and similar haunts they hired from the ranks of those we knew well. Often, they were us.
Many of them are dead now, and the rest are a nervous lot. For my friends so far, surviving your 50s is tough work and a crapshoot if you’re healthy. If you lived fast, loved hard and/or worked at the Village Pantry, you either died young or find yourself mumbling about a curse. That’s what my friend Rick Ingram did when he heard the news about Jan. Rick was one of the longtime waiters at the Pantry, and of the dozen or so total employees and the two owners who served there for at least a decade, only three are left. Rick (or Rico), local jailer Walt Geister, and longtime Basalt resident Sam Vaughn. We could also count current Ketchum resident Roger (Ramjet) Godfrey, but he had the sense to get out early.I do not think, though, that it is just the wreckage of the Village Pantry people we are witnessing, nor a Pantry curse, per se. I think it is tantamount to the death of an Aspen generation. Jan would hate like hell to be burdened with that pretentious conclusion, even now that he is past such things. But the reaper is ripping through Aspen’s 50-somethings these days as if it were a niche scourge.Yes, some of it has to do with lifestyle. People around here have always led adventurous and dangerous lives. And a lot of those our age in this valley rode it hard for years. Some never quit. Jan wasn’t one of those, even if others of Pantry fame were. But he was plagued with a father and grandfather who both died in their 50s, and the certain conviction that would be his fate as well. He didn’t harp on it the way people can, but he was always aware of it. It was heart trouble, congenital, inherited, and it did kill him too soon, just as he feared.I’ve said that he’d be pissed off at barely outliving his wilder former partner, Pat Richards. But that’s not really true. Jan didn’t have many pissed-off bones in his body. He just wasn’t wired that way, which helped make him and Pat the true Mutt and Jeff of the Aspen restaurant business. They had little in common, so they made a great team. After a while, though, they quit working the same shifts together since they had very different views on how business should be handled. If you were a regular at the Pantry you knew how it worked.
Type AA Pat was a short-order cook of the first order. He was good and he was fast, but you paid a price for it in his grumpiness and often unsolicited and barbed advice. Jan had trouble with the early hours, and his chefing was a more considered art, not completely matched to the rigors of the quick and the simple. But you always left feeling as if he were glad to have you there and wasn’t spoiling for an argument. You always carried with you the image of his stooping to fit his 6-foot-6 frame under the stove’s ventilation hoods and his big, loopy smile that was a permanent part of the package. There was one way in which they were alike. Jan was the kind of guy who never asked anyone for a favor for himself. If, however, he thought you should be doing something, either for your own good or for someone else, he’d let you know. And he wouldn’t do it by asking. On the other hand, he never denied a favor to anyone if he could grant it, from the simple (a place to crash when you really shouldn’t be driving) to the significant (he led the charge to do everything he could for an old, departed friend’s son when he got in trouble).Jan and Pat also both liked to fish and to be around the water. Coastal guys at heart, they flourished in the mountains but you couldn’t keep them away from the ocean or lakes or rivers for long. And they both knew how to party. That was one of the first things that commanded our respect, when we realized they could go at their fun harder than anyone and still be at work the next day. It may have had something to do with the close proximity of the infamous Pub, which wasn’t even a block away from the Pantry’s original location, well within crawling distance.Jan became good friends with the Pub crew, who were older and socially gnarlier than many of us. Jan always seemed somehow older (he wasn’t), wiser and more mature than most of us local riffraff. There was a certain calmness (that laid-back California thing) and air of authority he radiated, that maybe had as much to do with owning his own business at a young age as anything. Plus, he had the requisite toys from back then: the boat that was almost an appendage and the big damn pickups you had to be in shape and not too drunk just to get up and into.
Though everyone eventually outgrew it, the Tyrol Lodge on Main Street was the home (or second home) and headquarters for years for many of us, including most of the Pantry crew. Jan’s room was the upper left, and even though he and his lifelong love Nancy Zirbel haven’t been there for years, I still can’t look up there without expecting to see them grinning down from the landing and motioning me up.The big blue Ford truck would be parked on the street below, often with someone like Paul Vroom or Doug Pompelli working on it if Jan didn’t have the time. There might be a keg involved, and burgers on the barbecue in the alley. Jan’s next door neighbor Honda Hickey would be there, of course, always smiling and holding a beer, and so would the lodge owner’s son, eventual manager and everyone’s friend, Raoul Wille.But they’re all gone now. Everyone I just mentioned except for Nancy is dead. Maybe it’s too grandiose to think of us as an entire generation of Aspenites facing extinction. Maybe it was a curse. Or maybe we just lived and did too much, too quickly. Maybe you really can have too much fun. I don’t know. But in the end I don’t think any of them would have traded any of it, even if they knew it would have bought them a little more time. I would, though, if only I could have gotten to see them all again, just to say goodbye. Take care, Jan. Travel safely and keep a seat warm for me. Goodbye.