The demise of Aspen
July 21, 2009
Forty-nine years have passed since I graduated college and enjoyed the winter of 1960-61 ski-bumming in Aspen. There, I earned my keep as the head waiter at the (Old) Hotel Jerome, frequently serving such notables as James Arness, Terry Moore, Stein Erickson and Norma Sheerer, among others. Tom Sardy was a regular, and listening to him and the other country commissioners sparked my own interest in public service.
There was no pretension then, and everyone managed to get along nicely. We all were “just folks” enjoying life, the Victorian charm of the town and the beauty of its natural surroundings no matter the size of your wallet or the length of your resume. No stoplights impeded the orderly flow of Jeeps, pick-ups and the occasional VW beetle, each complete with the requisite malamute or husky and a broom in the back.
Denver was an often-harrowing eight-hour drive, and Aspen Airways and Rocky Mountain Airways offered the beginnings of somewhat scheduled air service to Denver in small Cessnas and Twin Otters.
Back then there were many fewer dining establishments, but most folks found that the Red Onion, the Golden Horn and the Crystal Palace sufficed. Government governed least, and was but a shadow of the bloated bureaucracy in place today that has found countless ways to spend the apparently unlimited amount of tax money generously supplied by legions of second-home owners. Characters such as Ralph Jackson skied in a top hat and added spice to an already wonderfully flavored stew, and the town, set in its awesome environs, was a truly magical place. There was balance on a grand scale, and people seemed to want what they had.
Much has changed since then. The ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption associated with amassed material wealth have not brought happiness and do little to hide the obvious disproportionate number of walking wounded who wander the streets of Aspen these days. Though the lovely gilded frame of the picture remains largely unsullied, the image itself has been badly tarnished, has yellowed with age, and a great many of the characters now seem stressed-out, as enough never seems to be enough with this crowd.
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Not satisfied with the way Aspen was, over the years many of the come-heres set out to change the town in the image of the ugly, polluted and traffic-choked cities they hailed from. Funnily enough, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Perhaps someone will snap up some of the many vacant storefronts left empty when the purveyors of $2,000 handbags and $10,000 watches left town for want of buyers, and offer this space to a cadre of psycho-babblers who will treat the needy part-timers who appear to suffer terribly from ramp-appeal envy (a G-5 trumps all) and a lack of amenities (like heated driveways) and taxable square footage in a house they will inhabit but a few weeks of the year.
Who can say, perhaps with luck, Aspen just may avoid the fate of Flint, Mich.