The intern life, Aspen-style
July 19, 2006
There is no way in hell I could have known what I was getting myself into. I was just the intern. I’d crank out a few stories, enjoy Aspen’s glamour and return to my dull life as a student. All I knew about Aspen, the glitzy resort town where rich people supposedly liked to hang out, was that it had killer skiing and a population far wealthier than me. Little did I know the Aspen on postcards and Prada shopping bags is not the Aspen of reality.The Aspen of reality is way, way crazier. It’s this bastion of lunacy wedged in the Rocky Mountains, far enough away that city folk like me don’t have a clue what it’s really about. I go to the University of Colorado at Boulder -boring compared to Aspen.Now before all you locals lynch me, I mean that in the nicest possible way. I feel like I’ve become one of you, really. I bike everywhere, hate driving, explore local trails and have to stifle vomiting when I walk by Aspen’s high-end boutiques.After 10 weeks, I find myself wondering what the city will do about those idiotic S-curves at the entrance to Aspen. I wonder why it’s been harder to catch the “tree lopper” than it was to convict Ken Lay. I hope and pray the real estate market stops pushing true Aspenites downvalley. I know I’ll never be a real “local,” but I feel like I’m at least on the same page.Aspen isn’t the location of my second home. I’ve lived in a tiny studio apartment all summer, and no one in my family makes millions of dollars. Not even hundreds of thousands of dollars. So don’t scoff whilst reading this outsider’s observations about the crazy place that is Aspen.
I interned at the Greeley Tribune before coming to Aspen this summer. It’s a far more conservative place in fast-growing Weld County. The Tribune newsroom is very uniform, with an almost clinical cleanliness. No one wears a suit, but everyone tends to sort of dress up.I had an amazing experience there, and that vibe worked well for the Trib. They are phenomenal at serving Weld County.The Times, however, is much different. My first day, I walked into that quirky, purple monster of a structure wearing a designer dress shirt, dockers and fresh-from-the-box dress shoes.I’m surprised I wasn’t outright laughed out of the building. Standard attire is a T-shirt and jeans, which I finally got through my skull after the first week. I still wore collared shirts, but I refused to iron them so I didn’t stick out too much.I’m called “intern” by several of my coworkers. Not “The Intern,” not “Greg the Intern.” Just “intern.” I’m truly convinced Monica Lewinsky had more dignity.I’m not cool enough for my own desk, so every day I pray that someone else has the day off. Then I can make a temporary home until they come in; but virtually every day means a game of musical chairs.No respect, man.And the canines. Let’s talk about the menagerie of dogs. Not only does virtually everyone own a dog, but it’s obligatory to bring the pooch to work. This was too cool. I love dogs, and there’s no better way to relieve stress than taking a moment to play with one of the wayward dogs of The Aspen Times.
Needless to say, I am utterly screwed if I ever work somewhere with a strict dress code and a no-pets policy. The funny thing is, I think the laid-back vibe makes it easier for people to work their tails off.The editors and reporters know this town inside-out. I usually don’t need a phone book around these walking Wikipedias. Watching them work is often nothing short of incredible. They crank out clean, creative copy on a daily basis. They’ve pushed me to do challenging, creative stories, too.There are a lot of suit-and-tie newspapers that can’t create that kind of high-caliber journalism. Probably because those journalists want to hang themselves by their designer ties.Dude, where else will you meet these people?Most of my friends have internships this summer, but none quite like mine.Some ended up at high-end newspapers like USA Today and the Hartford Courant, but they’re toiling behind desks, writing headlines 50 hours a week. Others were at smaller publications in Boulder and Hawaii, but they were with bush-league journalists (their words, not mine).And then there’s me.I’ve had the opportunity to meet Madeleine Albright; I spoke with National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru; and l listened to Alan Greenspan’s desert-dry discussion of oil dependence, thanks to the Aspen Institute. Just to name a few. By virtue of just knowing the right person (thanks Katie), I hung out at Hunter S. Thompson’s posthumous birthday party. My jaw hit the floor when Ed Bradley waltzed across the deck, and I felt special because Anita Thompson wrapped me in a warm hug when I left (she’s ridiculously cool, by the way).
A 30-year-old bottle of Laphroaig Scotch whiskey burned my throat. After being stored in a hollowed-out tree stump for two years by a film documentarian and Hunter S. Thompson fan, it reappeared at that birthday party. Sure, my friend in Hawaii might drink Mai Tais by the beach. But I drank Scotch older than I am at Owl Creek Farm, an ode to the late Hunter S. Thompson.Top that. I dare you. That isn’t what impacted me, though. Those are cool stories, but they haven’t changed me like the average folks in the Roaring Fork Valley have.I fought back tears covering the funeral of Stan Lauriski, Aspen’s beloved former fire chief and a man I never knew. I smiled admiringly at rodeo man Doug McLain’s quiet passion and love. I was awestruck by Jill Evans, who stared death in the face serving in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh.Madeleine Albright didn’t call me like local pharmacist Rodney Diffendaffer to say, “Thanks for the story, brother. That issue needs to be talked about.” See, you Aspenites care about getting the facts. And you care about this town and the regular folks who live here. Case in point? Les Holst and his “white shirt” brigade.Sure, the famous people make for good stories. But people like Jill Evans, Doug McLain and Rodney Diffendaffer? That’s legendary, man. Legendary.Greg Schreier has returned to the Denver metro area, where he’s crying himself to sleep each night because he’s no longer in Aspen. Send your condolences to GCSchreier@gmail.com, and urge the Times to hire him back upon his graduation from college.