The town I love to hate (or why I’m still in Aspen) | AspenTimes.com
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The town I love to hate (or why I’m still in Aspen)

John Colson

I was fleeing something, I’m sure of it.Maybe it was the law, or an irate drug supplier looking for his pound of flesh. Maybe it was a jealous rival for a girl’s affections, or perhaps it was merely my own sense of complacency.It doesn’t matter, and I would rather not dwell on it. I was headed West, a fresh-faced, idealistic journalism graduate (well, one credit shy of a diploma, which I ultimately achieved through argumentative harassment), out to change the world and in the mood for something new and different.Arriving in Aspen in the fall of 1978, astride my trusty Moto Guzzi motorcycle, I gazed at the collection of grinning, gossiping women on the bench outside The Aspen Times and figured I would have no trouble with this bunch.Wrong.As soon as I asked (politely, I’m sure) about the possibility of getting a job at the Times, things took a bad turn. They all looked at one another, then at me, then back at each other, and burst out laughing. They said no one ever quit The Aspen Times and I’d have to wait years for an opening.With their derisive laughter ringing in my flaming red ears, I climbed back on the bike and drove off, swearing I would never work or live in such a stuck-up town.Wrong, again.I’ve now been in Colorado for more than half of my life, and most of that time has been spent working for former Times’ owner Bil Dunaway, either at the Times or one of his satellite publications in Rifle and Carbondale. And the largest single block of that time, 17 years in the middle of my tenure, was spent as an Aspen resident.Clearly there was something I was not telling myself back on that crisp fall day when I got laughed out of town. I ended up taking a job at The Glenwood Post, where nearly the entire news staff had recently walked out over some grievance. They were desperate for help, to the point where they would hire a leather-clad youngster cold off the street without even a diploma to show for himself.It wasn’t until two years later that Dunaway hired me to take over as editor of his Rifle paper, the Rifle Telegram, and a couple of years after that I was invited to run The Valley Journal in Carbondale.All this moving around was typical of a journalist’s career. We’re fickle-footed, tending to get stale and whiney if we stay in one place too long, and I was lucky enough to have landed with a company that offered fairly distinct locales for moving around to. As far as I could tell, there were few more different towns than Rifle, Carbondale and Aspen in the late ’70s and early ’80s, believe me.By 1985 the Times’ assistant editor Mary Eshbaugh Hayes – Fletcher Christian to Dunaway’s Captain Bligh – had invited me to work at the Times. I’m fairly sure she wasn’t one of the hyenas on the front bench that fall day, but if she was, she got over it.And so here I was again, in the town I swore was too haughty by half, tilting away at the local windmills and monitoring the runaway wealth, both as a reporter and a columnist.The irony of the Times’ advocacy of slow and well-regulated growth over the years, in direct contrast to the wishes of certain real estate agents, developers and others whose ads fill our pages and fund our paychecks, has not been entirely lost on those of us who work here. It’s just one of those things you accept and deal with.It’s been a hoot to work here, that’s for sure. It’s not always been an easy job, particularly since another reporter, Dave Price, and I talked Dunaway in 1987 into starting up a daily edition of the Times to combat the growing threat of the Aspen Daily News, which added to the workload in ways we never imagined.Dunaway was a great boss, if a little on the tight side. I first learned of his skinflint nature when I spotted a poster-sized photograph on the wall opposite his desk. It showed him seated at a table, grinning, hand in a bag labeled “Peanuts,” with a long line of staffers stretching expectantly into the distance as they awaited their pay.Now that we’re all part of a corporate framework, it’s a different place to work at in many ways, but the institution’s historic wackiness and irreverence still bubble to the surface in unexpected ways.Thankfully, hopefully, I predict that we won’t lose that attitude anytime soon.True to his nature, John Colson didn’t stay put after returning to the Times in 1985 (although it seems he just can’t escape the Roaring Fork Valley). In the early 2000s, he went on to become editor and then publisher of The Valley Journal; he also moved to Carbondale. Now he’s back working in Aspen, as a reporter at the Times.


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