Carroll: Shhhh … I just saw a celebrity | AspenTimes.com

Carroll: Shhhh … I just saw a celebrity

No sooner had we spotted arguably the greatest NFL quarterback of all time having lunch with his family at a downtown Aspen restaurant, than my wife was firing off a tweet about the sighting.

I was just as shameless, letting all of my Facebook friends — some authentic, others I wouldn't recognize if I got stuck with them in a telephone booth — know that I'd seen Peyton Manning, his shiny forehead and all, dining at White House Tavern.

Sitting next to us was Chris Evert, whose body of work on the global tennis stage makes her possibly more famous worldwide than Manning. If only our server had brought us a broom to sweep up all of these names we were dropping on social media, as if seeing Manning out of captivity — the football field — was as awesome as spotting a mountain lion outside a zoo.

"It used to be undeclared law in Aspen that you didn't speak to celebrities, or even ogle them," wrote Kurt Brown in "Lost Sheep," the late author's memoir about Aspen's freewheeling life in the '70s. "They supposedly honored their privacy, but it also aspired to put everyone on the same footing. If celebrities were nothing special, then our status as a new-age, egalitarian society would be complete."

OK, so I left Peyton alone. It was his bye week, after all, and the last thing he needed was some newspaper writer in his ear. As for ogling? Guilty as charged.

I proudly declared the sighting when I returned to work. One reporter, a relative newcomer to Aspen, was miffed that I didn't hound him for an interview. "Uh, Peyton, can you explain your disproportionate number of MVP awards to Super Bowl rings?" Or "How do you like Aspen?" followed by the question, "Can you please remove the 'PJ' from my forehead? It stands for the pathetic journalist who is only writing about you because you happen to be here but aren't making news here."

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Another writer, whose local roots run deep, recalled that longtime Times owner and editor Bil Dunaway deemed it taboo to cover celebrities who weren't making news in Aspen during his reign there, which lasted from 1956 to 1992. There's no aruging with that credo.

The comment, however, sparked a memory from my first year in Aspen, back in 1997, when I saw Dick Van Dyke walking down the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall. At least I'm pretty sure he was Dick Van Dyke. "Hi, Dick," I said, as I passed by him, and he offered a faint smile in return.

I told my editor at my then-reporter's job at the Aspen Daily News about the sighting. "You know, you're not supposed to talk to celebrities," he sneered.

Ouch.

I understood why, but it's also in my nature to greet people I know on the streets. That's one of the last remaining traits of Aspen's small-town charm. And if we all truly want to be on equal footing in Aspen, as Brown suggests, a simple greeting would achieve just that.

Even so, greeting a star and writing about the fact that a celebrity is in Aspen are entirely different beasts.

The celebrity culture really heats up during the holidays, with the usual suspects visiting over the years. There's always Mariah Carey and her posse on a downtown shopping spree, and, in a showing of true journalistic foresight, US and People magazines are always there to capture the hard(ly)-news spectacle.

Over the past two or three holidays, we've done a celebrity recap of what the national bloggers and writers are saying about Aspen's celebrity scene. And, without fail, Dottie, our office manager, is inundated with reader complaints about us stooping to such a journalistic low. I've always considered this coverage to be lighthearted and harmless voyeurism, if not amusing because of the national press's obsession with Aspen as a "tony" and "ritzy" resort "hamlet" that's "tucked away in the Rocky Mountains."

No, our annual coverage of the national media's celebrity coverage — media covering media, as it's called — won't win any awards or accolades, but that's not the point. If people are chatting about these celebrity sightings at cocktail parties, on the chairlifts or by the water coolers, then they shouldn't be off limits to the local press. But there's no need to go overboard with it.

As for Peyton Manning, here's hoping he enjoyed his time off in Aspen this past weekend. Just don't expect to read about it in this newspaper. That kind of ogling should be exclusive to just Facebook and Twitter.

Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at rcarroll@aspentimes.com.