Carroll: The thin line between Aspen’s most loved and hated |

Carroll: The thin line between Aspen’s most loved and hated

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

Nobel laureate Tim Hunt picked a bad day to have a bad day. Or rather, he unwisely picked on a particular group of his esteemed colleagues, some of whom had smartphones in hand with the Twitter app open and thumbs at the ready.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Hunt said last month at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Hunt, who involuntarily resigned from his position at University College London soon after the Twitterverse ripped him and his remarks to shreds, might consider moving from his current hometown, the picturesque Hertfordshire in southern England, to scenic Aspen. The towns are 4,758 miles apart geographically, although philosophically, Hunt should feel right at home here. Say what you will about Aspen, but it’s no stranger to polarizing figures.

This spring, The Aspen Times ran a feature story on one of the area’s less divisive characters: Brit Queer. Aspen’s private-parking-lot enforcement officer of 30 years, Queer carries around a 35-pound boot in his backpack, which he uses to clamp the tires of cars that overstay their welcome around town. There’s no reason to believe he’s not an otherwise delightful guy, except if you’re not part of Queer’s immediate circle of friends, chances are you only know him because you’ve had to pay him $200 to set your car free — and rarely does paying money for nothing evoke either feelings of love or indifference.

There are others in town who also are targets of resentment, although they have the benefit of great affection being heaped on them, too. Silverpeak Apothecary CEO Jordan Lewis surely knows what it’s like to be both hallowed and hated. As Aspen’s first medical marijuana proprietor and the first to open a recreational shop, Lewis has served sufferers, stoners and sightseers, all of whom are abundantly grateful for how he’s soothed what ails them, elevated their buzz and given them stories to take home that will be more lasting (or at least more entertaining) than a souvenir T-shirt.

Holland Hills inhabitants, though, have been crying foul (odor) as a result of Lewis’ High Valley Farm growing facility in Basalt, even if some of the complainants secretly think the noise from the neighborhood kennel is actually more offensive. While those opposed to Lewis’ greenhouse in their backyard paint him as only seeing green, many of his medicinal clients have known him as a quietly generous and compassionate ally since the day he set up shop.

Aspen Art Museum CEO Heidi Zuckerman is another who can likely speak to what it feels like to be simultaneously adored and abhorred. Opinions on the new museum on East Hyman have ranged from the celebratory — Conde Nast Traveler said the building “inspires a sense of wonder” — to the ornery, with one letter-to-the-editor writer in a local paper calling it an “ugly, offensive, obnoxious, square building that does not fit into our quaint mountain town.” While Zuckerman is frequently praised for her vision, tenacity and artistry that has added a dazzling layer to Aspen’s rich cultural scene, she’s also been accused of seeking “prestige,” with members of City Council fingered as her accomplices.

Among those faulted for being complicit in the museum is former Mayor Mick Ireland. Having just lost his first election after winning 10 of them, he’s long walked around in the crosshairs of many who refuse to acknowledge him as living proof that a career politician can be full of soul instead of devoid of it.

It’s hardly a coincidence that those who are both reviled and revered also are usually those who have substantial accomplishments on their resumes. The tough thing, though, is that their supporters are sometimes not as vocal as their detractors, in part because it take less work to levy criticisms loudly rather than roll up your sleeves and blaze a trail yourself, or at least fix what you (often falsely) accuse others of breaking.

Having polarizing residents doesn’t make Aspen unique, although maybe the difference here, because there are fewer people than in most other places, is it feels more personal because of the likelihood of coming face-to-face at our kids’ T-ball games or in City Market with the people we slam or who slam us.

It could be worse, of course. Many choose to live in Aspen precisely because it’s filled with enthusiastic folks who are far too interested and invested in the extraordinary quality of life to turn a blind eye to anything or anyone threatening its existence. On the other hand, depending on what’s being done or said, and to whom, a little indifference from time to time might not be so bad, either.

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