A highway jammed with hate
I don’t work in Aspen every day anymore. I get up to town usually once, maybe twice a week.In fact, I miss Aspen. I wish I got to spend more time up there; it’s a hell of a town, isn’t it? But one thing I most certainly do not miss is the morning commute. That I do not miss in the least.When we first moved down to Missouri Heights, I used to drive to work in Aspen every day. I’d leave the house before 6 every morning and when I got down to Highway 82 at El Jebel, things were pretty quiet.If I remember right, there wasn’t even a stop light at the intersection back then. The highway was just a little two-lane road – no turnout lanes, no acceleration lanes, just a simple intersection with a stop sign.But it didn’t matter, because there wasn’t any traffic. I’d pull right onto the highway and head upvalley – pretty much all by myself.I remember a lot of mornings when, a little before 6 a.m., I’d get stopped by the red light at the start of the Basalt Bypass – by the KOA Kampground – and I’d get pretty cranky, because I’d be all alone on the highway. I’d be the only car in sight, sitting there feeling foolish, stopped at a red light.That was almost 15 years ago. By the time I stopped commuting to town every day, two years ago, the highway at El Jebel was seven lanes wide and when I got stopped at that KOA traffic light at 6 in the morning, I’d already be in the middle of a major traffic jam.My wife still drives to town every morning and she’s clear that traffic is still getting worse. And one thing that she mentions a lot is “those damn pickup trucks.”It’s early morning and they’re out there – construction workers in pickup trucks driving like maniacs, weaving in and out of traffic, tail-gating, speeding. Six o’clock in the morning and they’re already boiling over with road rage.She got in a wreck a few years ago when traffic in front of her stopped and the pickup truck behind her was going too fast, following too close, and ran right into her. Totaled her car.Now, I guess heavy traffic’s always dangerous and a morning commute can easily make you crazy – but there’s something else happening here, something unique.Every morning, Highway 82 is filled with people who hate Aspen.They’re driving to Aspen and they hate where they’re going. They hate everything about the town – except, of course, the money they make there.And that makes them hate Aspen even more.They hate Aspen because they can’t afford to live there. They hate Aspen because they think it’s full of spoiled rich jerks. They hate Aspen because they can’t afford not to drive there every day.It’s bad for a town to be filled with people who hate it. It’s bad for a town to be built by people who hate it.I was talking to a friend who is a ski instructor. He’s been teaching skiing here since the 1970s.He used to teach skiing all winter and then work construction all summer. But back sometime in the late 1980s, he decided he had to find a different summer job.It used to be a bunch of guys who shared the same kind of life. They’d ski together in the winter, work construction in the summer. When they were done with a day’s work, they’d all go out and have a beer.But by the time he gave it up, it was very different. Nobody was friends. Nobody went out for a beer at the end of the day. They’d throw their tools in the truck and get the hell out of town.They hated it here. Now they hate it a lot more.I know this is probably exactly the kind of “Aspen attitude” they hate, but all that hatred is just bad karma.I sure wish we could get back to a town built by people who love it, built by people who live here.What would that be worth?Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
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Vagneur: Today’s the big local’s day, even though the celebrating may need to be a bit different this year.