Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate | AspenTimes.com

Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I was waiting for the Hunter Creek bus this morning and this girl goes, “Nice matching outfit,” as if we knew each other.

“Thanks,” I said, since it’s true I do put a lot of effort each year into having the best possible snow bunny outfit.

“So what do you think about what happened to George?” she asked, as if we both knew someone named George. For a second, I thought maybe she was talking about our George, a 90-pound German shepherd with an eating disorder who was probably a super-model in his last life as he is impossibly tall, long-legged, thin, and only eats in the middle of the night when no one is looking.

Then she grabbed a paper from a newsstand. Oh, that George, I thought.

“Did you know him?” I asked.

“Yeah, no, well, sort of. I was out with him and his friends that night, which is really spooky.”

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We chatted for a few minutes while we waited for the bus about our thoughts on his fate, what happened, and why. It is a conversation I’ve been having with a lot of people over the last few weeks.

It haunted me, thinking about this kid and what could have possibly gone wrong. I lay there late at night unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop wondering and thinking about his friends and family and what they might be going through. I thought about this very deeply, only vaguely aware that I didn’t actually know this person. Because even though I didn’t know him technically, I knew him in a broader sense. He’s the kind of kid who leaves the East Coast and moves to a ski resort out West, working wherever he can get a free pass and sharing a beat-up condo with one too many people (or six).

I know him because he’s just like me.

When I first moved here, I lived in a house with more dogs than people, and most of the dogs outweighed me by at least five pounds. I lived with a bunch of dudes in a ramshackle house that has since been torn down. I worked for the Skico and did data entry at a travel agent’s office in town. I partied a lot. I definitely got lost more than once, and I remember those first few months when I almost always didn’t know where I was because all the streets looked so much alike. I was definitely spun around, whether because I drank too much or was confused, or both.

I moved to Colorado from the East Coast, and I remember how green I was when I first moved here, how unaware I was of the power of the mountains. I had no idea of the dangers that were out there or how to protect myself from them. It took years of experience, of trial and error and backcountry training to learn.

I was also lucky. I was never drugged (at least unless it was by choice). My friends were always around. I was only abandoned and lost once, but it was in the middle of the day on a Fourteener in the summertime and I was with my dog Cujo and there were lots of other hikers around to help me find my way. Plus, I was sober.

There were plenty of nights I wasn’t sober and somehow I survived them all. I will admit I got behind the wheel on more than a few occasions, late at night or even in the middle of the night when I’d had a fight with a boy I was involved with. I remember screeching around, upset and angry and drunk knowing in the recesses of that little mind of mine that if I were to get arrested, it would be the next day’s front-page news.

Getting arrested is still a hell of a lot better than getting killed, and somehow I managed to avoid both.

So I lay there in the dark watching the minutes slowly pass by on the clock as I searched for answers I know I’d never find.

I’m sure these thoughts were exacerbated by seeing the movie “127 Hours” on Sunday night, which is based on Aron Ralston’s best-selling book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” and his now infamous ordeal in Blue John Canyon, Utah.

It’s not that often you get to see a feature film about a guy you actually know, a guy who was at your Fourth of July slip ‘n’ slide party this year, a guy who you’ve been on hut trips with and partied with and hung out with on more than a few occasions.

So why did Aron walk away from a remote place and an impossible situation (though not without sacrifice) and George died walking home from the bar?

I can’t answer that, obviously. But one thing I do know is when that girl started talking to me about George as if he was a friend of ours I hoped that on some level, he was. And when I sit in the movie theatre and watch this major motion picture about Aron it’s sort of the same way.

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I’m glad George wasn’t kidnapped or killed as some people began to speculate he might have been. I hope if there is anything that could be gained out of this horrible trauma is the sense of community we have here. At the end of the day, we are still just a small town, and we take care of each other. Those Mountain Rescue members who found him did not have to be out there searching. They did it because they promised his family they would.

I hope that for all the sadness that comes from something like this we can at least gain a sense of community. I’m just sad George Aldrich wasn’t here long enough to have experienced it.