Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate | AspenTimes.com
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Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I am starting to think the bad economy is a good thing.

Let’s face it. I might talk a big game with this whole Princess racket, but the truth is, I’m broke as a joke and unless you consider teaching yoga three days a week a career, I don’t really have a job.

At this point in my life, I’m pretty set in my ways, which entails playing a lot and working a little. I don’t see myself waking up one day soon and going, “I know! I think I’ll start working really hard and try to make a lot of money!” because I don’t really need it.

If you have half a brain you know everything in Aspen is pretty much free. Between your friends who work at restaurants, tend bar, tune skis, house-sit at big mansions, get pro forms for gear and the break you get on your season pass, you’re pretty well set up with everything you need. Even if the parties with free drinks and food are few and far between these days, it’s just the icing on the cake.

So the way I see it, the bad economy is great for people like me.

For starters, there’s no more rush hour traffic into Aspen in the mornings, so I can sleep like 15 minutes longer. Instead of sitting in a line of cars for 40 minutes swearing at other drivers and carrying on, I can breeze into town in around 10 minutes. I don’t know when it happened exactly, but one day I was driving to the studio at 8 a.m. and all the cars had disappeared. The traffic was gone, just like that. I remember thinking maybe I got the day wrong (is it Saturday?) or the time, even though that’s virtually impossible now with cell phones.

I guess while yoga teachers are still gainfully employed, it’s the second home building industry that has ceased to exist. So all those pickup trucks driven by the various construction workers/landscapers/painters have left town or found something else to do that doesn’t require driving. That’s what they get for being so overpaid for so long and for never returning my calls when I needed a plumber or an electrician to come out and fix something for me. Selfishness aside, it’s also great for the environment. Now that everyone has stopped driving during rush hour, I don’t have to feel so guilty about doing it.

It’s also the best time ever to go shopping since all of the stores have slashed their prices. Things that were insanely overpriced before are actually affordable now. Those high-dollar items you might have held off on during years past are practically being given away. Like last year’s cross-country demo skis I got at the Ute Mountaineer. One ski had a price tag for $99.99 and the other for $69.99. I paid the 70 bucks and thought it was so funny I left the tags on so I could show my friends. Or the Black Diamond Alpine Touring boots I got on eBay for $375 that arrived with a price tag on them for $699.

Not only that, the overflow inventory from the designer boutiques is heavier than ever. Just the other day I bought a pair of Da Nang embroidered cargo pants at Suzy’s that still had a price tag in them that said $215 for 40 bucks. It seriously makes me wonder what I was thinking, paying full price for stuff like that in the first place.

The best part is it evens out the playing field by humbling all the rich people who thought they were the cat’s meow, at least until they got eaten by a lion. Sorry, but it’s true.

It also keeps all the businesses on their toes. While the demise of Zele is heartbreaking to those of us who spent half our lives there, I have to question whether or not it isn’t so much about a poor economy and high rent as much as the lukewarm, watered down espresso drinks being served by embittered employees who came and went at an alarming rate. Every day it seemed they were speaking a different language, literally and figuratively. Long gone were the days of baristas like John Gilles, when everybody knew your name. Way back when, he used to have my drink ready for me before I even got to the counter to place my order. (Love you! Call me!)

I was a loyal customer for years. We used to call Zele “the freelancers office” because on any given day, you’d see the likes of photographer Dan Bayer or radio host Michael Conniff or my favorite columnist, Barry Smith, sitting in front of a latte or a laptop or both at around 10 or 11 when they decided to waddle out of bed and get their day going.

But it wasn’t that long ago that I started walking the extra few blocks to Jour d’Fete, run by a Frenchman who understands how to make good, strong espresso. And more recently to Parallel 15, where the cozy couches and homey, whimsical touches are what a neighborhood cafe should be (thanks also for the free wireless and everything organic). I also recently tried Victoria’s, which serves artfully crafted espresso that packs the punch you would expect from a highly caffeinated drink.

The point is, maybe the bad economy isn’t so bad if it gives you more bang for the buck and brings back a level of accountability and healthy competition that might have been missing before. I know it’s gut wrenching and sad to see businesses close their doors and it sucks that so many people have lost so much, but it’s all relative.

All I’m saying is, at least from where I’m sitting the glass really is half full, especially when you know the bartender who keeps refilling your drink for free.


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