Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley The Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

The only holiday that really matters this time of year is Over the Pass Day.Happy Over the Pass Day! Heidi, Johnny and Brad cheer, clinking their glasses of whiskey and cokes with my beer. We sit around a small table in the corner of the upstairs bar at a steakhouse called Quincys on Main Street in downtown Buena Vista where there is only one item on the menu, and its sirloin steak: 9 ounces served with baked potato and salad for $8.95.We also have veggie lasagna if youre a vegetarian, except were out of that, the waiter says. When Ryan first tells me of this plan to drive over the pass the night it opens to go have dinner somewhere on the other side to celebrate, Im like, Maybe Ill ride my bike over and meet you there. Little do I know the drama I would cause by balking tradition, but only because I did not yet know what the tradition was all about.Needless to say I am more than happy I conceded to be in the car as we climb up over 10,000 feet and its dumping, looking more like the dead of winter than the end of May. From the start, things are a lot more interesting than Id expected. First theres the scenery. As we climb up past the gate, Im startled by the violent whitewater churning through the steep narrow gut of the mountainside like milk through the colon of someone who is lactose intolerant. Up higher theres the snow, which is always so much more interesting outside the context of winter. I love the patterns it forms against the stark mountainside, dribbling from the peak down the face like spilled paint.But what I soon realize is the best part of driving over the pass is getting to the other side. Its an entirely different world, one dominated by wilderness and the distinct lack of everything Aspen. In Boo-way-nee as they call Buena Vista, we take full advantage of that lack of pretension. It all starts with cheap steaks, then cheap drinks, then frozen pizza at a dive bar to sober us up. When that doesnt work, we crash at a cheap motel that turns out to be the perfect venue for living out all those fantasies I discovered on eating breakfast at a greasy spoon that is served to us by an extremely intimidating pregnant waitress, we say good-bye to our Aspen friends and journey on to Alma to visit my brother. Since his return from Costa Rica, Dans been living in a house he calls The Windy Hill Chalet where, as far as I can tell, he does nothing but smoke weed all day. I guess thats what people do in a town that prides itself on having the zip code 80420. Alma residents take the fact that they are the highest established township in the U.S. quite literally. They walk around wearing T-shirts that say things like, Alma: Where the whole town is high and boast about how their mayor was busted with a pound of weed a few years ago. My brother says the pot that grows there has red hairs in it and is so dank that when you throw it at the wall it actually sticks. Downtown Alma is kind of fun. We go and eat greasy burgers and fries and drink pints of beer at the South Park Saloon where a local band plays while we eat and the crowd of ten or so people claps and whistles awkwardly between songs. We visit our friend Corey at the grand opening of her new little store where she sells rocks, crystals, handmade glass beads and skirts made out of yarn. We say hi to Drew at the Alma Coffee House where lattes are only $2.50. We stop by the Motherlode, a clothing store that touts itself as the Highest Boutique in America. It smells like Patchouli oil and is cluttered with old clothes, cowboy hats, boots and costume jewelry. Michelle from New York is the owner and shes always there. She remembers my name and tries to convince me to try on shirts with tassels and crocheted camisole tops she thinks would look adorable on me. We swing by Almart and the adjoining Carhardt store where I want Ryan to try everything on because its right on with that whole Hot Handy Man thing he has going on. Dan wants me to buy him a hat that says 80420 on it because he has no money, so I guess the weed must be free.At Almart it smells like fried chicken and we go to buy some Twizzlers when the guy behind the register asks Ryan and me if we are expecting.Not yet, I say, turning bright red. Instead of lying in the road hoping to get run over by another stoned person, I decide the guy must be smoking the same stuff my brother is.On the way home we stop at the Fairplay Museum where the mining era is preserved in the form of a collection of old buildings and artifacts, some original, some restored from other parts of Colorado. We walk through a series of old buildings, the doctors and the dentists and the blacksmiths, the church and the mayors house and the saloon. Im not a big history buff and Id sooner go shopping or get my nails done than visit a museum, but it was a fitting end to a journey that took us far, far away from Aspen without having to go very far at all. So now I understand what the hype of Over the Pass Day was all about. Really, its sort of an antidote for all the hype. I think maybe its how Colorado is supposed to be.

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