Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
“No, it’s not! It’s MINE!”
“I had it first!”
This concludes today’s performance of “Life in Aspen: Politics in an Old Mining Town.”
Well, actually, that little slice of Aspen political life was incorrect on one point: We don’t have a mommy to appeal to when we start squabbling.
Too bad about that. It would be nice to have an adult step in when childish tempers flare.
The tempter tantrums I’m talking about are the ones over who “owns” Aspen.
Whose town is it anyway?
I have a good friend who is forever slapping down people’s thoughts, suggestions and impressions about this town by saying, “No. That’s not Aspen.”
What he really means, of course, is “That’s not my Aspen.”
And by “my Aspen,” he means the Aspen he remembers from 10, 20, 40 years ago.
But memories are faulty. We remember what we want to remember; we remember what we think happened, what we wish had happened.
So the Aspen we remember when we try to define what is or is not “Aspen,” may be a town that never existed.
And worse yet, when it comes to remembering the real Aspen what you remember is, by definition, something that’s in the past.
And the past is, again by definition, past.
Neither Aspen nor I (nor you, wise guy) will ever be what we were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.
But this is the core of so many Aspen battles.
What is Aspen? How do you save the “real” Aspen?
Remember when they imposed “historic” designation on buildings from the 1950s and 1960s?
Was that the Aspen we want to preserve? A bunch of run-down, fake Swiss chalets and some uninspired, badly built downtown junk?
Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s excavate Glory Hole Park, turn it back into a big hole in the ground, and start throwing garbage in it.
After all, that’s what they did in those dearly revered Quiet Years.
It was “historic” and preserving it would memorialize those brave inhabitants who struggled through difficult times and saved the town we love today.
That’s how the story goes, right?
Look, just as “2+2” does not equal “purple,” so “historic” does not always equal “nifty.”
But the “historic” argument is presented as the ultimate trump card in almost any Aspen debate.
And way too often, that “historic” trump card is thoroughly worthless and misleading – in which case, I suppose, it becomes a Donald Trump card. Historic dumpsters? Historic rabid dogs?
Years ago, when I was new in town and the big battle was over four-laning Highway 82, I heard someone declare, “I’ve driven that road every day for the past 20 years.”
And my immediate reaction was, “If you’ve been driving Highway 82 every day for the past 20 years, then you don’t know much about what’s going on in the rest of the world, do you? So why should I care what you think about highway design?”
(No, I didn’t say it out loud. Even back then I wasn’t that rude.)
But the point is, none of us own Aspen. We can squabble over it, like spoiled kids fighting over a toy; but, really, it’s not my Aspen, not your Aspen – not their Aspen either. Even if they can afford to buy and sell big chunks of the town.
If anyone in the modern era could have been considered to “own” Aspen, maybe it was the Paepckes.
Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke “discovered” the run-down old mining town that was barely getting by – despite occasional dreams of glory – and they pumped in vast quantities of money and sophistication and class and intelligence. They got Aspen up and running again.
But now? Now the house they raised a family in has been torn down. And the building they commissioned and presented to the University of Colorado has been torn down, too. (Gee, now that I think of it, both torn down by the same person. Does he have a grudge?)
And the Music Festival they started has descended recently into some nasty political bickering – although the music can still be sweet.
And the Aspen Institute they founded – as a haven offering high-powered business executives a chance to catch up on the humanities education they didn’t have time for when they were young – has become … well, I’m not sure quite what it has become. But it certainly isn’t Walter Paepcke’s Aspen Institute.
And the point is that if Aspen isn’t the Paepcke’s Aspen, then it certainly isn’t anyone else’s Aspen either.
But now, to immediately spin around and contradict myself, I do want to nominate someone who has a right to speak about this town as his town.
Not that he would, but never mind.
I’m talking about Andy Mill.
Born and raised in Aspen, Andy Mill was this country’s top downhill racer through the 1970s, back before ski racing became big business. His performance in the 1976 Olympics was the stuff of legends (even if it didn’t end in a medal).
I could go on about Andy, but here’s my point: I last saw him a year ago at a talk at the Aspen Historical Society, where people were going on about how glorious Aspen used to be. And never would be again.
And Andy Mill stood up and said, “Wait a minute! Right now, these are the ‘good old days.'”
The skiing is better than ever, he said. The mountains are still glorious. The new skis are the best ever. And, he added, the surgeons are even better than that. After a career filled with serious injuries, he had a complete knee replacement in October 2009. Within weeks has was hiking to the top of Loges at Highlands – and he was back skiing “as hard and fast as ever” that same season.
Then he said it again: “These are the good old days.”
And that’s his Aspen.
Do you want to argue about that?
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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