Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
A few years ago, I found myself in a squabble with a bunch of airline pilots who felt that I had unfairly disparaged the cruddy little turboprop planes that United Express was flying into Aspen at the time.
The emails I got from the outraged pilots made it clear that most of them really, truly hated their passengers.
Their unexpected loathing for the flying public was clear. Particularly the Aspen flying public.
And, most very particularly, me.
Apparently some pilots feel the same way about their planes that the rest of us feel about our dogs.
Anyway, at one point in the kerfuffle, I got a tip to check out a website where pilots exchanged messages. There was an ongoing conversation about my column and one pilot summed it up as, “Some ‘Ken doll’ in Aspen thinks our planes aren’t good enough for him.”
He obviously thought that calling me a “Ken doll” was a smashing insult.
If only he knew that my secret heart’s desire was to be just like Ken.
Ken is smooth and handsome, good-looking, stylish, popular with women.
But there was one drawback to being Ken (aside from, of course, the whole “anatomically incorrect” thing): I’m pretty sure Ken is a Republican.
Can you doubt it? Smooth, handsome, plastic. Come on. Besides, look at his girlfriend, Barbie. She’s got a gig as an anchorwoman on Fox News.
And that (sort of) brings us to a comment from a friend who ventured into Aspen last weekend.
The mall was bustling, he reported: jammed with happy throngs. But it all felt wrong to him.
“It didn’t look real. It was like a stage set for an ‘Old West’ resort town. Everybody looked like they’d flown in from the Hamptons.”
I guess that has maybe been true about Aspen for a long time. But his next line was the real kicker: “They all looked so Republican.”
And that, for sure, has not been the Aspen image.
Vail was Republican. Aspen was wild, artistic, quirky, and most definitely liberal.
And just as I look in the mirror and still insist on seeing the reflection of the vibrant young man I used to be, so we have all along been sure Aspen is still really that crazy, creative, liberal little town it used to be.
But occasionally I see an unexpected reflection of myself and wonder, “Who’s that decrepit old man?” And so my friend’s downtown revelation might have been an unexpected glimpse of what Aspen is becoming – or has already become: a stage-set resort town dominated by Republicans. (Despite our Socialist mayor. Or is he officially a Communist this week?)
One part of this glacial shift (“glacial,” meaning: so slow that you can’t see it happening, but in the end everything is swept away and ground to dust) is the Aspen malls.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the malls. Really, truly, I do. They are a beautiful treasure, an oasis in the heart of town.
But I remember back shortly after they were created, when a young woman, born and raised in Aspen, expressed deep unhappiness about the malls.
She wasn’t one of the business owners who was upset about the loss of parking spaces. She explained her unhappiness: “It’s not my town anymore. The mall’s not meant for me. It’s something just for the tourists.”
I thought she was crazy, but I was too nice (well, we were dating, so maybe “nice” isn’t the right word) to tell her that.
But now, if we accept the equation “stage-set resort town = something just for the tourists” – well, she was exactly right.
And if you’re thinking that the “just for the tourists” character of the malls isn’t much different from all the rest of Aspen, with high-end national/international chains lining every block – well, now you know why that woman eventually moved away from her hometown.
But the “stage set” is only part of the New Aspen that my friend noticed.
The rest is, “They all looked so Republican.”
Was that really true? Or are we Americans all looking Republican these days – with our haircuts and our scrubbed faces and our wild hippie days long behind us?
I did get one bit of anecdotal evidence at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago.
One of the guests had attended the Conversation with Republican Governors at the Aspen Institute.
OK … wait. Yes, I realize that for some of you, the mere idea of a Conversation with Republican Governors in Aspen is the end of the discussion.
That sort of thing is supposed to be in Vail, you say.
Perhaps. But let’s go on.
This young woman rose to ask a question at the end of the “conversation.” She started by admitting that she isn’t a Republican and went on to note that “most Americans favor a tax increase to help balance the budget.”
The crowd erupted in boos and catcalls. Someone shouted, “Bullshit!”
The answer she eventually got from the speaker consisted of a lecture on how she should watch Fox News.
I was – and still am – in awe at that woman’s courage. And I have to point out that, the audience’s rudeness and ideological blinders notwithstanding, she was correct: A majority of Americans say they want tax increases as part of the solution to our budget problems.
More to the point: Once upon a time, an audience reaction like that – an audience like that – would have been unthinkable in Aspen.
But now we have Republican governors, and we have the Aspen Security Forum, and we have Perspectives from American Enterprise Institute Scholars, and we have a special exclusive event to honor the Ronald Reagan Centennial, and we have Condoleezza Rice interviewing Brent Scowcroft.
And coming up soon, we have the Guys With a Whole Lot More Money Than You Conference – followed closely by the Guys Who Have a Whole Lot More Money Than That Last Bunch (and Bigger Planes, Too) Seminar.
I’m pretty sure Ken and Barbie will be there.
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