Andy Stone: A Stone’s throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
When the City Market in El Jebel first opened ” however many long years ago that was ” it was both a delight and a pain.
The delight came from having a great big shiny new supermarket in my neighborhood.
The pain came from the impossibility of finding what I needed in the vast maze of shelves and aisles.
That frustration faded pretty quickly as I got to know the market, and within a month or so I had a pretty good grasp on where everything was. I could head to the market with my shopping list in my grubby little hand and know exactly how I was going to navigate my way through the store and through my list.
And then, a year or two ago, they expanded the store ” and bam! Once again, I couldn’t find anything.
I suppose that was normal. They added a lot of space so they naturally rearranged everything.
But now, all these months later, I still can’t find what I’m looking for.
I guess you could blame that on my fading memory and increasingly shaky grasp of reality, but as I’m wandering the aisles in confusion, I can tell that many of the other shoppers around me are in the same sad state.
Instead of proceeding in a semi-efficient fashion from one end of the store to the other, picking up what we need along the way, we are all doubling back, wandering aimlessly, searching for what we need.
At first I blamed this on simple bad design. Perhaps they had wanted the design of the market to echo the stunningly bad design of the parking lot outside ” which functions as if it were designed by a couple of grade-school kids scribbling with crayons while waiting for their Chuck E. Cheese Pizza.
But I’ve come to the conclusion that the new City Market actually represents the cutting edge of modern supermarket design. (The parking lot, however, really is just extraordinarily bad design.)
It is meant to be impossibly confusing.
We are lost because we are supposed to be lost.
Think about it: There is nothing a supermarket hates more than an efficient shopper, with a shopping list in hand, who knows exactly where everything is.
OK, I guess they hate shoplifters more. But still, the point is that supermarkets make money from impulse purchases, from all those unplanned extras that somehow just leap into your shopping cart.
So it’s in their best interest to have us all lost and wandering, looking desperately for what we need, mesmerized by the bright colors, dazed by the fluorescent lights. And along the way we stumble over other stuff, stuff that we may not need but that, now that we see it, gosh … we want.
And into the cart it goes.
Which brings us, of course, to development in Aspen.
Where else (now that LSD has gone out of style and the Grateful Dead are no longer on tour) is intentional confusion the name of the game?
Forgive me if I point to the Lift One project. (Really, it’s just laziness on my part ” no specific animosity toward that particular behemoth.)
That project has so many parts and pieces, it’s really like a supermarket of developers’ delights. There are hotel rooms and apartments and condos and time-shares and affordable housing. There are retails stores and luxury restaurants and “beer and burger” joints and parking garages and museums and ski lifts and … who knows what else?
“Who knows?” That’s the point.
We can debate about this particular item or that particular item in the plan … but wait! Here’s something else.
As the pitchman says … It slices and dices. It purees, whips and pulverizes. It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax.
I have a friend, a hard-charging businessman who wheels and deals and negotiates in the Big Time. That’s how he makes his living ” but he’s made his real fortune by slipping tiny little items into vastly complicated deals. Tiny little items that eventually channel millions of dollars into his bank account.
Nothing’s illegal. It’s just unnoticed.
Most of the time, if this wheeler-dealer’s wheeling-dealing associates realized what he was up to, they would whack him on the knuckles … with a two-by-four.
But they don’t notice. Because everything’s so damn complicated.
My friend’s deals sliced and diced. They whipped and pulverized. They were dessert toppings and floor waxes. And they made him very rich. And nobody else ever noticed what was happening ” until it was too late.
That was very cool for him. And I guess it was mostly the way of the world for everyone else. They were in it for the money too, so it was up to them to figure out if he was being maybe a little more clever than they were.
But maybe that’s not so cool when it’s a major development in the middle of town and “winning” means the developers take millions to the bank, while “losing” means the town takes a major hit to its character and livability.
And now, sad to say, that process is going to get even more tangled when the Lift One project goes to a public vote.
This town is going to be flooded with some very sophisticated, very high-priced advertising campaigns as that election approaches.
If I can jump back to my supermarket analogy for a moment, the Lift One election campaign is going to be like having a supermarket representative walking through the aisles with you, shouting advertising slogans in your ear the whole time you’re shopping.
And, like any advertising campaign, nothing will be off-limits.
What’s that? You don’t need a dessert topping or a floor wax? That’s OK! Your teeth will be whiter and brighter! You’ll lose 20 pounds of ugly belly fat! Your family will love you! Your erections will last eight hours ” and there’s no need to call a doctor … just enjoy yourself!
Oh yeah, if you enjoyed the 2008 Presidential Election campaign, you’re going to love what’s coming next.
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