Aspen’s wheels keep spinning
One of the sharpest, most intense observers of Aspen I know e-mailed me recently to suggest that we are witnessing the “the final round of Aspen’s transformation.””This era,” he added, “will be marked as the disappearance of the community and entrenchment of the resort.”His message of concern was triggered by the news that Mead Metcalf is selling his building and closing the Crystal Palace. But, with that in mind, my correspondent also pointed out that the last remaining small lodges seem to be disappearing in a rush; the town’s old-time, long-time characters are dying off (Hunter Thompson, Tom Benton, Sam Caudill … take your pick); and big-bucks conglomerated developers with names like Related WestPac are moving in.And in the Aspen Times story that broke the news of the sale of the Crystal Palace, Mead Metcalf himself seemed to be painting with the same gloomy brush.”I’m getting to the point where maybe it’s time to leave town,” Mead said. “I’m not pleased with the way Aspen is going.”Now I certainly hate to see Mead feeling that blue at this stage of the game. He’s had a brilliant career that’s lasted five decades; he’s brought laughter and delight (and some damn good meals) to tens of thousands of locals and visitors; and, by the way, he’s selling his building for $15 million. That sounds like grounds for celebration.And yet, I can also imagine Mead being depressed, despite it all, when he sees how things are changing. Right in his immediate neighborhood, the old Limelite Lodge is gone and the Mother Lode (where the Crystal Palace actually began, back in the 1950s) is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar transformation that will probably turn out to be half architectural botox and half urban vandalism.So, yeah, things might seem a little gloomy to Mead.But how about the rest of us? Well, first off, we need to recognize that Mead Metcalf has done his part. He was part of that great creative wave that swept into Aspen in the 1950s and brought the town back to life. And while we may be sorry to see the Crystal Palace go, we can hardly demand that Mead remain propped up at his piano into his 90s, pounding away at the keys for our amusement, perhaps with an IV tube sustaining life.If the character of Aspen depends on the survival of a small handful of individuals … well, then, to hell with it. If Aspen really is anything at all, it has to be strong enough to survive the changing of the generations.One of the great things about a town is that, while it may be a living organism, it doesn’t have to grow old and die the way we mere mortals do.A town can grow up and grow old and yet somehow remain forever young, in the same way that a college may be centuries old, but the students are forever college kids.So what’s wrong with Aspen?It isn’t that the town is changing – change is inevitable. It’s what the town is becoming.The friend who sent me the e-mail said he thinks Aspen’s becoming a resort, rather than a community.That’s hard to argue, but I think Aspen has already turned into a slot machine. A slot that always – always, always, always! – hits the jackpot. To be sure, it’s not a 5-cent slot. No nickels, thank you very much. You gotta plug in a million bucks before you can pull the handle and spin the wheels, but once you do … ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching! The lights start flashing, the sirens go off and, yes, my friend, you are a winner!And as the shower of golden coins clatters out onto the floor … well, of course you have to pick them up and fill your pockets. And then, well, who could resist slipping another coin into the slot, pulling the handle and spinning the wheels? Just one more time.That’s just human nature. And that’s inevitable.So the question that remains is just this – and just this simple:Is that all there is?Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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