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Back to clean mountain living

Janet Urquhart

“Hot child in the city …” came spilling out of the car radio. How prescient, I mused, singing along as I headed to the airport for a weekend in the big city. Or not.The late-’70s Nick Gilder hit didn’t exactly capture my San Francisco experience. I certainly wasn’t “running wild and lookin’ pretty,” as the song says, (though I was always ready to run and lookin’ wary). Nor, in the spirit of other musical musings specifically about the city by the bay, did I wear a flower in my hair, or leave my heart there. At times, though, I feared I’d leave all my jewelry and cash there, in the hands of someone looming in the shadows.It has been a long time since I spent any appreciable time masquerading as an urbanite, and it showed, in the whites of my eyes, among other places.Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my first visit to San Francisco. I did all the touristy stuff, from wandering Haight-Ashbury to biking across the Golden Gate Bridge and booking an excursion to Alcatraz. And I looked the part of the out-of-town rube, too, from nearly doubling over the subway turnstile because I didn’t pull out the ticket, to my clunky rental bike with the laminated map attached to the handlebars. Plus, I was wearing shorts, apparently a rarity among the pasty locals who think 60-degree temperatures are too cold for that.Anyway, I looked as out of my element as I felt, and I figured the characters I marked as shady were marking me as, well, an easy mark.A companion chalked up my apprehension to the multiracial atmosphere, and I’m not denying its role, but the bars on all the windows and doors in the neighborhood surrounding my accommodations didn’t help, either.”Look out,” she cautioned as we walked home from dinner one night. I was immediately on heightened alert, but she merely meant I shouldn’t trip over the individual sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk. The homeless call San Francisco home, pushing possession-laden shopping carts around and sleeping in public open spaces. In Aspen, the town’s one quasi-homeless guy has his own TV show.Frankly, it’s easy to feel safe in Aspen – a town where most people not only wouldn’t steal my possessions, but wouldn’t be caught dead pawning them. But mostly, I finally concluded, it’s Aspen’s cleanliness that gives it an aura of safety. Everywhere in San Francisco, the sidewalks were grimy – filthy, really – and I don’t just mean litter. I guess merchants who are busy unlocking all the bars on their windows each morning don’t have time to hose down the concrete.Aspen has cleaned its streets to a homogenous gleam, settling for a messy vitality that mostly means some leaves have fallen on the mall.I was reminded once again that Aspen isn’t a real city. I guess that’s why I like it.Janet Urquhart thinks most San Franciscans would find Aspen a nice place to visit, but they wouldn’t want to live here.

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