Drive downvalley until you feel pretty again
I have a friend who tells me that, on the frequent occasions when she is not feeling up to par in this town of beautiful people, she simply hops in the car and heads downvalley until she starts to feel pretty again. I think it’s one of my favorite local observations because nobody escapes unscathed.I thought about this on a recent westward trip, checking out the sights along the way while checking myself out in the rearview mirror hoping to find evidence of truth in her statement. I can’t say that I absolutely found it, but I saw a smile every time I glanced at my own face. I guess the valley technically ends somewhere on the northern shores of the Sea of Cortez, but for my purposes it ends in Grand Junction. The real world begins somewhere beyond that. For those who don’t frequent The Town That Time Forgot, after winding your way through the starkly magnificent DeBeque Canyon, I-70 suddenly spits you out on the edge of 1980 Middle America. Take the Clifton exit and within 10 minutes you’ll find yourself cruising down bustling North Avenue. This is Grand Junction’s main street, although the more peaceful Main Street, conjuring up Rockwellesque images of diners and family-owned hardware stores, is several blocks south. There is no shortage of automobiles in this town seemingly designed around them. But since there are a dozen ways to get anywhere, a rare engine it is that gets stuck idling in traffic. They have monster trucks and hot rods on their streets. With one toe tap on the accelerator at a stoplight, one of those engine’s guttural growls could fill an entire lot of Hummers with guzzler envy. But, rather than thoughts of global warming and oil shortages short-circuiting nerve endings in the cranial vortex, I conjure instead polished monuments to the optimism of America’s youth in the shapes of ’68 Firebird convertibles and 450 Hemi engines.These vehicles represent a pride that is the fruit of desire, saving, patience and confidence in the dexterity of one’s own hands. In a rebuilt 35-year-old car, any hint of instant gratification is covered over with Bondo and several layers of cherry red paint. Some of the cars are blatantly designed to make you stare, but you can’t not look at them. There is no harm in gawking, thus giving the owner the satisfaction that’s due. It’s not that type of competition.There’s a good, old-fashioned college in town. It’s not the kind that’s going to impress anyone on a resumé except when you meet the local kid who made the most of her folks’ money, studied hard, and had already made everyone proud of her on the day she was born.They have a real ballpark, too. They hold the Junior College World Series in it every year. It’s so nice that every kid who so much as sets his spikes in its rich, red clay feels like a pro. The locals are proud of that. On summer nights everybody is out looking around. If they’re not driving up and down North Avenue, they’re in the parking lots lining it, checking out motors, music and each other. It’s hot and everything is cool.This is not to give you the impression that I’m so naïve as to think all is perfect there. Lots of drugs move along the interstate. They have theft and burglary. They even get some bizarre murders now and then. What they have little of are crimes of excess and abundance rarely detected much less prosecuted in other parts of the world. Even the heinous side of Grand Junction is something you believe you can grab hold of and physically remove. Grand Junction has everything we don’t want. Its population is 10 times what ours is. It has an interstate on one side and a business loop on the other. The train stops there and Greyhound has a station downtown. At last count they have two Wal-Marts, a Super Target, Lowes, Home Depot, a convenience store on every corner across from a fast-food joint, a mall built from the blueprint used in every Midwest city from St. Cloud to Tuscaloosa in the 1960s, and enough strip malls, if put together, to make three dozen more. Yet, whenever I go there I get the feeling that I’m in a small town. It feels smaller than Aspen is. It’s a paradox that I can’t figure out. Maybe it’s that we try so hard to create a certain feel, to preserve our sense of community. Or, maybe by staying the same they have differentiated themselves.Most of our efforts have been of the preventive kind, a sort of urban homogenization process. We zone out this, we ordinance out that. Petitions are a surefire method to filter out everything else. We have created so many rules that I think we inadvertently approved one that makes the act of living illegal, or at least we are cautioned to do it so as not to offend someone. Which leads to the question, could I live in Grand Junction? Probably not. My roots are here. But, more than that even, over the years I have over-identified with the mountain lifestyle, particularly skiing. It’s part of my makeup and has squelched my enthusiasm to explore different places on a long-term basis. I imagine that like most everyone else, I consider myself to be on a higher spiritual plane, finding happiness in the nontemporal. But this admission that I couldn’t move to a place I find appealing confirms that I am hopelessly rooted in the material world of Aspen, Colorado, U.S.A., a piece of land – except for that I have absorbed so much of it into myself that my feet have become leaden and I too weak to lift them. Not that this recognition and admission is going to change anything. Besides, what if I did move there? I’m sure that many of my idealistic observations would be categorized as myth in short order. I see myself waking one morning to the sobriety of the mundane and succumbing to the newcomer’s temptation to shape the place into something that I am familiar with, even if it’s what I had hoped to escape. I wonder if I would change it more than it would change me. More so, would anyone be better off afterward? I’m nearly certain that I’ll never know. Maybe Grand Junction is like running into an old friend in an unexpected place. You talk about good things and recall events mostly from a perspective of the way you wanted them to be. After a brief encounter you go separate ways, filling in the blanks of each other’s lives in a way that makes you feel good. So, can a trip downvalley really make you prettier? The only thing I’m sure of is that the experience is more natural than Botox. Roger Marolt wonders if it’s all downvalley from here. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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