Michael Cleverly: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I read somewhere that there was a billboard as you crossed the state line into Montana that said, “We don’t care how you used to do it back where you came from.” I also heard that there was one that said, “If I say range, and you think ‘Rover,’ then you’re in the wrong place.” I can’t say I’ve ever been to Montana but I’m 99 percent sure that if I lived there I’d be in total agreement with the sentiments expressed on those billboards. Actually I am anyway.
I’ve noticed that over the years that there’s been no shortage of folks rolling into Aspen who can’t wait to show us the error of our ways, how they did it back where they came from. The fact that the simple-minded fools they’re trying to set straight are often the very people who made the Roaring Fork Valley the kind of place that they wanted to move to, seems to escape them. They don’t wait long enough before opening their mouths to get to know anything about the community to figure that out.
So we get self-styled talk radio people, museum directors/boards, wannabe politician/power brokers and now a former member of law enforcement who just can’t understand how we’ve managed to get along without them all this time. Arrogance, hubris, you figure it out, consult your Webster’s.
Maybe it’s kind of like that mythical town, Brigadoon, that only came to life once every hundred years? Perhaps these people don’t think Aspen existed before they crossed the city limits for the first time. I guess that’s more metaphysics than Lerner and Loewe.
At any rate it’s probably the only reason the Aspen Historical Society is one of the few institutions that hasn’t been taken over by the superrich. They don’t care about the Aspen that was; before they rolled into the valley, it didn’t exist. Whatever the reason, we’re periodically treated to a lot of squawking and flapping by people desperate to “be somebody” and set Aspen to right.
While the white noise they make can be pretty irritating at the time, and it lasts longer than you like, there always is an end to it. Sometimes these people finally realize that no one’s listening, and they get sick of the sound of their own voices, and settle down. And sometimes they move on and try to be important somewhere else. Either way the effect is the same. Years later, at dinner parties or in barroom conversations when someone will say, “I wonder what happened to so and so?” those listening will search their memories, cock their heads, and say, “the name doesn’t ring a bell.”
There’s a long list of individuals who did shape this town into what it is today. Some, like the Paepckes, have their names on things. Others, like Bil Dunaway, are most likely only familiar to those of us who have been around for quite a while. There are plenty who should probably have their names on things or maybe a statue here or there but they don’t, and if they’re still alive they don’t care, because they made their contributions to the community for the right reasons. Today people are willing to donate vast amounts of money they’ll never miss to worthy causes because there’s a “naming opportunity” there. It’s a big deal to them, and frankly I mind it less than the ones who move in and tell us how to run our valley. Hopefully the money that’s donated by the vainglorious rich so they can get their names on a building will do some good for all. If I decide I need my name on a building I’ll buy a can of spray paint. You can too.
People come to Aspen because they think they want to “be somebody.” They come to Aspen because they have dreams of becoming what they behold, filthy rich. They have dreams of developing real estate, of private jets and large yachts. Now their dead-in-the-water projects, empty building shells and foundation craters have given the upper valley the ambiance of post-war Europe. And it gives me a warm feeling to know that greedy developers are somewhere bending over and taking it in the pooper.
So they come and go, the wannabes and the people who want to cut out a big old chunk of the Aspen pie.
No one really likes billboards. But perhaps in this case, in the interest of the public good, just the one, indicating that we don’t care how you did it back where you came from, might save us from some of that white noise.