“Damn it, I’m not giving up on Aspen yet.”It wasn’t just the way he said it, forceful, determined and full of defiance. Rather, it was the sentiment behind the words that were so affecting.There is little doubt that Aspen has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. The massive immigration of the wealthy into the community has forced out so many of those who brought the attitude that defined this place. Living for the moment, living for the beauty, living for the sake of living has been replaced by a seemingly constant push for profits and excess consumption.But the exhortation, the “I’m not giving up yet” spirit of the longtime local, helped to put things into perspective.I had just finished cruising the streets, past the Polo Shop, past the timeshare emporiums, past the people in fur coats with shopping bags in both hands, looking for a place to park. The goal was to run upstairs to one of the few remaining service shops in town for a quick pickup. But the scene overwhelmed the objective.It seemed like I had fallen off some kind of cliff into an abyss of consumerism. No longer did the looming ski mountain seem the center of the town, but the lights and shop windows and, well, everything the downtown core has become dominated the senses. This town could have been anyplace where money and the people who have it congregate for their quick trips.As I double-parked and bounded up the stairs to the shop, there was the local, waiting with my bounty in hand. “What do I owe you?” I asked. “I dunno,” he muttered. “What was it last time?” We got to talking.He is spending more time in California these days but still is pulled back to town just about every other week. He keeps the business not because he needs to but because it allows him to keep a foot in the community. This is where he skis, this is where his poker buddies are, and this is where he feels the most alive. He knows that things have changed radically, but deep down he still feels the pull of Aspen.And then, after a pause and a sigh, he said it. “Damn it, I’m not giving up on Aspen yet.” He was talking to himself more than to me, but his message came through loud and clear. It was a declaration that the spirit of this place lives on and that it cannot be subjugated by the hubris and crass commercialism that currently surrounds us now.As I went downstairs and got in my car, instantly town seemed to be a better place. I even stopped and waved at the fur-clad couple crossing midstreet.
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“Many of these stoic commuters endure brain-numbing traffic jams so they can service vacant mega homes, making sure all the lights are on and that the snowmelt patios, driveways, sidewalks and dog runs are thoroughly heated so as to evaporate that bothersome white stuff that defines Aspen’s picturesque winter landscape and ski economy,“ writes Paul Andersen.