Nothing soulful about whining
December 25, 2006
Aspen, CO Colorado”Soul” – the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.The term “soul” could possibly be one of the most overused words in Aspenites’ vocabulary. It’s been loosely thrown around for more than a decade, and I’m tired of hearing how we don’t have it. The first day back in town, after a five-year hiatus, I picked up the newspaper, and there it was on the front page: “Aspen is losing its soul.” It was just another not-so-eloquent observation from some disgruntled local who can’t see the forest through the trees. I can’t tell you how many times I quoted people saying that this town has lost its soul. The phrase was usually in response to the over development happening here, the über-rich moving in and greedy landlords jacking up rents to the point that local mom-and-pop shops can’t make it here. But I failed as a journalist because I never really stopped to think what the hell the phrase meant. After having several conversations and cocktails with dozens of locals around town last week, I have come to realize that having soul means something different to everyone.As one longtime local said, “Aspen hasn’t lost its soul, we just stopped doing drugs, and it’s not Alice in Wonderland anymore. Now we are in our 40s, depressed and on different drugs – Zoloft.”Ty, one of Aspen’s most celebrated bartenders at the soon-to-be-leveled Red Onion (the town’s oldest bar), agrees that we are getting older and we might have lost our pulse on the new energy in town. Ty still believes the younger generation is “coming in hot,” and the soul is still alive and well in Aspen. But he and I do agree that when the Red Onion shuts down in March, the building’s owners will have proven that they have no souls. “When the Red Onion is gone, it’s a free for all,” one local said at Bentley’s on a Thursday afternoon.Aspen Highlands ski patrollers know what soul is – chicken wings every Monday night at the Onion. Soon a tradition will be lost. The camaraderie will be gone. The greed alive and well.It’s not just the pursuit of the almighty dollar that is leaving a bad taste in locals’ mouths about the Red Onion’s demise; it’s what it represents. Several longtime locals lamented that Aspen’s soul faded away when locals and tourists stopped hanging out together. There are few places left where a visitor and a local can belly up at the bar and share their stories.Aspen had more character because locals went out of their way to make tourists comfortable – wine-and-cheese parties, happy hours and just general community camaraderie throughout town.And places like the Red Onion provide the venue for those connections. Of course, today’s tourists appear to want to steer clear of the local watering holes, preferring the upscale, hoity-toity places where they can feel special. And the locals find some humor and benefit in watching their ostentatious behavior as they throw money in every direction.But for many longtime locals, the soul is alive and well – all you have to do is look for it. That’s according to Cindy, who owns the Steak Pit and the Double Dog Pub. One of her patrons, Mike Lavker, agreed. “People need to stop bitching; we’ve taken what we have for granted.”Perhaps we have lost our souls, in a way. We forget why we came here in the first place – mountains, serenity, small-town living, recreation and a bohemian lifestyle. Change is inevitable, and the most desirable places in the world deal with it every day. But that doesn’t mean we have to change our outlook.There will always be the haters and the dreamers. Luckily for us, this is where the mind, body and soul meet on the planet. All we have to do is rise above it and harness it. Sack’s got soul – how about you? E-mail her at email@example.com.
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