Order of sticks and carrots " never mind the carrots | AspenTimes.com

Order of sticks and carrots " never mind the carrots

Andy Stone
Aspen, CO Colorado

The mayor of Aspen threatened me a few weeks ago.

“We’re going to get you, Stone,” is what he said.

I’m sure he’ll dispute the accuracy of this quote. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right, but, in any case, there was no doubt about what he meant.

What he meant was: They’re going to get me. And what he was talking about was, of course, parking ” and “they” are the parking enforcement troopers.

Mayor Mick had wandered into The Aspen Times office just as I was putting on my parka to race outside for another round of the Aspen two-hour parking shuffle. He asked where I was going, and I told him one of his #$%@ parking officers had put a #$@!*#! chalk mark on my #@$! tire, so I was going to move my $#@!#* car before I got a #@#!$* ticket.

That’s when the mayor grinned an evil grin and issued his threat. The muscle behind that threat was the plan for a vastly expanded paid-parking area, plus the new high-tech enforcement devices they plan to have very soon. Just moving your car every two hours won’t get you off the hook.

And as I hurried out through another damn snowstorm to drive in circles looking for another damn parking spot, I found myself thinking, “I hate my life.”

Now, of course, I don’t hate my life ” how could I? I live here ” but for that one instant, as I dealt with the hassle of parking in Aspen ” well, I thought I did.

So, OK, a week or so after that, I was driving upvalley in yet another snowstorm to work a shift at the Snowmass Sun.

It was rush hour, the highway was clogged, I was going to be late for work, and I found myself thinking, “I hate my life.” Again.

And putting those two fleeting moments together made me think about the thousand-and-one unavoidable zaps, the nasty jolts of Roaring Fork commuter electroshock aversion therapy. These are moments that clearly seem designed to make you hate your life.

Parking, of course. Traffic jams, well sure. And how about the traffic lights on Highway 82. Not just that there are so damn many of them, but the fact they seem intentionally programmed to make every driver on the highway miserable. In the middle of rush hour, lights turn red when there’s no cross-traffic waiting to go. Endless turn arrows delay traffic when there are no cars waiting to turn. Tiny little annoyances that would be so easy to fix ” but are never, ever fixed!

Why? Because they make you hate your life. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

That’s the way government gets you to do what it wants. It’s “carrot and stick” ” but without any carrots. It’s all just stick. Why waste money on carrots when sticks are cheap?

It’s like training a dog with an electroshock collar. No point in offering Fido a reward for not jumping on the couch. Just strap on that collar and stand back.

Go ahead, Fido, jump on the couch. See what happens, you miserable little mutt. Zzzzap! Oooh, you still want to jump on the couch? Zzzzzap! What do you say, Fido? Want to try again?

Sooner or later, Fido stops jumping on the couch. He curls up on the floor instead ” and dreams of gnawing on your femur.

Like I said, it’s not stick and carrot ” just a choice between being beaten with a big stick or a smaller stick.

And speaking of bigger sticks ” back to Mayor Mick’s threat. The city is planning to beat us with an even bigger stick. They’re going to go all-out to make parking even more difficult, more painful, more expensive, and thus make enforcement even more militant.

And the point of all that, of course, is to force even more people out of their cars and onto the buses.

But wait! Remember earlier this winter, when raging snowstorms and rising gas prices forced a record number of people onto the buses ” and the system damn near collapsed?

And yet now, as the city warms up to begin swinging that bigger no-parking stick, the bus people swear they’re ready to handle any resulting increase in riders.

Sure they are.

But that doesn’t matter to the people in charge. Because a public transportation system that could handle the load would count as a carrot ” and, as I said, government just isn’t in the carrot business.

They’re stick specialists.

An overcrowded, funky bus that always runs late might be a nasty experience ” something that makes you hate your life. But all they need to do is make the non-bus experience even nastier than that. They just need to make you so miserable when you drive that even an overcrowded bus that’s consistently late seems like a better choice.

Its the “bigger stick” approach.

Now, I know, we’re not supposed to be driving our cars upvalley into Aspen. I’ve made that point many a time myself. Cars are destroying Aspen. I know it.

But the answer is not just to find bigger and bigger sticks to beat us with. The answer is not just to make us hate our lives with an endless series of nasty electroshocks. (And remember, sooner or later, Fido is going to spin around and sink his teeth into your ankle.)

But let me shift gears for a moment here and tell you my secret weapon against the big-stick, “hate your life” training system.

Remember that day when I was heading to Snowmass, stuck in traffic and hating everyone and everything? Well, I made the turn off Highway 82 onto Brush Creek Road and, pretty quickly, the valley opened up and the sky cleared up, and I was smacked, right in the face, by that spectacular view of snow-covered mountains against a fierce blue sky.

And right then, even stuck as I was in a slow-moving line of cars and trucks driven by complete morons who were going to make me late for work, I took a deep breath, smiled and thought, “I love my life!”

Sorry, Mick, you don’t have a stick big enough to beat that.