Perfection in Serenidad
Aspen, CO ColoradoAs I drove south for the holiday, the rest of my family slept. It was a beautiful, boring ramble through southern New Mexico. Needing a diversion, I turned off the main highway to follow nothing but the compass in the ceiling console of my Toyota. My reasons were simple: Lord only knows how much I paid for the gadget so I might as well use it, my road map wasn’t handy, and nobody stirred enough to tell me that I couldn’t travel this way.Within five minutes I was lost. Within 45 minutes I admitted it. I spotted a faded sign for the town of Serenidad and decided that the 13 miles out of the way to get directions was meager compared with the many more I would eventually burn wandering even farther astray.We rolled into town and were instantly rewarded for being so far off track. This village is beautiful! Majestic mountains encircle it, mimicking in number and splendor the radiant children laughing on a carousel in the park off Main Street. Traffic was light, yet people bustled here and there looking content. From where I gazed, the burg was immaculately clean.Buyers’ remorse in Aspen oftentimes causes us to justify the sacrifices we make to live here by turning a blind eye to its faults. We spend so much time convincing ourselves of the sublime perfection of our secluded mountain abode that we forget that there certainly must be other, possibly even more magnificent, places on this planet.Serenidad was my reminder!Now, you didn’t really expect me to tell you how to get there, did you? This is my next Aspen and I am going to protect it as long as I can from the vultures that now overpopulate our valley. Sure, I’m a vulture too, but it appears that I am also an early bird; although early is relative, as is the form the worm takes and the satisfaction one derives from devouring it.Anyway, so enthralled were we with this wonderful place (Did I mention that there is incredible skiing only half an hour away?), that we decided to check in for a few days. We stayed in the Cymbal Rapids Hotel that has stood proudly on the town square for over 100 years. It was as neat as a napkin at the side of a plate after steak night at the Elks Club. The building had never been remodeled or added on to, only repaired and meticulously maintained. The charm was so thick that you had no choice but to walk slowly through it, in stupefied admiration.We found ourselves fortunate to supper at the Humilde Peak Diner one evening. It was packed with other visitors who have discovered this place before us. We waited happily until our waitress and serendipity kindly seated us next to the town’s mayor, Thomas Woodford III.He paid the price for our audience with beer, root and Coors, and proceeded to tell us that, in this land where terms are only limited by unhappy voters, he has held his office for very nearly three decades! This is a man who obviously knows how to make promises he can keep, and no others.I asked him his secret and he informed me that there was only one. Before he was elected, he told his constituents that all he would do in office is keep the streets repaired and clean.Serenidad is similar to Aspen in that it was “discovered” after a long quiet period, back in the early 1970s. Civic leaders at the time similarly struggled to save the place from its own popularity. Unlike our hometown though, they immediately upzoned the entire town so that city blocks comprised ten building lots, with adequate setbacks. Ordinances were passed limiting one house to a lot, and prohibiting multiple lots from being combined to accommodate large houses. The scheme was designed to keep houses small, real estate prices down, and contain sprawl by promoting reasonable growth – within the city limits.”That was the theory, anyway,” the mayor lamented. He nearly apologized as he told me that, despite not wavering from the plan, demand for housing in this nirvana has driven the average price of a home to nearly $365,000!”Sure, everyone who works here has a house in town, but for a few it’s a stretch,” he told me. “Plus, nearly 5 percent of our homes are owned by nonresidents.”Despite the mayor’s embarrassment, in the entire town you can’t find a house that nearly anyone wouldn’t describe as modest, and the city is surrounded by vast meadows and forest.I asked him what he was most proud of in his tenure as mayor. “The hardest things in a job like this are to say ‘no’ and do nothing,” he said. “And I’ve done a lot of both.”We collect piles of sales taxes from our visitors, but I always believed that spending it on frills for the town would only serve to drive real estate prices higher, inadvertently doing more harm than good to the residents. We don’t build multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art public amenities. We build what we need quite modestly and save the excess money.””For what?” I asked.”We give a scholarship to every kid who graduates from Serenidad High. We aren’t too sophisticated around here and nobody can think of a better investment.”For the most part, we’re pretty humble. Most folks that end up here believe this place is just about perfect. Nobody has the desire to change it, or the nerve to try, for that matter. We just try to maintain it. It seems that every other place is building stuff that the tourists like. We build what we like. And, guess what? The tourists seem to like it, too!”I asked him if the townspeople were mostly wealthy. He replied, “Everyone here is rich, beyond your imagination!”I asked him about traffic and he looked at me like I was speaking Russian. “It’s mostly the tourists coming and going, but once they get here they walk around like everyone else.”These folks don’t know how lucky they are. Serenidad is the ideal town!Of course we had a fabulous time during the rest of our stay in Serenidad. And, of course I made this entire story up. A town like this couldn’t possibly exist.I don’t know why.Roger Marolt travels frequently in his mind. His base is at firstname.lastname@example.org
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