Roger Marolt: Roger This
June 24, 2010
Foreclosures doubled over the past year. High incomes are migrating out of town, according to recent Internal Revenue Service figures. There are more empty storefronts in town than timeshare sales offices and art galleries combined. Skier visits and tourism are down. The unemployment rate that hasn’t been noticed since 1954 is up. Lots of new buildings in town are halfway up, and have been that way for a long time. The Music Festival is shorter this summer and the acts scheduled for Jazz Aspen this fall are older. Housing prices are dropping. Tax receipts are, too. The school is cutting their budget. The mayor had a terrible bike crash. The sheriff supports pot smoking, even inhaling. Traffic is light. Moods are heavy. And, recent autumns have been sunny and warm through Thanksgiving, only to be offset by springs that have been much drearier. Is Aspen dying, or is she just holding her breath? Either way, this town is turning blue. I wait with my own breath bated for what comes next – a giant wheezing exhale or the death rattle. An economic asthma attack or bereavement; that’s what awaits us. I don’t know which would be the most painful to endure. Of the two, death is the most interesting to an outsider. That just might bring the tourists back. Remember Skico’s marketing campaign, “The Death of Snow”? That brought them flocking in. Hmm. I hope coffee break at the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t include reading me.I have recently concluded that the most embarrassing thing I’ve done in my life was living here over the past 10 years. I don’t think historians will treat us kindly in their moral interpretation of our existence. I can hardly wake up in the mornings anymore without thinking, “what the hell happened!”, like I’d spent the past decade or so walking around town in cowboy boots, pretending to be a skier, selling real estate from the drivers’ seat of The Little Nell’s luxury SUV airport shuttle. That’s just a dream, though. Reality is that I am an accountant dressed up as a newspaper columnist trying to sell real estate from my imagination. If that could have been mortgaged, I probably would have done it. What am I saying? Of course it could have been mortgaged. Everything was. I guess I wasn’t ambitious enough.Yet, I’m not worried for this town. It’s beautiful. There’s no place like it in the world. And if I had the proverbial dollar for each time I’ve heard these simple descriptions of my hometown, I could have long ago abandoned my employee housing unit and traded up to a bigger place with a bigger mortgage with worse views farther away from town, and be nearly broke by now. The “time-tested” way to make money in Aspen by churning and burning real estate felt like cheating, anyway. I guess it was, even if we didn’t believe it at the time. Sure, we earned it, we thought. And, if we use income averaging from the past five years and the next 10, I am afraid we might see what the world really thinks our efforts were worth.The beauty of Aspen implies one thing for sure: If we’ve got problems, it has nothing to do with this place. All that’s changed is what we expected to get out of our time here. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden. I’ve never been there, so what I know is based on hearsay. Nonetheless, it sounds like there was some decent real estate to stake a claim on if there ever was any; nice views, perfect climate, good food, and you could run around naked without feeling the slightest bit self-conscious, which tells me that yoga was more popular than jogging, organic food was inexpensive, and there was probably a nice beach within walking distance. All of this wasn’t enough, though. As hard as it is to believe, the naked people lived without the hint of a chill or hangnail and all they wanted was the one stupid thing that they couldn’t have – an apple. The Good Book says that they got chased from Eden by God after they tried sneaking a bite. I think that’s a gentle way of saying that they became discontented with the perfect place they lived in and actually removed themselves from paradise de facto. They say that the Bible is figurative in some regards. I think this might be the case with the Edenites’ story. They didn’t have cars or airline miles in those days so, really, how far could they have gone away? I think what really happened is that, since they couldn’t have any of the forbidden fruit, they sold some of their land to developers so they could raise a little cash to make their own orchard with a cute bed & breakfast on site to help defray some of the costs of operations. The next thing you know it got written up in a travel guide and somebody put in a Kum & Go down the block. That was the real beginning of the fall. God didn’t tell them to scram. It was much worse punishment than that. He made them live in the world they created, not His.People are constantly moving in and out of this town. They usually come looking for paradise. Then they leave; during good times because housing prices are too high and the pace of life is crazy, during the bad times because wages are too low and the nightlife is dull. Expectations are rarely met in Aspen. If you don’t believe that, stick around awhile. But, the place doesn’t change. There is nothing bad in the mountains except what we bring to them. There is paradise on Earth, only it can never be where we live. Any place we visit becomes as imperfect as we are.So, no, Aspen is not dying. Only our vision of what we think it should be to suit our desires is.
Roger Marolt is shopping Orbitz for good deals on flights to Eden and is interested in a house swap. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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