Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
If you were to take a walk through the city of Aspen, which route would you go, along Main Street or through the West End? Some say that there are no dumb questions, but this is an example of one. Even if your destination is the Hickory House, which is right on the street at the end of Main, you still probably would choose to stroll through the pleasant residential neighborhood to get there rather than risk asphyxiation, deafness and bursting an adrenal gland to scamper along the primary bus and commuter artery that runs through town, even if the circuitous route takes a little bit longer. It’s about the journey, right?
The logical process of choosing an exit strategy is fairly simple for an experienced commuter. Considering only time, if the traffic on Main Street is backed up to the Mesa Store Bakery building three blocks down from the first bend in the S-curves, it’s slightly faster to head through the West End and hook back up with Highway 82 at the Cemetery Lane stoplight. Otherwise, staying on Main Street is the quicker egress.
For most commuters, though, the decision of whether to take the road less traveled or go along with the crowd is a bit more involved. Sometimes it’s more about aesthetics than efficiency. It has to be. Either route out of town takes only about 41⁄2 minutes from the front door of the O2 yoga studio, so basing the decision on time is pretty pointless unless you are completely Type A and keep records on your personal bests.
The West End is the most beautiful section of our town. The houses are either stunning or charming – in any case, interesting. In the summer, the yards are manicured and the gardens lush. In the winter, snowbanks line the streets as in slightly faded postcards we see in the spinning racks at Carl’s Pharmacy. They are shaded by giant cottonwoods that we love year-round except during allergy season. There is something comforting about seeing lights on in other people’s kitchens and living rooms as you pass by during nightfall. If it is not completely quiet as a few cars drive by carrying their drivers on their way to their own sanctuaries somewhere down the road, it is nonetheless peaceful.
The experts who studied our traffic flows and found that the S-curves have a calming effect were most likely being rewarded with a job that everyone in the office considered a perk and interviewed the wrong people when they were here. The slithering bottleneck might seem charming if you pass through it two or three times during a weeklong visit, but that impression wears off quickly when you begin to consider negotiating it daily for the remainder of your working life. It is not that fine a line between calming and annoying.
As far as tales of high-strung commuters heedlessly racing through the back streets of Aspen go, in nearly 20 years of cutting through the residential sections of town, I haven’t seen it. If it takes me 41⁄2 minutes to make the six-tenths-of-a-mile detour, my average speed is 8 miles per hour. I’ve never been passed even at this low clip. Of course, there is the occasional speeder back there trying to make up time, but I think they are pretty soon frustrated by the futility of their attempts and settle back into the flow of Main Street, where it is at least easier to use a cellphone.
To the homeowners in the West End who resent a few commuters passing by their homes on public streets during one hour of each weekday evening, I will remind them that living in this glorious part of the world almost always involves a compromise of ideals. No place can possibly live up to the expectations created here, so you might as well be nice.
To the homeowners who tolerate me sneaking through their glorious neighborhood, thanks for sharing. I am attracted to the West End charm just like you. The daily grind has a way of scuffing the shine off of this place, so I appreciate the opportunity to be reminded of what the fuss is all about. Heck, I might even head over McLain Flats or take Owl Creek Road the rest of the way. What are a few extra minutes?
Roger Marolt tries to make the best of his commute. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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