Rude, crude and so cool. Oh, those were the days |

Rude, crude and so cool. Oh, those were the days

Andy Stone
Aspen, CO Colorado

A letter to the editor in The Aspen Times this week told the unfortunate story of a young lady who had a minor disagreement with a rude bartender.

The bartender offered a free drink in an apparent effort to patch things up ” but when the young lady downed the free shot she discovered it was pure Tabasco sauce.

A nasty trick, to say the least. And, as far as I can tell, the kind of thing that’s extremely rare in town these days.

It sounded to me like the kind of thing that happened much more often a few decades ago but is a rare event in today’s much more buttoned-down, corporate Aspen.

I remember waiter friends back in the ’70s gleefully reciting gleeful tales of some pretty sketchy behavior.

A roommate (six of us in a three-bedroom condo, plus a rotating crew of semihomeless drunken ski bums sleeping it off on the living room floor on any given night) worked at one of the fancier restaurants in town. Almost every night, he would come home after last call to cackle about cheapskate customers being chased into the street by outraged waiters shouting, “Hey! We work for tips. Don’t ever drag your cheap ass in here again!”

One diner who’d stiffed his waiter and was chased down the block decided to march back into the restaurant and argue the point. He wound up getting punched in the stomach.

The waitstaff thought the whole thing was pretty funny ” and the restaurant’s owner didn’t seem to mind too much himself.

Hey, business was good. Let it roll!

Life in Aspen was more rough and tumble back then.

I had a friend who worked at the airport for Aspen Airways (better known as Aspen Scareways, of course).

The airport terminal was a much smaller, much shabbier facility in those days and when the weather got bad ” as it often did ” things would get very, very ugly.

One snowy, stormy day, my friend got into a horrendous fight with a rude family of six from Arkansas. They pushed her to her limit and beyond. She broke down and sobbed as the family marched away.

A little later, one of the other women behind the counter whispered to her, “Don’t worry. I took care of them.”

Later my friend learned that her co-worker had slipped into the baggage area and changed the tags on that family’s luggage. The family eventually got home to Arkansas. Their bags went to Alaska.

That kind of behavior ” chasing cheap customers into the street, sending baggage to the far ends of the earth ” isn’t tolerated so much these days.

It might have been a sign of the turning tide when a rambunctious local columnist was almost chased out of town after he wrote a column suggesting that waiters deal with difficult customer by spitting in their food.

You just can’t get away with that any more. (Spitting in food, well who knows? How can you tell? But flagrant customer abuse ” or flagrantly suggesting customer abuse ” just doesn’t cut it.)

And yet, those were Aspen’s heydays. Those days, when customers were cursed at, when bags were sent on vacations of their own, when tourists were openly called “turkeys” and locals had an attitude (and bumper stickers reading “Turkeys are my bread and butter”), those were the days of Aspen’s greatest success.

Those really were the days when Aspen was cool ” and I’m not talking about being cool in the faulty memories of overage vainglorious losers like me. I’m talking about the fact that those were the days when Aspen was truly flourishing.

It’s a curious phenomenon, the flip side of “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me for a member.” People are desperate to claw their way into any club that tells them they can’t come in.

I recently read an article by a waitress who said she’d noticed that the nastiest waitress she worked with was the one who got the best tips. So she ran her own experiment and discovered that when she made an effort to be unfriendly her tips got better.

Aspen locals might have been jerks back in the ’70s (might have been?), but their bad behavior seemed to convince people that Aspen was the place to be.

Sure, I’m guessing that the Arkansas family, even after their luggage returned from its own little Alaskan tour, didn’t book another ski trip to the Roaring Fork Valley.

The same probably was true for the restaurant customer who protested rude treatment and got punched in the stomach.

And, equally so the family who was chased down Mill Street by a friend of mine, flapping his arms and screaming, “Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!” (Why? Who knows?

Even he probably couldn’t have explained what rule of coolness they had violated.)

No, none of those people probably ever came back.

But all the rest ” all of those who were not so publicly abused ” could assume they’d passed some sort of test. And they were delighted to return.

It is, after all, a very strange world.

And now that Aspen’s knocked off most of the corners and smoothed those rough edges, now that the “cool” locals aren’t so rude, now that the velvet rope of nastiness has been stored away and the corporate smile is flashing bright. … Well, damn it, business is fading.

Do we need to get rude again? Nah. Sadly, it probably won’t work. I guess we just need to keep smiling.

But, to circle back to where we began, the bartender who slipped her customers a shot of Tabasco was way, way out of line. Not just by today’s rules, but ” worse yet ” by the rough and tumble rules of those long-lost decades.

Because the abused customers were themselves locals.

And the penalty for abusing members of your own tribe is banishment.

And that doesn’t change.