The local an endangered species
A former Aspenite I know likes to say he lives in Aspen but sleeps in Basalt. I know the feeling.Like duct tape in the vacuum of space, the Aspen expat label doesn’t stick – at least not readily, not in my psyche. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not part of this place anymore, and not just because I didn’t score an invite to the mayor’s birthday bash last weekend. I have to admit, I miss it. And I miss it most come summertime.I miss strolling downtown on balmy evenings to listen to the outdoor music, grab a bite and hang out. I miss pedaling my bike to the Music Tent on a Sunday morning to read the papers while the orchestra rehearses, before I hit a trail or a trout stream. I miss running into friends at one of the outdoor restaurant patios on the mall after work and joining them for a drink. I miss walking from home to the farmer’s market on Saturdays, coffee in hand, and greeting fellow locals as we pick over the produce. Hell, I miss the “local” label. Let’s face it, you’re either a local or your not; the former is a pretty tight clique, while the latter is, well, the rest of the world.But, I got a call from friends this week – fellow ex-Aspenites who have settled on the East Coast. They’ll be in town to visit old friends later this month and want to get together. And by old, I don’t mean my age. And by town, I mean Basalt. They have no reason to stay in Aspen, or wine and dine there, for that matter. In fact, the only real reason to visit Aspen is to gawk at the giant cranes currently roosting on Little Nell and at the Limelite.In the decade or so that they’ve been gone, virtually all of their Aspen friends have shed their Aspen addresses for downvalley digs.Which leads me to wonder, is the “longtime local” an endangered species? Will this increasingly rare breed follow the ski bum into extinction?Who will replace the current generation of longtime locals? Their offspring, maybe, if mom and dad don’t sell their piece of Aspen real estate for a cushy retirement elsewhere. Bequeath a modest house on Cemetery Lane to multiple siblings, and they’ll either all have to live there together like a big extended family, or more likely, divvy up the millions and live somewhere else.Certainly, very few of the twentysomething newcomers who can’t find a place to live will stick it out until they’re old-timers. Heck, you can’t even settle downvalley without a trust fund anymore. And if Aspen’s “affordable” housing is going to keep the community’s soul intact, they’re going to need a lot more of it. These enclaves are already the resort’s equivalent of a city zoo, home to a rare, indigenous species: “Look, mom, a local! Can I pet it?”Yep, the longtime locals will follow the dinosaurs, their life cycle so scripted it could play out on the Discovery Channel:The typical locals arrive in their 20s. They ski or ride at least 60 times a season. The twentysomething saves no money despite multiple jobs and keeps a P.O. box to make life easier, given all the moving from apartment to apartment. He/she hangs at the Sky Bar and the Lava Room, and is too busy playing outdoors to work out in gym. Drugs of choice: PBR and pot. Bedtime: 3 a.m. The thirtysomething settles into one semi-decent job and, if lucky, a stable roommate situation, possibly with a significant other. They start to feel like a true local the first time they complain the town is going to hell and remember how things used to be. Still buy a full ski pass, though, and a gym membership. Hang at Club Chelsea, Belly Up. Drugs of choice: Merlot, cocaine. Bedtime: midnight.At fortysomething, the Aspenite gives up on the housing lottery and moves downvalley, cashing in the appeal of “local” status for a shot at equity. Buys a one-day ski pass and a year’s worth of RFTA punch passes. Gets up early for step aerobics or spinning class. Hangs out at the Basalt Bistro or, more likely, at home, on the couch. Drugs of choice: scotch, ibuprofen. Bedtime: 10 p.m. (OK, 9 p.m.)The fiftysomething Aspenite – there’ll be no such thing.Janet Urquhart hasn’t been in the Hunter Creek Valley in longer than she can remember, but she now knows all the trails of Red Hill. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tuesday morning at Bone’s Barber Shop in Basalt, the seating appropriately spaced, the congenial ambiance welcoming as always, and the conversations all over the place. It was cold outside and some overflow people were waiting…