Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If you know much about Charles Dickens, you know of what I speak: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” – From “A Tale of Two Cities” and not unlike the ’70s in Aspen.

The groundwork for change had been laid in the ’60s by two things: 1) an influx of long-haired kids intent on having a good time, generally assisted by drugs and alcohol, and 2) a building boom that scared the hell out of those sober enough to notice.

For a kid who had grown up here, it was also the most confusing of times, as well. Five years of college had put me woefully out of touch, and a return home was like flying in a disabused time machine. My roots had been sold out from under me, old friends had flown, and the football field, a mainstay in my life, was now a rugby field. Rugby, what the hell was that? I’d played soccer in college and even though I knew a lot of the players, didn’t realize rugby had attained Aspen star power.

The race for Pitkin County sheriff started the decade in what was, for Aspen, to become typical fashion. It was a debacle of existential proportions, a parade of powerful political passions, misunderstandings and hype promoted by most all of the participants, something akin to the blanketing of fatuous, translucent smoke signals, but at least entertaining for those fortunate enough to watch nightly blurbs on their television screens. Hunter Thompson got waxed by incumbent Carroll Whitmire.

If the 1970 Pitkin County sheriff’s race was about enhancing freedom of choice, the 1972 Pitkin County commissioners’ race was about restricting freedom of choice and the initiation of a government land grab that is still playing itself out, still massaging the backs of the ultra-wealthy and putting the working class in deed-restricted housing whose only real benefit is the tax deduction they get on their mortgages. Aspen’s rapidly escalating real estate prices cannot be enjoyed by those in employee housing.

Contradictions abounded, and as Pitkin County’s government changed from a “government for the people” to a courthouse enclave of “people for the government,” so too did the free-wheeling ideas of the “hippies” begin to morph into the more staid scruples of an adult society.

The age of “free love” never really had much meaning in my life (besides, there were plenty of girls who didn’t advertise it as “free”), and I always suspected I had a sheen that telegraphed my past as an Aspen native and rancher. Drugs were always quickly and surreptitiously hidden when I walked into a room. My then-liberal attitude toward almost everything in life aside, it seemed I was considered an “enemy” of the new crowd in town.

But on one auspicious night, after a “love-in” of some type or another at Wagner Park, a sandal-footed, hairy-pitted embodiment of the new age, smelling of herbs and burnt weed, took a liking to me and we sauntered toward Paepcke Park with a mission of interaction in mind.

There was urgency, nervousness to her step, but being a lad in my early 20s, I failed to see any point to negotiation of place. And just as we were almost locked together in what could be construed to be a compromising situation, her boyfriend pounced on both of us, fists flying and swear words slinging. He regretted his behavior rather quickly and I walked away with a new attitude about the cost of free love.

It all wasn’t that long ago, and the effects are still being felt. Politicians today don’t have much appetite for change, unless it’s to pile more rules, regulations and restrictions on a top-heavy bureaucracy, created in the ’70s. If you thought Aspen was Fat City then, take a look around.

On the positive side, the kids of today are just as beautiful as the flower children of past decades, 40 years ago or more.

Charles Dickens, you called it, I reckon.

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