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Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

It’s a standing joke around town that if you know the names of the streets, you must be a newcomer. Destinations are over that way a “few blocks,” or “behind the Hotel Jerome,” or other such precise terminology. It’s not cool to use any of the four points on a compass when giving directions, either, simply because so few people have mastered use of that concept.

In December 1971, the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol went on strike, and suddenly out of a job I was forced to drive a bus for subsistence pay. That was before RFTA thought it owned the road, and the world-recognized bus company Gray Line was the hottest Aspen Ski Corp. ride in town. An “older woman” sitting directly behind me was marveling (in an ingratiating way) at the uniqueness of my having been born here, when the subject turned to her destination. Confessing that I didn’t know at what street intersections the bus stopped, but rather the names of surrounding giveaways, she turned on me in a vicious way. Her cutesy, cloying sweetness turned into a nasal-based tirade, accusing me of lying to her about my heritage, based solely on the fact that I didn’t know the street names.

In my younger days, we lived in the Woody Creek Canyon, without a street name or number, and Ginny Jones at the post office (now the Woody Creek Tavern) could figure out who got what without much trouble. If a street address was mandatory, as on a driver’s license, it would read something like “3 miles up Woody Creek.”

When I started my tenure with Aspen Trash Service Inc., there were very few street addresses in use, and we used monikers that told us in a heartbeat where an account was located. “Louise Berg’s old house,” or “the blue Victorian in Woody Woodall’s alley,” or “condos – dope raid last winter,” would be written on the account ledger rather than a street number, and it all seemed to work just fine. My uncle Victor kept the in-town routes straight in his head, without aid of a written list, and we had more than 2,500 accounts. The out-of-town schedules were too obvious to even mention here.

In the ’70s, the volunteer fire department got a little nervous about the lack of definitive addresses and began a campaign to ensure that every house had a numbered street address. The telephone company was a huge help in assigning numbers, and soon the local phone book listed addresses for everyone who was anyone. Numbers went up on the sides of almost all the houses, save those few bourgeoisie who thought such a display was a sure sign of peasantry. Now no one uses a phone book.

Like its people, Aspen has some interesting and unusual street names. There is West End Street, on the western edge of the East Aspen Addition, in the east end of town; Wood Duck Lane and Oregon Trail are uncommon monikers, along with Sesame Street, Zoom Flume and Snow Fox lanes. Pass Go Lane, at the foot of Deer Hill, is no doubt a take-off on John McBride’s Monopoly board names in the Aspen Business Center. Pearl Court is likely the shortest boulevard in town, extending one city block, although Walnut, Race or Fred Lane streets might attempt unconvincingly to mount a protest against such proclamation.

One time in the 1980s, Pitkin County hired Marta Steinmetz to label the unnamed roads and trails around the county, and to make others more user friendly. That’s how we ended up with Smith Way instead of True Smith Hill; Jack Gredig Lane rather than Dump Road.

Someone asked me the other day if I knew where Monarch Street is. “Damned if I know,” was my reply. “It might be over that way a couple of blocks, but I wouldn’t bet on it.” Like I said, not many people know the street names around here.


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