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Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

A few years ago, someone thought they could rewrite the local approach to education by putting forth an effort to have the school district require uniforms. Not a bad idea, if you think about it, but in a town as individualized as Aspen, it went over like a lead balloon, or a pitchfork full of crap, so to speak.

Aspen is, however, nothing if not a uniform-conscious town. We pride ourselves on being outdoor types and seem to be continually trying to define ourselves as such whenever talking about that which makes us unique. Savvy marketers all over the world have dialed into that type of self-absorbed thinking with genuine glee, eager to assuage our need to become sport-specific specialists.

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, it’s not hard to guess what most of our residents are up to. Bikers, hikers, fly fishermen, kayakers, skiers (alpine or nordic) hang gliders or board riders, we all have our uniforms.

You can spot the poor guy in the convenience store, walking like he’s on eggshells, trying to get around without falling on his butt because his shoes are metallic and very slick on tile. No, tap dancing isn’t the rage it used to be, and besides, the spandex shorts he wears are a dead giveaway. Biker! Never mind that his jersey makes him a walking billboard for whatever company conned him into buying the thing.

Speaking of spandex, have you ever noticed that some people in our midst, those who have absolutely no reason to be wearing such attire, take great pleasure in seeing how much excess skin and body tissue they can cram into such firming (but not miracle) togs? It’s a testament to ingenuity.

Some people are fastidious about uniforms and the need to keep them unique. On a hike a couple of years ago, I pulled out a rain jacket when the skies began to piddle down. “Oh, my God,” said my companion, “that’s a road biking slicker, not one for hiking.” You gotta be kidding me. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been carrying it around forever on my bike and never have used it.” She was appalled. “Oh, my God, I hope no one sees us.” Clearly, fear of fashion faux pas.

It wasn’t so long ago that snowboarders, thinking they were bucking the system by dressing down (predictable anosognosia), suddenly realized that they all looked alike and rather than a statement, had become part of the establishment themselves. That’s somewhat akin to the rhetorical question about who’s running the asylum.

Aspen Skiing Co. spent most of last winter and a small fortune on coming up with new employee uniforms. They are cutting-edge sharp, and if you can’t spot a corporate representative, you are likely blind or totally apathetic. But come on, guys, ambassador parkas sans powder skirts and sleeve vents? You underestimate our love of the sport.

If you think I’m making fun of uniforms, you could be right, but aren’t. When I worked on a Maryland horse farm a few years ago, it soon became crystal clear that cowboy boots are not a good substitute for those tall, narrow-calved English riding boots, not if you want to be comfortable.

The local cops have tried to reverse the trend toward uniformity by donning jeans and reasonably nondescript shirts. The flaw, of course, is that all that bling around their waists (the wrist shackles and nightsticks, etc.), is a dead giveaway that the person behind the shiny badge is still “the man in blue,” no matter how your dress him or her.

All this uniform business has plausibility, at least somewhat, but we have given up a lot to get here. Visions of the “Western frontier,” of being rugged individuals in a rough land, have disappeared behind the various façades that our activities provide us. We are no longer adventurers on the edge of discovery, but instead think of ourselves as consumers of finished products. Onward, I reckon.


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