Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Last Saturday was the annual Aspen Hall of Fame banquet at the Hotel Jerome. Some notables were inducted into the hallowed hall (of infamy, some say, particularly in the case of yours truly), and it was, as always, a grand gathering of the true heart of the community.
Early on, someone mentioned that when the news releases went out announcing the latest honorees, the fourth-estate response was a tepid, “Who are these people?” Is that an unfair indictment of the press or of the inductees?
It doesn’t appear to be the fault of any particular demographic. (It’s not like Aspen is overrun with young arrivals – take a look around the Sundeck on a given day – you can count those younger than 70 without using your toes.) The latest inductees were truly well-known locals, but like many awards based on stellar accomplishments, the recognition doesn’t come around until later in life. If you didn’t know who they were, you sure as hell should have.
From my perspective, it points to a deficiency of local historical knowledge on the part of some, and therein lies the tragedy. It doesn’t matter how fast you can hike the Ute Trail, how good your gondola game of intimidation is or how big your house is; if you don’t understand the place that makes itself available to you, your endeavors will ring with hollowness.
Riding up the lift a couple of years ago, a woman mature enough to know better asked me if Vail or Aspen was older. That’s a tough one, but I could sense she was leaning toward Vail, so I let her keep the dream. Or the lady whom I’d never seen before, accosting me in City Hall chambers, asking how I felt about an issue scheduled for public hearing. Giving an honest answer brought about an arrogant rebuke: “When you’ve been here as long as we have, you’ll understand why you’re wrong.” Whomever “we” referred to is still a mystery, but I’m fairly sure I trumped her in the longevity category.
One of the inductees at the Hall of Fame dinner referred several times to the fact that, in the 1970s, he had received death threats over his political views. Whether that was to underscore the unpopularity of his platform or to speak to his courage in the face of mounting opposition was not made entirely clear. But it needs to be said that the ’60s and ’70s were tumultuous times, and death threats got passed around with a regularity that would feed a reality-TV show.
Maybe it was the fact that my family owned the only garbage-collection company in Aspen, but occasionally some nefarious wankers would think it “cool” to attempt to intimidate us with threats of our impending doom. “Junior Mafia,” we called them. Some did more than talk – we had trucks blown up with dynamite, and one year, I spent more time with the FBI than I did on the ski hill. Death threats were alive in the ’60s and ’70s, and although I haven’t counted, I suspect there were more Aspen murders in those decades than during any other similar time span in local history.
Be careful, for the gondola is a good place to hear twisted history and outright lies. How else would I know Aspen was a ghost town in the 1930s and ’40s? Last year, a local slumlord was telling his friends (and me, inadvertently) how he’d met a World Cup racer on the bucket, and she’d fallen for him in a big way. By the time they got to the top, she’d acquiesced to a dinner date, and the rest of his week was spent boffing the love-struck 20-something while his wife was out of town. It makes you believe there should be a shrine to shriveled-up old men who ski groomers all day and sound like whistling wind when they talk.
The point being, and maybe belabored at that, is that we should take the time to learn the local stories and the local people so that we know a few names and can’t be easily bamboozled by bullshit. And show up at the Aspen Hall of Fame dinner or visit the Aspen Historical Society archives once in a while.
Tony Vagneur writes here Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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High Points: Now I don’t want to be an apologist for the Aspen Skiing Company, but to me $199 to ski the crown jewel of American skiing during the height of what is traditionally the busiest time of year is a total bargain.