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Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

In the aftermath of a New Year’s Eve celebration, memories of the event itself are sometimes blurred, unwelcome, and unavoidable. If you want unpleasant stories, folks, I could tell you a few, but picking one above the others is a difficult task.

It started out peaceful enough, a celebration at the Woody Creek Tavern. My buddies, Andy Arasz and Dan Goldyn, owners at the time, had sponsored a successful Oktoberfest the previous fall, so hopes were high for New Year’s Eve. The same biker gang returned to play free verse rock n’ roll and yours truly strained the bellows on his squeeze box for a while. A valley-wide contingent of cowboys, hippies, bikers, city slickers and rabble rousers packed the house and the booze flowed like mountain run-off in the spring.

The trouble started about 1:30 a.m., when in the middle of an argument, a flirtatious and decently put-together woman informed her boyfriend that she had been sharing bunk time with one of the few black men in town. The boyfriend went berserk, spewing out a string of racial and murderous epithets that, taken on their own might have drifted off into the night, but given the mix of the crowd, served only to dredge up mostly unrelated, but bad, feelings on all sides. The tension that had simmered under a patina of politeness rose like bile in your throat and the war was on.

The bartender saw it coming and wisely booted most everyone out, locking the door and drawing the shades behind them. A few of us remained, friends of the owners, wondering how long the brouhaha outside was going to last.

Several minutes into the brawl, a woman appeared at the door, desperate to get in. She had gone out to her car much earlier to take a nap and hadn’t realized how far the party had deteriorated in her absence. As we quickly pulled her inside, it became immediately clear that something terrible had happened. Her nose was battered and bloodied, eyes starting to swell shut, and she wasn’t sure how it had happened. A kid who had been peeking through the curtains said someone had slugged her in the face as she walked to the bar.

With that, my cousin Wayne and I decided we would find the jackass who did the damage, not realizing the situation. We had to argue with the bartender to let us out, but he finally relented. Once outside, the scope and range of the fight, something we couldn’t see from within, became abundantly clear. We sidled through the midst of at least twenty folks all in a frenzy, fists flying, people wrestling on the ground, bodies being shoved up against cars, with some guy having his head pounded against one of the then-remaining gas pumps out front.

This wasn’t our time to solve anything, so we wandered back inside. Some things you can remember about a fight, and others don’t matter, but what I remember most about that debacle was after our tour, in the light of the bar, I could see blood splatters all over the front of my brand-new ski parka. All we did was walk through the area, which tells you something about the intensity of the battle.

We loaded our lady friend up in the Jeep and headed for the hospital. The thermometer hovered around minus twenty degrees, which became an issue when we ran out of gas coming by the airport. God only knows where they came from a long time later, but a couple in their 70s, headed to Aspen on a lark, stopped and hauled us the rest of the way to the infirmary.

We made it home after daylight, a memorable New Year’s Eve celebration behind us. I’d tell you the rest of the story, about how we exacted repentance from the perpetrator of the errant punch, but we’re out of room.


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