Tony Vagnuer: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
We grew up, at least around here, with the notion that the American dream was about individualism, discovery and the pursuit of happiness. Somewhere along the way, a concept known as the “Aspen Idea,” the nurturing of mind, body and spirit, got thrown in and we began to juggle and teeter, but the two abstractions weren’t that mutually exclusive and for a while, Aspen and her citizens managed a melding of the two.
But times were changing, and the anti-growth policies adopted in the 1970s, perhaps unwittingly, cemented the demise of the above ideals and ushered in an era of rampant materialism, still hauntingly upon us even in this recession. The change took until the 1980s to truly gain flight, and by then property values had exponentially soared and new wealth had put a strangling finish on the dying carcass of a once-diverse, vital community. Suddenly, Aspen was a town ostensibly off-limits to all but the most well-heeled and became one of the premier gathering places of those prone to an obnoxious display of affluence and moral decadence.
At the time, there wasn’t enough “old” money left in town to hold the lid on the “newly-minted” rich folks, who came with ideas destructive to the tried and true methodology that had held Aspen together through thick and thin. Town lots once big enough to hold a “miner’s cottage” surrounded by ample yard and garden plot suddenly looked like pants stretched too tight around the ample fat of McMansions, built lot line to lot line. The surrounding mountains sprouted houses the size of military barracks in war-prone countries.
Increasingly rare were the days when you could philosophize with your new neighbors in front of the post office, or trade barbs with them at the next table over dinner at your favorite restaurant. They weren’t that kind of people anymore. It wasn’t that they had an ability to look through the locals, they just couldn’t discern the difference between substance and appearance. Many of the new breed were vulgar, ostentatious bullies lacking in social manners and taste, who cared for little other than what Aspen could give them, unconcerned with giving back to the community.
“C’mon, I’m not like that,” you cry, but you know someone who is. If you were like that, you’d be soaking up these words as though they were the sweet, warm oil of manna, slathered upon your skin. As you and I know, it’s not about money, but rather grace, and if blessed by grace, the amount of worldly goods you have doesn’t much matter.
It’s interesting to note a colorful and dichotomous change that has occurred within the Aspen community over the last few years, out of necessity. It used to be thought that any person from any social background could make a fortune, but not necessarily be accepted by the ruling (wealthy) aristocracy. The long-time “locals,” those who actually live here, have become the ruling arbiters, those who scrupulously grease the seating assignments at restaurants, cater the “A” list parties, decide who gets what perquisites when, determine when the garbage gets picked up, and in the end decide who gets accepted locally. And consequently, not all of those desiring status in our little mountain town get it, not in this lifetime.
Just as the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” behaved at his parties for the fabulously wealthy, those who are the true heart and soul of the Aspen community stand apart, witnessing the gaudy, misdirected display of the overly pretentious, being entertained while at the same time plotting their own dreams and schemes, hoping the objects of their desire are worthy of fulfillment.
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“Many of these stoic commuters endure brain-numbing traffic jams so they can service vacant mega homes, making sure all the lights are on and that the snowmelt patios, driveways, sidewalks and dog runs are thoroughly heated so as to evaporate that bothersome white stuff that defines Aspen’s picturesque winter landscape and ski economy,“ writes Paul Andersen.