Tough times visiting a tourist town
Aspen, CO Colorado
“You guys just getting to town?” the surf rental guy asks as John and I walk by. “Need to rent a surfboard?”
“No, we’ve been here for a week already, asshole,” I want to say, but I bite my tongue. It’s one of those rare moments when I think before I speak.
It just pisses me off because we already have been there for a week, for one, and for two, I hate the fact that I actually look like a tourist.
“It’s only because you’re with me,” John says, but I know he’s just trying to be nice.
I don’t know why this bothers me so much since we are tourists after all. Maybe it’s because I live in a tourist town and know how annoying tourists can be, or worse, I know how judgmental of them I can be.
I even try that line a few times. “I live in a tourist town too,” I say to the bartender, the guy in the surf shop and the girls at the cafe. “I totally know how it is.”
But they just give me that plastic smile that sort of looks like a smirk, hand me my change and go on to the next lame ass tourist in line. No, I’m not making any friends here.
I don’t ask questions, even though I want to. I want to know where I can surf without drowning and why the Luau leaf we ate raw burned our throats and where the locals hang out at night because it seems like they roll up the sidewalks and everyone around here is in bed by 9.
Even at yoga, which is not exactly a tourist destination, no one talks to me, which is annoying because the yoga studio is all tiny and quaint with views of the tarot patch and the mountains behind it. In fact, my favorite part of the class is when they say, “turn and face the tarot patch” during standing separate leg head to knee.
On Sunday class is packed because it’s raining and the winds are onshore after several days of big, perfect waves so all the surfers are there, trying to recover. The girls in this town all are big wave surfers by default ” they’re not the skinny, lithe creatures with long, flowing blonde hair you find in Southern California riding long boards. They’re all burly looking, with wild hair and tattoos and strong bodies. Their stature alone has “screw you” written all over it but only because they have to be that way to survive in these waters. I totally worship them.
The woman in front of me is wearing cotton men’s underwear, a cotton tank top with no bra, her brown curly hair in two wild pig tails that stick straight out on both sides and she’s totally ripped with tattoos that wrap around the back of her calves and up her thighs and she doesn’t shave. She’s so tan it’s like she’s never been inside; her skin is so brown it’s almost plum colored.
“What kind of athlete are you?” I ask her after class. “You’re so ripped, I just had to ask.” I know that sounds dumb as soon as I say it, but I’m just trying to be myself after all.
“I’m a second-grade teacher,” she says, her open-heart yoga chick demeanor fading like a cloud passing over the sun.
“Oh,” I say and pick up my mat.
To make matters worse, Surfer Mike won’t call me back even though I called him three times and am starting to feel like a chick who won’t accept the fact she’s been dumped. I met Surfer Mike last fall when the generous folks I was staying with paid him a lot of money for private surfing lessons. Even though I understood he was paid to hang out with us, I went to great lengths to try to make him understand that I am a cool local in my own town.
“I used to teach snowboarding, I totally know how it is,” I’d say, trying to put myself on his side of the fence. I knew my chances of ever seeing him again were slim when a photo of him appeared in the pages of Us Weekly teaching Jennifer Aniston how to surf, but still.
After two weeks of trying to make friends in Hanalei, the best I can do is annoy the guy at the surf shop when I bring the boards back a day early.
“If we were a rental car company, we’d charge you for the days you reserved the boards for,” he says, not making eye contact.
“Hey man, if you want to charge me, charge me,” I say, trying to show him how laid back and cool I am. “Whatever.”
The closest I come to fitting in is a girl who asks, “Hey, is that your dog?” at the beach. I realize it probably is because she’s tripping on mushrooms and thinks the dog might be an elephant, but it makes me happy.
It’s not like I don’t understand where their resentment comes from. I see the helicopters swarming the Na Pali coast like giant hornets that make our hike through the rainforest seem like the set of a Vietnam war movie. I watch the other people from the Mainland bumble around town with their red faces and big bellies, creating long lines waiting for shave ice and large fries at Bubba’s Burgers. I follow the old people in their cars when they drive 20 miles an hour down the Princeville access road even though the speed limit is 25, coming to a complete stop at speed bumps. I see the golf courses and the multi-million-dollar houses and understand that this magical place has been tainted, its native peoples displaced.
But come on. I thought this was the land of Aloha, not Go Home Asshole-a.
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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.