We don’t want to be like you
November 1, 2007
I was down in the southwest corner of New Mexico last week, visiting my wife’s parents, who live in the hills outside the pleasant little town of Silver City.
I’ve been going there for nearly 25 years, and I’ve watched Silver City develop from a not-much-happening Western town to a … well, a somewhat-more-happening Western town with a nice old main street, a two-block “art district” with a handful of nice galleries, an Internet cafe, some good restaurants and a lot of new homes springing up in all directions.
It’s a two-day drive from Aspen to Silver City, and on the way there we stopped to spend the night in Taos. Taos is a wonderful place, sort of (to wildly oversimplify) a miniature Santa Fe in a mountain setting. We stayed in a charming old adobe inn, had a wonderful dinner in another old adobe, wandered around the town’s plaza (more old adobes) and noted the healthy abundance of several dozen art galleries (yes, in yet more old adobes).
I have to note that, even though it was offseason, my heart was broken when we got stuck in a painful traffic jam coming into town. Taos is served by a single highway that runs right through the middle of town, and traffic backs up endlessly from the stoplight at the heart of the city.
But, traffic aside, the town was charming, and, with development springing up in all directions, it is clearly prospering.
So I was somewhat surprised to arrive in Silver City and read, in an excellent monthly publication there, this sentence:
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“Taos is the place that many people in other New Mexico art hotbeds ” like Silver City, for one ” don’t want their town to turn into.”
It reminded me, of course, of all the stories over the years about ski towns that insist they “don’t want to turn into Aspen.”
As if (as I believe the kids still say). Or, as a friend of mine once noted, after reading about yet another small town that didn’t want to turn into Aspen, “Yeah ” and I don’t want to turn into Bill Gates.”
The writer who didn’t want Silver City to turn into Taos mentioned that tragic traffic jam, of course, But, focusing on Silver’s somewhat newfound status as an “art hotbed,” he said that Taos was suffering because it “has promoted its outdoors ” from fly-fishing to skiing ” as much as its art.”
Imagine that. A mountain town making the tragic mistake of promoting the outdoors. A town that tries to attract skiers.
He quoted one gallery owner, who said, “People who come here for art … stay in hotels and eat in fine restaurants. People who come for rafting go camping and eat at Wendy’s.”
I was reminded of an Aspen businessman who, decades ago, sneered at Aspen’s summer visitors as “the hot dog crowd” ” people who ate hot dogs instead of spending freely at expensive restaurants.
These days, Aspen’s summer visitors seem to do just fine, thank you. Even the ones who go rafting. And it seems as if there are still one or two art galleries surviving in Aspen, despite all the reckless promotion of outdoor activities.
I guess I’m thinking that Silver City ” a great town that’s experiencing its own real estate boom ” would still be pleased to prosper as Taos has. And all those little ski towns that didn’t want to turn into Aspen are still doing their damnedest to follow Aspen down the golden road to perdition.
So, sure, Aspen has made some painful wrong turns along the way. But, still and all, Aspen ” and now, forgive me, I am talking about the (gasp) Greater Aspen Metropolitan Area, which stretches from Independence Pass clear to Carbondale ” has been and still is some kind of miracle.
Aspen may be cursed by its mistakes, but it’s still a blessed place.
And all those places that don’t want to turn into Aspen have nothing to worry about.