You can check out anytime you like
December 28, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoI’m finally on to the insidious plot that is the Entrance to Aspen.I had to move out of town to figure it out, but now that I’ve been inching in and out of town with the rest of the lemmings for a little more than a year, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts.Lured by a paycheck, we all endure the upvalley commute. Some eight hours later, we take one look at jammed-up traffic crawling in the opposite direction and prolong our workday or head out for a drink that turns into two or three cocktails, plus dinner.The failure to solve Aspen’s traffic woes isn’t about a community stalemate over what to do with a clogged highway. It’s not about indecision, or lack of highway funds. Those excuses are merely a ruse. The Entrance to Aspen is a matter of economics in which the resort profits every time I and hundreds – maybe thousands – of others can’t get home in a timely manner.Sure, the town loses something on the front end. People show up late for work when they can’t get here on time, but more than likely, most commuters simply leave far earlier than they need to in order to beat the morning crush. For some of us, it means squeezing in an extra hour or two of labor while Aspenites are still eating their cereal and pondering the day’s route for a leisurely stroll to the office.Late in the afternoon, the commuting workers start thinking about heading home. If they’re anything like me, they take one look at the traffic backup and put in another hour or more on the job, hoping things will clear out, and the town’s economy hums with a work ethic inspired solely by a dysfunctional highway.Or, as I experienced one weekday shortly before the holidays, we go out.I grimly scrutinzed the line of vehicles snaking around Original Curve and headed for my favorite bar. There, I ran into an acquaintance at another table who was meeting friends for drinks instead of enduring the afternoon traffic jam. When I finally made my way to a bus a couple of hours later, I listened to my fellow commuters relate their own happy-hour tales. Half of the people on the bus had been out for dinner in Aspen that evening, I swear.Even when I used to live in town, I remember summer nights when I skipped the free Thursday evening concert in Snowmass merely because I didn’t want to deal with the exit headache.On a grander scale, there was no doubt plenty of moaning when visitors couldn’t arrive via the airlines just before Christmas, thanks to a snowstorm in Denver, but I guarantee no one will be griping if the tourists who finally arrived can’t get out this weekend due to the weather. Spending an extra night or two in town means spending money on food, lodging, movies, drinks, massages and another day or two of skiing.It’s a twisted twist on that old Eagles lyric from “Hotel California”: “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”Longtime locals talk endlessly about how they showed up in Aspen in their youth and wound up staying, presumably because the place is too wonderful to leave.Now I’m starting to think maybe they just couldn’t get out.Janet Urquhart is headed for happy hour. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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