Elizabeth Milias: Careful what you wish for
The Red Ant
Exactly one year ago, as the local holiday rush was winding down, local business owners and restauranteurs were happy because inventories were low and bellies were full, workers were exhausted but their wallets were fat, holiday visitors were returning home with dreams of returning to Aspen, and halfway around the world, someone was eating a bat, or so we’re told.
Closer to home, town was still abuzz with news of city councilman Skippy Mesirow’s expletive-laden screed that was widely shared on social media during the height of the holiday crunch. In a moment of sheer frustration and without any forethought, Mesirow infamously taped and posted a scathing invective, “Driving today is a f-ing disaster … there are godd— people and things and accidents everywhere… I think it’s time we have the conversation about it’s too many people in town at peak season and they are not the right people and even if we have to take a little bit of a haircut on our income, which I certainly would, it’s worth it for quality of life and the character of our town.” His exasperation was later explained as his support for our community’s service workers and his disdain for the “not right people” who just so happen to pay the former’s bills. Fewer visitors, less business and lower income were Mesirow’s solutions to what he saw as our great societal problem.
It turns out, Skippy is quite the inadvertent prognosticator. So, just how did that work out?
Here we are, a year later, trying our darnedest to weather the lasting effects of the Wuhan flu, something we could never have contemplated in our wildest nightmares last winter, yet alone last spring when we sheltered in place to “flatten the curve.” To our great fortune, summer of 2020 granted a reprieve, and Aspen managed to more than just survive; thanks to great weather, outdoor dining and unprecedented numbers of visitors, we thrived. But the fall and early winter brought a surge in virus cases that threatened our winter season and still do. As Mesirow had hoped, far fewer visitors are in town.
Today, it’s likely that expletive-filled rants are far more prolific. Business owners bemoaning the lack of pedestrian traffic to shop in their stores, restaurateurs trying their best to keep the lights on and meet the payroll while operating at 25% capacity and with a 10 p.m. curfew, workers whose hours and paychecks reflect the dramatic decline in business across the board, and the holiday visitors who actually came spent two days and nights freezing and without hot water, the result of a suspected eco-terrorism attack on local natural gas lines.
And that “haircut on our income”? It became involuntary, and equal-opportunity. What may have seemed a small concession in principle to Mesirow turns out to be nothing short of devastating in reality. Many local businesses are on the brink of ruin, clinging to life with the hope of improved visitor numbers as the season progresses. None of these folks sees a beneficial outcome from fewer tourists and lower income.
As for our local quality of life, it is drastically different these days. And not in a good way. Beginning with the mask mandate, not to mention the many other curtailed freedoms we are enduring in order to be allowed to leave our homes and try our best to get about our business, we endure, but hardly prosper. There may be fewer people here as a result of the pandemic, but in no way has this improved anything. Small inconveniences when town is full seem small in the face of this new normal. Let us never forget that Aspen’s is a tourism economy. Our livelihoods depend on visitors visiting, whether or not they are “the right people” in one man’s mind. When they don’t come, for whatever reason, it impacts us all.
With this year’s holiday business way, way off, so too is the strength of our community character. We’re always a contentious bunch, but generally speaking, we manage to come together when it really counts. This year, though, the duration of the health crisis has worn our character thin. The bickering over the seriousness of the virus, school closures, access to testing, contact tracing, the visitor health affidavit, mask enforcement, restaurant curfews and capacities, and civil liberties have brought us to new lows. Fewer guests only add to the pervasive stress and agitation as opposed to easing it.
We have learned a great many things this year, many of which are the unpleasant realities of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, but the mere thought that somehow fewer visitors, for whatever reason, would ever be the answer for Aspen, is one to be forever banished from contemplation.
As we look to the future, which during these trying times often means tomorrow, let Mesirow’s tempting of fate serve as a lasting reminder to always be careful what you wish for.
What a difference a year makes. May 2021 be a happy and healthy new year for you, your family and friends. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net
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