Guest commentary: Apologies to Uncle Albert

Francis Lewis Stuckens
Guest Commentary

I’ve lived and worked in Aspen for well over three decades.

That is, within city limits, but also includes a couple of years of the 20th century living in the ghost town of Woody Creek where, when gathered at the local tavern, we would say, “The best thing about Aspen is Woody Creek,” in response to the over-development going on upvalley.

Today, over 20 years later, that lament, in essence, rings true.

Back in Aspen by 1998, I returned to all the favorite places, and some still survive. But just. We’d ski and cook and drink. You could still get a plate of pasta and a glass of wine for under 10 dollars. A slice of pizza was available at 2 a.m., and breakfast was as inexpensive as it was to produce. You could sit at the counter next to Glenn Frey or Bonnie Raitt and stand at the bar with G.Love.

Yeah, some of these places still survive but not many. Sure, the mountain is still there and so is the snow, but the wait is long if you want to get to Aspen.

There is a horrendous traffic jam coming into town every morning while the buses are virtually empty. Standing at the stop near my home I can count into the dozens the cars and vicious-looking pickup trucks containing only one occupant, the driver. On the phone. Car after car. The snow piled by the roadsides is gray as the dirty asphalt.

I do not fault these commuters; they’ve been forced into this relentless jam. Most live in Basalt or Carbondale or Glenwood Springs, even as far away as Silt on the other side of the canyon. They live so far away so they can raise a family or own a house; a place to have a backyard and a corner grocery. A home. The promise of the American Dream.

Lucky me, I’m still a local. I can walk to town. I walk through the West End past unabated construction sites, past trucks, and past cranes as if I’m traveling in a strange uncontrolled ant farm, where the digging has pressed the glass to crack. Beeping in reverse, trucks haul away gritty mounds of dirt and snow.

This is indeed an emergency. A climate emergency. It’s no secret. We have publicly chewed this argument all the way to the crust and burped the heartburn of truth. Our town is being overrun by a wave of development that is unconscionable and irresponsible in preserving our public property, health, peace and safety, as pronounced by Aspen City Council.

And I vote to agree. The once pristine alpine air of our valley is now fouled by over-development benefiting only the Realtors’ greedy hands. I heard a local DJ at a public radio station liken Trump and Putin to a couple of dirt pimps bumping weenies in a jelly roll over the invasion of Ukraine. A horrific analogy, indeed, and one not wasted on the situation here in our very own hometown of Aspen.

The other day I rode the bus to Paepcke Park and walked through untracked powder to the bust of Albert Schweitzer and turned to face Main Street, staring stone-faced in the same direction as his carved profile at the dirty cavalcade of cars. The DJ had played “Uncle Albert” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and up until that moment I’d misunderstood what Sir Paul was singing. You see, I thought Uncle Albert was the same Albert as Albert Schweitzer, but the former Beatle explained that it was a metaphor for the younger generation apologizing to the previous one for not doing “a bloody thing all day.”

And at that moment I thought, “Didn’t Uncle Albert used to be fun?”

Francis Stuckens, who has been on the air at since 2017, is a chef and caterer and has lived, worked and skied in the Aspen area for more than 30 years.