Marolt: The best thing about old Aspen was the young me
I never learned the names of Aspen’s streets. Growing up, I knew where everything was and could get visitors where they wanted to go by pointing to get them started and then describing landmarks to look for along the way — “No, sir, I don’t know what street that’s on, but I know where it is. We’re at Little Cliff’s Bakery. Head straight toward the ski mountain for a block, and you’ll see the blue drugstore on your right. Cross the street there to Tom’s Market on the left. Then, do a little jaywalk past Little Annie’s and angle across the gravel parking lot. You’ll find the Shaft on the corner across from the Texaco station. If you get to Donnie’s Dog House in the A-frames, you went half a block too far. Make sure you’ve got some Rolaids.”
My, how things have changed. Now I don’t know where anything is, either. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t care, things change too fast to keep up or my mind is going. It’s probably all of that and the drowsiness brought on by seasonal allergy remedies. It’s a heck of a thing to live in a town all your life and not know the names of most streets or many of the shops and restaurants on them. Every day feels like a new time warp.
I drove up to Rangely last weekend with my son for an American Legion baseball tournament. I hadn’t been there since more than three decades ago, when I was lacing up my own spikes. The thing about Rangely is that it has achieved everything we strive to contrive in Aspen. The place looks identical to the way it did in 1979. All the old buildings are standing pretty much intact. There has been little new construction. Traffic is light. Parking is free. Everything else is affordable. There are only a few part-time Realtors, a couple of attorneys and no galleries at all. Timeshares? Ha! They have summer softball leagues in the evenings and two-dollar Buds on tap in any bar anytime. It even appears that most of the same people are still around. Those that moved on are buried just south of town. None sold out.
This is where you think I am going to say that, in spite of Rangely having preserved its golden era, the place is a rathole. It’s not. Embalming the place just hasn’t turned it into Utopia — that’s all. What I’m pointing out is that we might be spending a lot of time and money to bring back here what the folks in Rangely maintained naturally, and it might end up being a whole lot of whoop about nothing. I’m sure now the thing I miss most about the old Aspen is the young me who was in it.
It’s very ironic in Aspen that we scoff at people who get the skin on their faces pulled so tight so often that we can imagine knots of skin under their hair on the backs of their heads. I don’t think surgically manipulating wrinkles to get a 30-year-old face on a 70-year-old body is the model of graceful aging. But, creepy as it is, at least the soul underneath is the same before and after the procedures.
What we do with our town is the exact opposite. We preserve the old wrinkled skin abraded by lethal mine dust and hang it on the bones of pampered newborns. Tourists like to see it that way, just as they do in Nantucket and Santa Fe, but it isn’t real. The miners did not watch movies in the Isis two levels below the street. The Wheeler Opera House was real in 1890; now it’s a monument. There’s nothing wrong with monuments, but we should use them to remember the past and not as a gateway to try living in it.
Ironically, historical preservation here keeps alive the legacy of people we probably wouldn’t have liked very much. Most miners came driven by greed. They stripped hillsides bare of trees and moved dirt to a degree that would make a modern developer blush. I’m sure future Aspenites will lie down in front of bulldozers in 2113 to save the Aspen Art Museum building.
If we like what our forefathers built because it looks nice or is interesting, great. If we keep something around just because it’s old, I think we are perpetuating the magic of Disney. I’m pretty much neutral about Little Cliff’s green cinder-block building being replaced by what is Peach’s Cafe today. It looks better now, although the glazed doughnuts were much better then. That much I know.
Roger Marolt has learned that life is too short to worry about what has long been dead. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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