Marolt: What it takes to not become an old-timer
I don’t really know what it takes to live a long time in Aspen. But, I’m sure it doesn’t have much to do with money. It doesn’t sound like that could be true, but it is.
I have had the privilege of calling this place home for a long time, and by virtue of that I know a lot of other people who have done the same. I don’t think the majority of these people have a bunch of money, at least not the bunches of it that could buy a jet or a house on Red Mountain. Nope, most of the people I know who have put in their 20 years, 30 years — whatever mark of longevity you want to use — are working people who have made it happen really only God knows how and, ironically, only a few are in the real estate development business. There are not many mega-rich people who stick around here very long.
Yes, it is true that Aspen is the land of the dwindling trust fund but, from what I have seen, in Aspen, those who live by the trust die by the trust, at least metaphorically speaking. As soon as the distributions run out, so does the resolve to try to make a home here. The principal in those accounts has a way of evaporating in thin mountain air much more quickly than the beneficiaries can seem to settle down into an economically sustainable lifestyle. Lots of these types would have been better off signing over their assets to the local drug dealers when they first got to town. They would have undoubtedly ended up poorer but they’d be healthier now and, I bet, a whole lot happier, too. They might even still live here.
Another thing I know is that anyone who feels like they’ve made a sacrifice to be here most likely won’t last. I start the countdown to moving day when I hear someone say they gave up a big career in the city or a quaint house with a white picket fence around it to be here. The fact that they mention these things means they value them. If they value them, they will eventually have to have them and they’ll end up somewhere they can get them. Even the really old-timers I know, and knew, who lived through the Quiet Years didn’t talk of their sacrifices to live here.
I also think it is a mistake to show up here and expect to live the rest of your life in this town for a specific thing — like skiing. Yes, the life of a ski-bumming local sounds romantic, almost like being a cowboy. But skiing is an aimless activity you get better at the more you do it. The better you get at it, the less challenging it becomes. The less challenging it becomes, it gets a little boring.
If this sounds sacrilegious, then you haven’t skied enough. Yet, before the next 10 years are out, if you stick around this town and ski a lot, you will get really good at it and, I promise, you will get a little bored with it, whether you admit it or not. This doesn’t mean that you will give it up. It does mean that if you don’t have a more compelling reason to stay here then you likely won’t last here.
The last gut-check I’ll give you is when I hear someone referring to themselves as a “local.” You can’t help it if someone calls you that and, in fact, when they do, you probably are one. But to hang that moniker on yourself is tantamount to dialing up the moving van.
I mean this. The reason is that when you finally get up the nerve to call yourself a local it means that you have been keeping track. If you add in your vacation time here before you actually moved here in order to reach the magic number you think it takes to be a “local,” you have marked your time like a convict in a prison cell. You will soon be looking forward to your parole. Life in Aspen is not a milestone to achieve; I know that much.
In the end, I guess it’s a good thing not to know exactly what it takes to stick around this old ski town for a significant chunk of your life. If you can just flop onto the sofa at the end of any old ordinary day and say, “Man, it’s good to be home” and mean it, that’s probably a good enough explanation.
Roger Marolt enjoys it when people ask what part of Texas he’s from. It opens up a lot of possibilities for storytelling. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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