Meredith Carroll: A tale of two cities

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

If I wasn’t entirely sure that my daughters and I had arrived in New York earlier this month, it became abundantly clear shortly after the plane landed. When an accident rendered traffic at a standstill for nearly two hours on the way to my parents’ house, my dad tried to steer to the side of the road to make way for the screaming ambulance and fire trucks behind us. He managed to compel an opening in front of an adjacent car in the left lane, at which time its driver erupted like a volcano, the lava from her middle fingers spurting savagely in our direction.

Traveling back to Colorado a week later we were delayed again, only this time instead of human error preventing our return, it was on Mother Nature, in the form of a boulder — quite a few of them, apparently. We should have arrived home no later than 6 p.m. on Thursday, except it wasn’t until 2 p.m. on Friday that we finally rolled back into Aspen. In addition to the 200-mile Glenwood Canyon detour, hurricane-force gusts and whiteout conditions on Highway 131 necessitated we get off the road until morning. Unlike in New York, though, the only noticeable fingers we encountered during the set back were on Finger Rock just outside of Steamboat Springs.

While we had sway over neither the New York nor Colorado travel interruptions, the tone of the former seemed more personal — and angrier — than the latter. Then again, New York City denizens use individual clout to measure success and failure, whereas people here will easily concede it’s the mountains that maintain the most influence.

Many New Yorkers proudly — and furiously — let nothing stand between them and their ambitions, as my 4-year-old daughter learned last week in Times Square when no fewer than five Elmos, three Spider-Mans, Cookie Monster and a (very creepy) Mickey and Minnie descended on her in an attempt to purloin pay-per-hug encounters. Once we escaped the tourist trap for more local neighborhoods, though, it still didn’t matter that she only stands roughly 40 inches tall and weighs no more than 40 pounds soaking wet: to people going places, she was an obstacle in need of maneuvering as evidenced by the number of times she got knocked into unapologetically by people too busy or important to care.

By contrast, people here know they have little choice but to step aside when a mountain pass, regional airport, or 40 inches of snow in 36 hours — or even just a 4-year-old looking up in awe at a really tall building — insists on having the final say in how and when we can get where we’re going. When you choose to live in or visit Aspen, elements beyond our control may give us headaches, but it’s rare that they also incense us. After all, the same mountains that sometimes seem to work so hard to keep us out are also the exact reason so many work so hard to be here.

Aspenites gauge achievement via quality-of-life endeavors, including days spent on the mountain, preserving open space, understanding and respecting wildlife, and community engagement — and the thorn in our side is the people whose goals are more singular or counter to those aspirations. Traffic jams and boulder-size SUVs easily fall into the category of not worrying about what we can’t control; ask most people who’ve been affected over the past week by the closure of Glenwood Canyon and they’re more likely to express gratitude that no one was hurt than irritation at the nuisance that ensued.

Back east, victory often looks like an entirely different beast. Power is more famously abused than respected, including by governors as big as SUVs with egos to match who will gleefully inconvenience thousands in the form of bridge closures just to exact petty revenge, or by industry titans so laser-focused on their own bottom line that nationwide financial ruin hardly keeps them up at night.

New York City could likely be picked up and moved pretty much anywhere else and still manage to be just as irritated by any interruption of its day-to-day pursuits. Try as you might, however, and you simply couldn’t relocate Aspen and expect the same results, because what puts it on the map is the exact reason why it could never be replicated. There’s a huge gap between a New York minute and being on mountain time, and it has nothing to do with a clock.

It may just be true that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere — although as we we’ve been reminded over the past week, Colorado remains the exception: no matter who you are or where you’re from, Colorado will let you know if and when you can make it here, and when you can leave.

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