Princess: In Aspen, free-spirit lifestyle a costly endeavor
So I ran into a friend of mine the other day at a party where they were serving Dom Perignon champagne.
Scott’s a longtime local, and he couldn’t believe it at first. “Can I see the bottle?” he asked the waitress, examining the label. He raised his eyebrows at me and sipped from his glass. “Wow.”
“I’m honestly not sure I could tell the difference between this and a $20 bottle of Freixenet, like in a blind taste test,” I said, taking another sip. “Plus, it’s kind of disturbing that this party probably cost more money than I’ve made in the last five, 10 years.”
Scott and I got to talking about how much Aspen has changed since we’ve been here.
“Is it just me, or is it getting out of control?” I asked as a woman in a one-piece leather jumpsuit walked by, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t on her way to an audition for Catwoman.
“I think it’s happening at a very rapid rate,” he agreed.
I know, this time of year can be a little alarming for us locals. All of a sudden, these insanely rich people descend upon us with their outrageous clothes, these outfits that they think are appropriate for Aspen like fur coats and tall boots and, of course, lots of leather. It’s like they go into their closets and pick out everything they own that’s made from dead animal and then wear it all at the same time.
This is nothing new, right? Been going on for years. Decades. Aspen always has been on the jet-setters’ map. Those private planes already were lined up at the airport when I moved here in 2002, waiting like limousines to take their owners to the next exotic destination.
I’ve been around money most of my life. I always thought it was odd how people resent people with money, as if they’re doing something wrong by having it. It’s the ultimate hypocrisy. If you were the one with all the money, what would you do? Give it all back so as not to offend anyone? So why does it bother me so much more now than it did then?
My first 10 years in Aspen were like a free-for-all. I was invited to all the big parties, eating at the best restaurants, attending all the biggest events, borrowing expensive jewelry, wearing designer clothes and making about 40K a year.
But now that I’m a little older, I feel caught between two worlds: I’m no longer that ski bum in my 30s whose main prerogative in life was trying to get as thin as possible so I could wear sexy clothes and get laid between a few good powder days. I’m no longer that girl about town who has to be at every event hoping if we get drunk enough we might end up going home together.
But I’m also not part of the wealthy crowd, and more often than not, I find myself working for them these days.
“You’re joking, right?” my friend Chris said when I asked him if I could get him something to drink when I was working for a caterer at his law firm’s holiday party. “That’s funny.”
I know there’s still an amazing community of locals who make it work by living in affordable housing so they can maintain the lifestyle and still network, using their connections to enjoy everything Aspen has to offer. Is that not what makes Aspen so special? The access it offers to anyone who really wants it? Sure, maybe you have to volunteer for that party ,or maybe one of your rich clients takes you to dinner, but it’s still free, right?
So what, if anything, has changed? Is it just my perspective, or is it something more?
I do think Aspen is changing. Downtown is rife with construction. Old buildings are torn down so something taller, newer and more modern can be erected in their places, only to sit vacant until the developer finally caves in and lowers the rent. Dive bars are an endangered species, leaving us with one fewer place to go for a cheap pitcher of Bud. The real estate market is still astronomically out of reach despite the recession. Where does my town leave me if my only chance of ever having my dream home is to win a lottery, either the housing lottery or otherwise?
Is it a reflection of the times that the ultra-wealthy just keep getting richer, that their wealth is so insane that there’s no possibility of ever bringing it back into balance? I know the billionaires chased the millionaires downvalley years ago. What about the 1 percenters? Maybe it’s not so much that people in Aspen have gotten richer — it’s that the discrepancy between them and everyone else has grown.
I think about all the wild, colorful characters who make Aspen unique, who have left a legacy that is truly liberal and progressive and wild, a side of Aspen people who don’t live here never get to see. People like Bob Braudis and Mayor Helen and Mary Eshbaugh Hayes and Klaus Obermeyer, Hunter Thompson and Bil Dunaway. Local characters like Lorenzo and Post Office Jim and Benny the Blade — when they’re all gone, will there be others to take their place? Will Aspen still have its color, its character, its storied past to keep it real? Is it even possible to have a free spirit in a place that costs so damn much?
I love to walk around the West End and wonder what it would be like to have that option, to be able to say, “This is where I want to live.” I know we could get into the affordable-housing market, but how is that an option if it’s the only choice we have?
I will always love you, Aspen. But sometimes I wonder if you’re out of my league.
The Princess is having an identity crisis. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Editor’s note: The following letter was written to Bruno Kirchenwitz, a frequent writer of letters to the editor of The Aspen Times.