Reckling: The Great Migration
The tide has turned, and right before our very eyes the summer tourist crowds seem to have dispersed almost as quickly as they gathered. A trip into town bears proof of this exodus because the flow through the roundabout is free of faltering newbies and a renewed trust in other drivers emerges again, Main Street traffic appears anemic and, in amazement, prime parking places stand empty.
The great influx, which begins in June, is reminiscent of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and the scenes of the Great Migration of wildebeests crossing the vast Serengeti plains of Africa in their desperate search for better feeding grounds and watering holes. The exception is that visitors to Aspen are more beautiful and civilized — or are they?
There’s always some pushing and shoving among the herd, and town becomes a real proving ground of self-importance. The power players often act out through overly loud conversations about what they just accomplished. “We flew in private. You know, it’s so much easier on the dogs.” Or, “We have a suite at the Nell for two weeks, so we don’t have to worry about anything.” The city becomes a fun show of people busily impressing one another.
One guy (a friend of a friend) likes to say, “I summer in Aspen,” whenever he’s pressed for information on how long he’s vacationing here. In reality, he rents a relatively affordable two-bedroom condo for 10 days, which he luckily finds through some hardworking Aspen Realtor before he goes behind the Realtor’s back to cut himself an even better deal directly from the owner. He sends the wife and kids home a few days early in their secondhand Range Rover so he can linger on and behave badly with a few of the less discerning waitresses around town.
He’s been repeating this scenario for over 10 years, and the Realtors are now on to him, and his wife might be, too. After all, it’s really a small town when the affairs end and the private jets take off.
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Now that we’re into September, the multitude of shiny, luxury cars is replaced with the easily recognizable (and more practical) muddied-up cars of the permanent resident population. License plates from Texas, Florida, Illinois and California appear less frequently as Colorado plates, once again, rule the roads.
Expensively dressed women no longer navigate the cobbled sidewalks in precarious high heels with their jewel-encrusted arms laden with shopping bags. (Yes, designer stores still dispense with non-recycled, high-quality paper bags free of charge.) The grocery stores, the restaurants and even the post office all return to sedate levels of being, and a pleasant quietude takes over in the shortened lines.
On the hiking trails, there is a sudden absence of perfumed-soaked, Chanel-clad packs of hikers that dominate well-traveled trails such as Smuggler, Ute and the Rio Grande. Even dropped facial tissues and abandoned dog-poop bags seem to be on the wane once the crowds thin.
Pivoting on street corners, the metrosexual men with precision haircuts, large diamond-encrusted watches and manicures, always with their smartphones glued to their scrubbed ears, also have taken flight. Their polished Italian loafers no longer gleam in the mountain sun at the feet of pale, shaven legs.
These observations are delivered not in condemnation but in celebration, for Aspen businesses experienced their most lucrative July ever. In a record-breaking amount of $60.1 million, July 2013 retail sales set a new record. High-volume tourist periods are the bread and butter for many residents and businesses. Summer is the window of opportunity to keep merchants alive until the winter pilgrimage begins.
It is the dichotomy of tourism and offseason that is Aspen, a cyclical transformation as sure as the seasons. The tourists descend en masse via jet airplanes and cars as they fill Aspen to its peak occupancy, tripling its population sometimes in just 48 hours. This tsunami of activity, the determination to be a part of the Aspen scene and fervor of human recreation, is an astounding testament to this town’s mecca-like appeal.
The result is a wonderful cultural mix, extraordinary people-watching and supreme amusement in a high-altitude playground. For many, a trip to Aspen can provide a first-time mountain experience. Spending time outside reminds them of who they really are, and often it takes people back to their childhood, when they last spent any quality time in the great outdoors. The Aspen vacation delights so much that it’s like an addictive alpine elixir.
It can be downright heartbreaking for people when it comes time to leave and the vast majority declare they can’t wait to return. It’s really no secret to those of us who are lucky enough to live here, for if we take a moment to think back, we realize that many of us were once tourists — the only difference is that we decided to stay.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Well, for better or worse, another summer in the pandemic is over.