Roger Marolt: Advertising a priceless treasure
I’m not much for advertising. Whether it urges me to counsel my doctor to prescribe some new drug that allows me to pass gas without smelling, even though it might cause me to grow hair on my tongue, or buy a new car that will help me reconnect with my family and make hot women wink at me at stoplights, it is mostly ridiculous.
Super Bowl commercials try way too hard. It’s like adding cream cheese to grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe to make them not just delicious as usual, but more spectacular than ever. Impossible! Glossy advertising is worse. Being inundated with lifestyle enhancement ads eventually makes a simple life feel like a bad case of eczema.
It is surprising, then, that an advertisement in The Aspen Times last week by Aspen Skiing Co., the ringmasters of Botoxed-hype and liposuctioned daily routine, no less, captured my attention for a full 20 minutes. So taken by it was I that I couldn’t wait to show it to my wife, who rolled her eyes and then purloined the paper so that she could have a closer look after she saw what it was about.
It was the ad they do every year to thank and recognize their longtime employees. It starts with those who have been in their employ for more than 50 years and goes all the way through almost 500 names before mentioning those who have given a mere two decades of their working lives to making a day of skiing worth 150 bucks. It takes two full pages of newspaper to accomplish this and it is spectacular. At least it is for an old local.
The first name on the list is what hooked me. It was my cousin, Jimmy Gerbaz. He’s worked for the various iterations of what is now Skico. for 55 years! That means he started when I was 1 year old. We lived across the dirt road from him then. The ad wiped old smudges from my mental rearview mirror and I saw an object closer than it appears: my sister and me lying on the grassy knoll in our backyard watching him mow his grass back when we were innocent enough to appreciate the fascinating complexity in a simple task. That’s only the beginning of trying to describe the feelings the memory invoked and all the further I can carry it with mere words.
I made my way through the list; it was like an Aspen yearbook for the past half-century and all the pictures were ones I took and threw into an imaginary box to finally sort through at this moment. I remembered the big softball tournaments the city used to host with free beer supplied by Coors and bad umpiring by me and my teammates on the high school baseball team. There were Deaf Camp picnics, Fourth of July parades and many opening days on the slopes — so many names associated with so many events, stories and second-string local history.
And there were specific memories, like the time two guys on the list were arguing over beers at The Cooper Street Pier about who was the better skier and ended up settling it with an arm wrestling match. As silly as that sounds, it made good sense 30 years ago. Then there was the liftie I was giving a hard time to and he paid me back by flipping up the seat on the chairlift just as I was loading and I had to make the 20-minute ride to the top sitting on nothing but the seat’s cold, bony frame.
The experience of going through the names in that ad was like running into familiar faces in a foreign country; I was overjoyed to see them and I felt like I renewed old friendships, whether they ever really existed until that moment or not. Whatever indifference daily life and familiarity brings, the passage of time erases. A wave of memories carries only the freshness of first-time meetings, enjoyable encounters and the common bonding against the threat of time wiping away all the small but wonderful things that have made up our lives.
The ski pioneers and Utopian visionaries are the ones whose names we put in glossy coffee table books and create everlasting monuments for, but it is the people we meet on our streets every day that give our lives meaning and purpose and joy. Thanks for reminding us of that in an advertisement, Skico, and for recognizing where the true value of our town lies.
Roger Marolt is not sure you can truly claim local status if you have never gotten a paycheck from Skico. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.