Roger Marolt: And then you ask yourself, ’How did I get here?’
Aspen is a beautiful town. It may be the most gorgeous town in the world. The natural beauty around it is noteworthy, but there are many places that can match that.
What is truly remarkable about Aspen is the aesthetic perfection achieved inside the city limits. It is people who made it what it is. That mountains and blue sky seem to have melded, forming a protective dome over it, may be the inspiration, but I wouldn’t say that is a given.
Most of the homes are monuments to masterful architecture. We’ve managed to present historic structures as being more authentic than they were in their heyday. The landscaping is more elegant than Mother Nature can dream of. Even the street lights, which in most other places are installed for safety, primarily provide mood lighting for those strolling about after dusk.
It is not many towns that can claim such clean streets and well-manicured parks. There are no telephone poles or power lines. Sun-pinked stop signs do not exist. If there are chain-link fences, they are well hidden and, one can be sure, perfectly straight and upright behind the trimmed lilac bushes providing cover. There are no billboards on the outskirts or neon signs within. Even the town’s trailer park is filled with million-dollar homes.
Our school campus would be the envy of more colleges than not. The municipal pool and recreation complex is nicer than most spas. We have a ski lift to one mountain running practically from the high school parking lot and a pedestrian bridge across a river gorge in the other direction leading to another ski area in order to offer variety within walking distance.
Aspen has no graffiti; stunning murals span exposed brick walls instead. Sidewalk garbage cans are lined with bags and encased in nice-looking containers of their own. Summer street performers are properly costumed and, presumably, permitted. There are no tents under our bridges and nobody holding signs, much less selling roses or newspapers, on our street corners.
Aspen has no strip malls, no drive-thru liquor stores, no garden gnomes. Swing sets are mistaken for yard sculptures. There isn’t an interstate highway within 40 miles. There is not so much as a boulevard or what anyone would consider a real avenue around. There are only streets, all neatly curbed, swept and rinsed regularly, and weedless along their edges. Tourists say they like Aspen because it is a real town, but it’s doubtful they have any real towns in mind when they make that comparison.
It’s not by accident that Aspen became a model of perfection for idyllic towns in movie sets. We have a historical preservation committee that is held in highest regard. Most buildings cost as much to plan as they do to build. City council and county commissioners spend, I venture, more time discussing matters of aesthetics than all other topics combined. We have rangers to make sure dogs are properly cleaned up after.
Even our philanthropy bolsters local perfection. Three favorite local charities are the ski club, the music associates and the modern art museum. They benefit us. It’s all to maintain and enhance, if possible, what we have built.
If there is a hint of sarcasm in what I write, do not insist because of it that I have not laid out the truth. I am proud of living here, if I don’t overthink it. I would be the ultimate hypocrite if I claimed otherwise. If I appear to deeply desire to change what I see around town, know that it would have been far easier for me to have moved away. Am I a bad person for ignoring the absurdity of this reality? No, not in and of itself.
And, yet, I wonder about what is only skin-deep. Can a soul develop with such attention spent on keeping up perfect appearances, or is any character we have left only the last of the blood after murdering the abundance of it we possessed before this rebranding of ourselves could begin? I know there are individuals around with authentic mountain depth, but they are obviously a miniscule minority, otherwise the town would have assumed their character, and not lost it as if it was only a collection of worthless charms. They have become the gray hair here, the wrinkle from a smiling eye there; charming, but nobody wants a whole head of it or a face that resembles the Marlboro man’s. Who do we think we’re kidding? The answer is probably only we who stay here.
Roger Marolt knows a true local is a misfit anywhere but in Aspen. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.