Roger Marolt: Aspen is better when it’s not awesome
I’m reassured if somebody describes Aspen as an “OK place” to live. It beats “Awesome!” and “Incredible!” by a mile. This place isn’t either of those and, if it ever is, I’m leaving. It’s creepy to use those expressions often about the place you live. After a while, it can’t be anything but phony. Awesome only happens once in a great while.
The thing I love about Aspen is that little, private piece of it that appears in flashes and then is gone so fast you convince yourself it wasn’t real, even though you know it was. We get bits of it now and then.
It’s not the commonly cited “feel of community” that I’m talking about, but it might be what some people are trying to express when they say that for lack of a better description. The thing I’m talking about is hard to nail down and would be impossible to engineer with building codes or parking regulations or aesthetic improvements to the bridge.
To me it is that moment when I look across the hustle and bustle downtown and I see a regular place that happens to be something tourists have built up in their minds as magical, and I see that, and it makes me smile at their intense and expensive attempt to make themselves really believe that it is.
“Magical” — that’s another adjective I’d rather not hear about my hometown.
What makes a town livable is the same thing that makes your bedroom inviting. It’s the familiarity of it. It’s the security. It’s a place you can strip down, relax and be yourself. Most of the time, our town is nothing like that.
If mountains and skiing and good restaurants and music festivals were really things that made people truly happier, number one, there would be no Prozac and, number two, you wouldn’t be able to touch a two-bedroom condo in this town for less than a billion dollars.
People are genuinely happy in every town in this country, just as there are genuinely happy people here. I don’t think it is different things in all these places that make everyone a different kind of happy. I’m not sure what the common things are, but I know them when I feel them. They are not “incredible,” “awesome” or “magical;” they are “normal.”
We have our own dirty little secrets like any other place, but we don’t need to rehash the statistics about them now. Talking about them makes us look bad to our friends in the places we used to live. It gives them fodder to laugh at the exorbitant prices we all pay to be here. Besides, it’s bad for business, and somebody else will find a cure for depression that can be vaped; some other time when it is much more convenient to have that hard look at reality, I think.
When I’m cued in to observe carefully, it seems to me that lots of the folks who describe Aspen with words of effusive adoration travel a lot, as in away from here. At the first signs of a bout of cabin fever or a dog day of summer, they’re out of here for a couple of weeks. Mud season? They don’t know what that is. You can’t blame someone for heading to Moab when there’s nothing to do in Paradise except wipe the dog’s paws before he comes back in the house.
Honestly, it’s too much pressure for me to try living a life fitting of the perfection we build this place up to be encompassing. It is something neither it nor I can withstand.
I’ll take the plain things instead; telling it like it is in the world to a friend who will calm me down, driving to the post office in a freshly cleaned car, a fresh-cut lawn, a kids’ sporting event, an afternoon of skiing I will never forget instead of a bundle of 100 all blurry and stuck together with a pin, coffee over the paper, glancing up now and then at my wife across the table and running a short prayer of thanks through my head, making Jose at City Market chuckle with the Spanish I am trying to learn, hanging with the football chain gang, the habit of a family dinner at 6, remembering a good joke I could never tell well, throwing a snowball at a stop sign as if it’s the last pitch of the World Series, wearing the jean jacket I got as a teenager, or petting the dog’s head from the bed 30 seconds before the alarm goes off.
Life is what should be incredible and awesome, not the place you live it.
Roger Marolt likes Aspen well enough. Email at email@example.com.
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