Roger Marolt: Learning the exchange rate for local currency
It don’t think it’s a bad thing to be a local. It’s not a great thing, either. But, admittedly I am not the best judge, because I am one. I will say the process of becoming that seems important to many.
One of the most extreme examples is everyone who has ever declared their years of residency as proof they are right about everything. I’ve lived here for 56 years, so I know what I’m talking about.
The worst of these are the ones who bleat it out in an argument as they might something else such as, “well, you have terrible breath!” They deliberately make their Aspen tenure known immediately to justify everything to come. Some go so far as to add spring vacation time here as a kid to the actual time they have lived in Basalt and generously round upward to make their time served in Aspen sound impressive.
The second-worst case of localitis I witnessed was with my first college roommate long before I was fully aware that anyone cared about Aspenites. My roommate asked me where I was from and I told him “Colorado.”
“Really?” he replied. “Me, too!” Before I could say another word, he informed my entire family, standing around the room at that far away university where I knew not another soul, that he was from Aspen.
He went on to tell us incredible things such as that he was the quarterback for the football team, high school class president, and quite a good ski racer. In fact, he had won a race called the Roch Cup and he considered that a really nice exclamation point on a fine athletic career that made him somewhat of a celebrity in the world of ski racing.
My mind was spinning out, making cognitive skid marks and memory smoke trying to gain traction on this information. Why couldn’t I place this name and face and resume’? My high school graduating class was only 97 kids and this guy, the clear star and leader of our student body, didn’t look a bit familiar. Yes, I was 18 and generally about as clueless as I was inattentive, but had I passed the point of no return of basic awareness?
My brothers looked equally perplexed. Even my stalwartly reflective father appeared quietly flummoxed as his own mind appeared to spasm, straining to process this litany of what should be easily recognizable local facts.
“What part of Colorado are you guys from?” my roommate finally asked.
“Aspen,” I replied meekly.
Just like that, my roommate transformed himself into a ghost that I rarely saw for the rest of the year. I would later learn that he had a relative in Aspen and he had spent just enough time here to know just enough information to make his first year in college very awkward. He ended up dropping out of school and actually did move to Aspen to begin living the dream of becoming a local.
Recounting this incident is not intended to demonstrate that we are innocent victims of everyone’s envy in this misplaced vanity of residence, though. The mere act of living in Aspen gives us the wrong impression of ourselves. Visitors tell us how great the place is and we mistake that praise as a representative view of humanity judging us as uniquely wonderful people. We get to a point where we are shocked when someone is honestly neutral about our hometown, while outside criticism is always written off as petty jealousy.
I met another parent at my daughter’s college orientation last week. We did the usual introductions around the lunch table and we didn’t get the usual “oohs” and “aahs” when we announced the renowned title of our exalted residency. He smiled politely, remarked “beautiful,” and that was all we got, like living in Aspen wasn’t any big deal.
It turned out he was a humble and friendly mechanical engineer working with a team of electrical engineers trying to solve the currently intractable problem of producing a better battery for electric cars that would give them a longer range and make them practical for the masses. It didn’t appear he was lying or exaggerating when he told us meaningfully that they needed to discover something beyond known physics to accomplish their mission.
It was then I had an epiphany. I was talking to a person who was fulfilled by what he was doing with his life rather than by where he lived it. It felt like the biggest slap in the face a local could survive.
Roger Marolt hopes that someday his residency in Aspen amounts to something. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Two Rivers Unitarian-Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Valley’s Interfaith Council and Sanctuary Unidos, is showing a Zoom presentation of the documentary “Welcome Strangers” at 10 a.m. Sunday.