Roger Marolt: Local status is our currency
People don’t know who’s running this show. We need to talk a little louder. We need to walk a little prouder again.
I know a guy. He was skiing toward Kleenex Corner, making short, swizzly turns along the catwalk when a young woman skis up next to him, “It’s not cool to make turns on catwalks around here.” She was not making turns and so had momentum to pull ahead around the bend before stopping at the top of Little Nell where the guy caught up to her.
“Let me tell you something, missy,” he said. “I was defining cool on this mountain before you were born.” And he skied off.
Not about to leave him the last word, the woman caught him at the gondola and said, “Well, I’ve lived here a long time and know a little bit about skiing, too, so you don’t need to lecture me about cool.”
The guy loaded into a gondola car and as the doors were closing he stuck his head out, “I watched you come down. You don’t ski like you’ve been around too long.”
The guy himself told me this story and, as much as I enjoyed it, I figured it was exaggerated. But, I was pleasantly surprised a few days later when I ran into a friend who started off saying, “You should have seen so and so the other day on Little Nell.” He went on to describe the battle of the locals he witnessed. It matched perfectly what the guy involved in it told me. It really happened!
I was so relieved! That local superiority spat was something you used to see around town all the time. But, after hearing this account of it, I realized I hadn’t heard much of it recently. This brand of hometown bickering was like a blast of hot air from the past, not exactly refreshing, but comfortable like a July heat wave on a shady deck with a cold beer.
I have, in the past, addressed local status posturing with smirks, eye rolls and shrugs. I said it was silly. I insinuated it was a game for wannabes. I was above it all by birthright. I was wrong.
Establishing oneself as an Aspen local is important, not for yourself, necessarily, but for the community. The hard-fought battle to establish local status, and the fierce defense of it once attained, is possibly the strongest force available to create community cohesiveness. It is a driver behind creating identity.
It is a good thing when people show up to Aspen and recognize the value of local status. Nurtured properly, it becomes a thing coveted, but impossible to buy. It is one thing you cannot have in this town simply by virtue of being a billionaire. It becomes the thing everyone wants.
It’s not about creating class warfare. It is not about evoking envy from outsiders. It is about knitting tight community fabric by spreading values and encouraging participation in the things important to us. You are either with us or against us. If you are against us, good luck!
Think of the newcomer. She soon realizes she can recognize the people who live here. Is it what they wear? Is it where they hang out? Is it how they talk? She understands it is probably all that and more. It makes her want to talk to locals to figure this out. She sees how we recreate and she wants to do more of that. She sees how we socialize and wants to be a part of that, too. She begins to like the restaurants, bars and shops the locals frequent. She might start volunteering in local organizations and being involved in local events. It’s powerful.
The bigger and more cohesive the population of locals is, the more “Aspen” becomes the Aspen locals want it to be. The “AspenX” branding campaign doesn’t stand a chance if the locals thinks it’s ridiculous. Mark Hunt’s retail “concepts” cannot survive if locals shun them. When the “locals” status was at its peak in Aspen, there was not a bar or restaurant in town that could succeed without catering to it.
We’ve lost that swagger. We have to stop kissing so much butt, and insist ours get smooched instead. The customer is rarely right in a healthy locals’ environment. We need to remind ourselves it’s our town, not theirs. That you flew in on a private jet is just plain silly.
So, be a proud townie. Tell everyone how long you’ve been here. Make fun of tourists. If they don’t like it, good. Eventually they will come around to seeing things our way, the Aspen way.
Roger Marolt has lived here for 60 years and is damn proud of that, even though Aspen sucks right now. Email at email@example.com.
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Aspen City Council’s recent actions are proof that you get what you pay for, argues Elizabeth Milias in her Red Ant column this week.