Roger Marolt: The old main in the Jeep, a reflection of Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: The old main in the Jeep, a reflection of Aspen

Roger Marolt
Roger This

I recognized an old man in a Jeep the other day. We were in traffic moving in opposite directions. Our faces passed so close that we could have said "hi", had our windows been down. As it was, I don't think he noticed me. There was no eye contact. He was looking ahead, his sagging countenance void of emotion.

He wasn't an old man the last time I saw him and I don't believe enough time has passed since I last saw him for him to become an old man. Be that as it may, there he was, an old man nonetheless.

Let me clarify a little because I'm not saying that right. About half of us are going to be or already are old men. The rest are women. By itself, that's not a positive or a negative observation, so I don't want to sound like I'm coming down on a man in a Jeep just because he has a few years behind him.

Aside from the increase in daily aches and pains that used to come from strenuous activity and were mostly gone before noon that are now spawned by everyday routine and might nag me for weeks, I wouldn't go back and trade in accumulated wisdom for another layer of supple muscle, if I could. I think it's best to stay active to keep what of the latter is left and absorb more of the former that seems to come in waves when I remember to look for it. Life seemed more random when I was 22. I no longer believe in coincidence. Life is too surprisingly rich for that.

They used to say by the time you are 40 you have the face you've earned, thus my thoughts on the old man in the Jeep. You could argue that, since we are living longer, it's 50 or 60 now, but I think it happens earlier. The digital age allows us to immerse ourselves into all kinds of things and saturate our lives with images so that our personalities begin to show in our cheeks and chins sooner. Laptops should come with a mirror attached so we can glance up now and then to see if we are smiling or scowling as we surf and post precious time into digital oblivion.

Ten years ago, the old man in the Jeep was a well-known activist around Aspen. Everyone knew him. I would mention a few things from his local resume, but then you might recognize him and I don't want that.

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What I do want to express is that he was a rabble rouser, a guy who became popular railing against things that everyone recognizes as problems and who was generally working against the grain in between. It is the tried-and-true way to get people's attention quickly. If you want a local audience, start bashing the S-curves, the cost of living, employee housing, the art museum or Mick Ireland and you'll get plenty of encouragement. You have a Facebook page. Try it out and see for yourself.

Here is where I will caution you, though. The feedback you will get for trashing your hometown will be as addictive as crack cocaine. Once you get the hang of it and tap into the bitter crowd that used to live here and still relishes any evidence that the town has gone to hell since, you will find yourself on a one-way, single-track path of muddy popularity that leads to a shallow lake of toxic affirmation.

It's like comfortably warming your backside against a fire on a cold night only to turn around and realize the flames are coming from the Maroon Creek bridge burning down, the match that started it suddenly singeing your fingertips. You will have pushed yourself out of town, figuratively or literally, to prove you are not a hypocrite. In no time, you will be as completely forgotten as another letter to the editor about the straight-shot.

There are things we simply have to accept. You can't afford everything or even anything close to what you want. Housing is tough. Commuting is a way of life. A family won't raise itself here. Skiing will never be free. Aspen wasn't as great in 1980 as legend has it. And mostly, no timepiece runs counterclockwise.

Accept Aspen for what it is. Make changing it only the fourth or fifth priority in your life, right behind your outlook. Concentrate on a few friends and forget popularity. This is a good place, if you can manage to be humble in it. Smile, apply sunscreen and let your baby face glow softly in the contentment of authentic gratitude.

Roger Marolt tries to resist biting, even lightly, into the forbidden fruit of viral commentary, yet still falls to temptation too often. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.