Roger Marolt: When honesty might be the most profitable policy
Let’s not be too hard on Skippy Mesirow. His recent and decidedly fed-up-with-the-tourists rant on Instagram may be more in line with Aspen tradition than some of his critics would have you believe.
Much of the ballyhooing of councilman Mesirow’s raw, but honest, carpool bellyaching about a typical drive through Aspen on a jolly holiday evening seems to be centered around the fable of lovely Aspen as always having been an obsequious tourist town. The point being, I think, is that we all knew what we were getting into when we moved here, so shut up and enjoy getting our butts kicked for a few special weeks a year when we know full well this place will be ruled by visiting oblivious pedestrians, clueless drivers and a few crass diners and shoppers. Why? Because we can make a lot of money by bending over forwards and repeating, “Thank you sir! May I have another?” I, for one, don’t recall it always being like that.
I am old enough to remember when Aspen actually became a full-fledged tourist town. I will say it was somewhere around 1990. It was the yuppie era, when money and status became really important. The turning point was marked by high-collard, gaudy-colored one-piece boutiquey ski suits. It was when “locals” started driving Range Rovers instead of Jeep CJ-5s. It was when the cry that a 15,000-square-foot house was not nearly big enough became more common than that of elk in mating season.
Before this, tourists definitely visited, but we were even more definitely not a tourist town. In fact, nobody called visitors “tourists”. Everybody, referred to them as “turkeys”. We had T-shirt shops then. Many displayed products that said things like, “If God intended for Texans to ski, he would have made bulls— white.” They couldn’t keep them in stock. And, guess who was buying them. It was the turkeys!
I would not say Aspenites in those enlightened times hated turkeys. We were cordial enough. But, the truth is that we did not consider them our equals. And, the hard truth is that they weren’t. Being a local required a lot of things that most people would not compromise on — forgoing lucrative careers in the city, owning a house with a white picket fence around the yard, having a store where you could buy normal underwear among them.
Locals worked really hard to make Aspen a “real” town; primarily a place to live, not visit. We believed that was what set us apart from all the other manufactured ski areas popping up everywhere else. Have you ever considered where our animosity toward Vail came from? It was this. And, I still believe it is what makes Aspen the greatest ski area in the country, if not the world; although it seems we are now trying our best to compete with other resorts by becoming more like them.
The prevailing attitude was that we would keep Aspen real. If tourists liked that, great; if not, at least we would be happy with where we lived. Needless to say, things worked out differently. The turkeys loved our smug attitude! We got more popular. Have you ever wondered why the Aspen “locals” status is so ridiculously coveted by everyone who comes here? It was this. I have never been to another place where locals try harder to differentiate themselves from tourists and tourists go out of their way to be mistaken for locals. It’s a sickness.
The other thing about Skippy’s rant that got people fired up was him saying these aren’t the “right people” who should be visiting Aspen. Do not even try to equate this with the evil use of the words toward people of color, religion, sexual orientation, members of political parties, left-handed golfers or red heads. We all know who the wrong people Mesirow referred to are, and nobody would argue those wrong people can’t change. In fact, they should change. They are the few, the obnoxiously proud, the a-holes. These are the jerks for whom we hope a visit to an inspirational place like this will soften their hearts. Don’t pretend you have any more patience with these people than anyone else when they try to take over your table at Bonnie’s. Kiss their fannies at your own peril.
It reminds me of the Lulu Lemon debacle of 2013. It was about the leggings made from a batch of material that became increasingly revealing when stretched, which was a problem for yoga clothes. Do you remember what the president of the company said about this? It was something to the effect of, “Our clothes are not made for everyone.” The backlash was immediate and furious. But, outside of the public outcry, apparently people were thinking to themselves, “Yes, maybe it isn’t made for everyone, but it is certainly made for me. I’ll show them!” Sales skyrocketed. And the stock price? After an initial, short-lived drop from its $70 per share price, it has shot up to around $250 today.
So, let’s calm down about Skippy’s rant. I doubt he did any damage to the Aspen brand. Just like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, my guess is that, the more authentic we are to our customers, the longer the line will be for our clam chowder. If they ask for bread, tell them to go to Vail. Happy Soupskol!
Roger Marolt remembers when Skippy’s rant would have gone viral at the Weinerstube stammtisch. Eamil at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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