Sam Wagner: A summer of improvement, one way or another

Well, for better or worse, another summer in the pandemic is over.

This one felt a lot better, all things considered. It all depends on what you choose to look at. Cases are a lot lower (although still too high), vaccines have prevented a lot of deaths (at least for those that got them), and events have largely returned, to the joy of everyone. It also puts us firmly in the “well over a year” category in the world’s handling of COVID.

My thoughts of summer always correlate to my birthday in August, and I can now look to two separate times that the day was tied down by restrictions and issues.

Last year, I decided to venture from my work-at-home bunker in my apartment for my birthday, and use my already-planned vacation time to take a trip to Palisade. (The time was originally planned as vacation for a friend’s wedding, which was twice delayed and then canceled like many things, and just coincidentally lined up with my birthday.) A couple hours drive completed, I didn’t have any plans for the destination, and simply ended up eating dinner and shopping before returning back that night. A timid excursion that seemed almost otherworldly.

This year, while it wasn’t quite as debaucherous as the original expectations hoped, the return of events brought us a big step forward. The regular scenes came roaring back, and even something as simple as sitting in the bar was on the table. It’s tricky, now, trying to find the balance between adding new events and making things safer, enforcing mask mandates but allowing full capacities and jam-packed weekends. The positive spin on this is that nuance wasn’t even in the conversation last summer.

This year, while I wasn’t able to do much on my actual birthday, I went to The Aspen Times 140th party, took in a Maren Morris/Jimmy Buffett concert and spent an hour or two at the Food & Wine Classic, all within a couple weeks. And beyond that, I got to go through the minutiae that’s part of these events, rituals that I had forgotten. Things like getting excited to have plans and actually having a reason to wear clothes that aren’t shorts and a T-shirt.

At each of these, after the perpetual concern of crowds died down, I was able to appreciate the good feelings of returning to large gatherings. It’s helped break out of what has felt, at times, like a cycle. It’s easy to compare last summer and this one and get stuck in a loop of, “Is this going to ever get better?”

The similarities are easy to see, although, of course, we are empirically better off than a year ago. But, the general feel of these however many months has blurred together so much that days and weeks can seem the same, and seeing signs of returning mask mandates and cancellations can bring anyone down.

So instead, look to the improvements, even the small ones, as a sign that things have improved and are looking to get even better.

Sam Wagner is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email at