Sean Beckwith: Too pretty to fail
Like the Mayans predicting the end of the world in 2012, Republicans warning about a shift to socialism or the pandemic being a precursor to the end of metropolitans, I think we all need to take five and a deep breath on this “Real estate prices are going to kill Aspen” rhetoric. Elected officials declaring a state of emergency, like Summit County did recently, because rich people are gentrifying mountain towns is akin to lighting the Bat Signal when hipsters were taking over Brooklyn.
We — people fortunate enough to have stable affordable housing in Aspen who work multiple or non-millionaire jobs — are no longer the predominant local. People are so upset about the proposed workforce housing expansion on Cooper Avenue that they’re suing the city before the thing even got OK’d.
I guess my point is there is no point in getting mad or trying to do anything about it. It was only a matter of time before technology made living in beautiful places practical. And even though working in the service industry in said beautiful, hard-to-commute-to-and-even-harder-to-live-in places will eventually break you like Kobe did Dwight Howard, it’s going to pay really well.
From a staffing standpoint, the future for Aspen or Telluride or Steamboat Springs is going to resemble the cruise industry — hire for busy season; live in temporary, too small housing; inhale as much fun as possible whenever you get a chance to come up for air from the onslaught of dinner guests or luggage; and peace the f— out when season ends because that sucked despite the hefty checks.
I know a few people who do the private chef gigs and have worked on boats, and there’s a reason (probably many) why they aren’t pursing those jobs long-term. There was a small window when I first lived in the valley that you could get lucky and find a spot on the free market. That’s laughable now. The more seasonal the housing is, the more turnover you’ll have.
I asked a couple hospitality industry friends the other day, “What is critical mass from a service standpoint? When will people stop coming here because the service is so abhorrent?” They didn’t seem to think any sort of blatant incompetence, short of spitting in a customer’s food in front of a customer, would deter people from visiting Aspen.
I tend to agree. Good help is no longer hard to find as any help will do. You know how many people I’ve had pack up their bags and move properties due to poor service or even a leaky ceiling? Zero. (I also provide exceptional front desk service, so that’s another reason people don’t jump hotels.)
My theory is that Aspen’s sunsets are to tourists what iPads are to young children. Put that stimulation in front of the most distraught guest, and you won’t hear from them until the housekeepers aren’t able to utilize that 30-minute window from 9:17 to 9:47 a.m. to service their room. It’s really hard to get mad about a longer than usual wait between courses when you’re drinking rose at the base of Ajax.
I thought, you know, eventually these urban deserters will get sick of the restaurants, lack of amenities and nightlife. Well, when your Friday night isn’t limited by your bank account balance, Aspen has a plethora of dining options, big name musical acts and bottle service, however awful/expensive, to fill the void that can only be satiated by Veuve, oysters and bragging on Insta.
Next time you see a service appreciation post, let me know. The crudo is probably getting a few more likes than Derek’s non-invasive yet attentive table waiting.
The thing is, though, that familial feeling so many people enjoy is going to fade. One of my favorite spots in high school and college in Omaha was China Gate. It wasn’t Michelin-star food, but you knew the orange chicken would have the perfect amount of heat because the staff knows how spicy you like it.
How are you going to create that atmosphere with a workforce of mercenaries, paid to do a job and move on. No two hotels are the same. They may be run by the same company, but that doesn’t mean the new front desk guy knows the best place for your kind of apres, the easiest way to get a prescription filled or, if you’re lucky, a few directions to a powder stash or two.
Aspen isn’t going anywhere because that’s impossible; it’s a place. However, the Aspen idea, its soul — that of an incubator for artists, intellectuals and, most importantly, individuals — is retired.
There’s a part of me that wants the infrastructure to crumble so I can say I told you so after a waiter backhands you with a loaf of brioche, but in the end, Aspen is just too pretty to fail.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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