Shark attack! Or just nibbled to death by ducks

Andy Stone
A Stone’s Throw

I assume everyone has seen the story this week reporting that the roundabout has degenerated into a jungle of potholes.

It’s the kind of thing that newspapers have to report even though everyone already knows. Like the required but pointless headlines trumpeting “Big storm hits Aspen!” Gee! Really?

It’s like someone running up as you press a tissue to your bloody nose and telling you, “Hey, that guy just punched you in the face.”

But this week’s story added a point that most of us may have forgotten: The state wanted to do major work on the roundabout last summer, but the city decided there would be too much traffic when the repairs were planned, and it didn’t want the disruption.

So we avoided the traffic disruption last summer, and now we have a pothole disaster (causing traffic disruption) this winter, and we will still have to have repairs (causing traffic disruption) next summer.

I’m not pointing this out to criticize the city for poor planning. The city made what seemed like a reasonable decision last summer; it took a chance that didn’t pay off. That happens.

Of course, in making that decision, the city was betting against major snow this winter — it was the snow that caused the pavement to fall apart — and we shouldn’t bet against snow because, as the bumper stickers used to say, we’re all supposed to “Pray for snow.”

So we’re praying for snow and betting against our prayers, which seems, you know, kind of rude to the Almighty.

But what I’m really thinking here is that what we’re dealing with is just one more case of Aspen collapsing under the weight of our own success.

I know it’s a small instance in the greater scheme of things, but being nibbled to death by ducks is still fatal. As well as painful. And humiliating.

The point is that once again — as ever — we are failing to come to grips with the real problems here.

It’s hard to focus on the problems of success when we have all those well-fed (and wanting to be even better-fed) voices insisting that we must grow or die.

It’s like the famous metaphorical shark that must keep moving or suffocate and die.

But here’s the question: Why is that our only choice, live shark or dead shark?

Some of us don’t want to be sharks at all.

Once upon a time (as all good fairy tales begin), that was the main point of Aspen, the reason Aspen was Aspen: This was a refuge from the sharks. We didn’t have to be sharks to live here.

Sure, the sharks could come here on vacation, but when they got here, even they had to relax and stop their endless, relentless swimming and killing and feeding and just enjoy a great powder day.

But now Aspen seems to have become a world-class shark tank, and as individuals, our available roles are shark or bloody chum on the waters.

We fought for years to keep growth under control, but now when anyone suggests that things are getting out of hand, the automatic response is, “You just want to go back to the Quiet Years.”

No. And that’s not helpful. It’s a false choice: dead shark/live shark.

Suggest that we don’t need more hotel rooms and the response is, “You want Aspen to be more exclusive.”

Again, no. Aspen could hardly become any more exclusive than it is right now — and Aspen can’t be less exclusive without being a whole lot bigger. And it can’t get a whole lot bigger without turning into something that isn’t Aspen.

Another false choice.

We fight over whether a new hotel is the “right” hotel. But there is no “right” hotel if there isn’t room in town for more hotel guests.

We apparently want — or, at least, we are going to get — a new, bigger airport. But will it be “big enough” for the crowds we have right now or “big enough” for the mobs that some people think we need to welcome in the future.

And what kind of future does Aspen have if everything keeps getting bigger? (Bigger airport to handle all guests coming to our hotels. Bigger hotels to handle all the passengers coming into the airport. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Endlessly.)

Some of our political leaders want to put a friendly face on local government. They want to be smiling, nonconfrontational. They want to be middle-of-the-road. But they also know they don’t want to be dead sharks.

And here’s a rude bulletin from the shark tank: The only thing you find in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

Or, as Jimmy Buffett sang, “Can’t you feel ’em circlin’ honey? Can’t you feel ’em swimmin’ around? You got fins to the left, fins to the right, and you’re the only bait in town.”

Yeah, I know, I’m mixing the hell out of my metaphors, but the point is, we’re not coming close to handling the crowds we’ve got right now.

The highway’s falling apart. And when it’s not falling apart, it’s still a massive traffic jam. We’ve got people commuting here from almost 100 miles away because they can’t afford to live anywhere near Aspen. And we need more and more people to meet the increasing demands of our increasingly wealthy residents and visitors. And all the traffic to Aspen means the state’s going to have to build a new bridge over the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs — and that’s going to bring the entire valley to a screeching halt for months.

More! Bigger! Faster!

As Commander Cody sang, if I can mix those metaphors one more time, “My pappy said, ‘Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’. If you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln.’”

Quiet Years? Hardly.

Just think about Christmas.

When even the sharks were fleeing for their lives.

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is


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