Stone: Buboes for all! A plague on both their (huge) houses
A Stone’s Throw
Aspen seems to be developing a tragic case of “bigger is better” disease.
Midlife crisis? Arrested development? Who knows? The cause is obscure, but the symptoms are clear.
Aspen always considered itself resistant to the viral infections of mainstream American culture. We liked to think of ourselves as drifting on a (somewhat) higher plane. A little more art, a little less “shoot ’em up.” A little more consciousness, a little less naked grasping and striving.
Don’t get me wrong. We had plenty of the bad stuff — just maybe a little less of it than everywhere else. It was something to cling to.
We thought we were devoted to “better,” not “bigger.”
But I remember a few years ago, looking around at the sudden sprouting of monstrous construction cranes in the middle of town and hearing people suggest that contractors were developing bad cases of “crane envy.”
At the same time, developers were coming down with “penthouse envy.”
That was the edge of the wedge.
Now, bigger is where it’s at. Unapologetically.
Nationally, Donald Trump leads the way, treating his net worth the same way he treats his hair: Fluff it up, puff it up and make it bigger, no matter how foolish it looks. Is there really any difference between the way he tops off his head and the way he tops off his financial disclosure with the declaration that he is worth “TEN BILLION DOLLARS”?
And so in Aspen, where every contractor can now have the crane of his dreams, we have gone from obsessively and expensively polishing up every last corner of town (like Marine recruits cleaning their barracks floor with toothbrushes) to tearing everything down and replacing it with the giant (non)economy size.
The Aspen Art Museum was, of course, the style leader, giving Aspen the full Trump: replacing an empty lot with a building bigger than anyone could have imagined while simultaneously allowing its supporters to preen and declare their vast wealth.
But as with any viral outbreak, the museum may have been no more than the public pustule, the major eruption of a metastasizing infection, the first bubo of an outbreak of bubonic plague.
And so it spreads. Public and private alike.
It’s not just the city with its wild desire for some sort of new civic Taj Mahal. It’s the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s obnoxious bus depot and, of course, the soon-to-be-gargantuan airport — all elbowing their way to the front in a governmental imitation of the billionaires’ Red Mountain “look at me!” game.
And then there’s the bizarre whatchamacallit — really, I can’t come up with the right word — at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Aspen Street, where one of the city’s last unreconstructed miner’s cottages has been lifted up (as if on the wings of angels) and wafted away so all hell can break loose below.
Maybe that’s the right name: Hellzapoppin’.
A Los Angeles developer has crews busily beavering away to dig a 40-foot-deep hole to accommodate a double-deep basement that includes — what else? — a basketball court.
The finished 12,000-square-foot behemoth will have a wine room, a recreation room, a massage room and seven bedrooms — with, ultimately, the original miner’s cottage plopped back on top, bearing as much resemblance to that original cottage as Trump’s topping does to actual hair or as Trump himself does to an actual human being: Many of the parts are the same, but the final result is bigger, louder, clumsier and infinitely more vulgar.
A wise colleague of mine pointed out recently that Aspen has been turning into the cliche version of itself.
That is, outsiders have long regarded Aspen as a heedless hedonistic playground for the super-wealthy, a shallow, mindless place filled with shallow, mindless people who wander around draped in furs and gold, occasionally pausing to beat a servant.
We all have smugly denied that version of Aspen.
We know better; we live here. That’s not us! We’re not like that. We’re cool.
Really. We are.
Well, maybe “we” are, but “they” aren’t — and “they” seem to have taken over the town.
As what’s-his-name wrote and sang years ago, “I am he as you are he as you are me / And we are all together.” (Ah, Johnny, we miss you.)
But here’s the worst part: Like any other metastasizing infection, Aspen’s bad case of gigantism is spreading down the valley.
Get off your iPhone for a few moments and glance around next time you’re driving through El Je-Boom!
What you see now may look a bit intense, but what the developers have in mind is enough to make you swallow your chewing gum. (Lucky you hung up your cellphone, or you might swallow that, too.)
Developers of the Willits project, which has been called many things but never “too small,” are now claiming they need to be a lot bigger or they won’t make enough money.
They’re about 500,000 square feet now, but they really need to tack on another 100,000, more or less, because … well, you know: just because.
And right across the highway from Willits, another project is screaming to be born, a baby Willits: just 135,000 square feet of commercial development. And, oh yeah, housing for maybe 1,000 people.
As another Brit poet almost said, “What rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards El Jebel to be born?”
Buboes for everyone!
Let’s turn around and head back upvalley.
Fulminating growth in El Je-Boom!
A brewing fistfight over a park in downtown Basalt — because what else, after all, is green space for?
An endless project in Snowmass — a misshapen mutant, staggering ever onward without seeming to get anywhere, taking an occasional break for a drunken vaudeville performance. “Hulk … angry!”
And finally, the cliche come to life in Aspen — with cranes galore, penthouses, underground basketball courts and somewhere, undoubtedly, a Scrooge McDuck-style swimming pool filled with money for oligarchs to paddle around in, diving and squealing like children on summer vacation.
To finish the lyric I quoted above:
“See how they run like pigs from a gun see how they fly / I’m crying.”
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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