Stone: Claim your bags. Buy a mansion. Welcome home! |

Stone: Claim your bags. Buy a mansion. Welcome home!

We staggered back into town late last week after almost 24 hours of continuous travel on our way home from Italy. (Yes, we had a great time there. Thanks for asking.)

Typically for this miracle age of hurry-up-and-wait travel, we spent three hours in a car, a total of 15 hours on two different airplanes and a bit over six hours sitting in airports, all ending delightfully with a super-rough, slam-bang Aspen landing in the pitch dark and driving rain.

We had been herded and prodded, inspected, rejected and finally stamped with a federal seal of approval, just like any other side of beef.

By the time we scurried through the dark and rain into the Aspen terminal, I was feeling similar to an extra in a zombie-apocalypse movie, except instead of the traditional zombie moan of “Brains! Brains!” my mantra was “Luggage! Luggage!” (Although, now that I think of it, given my mental condition, a cry for “Brains!” might have been entirely appropriate.)

And, as I stood there, battered into submission, I was able to truly appreciate the Entrance to Aspen: our airport terminal.

Yes, I know, everyone has long used “Entrance to Aspen” to refer to our festering sore of a traffic jam on Highway 82. But for the vast majority of visitors to this charming little village, the airport is the real “entrance.”

And what an entrance it is.

What caught my eye, of course, were the enormous video billboards on the walls of the baggage-claim area — not to mention the large, lighted ads all along the corridor leading to the baggage claim — all of it hawking six-figure cars and five-figure watches.

“Welcome to Aspen, a unique town — and here’s a bunch of blindingly expensive stuff you can buy absolutely anywhere!”

And those pitches for high-priced bling alternate with ads for the real Aspen specialty: bizarrely expensive real estate — because, of course, whenever I’m in the market for a megabucks mansion, my first thought is to buy something I saw on a billboard at the airport. Where else would you look for advice on how to spend $10 million or $20 million?

“Now that’s a realtor I can trust. Someone with a touch of class. I saw his name on the wall of the baggage claim.” That’s like dating someone whose name you saw scrawled above the urinal in the men’s room.

Now, I know I’m not making a new point here. My fellow columnist Paul Andersen wrote about this same issue a couple of months ago, inspired by a letter to the county commissioners from John McBride.

But I’m jumping on that bandwagon, partly because the nightmare vision of those billboards was seared into my mind’s eye while I waited for my luggage (which, like I did, survived the journey with only minor bruising — again, thanks for asking), but mostly because there’s another point that I need to make.

The people who are bringing us this despicable display are the same ones who are gearing up to create a vast new terminal (with a vast new underground parking garage) that will provide a vast new canvas for their depraved vision of “Welcome to Aspen! Pull out your wallet and bend over.”

I know we have a new airport director, which could be an encouraging sign, but I fear that the process may have been fatally misguided by the recently departed director, who, somewhat unfortunately, was allowed to leave of his own free will rather than being escorted out of town like the Duke and the Dauphin in “Huck Finn”: “Astraddle of a rail … they was all over tar and feathers, and didn’t look like nothing in the world that was human — just looked like a couple of monstrous big soldier-plumes.”

Yes, I know, I’m being harsh and probably unfair, but that departed (untarred and unfeathered) director was the man who brought us those nasty billboards and laid the groundwork for the new airport — which, along with the new terminal, is set to include a new private aviation operation on the far side of the runway, which will require a rerouting and rebuilding of a big chunk of Owl Creek Road. A nice little project in itself.

Anyway, setting petty, personal, cheap shots aside (I think maybe I can do that for a brief moment), the main point is that the disgraceful display at the airport terminal is a signpost pointing the way to the new Aspen. The newest new Aspen. The Aspen that has replaced our cool little mountain town. You remember that place, don’t you? A center of art and culture. A place to relax and enjoy nature and great music. A place dedicated to enriching body, mind and wallet. … Oops! That should be “spirit.” Body, mind and spirit.

Right now, everywhere you look, Aspen is gearing up for the next big leap into … bigness. The huge vault into hugeness. The enormous slide into enormity. (By the way, that’s “enormity” in the original sense. Look it up.)

A big chunk of the community has become convinced that Aspen needs more hotel rooms, because the town’s not crowded enough at peak season. (That’s the only reason to build new rooms. The rest of the year we have empty beds.)

And the government, always glad to lead the way over the nearest cliff, seems determined to become the biggest developer around, with that new bigger airport terminal, a new bigger City Hall, a big stupid bus depot at the base of the mountain and whatever gigantic new project occurs to it next.

They say America has grown desperately obese on a diet of high-fructose corn syrup. Aspen is getting ready to leap into obesity on a diet of high-fructose money.

The goose that laid the golden eggs is being force-fed in hopes of creating golden foie gras.

Hey, it’s great to be home!

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

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