Stone: Just like a lottery winner: dead broke and headed for rehab
A Stone’s Throw
There’s a stereotype — trite and prejudiced but often accurate (as stereotypes tend to be) — that people who win the lottery wind up broke, dead or in rehab. Or all three.
And that stereotype applies not just to lottery winners. Big inheritances often knock families into the same gutter, swirling down the same drain, as lottery winnings.
I had a friend decades ago, when we were in our early 20s, who came into what counted in those days as a big inheritance. Thousands, not millions. Six months later, as he told the story, he woke up one morning broke with nothing left but a portable typewriter and an ugly hangover. And he was in jail.
And so we come to Basalt.
A few short years ago, Basalt was looking like a lottery winner.
A brigade of well-intentioned do-gooders had swept into town to rescue some local Latino families from a trailer park located in the Roaring Fork floodplain.
I said they “swept” into town, and like the proverbial new broom, they swept very clean: When they were done, the Latinos were gone, the trailer park was gone and there was a sizable chunk of wide-open land running from the edge of downtown all the way to the river.
And just like that, Basalt was looking like it won the lottery.
It would be easy to get sidetracked right here with a debate over the motivation and general character of those do-gooders, but I’m not going to do that.
And it would be equally easy to get into a debate over the fate of those families who were swept away, but I’m not going to do that, either.
Because, regardless of anyone’s motives or the possibly regrettable impact on people who may have deserved better, the fact is that Basalt wound up with an extraordinary opportunity.
It got a chance to reclaim a significant and magnificent piece of riverfront property at the heart of town. That’s a rare privilege for any town.
The town won the lottery — and then, like those stereotypical lottery winners, it lost its mind.
Oh sure, like any lottery winner, it swore it was going to make careful plans and take full advantage of its great good fortune.
Heck, it even pretended it was doing exactly that. It sent out surveys, convened committees, invited public participation. It even let people draw their own maps of how to develop the property — the municipal equivalent of posting your children’s kindergarten crayon drawings on the refrigerator. It was all so sweet.
And then Basalt fell apart.
It’s been like watching a lottery winner who cashes that $100 million check and can’t decide whether to invest in race horses, Ferraris or cocaine.
OK. That wasn’t fair.
The Basalt debate has been about development on the new open space. More development or less development? Lots of development or no development at all?
Does the town need a hotel or an outdoor band shell? Does it need condominiums or a wide-open park? Should it build three stories, two stories or a lawn for storytellers?
Those are reasonable topics for discussion. The town needed to make decisions — just as a lottery winner needs to decide whether to invest in stocks, bonds or a meth lab.
But somewhere along the way, Basalt discovered it would rather fight over decisions than actually make decisions.
Or, if I can get all fancy on you and switch from trash talk about trailer parks and lottery winners, Basalt acted as if it were T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, dithering that “In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
And reverse them Basalt did, again and again. The Town Council voted one way and then another. Citizens’ committees reported one thing and then another. Names were called. Threats were made.
Until, instead of a lovely riverside park — to stay with Eliot but move from Prufrock to “Wasteland” — it was a case of “I think we are in rats’ alley where the dead men lost their bones.”
Sticking with poetry but switching from Eliot to Lead Belly and something that actually rhymes, it was like “Goodnight, Irene”:
“Sometimes I live in the country/Sometimes I live in the town/Sometimes I take a great notion/To jump in the river and drown.”
Make that “Goodnight, Basalt”: “Sometimes I take a great notion to throw my neighbor in the river and watch him drown.”
Rats’ alley indeed.
And then — time flies when you’re having fun hating your neighbors — it was municipal election season, with the fate of the open land the major campaign issue.
Getting back to lottery winners, think of the election as a trip to rehab where you face your demons, thrash it all out and reach a resolution.
It got ugly: neighbor against neighbor, with lawn signs springing up like invasive thistles as neighborhoods signed up en masse for one candidate or the other.
Until, at last, Election Day came and the matter was settled.
Ha! Fooled you. Of course it wasn’t settled.
One woman, a supporter of the defeated candidate for mayor, declared that the election had been “flawed,” and she filed a formal request for the District Attorney to investigate “the prevailing candidates’ illegal and/or unethical behavior.”
She followed that with an open-records request for texts exchanged by the mayor (who won the election) and the town clerk.
And then the town, which had (arguably illegally) deleted those texts, apparently decided it was engaged in a fast round of “I can be meaner than you” and filed a lawsuit against the woman who requested the texts.
And then — oh, the hell with it. You get the idea.
Basalt is on the verge of waking up in the gutter, drunk and broke and wondering what happened to the fabulous fortune it won in the lottery.
Probably should have invested it in that meth lab.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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