The real Aspen parking fiasco confessed
October 12, 2014
They're awful words. I hear them in my sleep. They hurt people. I said them over and over again. I didn't see another way. I wish hindsight would provide answers. As it is, if I had it to do over again, I would say the same thing: "The lot's full. You have to go back to the Intercept Lot. It's about 7 miles west of here, a mile past the airport. There's a big intersection with traffic lights. Take a right. We have school-bus shuttles running back and forth all day."
Many have asked, but few know, how my weekend went as parking czar at this year's Western Slope College Fair. I'm ready to tell the truth — It was a bumper-to-bumper crop of canned-in catastrophe (a.k.a. a crap storm)!
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about getting roped into taking charge of parking for the event. With all the braggadocio that self-deprecation implies, I joked about gridlock, chaos and confusion around the Aspen School District campus, not believing for a second it could happen on my watch. I said it with a wink and let you know that my demonstration of calculated incompetence toward a "volunteer" job would cause others to cover for me. Sure, I knew there also would be a hockey tournament, a regional Ski Club fitness-testing program and a bevy of leaf-peepers congregating in the vicinity the same day. What, me, worry?
With confidence I began Sunday at 8 a.m. sharp, more or less, in the high school parking lot with my team of orange-vested fender-bender defenders. I handed out walkie-talkies; three only transmitted, and three others only received; we had just two operating the way they were designed. We'd make do. It was so calm and peaceful. What a beautiful day!
For the first mellow hour, we mostly jabber-jawed parking-guy smack back and forth on the radios that worked, burning up the decrepit batteries. Somebody guffawed over a joke from the upper parking lot a moment before hell on tires broke loose.
From then on, windmilling arms and yelling orders at innocent drivers occupied all efforts. At the lower intersection, Salem and I were doing aneurism triage — telling the most red-faced drivers to turn around and head back to the Intercept Lot first. Rob was at the entrance to the upper lot, warning that traffic on Maroon Creek Road was backing up quickly. Ken was thinking loudly about commandeering the empty parking lot at the Latter-day Saints church for overflow. Todd was testing his anaerobic threshold by keeping up with the hundreds of college reps arriving all at once. Rick and John, the eight-year veterans of the lower lot, had gone no-huddle, all-audible, hurry-up defense trying to keep rogue fairgoers from parking on neighbors' lawns. Kris ran down from the school. "Why aren't you guys answering your texts?" Her eyes grew as big as Cadillac hubcaps, surveying the mayhem. I don't remember much after that.
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It's actually amazing how quickly gridlock happens. Within minutes, traffic on Maroon Creek Road was at a complete standstill from Aspen Highlands through the roundabout at Highway 82 — in both directions!
Things got surreal. The first official on the scene was a forest ranger, of all things. Don't ask me how she got down from Highlands to yell at us. She probably jogged.
The next visitor was a homeowner irked that he couldn't get to his house. He grilled me on whom to lodge his complaint with. We verbally climbed my chain of command — The district superintendent wasn't high enough; the Board of Education was too vague. He seemed satisfied when I gave him John Hickenlooper's name but got steamed again when I couldn't provide his phone number. He peeled out, leaving my shoes and pant pockets full of pea-size gravel.
The Sheriff's Office showed up and bullhorned everybody that it was OK to park illegally on the sides of the road. The floodgates swung off their hinges. Cars parked everywhere. A Pitkin County alert was issued. Crowds trampled through forest and fields to make their way to the high school. After a bit, Aspen police showed up and started writing tickets. On the bright side, there were no casualties to report.
A week removed, I've gained clarity. It was so bad that it was actually beautiful. More than 3,000 people attended the college fair — a record. It has become an event with mass, an affair to be reckoned with! It helps kids to begin defining their futures. It's free. It's informative. It's fun! If the truth be known, even the completely overwhelmed parking crew enjoyed it in some weird way.
Roger Marolt is not available for parties, weddings or rock-concert parking. Contact him at email@example.com.
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