Tony Vagneur: The Aspen vibe is always changing, local politics be damned
It’s not a new thing, all this grumbling about newcomers, their taking up too much space, making STR the acronym of the season, driving up real estate prices, and some are even unhappy they breathe the same air we do. Like, on some level, who is “we”?
I remember the late 1960s, when the great assault on Aspen from the outside world started in earnest. We were used to growth and newcomers to some degree, and at the same time, many of us had already been living through the years of being marginalized, having our worth questioned by those who thought they were much brighter and important than we were.
Suddenly, it was, “Where the hell did all these people come from? And why?” Trying to change our politics, our social structure, some of them were dating our women, and maybe worst of all, many of them, if not most, were skiing on short skis. What happened to the Aspen we knew? Some guy wearing a rubber skull cap, running for sheriff. Far out, man. The Red Onion occasionally featured comedians; this was something new for the local papers.
For those who had been born here, or lived here a long time, the changes could cause deep soul searching and sometimes led to life-altering decisions. Sitting at the Eagles Club old bar one afternoon, 1970s, you know, over there where Prada now hangs its hat, a native was telling me in hushed tones he’d been offered over $300,000 for his house. He was in his 40s or early 50s, and almost with tears in his eyes, said something to the effect that he’d be crazy to let a deal like that slip by — wouldn’t he? — he’d built most of it himself for about 60 grand. “It’s just not the same town anymore,” he said in closing.
He sold, moved to Carbondale, and was followed by numerous local folks, others who had been living here in relative peace, apparently unaware of what an approaching tsunami looked like. Fast forward to 2002 when another friend, more my age, a working man, was telling me he’d sold the house he’d built for under a hundred grand for around $2 million. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to cancel the contract he’d signed the day before — sadly, reality caught him a day late. The unbelievable sales price had caught him off guard.
Those examples are about the real estate, the business of which has taken over as the leading economic engine of this small burg, and as genuine as similar stories are, the human angst that change causes many cannot be overlooked.
There are the people who, after we make contact after years of not talking, are amazed to learn that I still live here, are amazed that I still ski. “I left right after high school (or college), how do you even stand it?”
The bottom line, if you don’t like what it is becoming today, think about it because once you leave, you’re pretty much gone. Some express regret in leaving and wish they could return, but have learned the hard lesson — in all probability, you realistically can’t come back. It’d be starting over. Again.
That’s the past, you might say. Today is different, we have different issues. The horse has already left the barn, stick a fork in it, we’re done. I’ve been hearing those kinds of defeatist statements for over 50 years, and the sad truth is, Aspen is continually changing. Unlike great novelists, we can’t always write the story the way we want — we have to slog through today’s world page by page, written by many different authors lacking longed-for cohesiveness. No matter today’s variations, it probably isn’t disaster, it’s just dissimilar to whatever bar we’re comparing it to.
The bottom line being, yes, the vibe we felt a couple of years ago is gone, just like the vibe we felt 50-60 years ago is gone. That’s how it works around here, and that is no excuse to throw your hands up. Fight back, do your civic responsibility, say “Enough is enough,” and do what you can to create your own vision.
For today’s problems, cautiously remember that government solutions always have unintended consequences, as demonstrated by the last many rules and regulations passed before now. Be careful, be very careful, as someone once said.
In the meantime, enjoy it. Take a hike or ride to the top of Buttermilk or Independence, take a deep breath and be thankful for what you see. Or motivate up to Four Corners, or the top of Triangle Peak, and bask in the beauty of being part of this great valley.
There’s much more to this place than the turmoil of local politics.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.