Tony Vagneur: The stories we tell |

Tony Vagneur: The stories we tell

So I’m getting the rundown from a 20-something sitting on my left at the Woody Creek Tavern.

“Four of us walked into (name withheld), one of those partially subterranean night dives in Aspen and ordered a drink. Seventeen bucks, each. When we questioned this, the dude behind the bar said, ‘Welcome to Aspen, boys. Take it or leave it.’”

In a scene reminiscent of the one in “Lonesome Dove,” where the two retired Texas Rangers, Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, “educate” an insolent mannered tender in a physical sort of way, these “boys” pulled a less brutal, but likely just as effective response.

“Welcome to Aspen, huh? All four of us grew up here, know when we’re getting ripped off and hey, California, why don’t you take your arrogant attitude and go back to where you came from.”

Sitting off to my right, with an attractive lady between us, was an older gentleman, whose family bought their Aspen house in 1947.

“Yeah, welcome to Aspen,” he said. “When we moved here, almost every tourist came down with the s—- because of the foul domestic water, if there was water. We all flushed our toilets and had no idea where it went. There weren’t any telephones, no refrigeration except at Beck and Bishop’s grocery, spotty electricity and it took forever to get here. If you needed a special part, like a hinge or screw or something filigree for your house, you went to the dump to scrounge around.”

The dump was just across Maroon Creek Road from today’s high school, where the Aspen Recreation Center partially sits. A plume of acrid smoke rose from the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the late 1960s when it finally moved down the highway.

Another friend, sitting across from me, wonders if we remember the black couple, A.J. and Margaret Jackson, the only African-American couple in Aspen at the time. Through personal ingenuity, Mr. Jackson took it on himself to arrange the dump in some sort of order, putting appliances like stoves and refrigerators in one line along the side of the dumping area. Ewart Jackson, a man born and raised at the Snowmass Falls Ranch, conspired with Jackson (a man with a sense of humor) to call the line of appliances “Black Market Goods.” Prices ranged from 25 cents to $1.50. A.J. kept the money.

The young man on my left begins to tell me how, since he’s home from college he’s been camping in the outback on his family’s ranch, back there with the wildlife, creatures that make their living in the night. Mountain lion screams, the rustle, grunts and cries of interactions between predator and prey through the willows can be heard as nature works the graveyard shift. Fresh bear and puma prints can be found in the morning.

It brought back memories of the many summers I spent sleeping in a tent on our Woody Creek ranch. My escapade seemed more subdued, as I think I only saw four bears in my life until sometime in my late 40s. Up to that time, I’d seen two mountain lions. Seems odd now when I usually count so many bears in a summer it’s impossible to track the tally. My dog Topper and I occasionally go for a late-night walk, fully aware that we would be easy prey for the many cougars that inhabit our neighborhood.

An Aspen native, Had Deane, the young man on my left, much younger than the rest of us, but attentive to our reminiscing, pulls his chair closer to the table and takes over the conversation for a bit. He’s a student of aeronautical engineering at a southern university, holds several sporting events records and, in his spare time, has put together a basic business model that should be an example for entrepreneurs everywhere.

He sells hot dogs from his own cart (the only licensed cart allowed on campus) at the university football games; he easily puts in 40 or more hours on a weekend, and makes more money during the college football season than most people earn in a year. He is in the midst of formulating a plan for franchising his business. Maybe that’s one way to grow up in Aspen and manage to afford to stay here when you settle down?

Any way you cut it, a three-hour lunch brings forth a lot of stories, tales that become lost to future generations unless they’re written down. We’re all creating our own stories, and that’s what it’s all about, I reckon.

A budding aeronautical engineer, a musician and poet, a retired gentleman Aspen lawyer, his renaissance friend Judi, and a writer all found themselves sitting at the same table. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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