Vagneur: Is Aspen losing its characters?
February 2, 2018
"Do you think the younger generation will have any characters like we've had?" asked the lady across from me in the gondola.
"It's hard to say, but you're right, we've had a few," replied yours truly. "For Chrissakes, you were married to one," I further interjected.
"What do you mean 'characters?'" asked the woman next to me. "There's a difference between a true character and someone looking for attention by living a self-invented slice of notoriety."
We all agreed that the town has changed a great deal over the past few decades, and it is increasingly difficult to keep a network of locals together that would recognize a true character. Before you get incensed, think about it. It seems like back when, we all lived in town and were like an aspen tree forest, all connected by a similar, if not common, root system.
Housing for local workers mostly disappeared with the influx of wealthy folks who wanted to live downtown and bought second-story properties, once home to the less-affluent, or who bulldozed and scraped once affordable apartments, condos and houses, replacing them with accommodations unavailable to those less than well-heeled. Like gasoline on fire, it exacerbated an already lively exodus of locals to down-valley terrain.
So, yeah, maybe it is harder for a character to emerge from the ever-changing and always moving hive of working or middle-class folks because many people catch a bus or other ride down valley at the end of the day, or are forced to go to a second or third job just to make the Aspen rent they've committed to.
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After-hours socializing is severely limited by such living situations, as is the number of participants, and if there is a true character lurking in our midst, he or she might be on the 5 p.m. RFTA express headed down the fabled ribbon of asphalt known as Killer 82.
Spook James (there's a true Aspen character whom I'll allow to tell his own story) and I used to ski together every weekend and were always looking for adventuresome diversions on skis. One late afternoon, coming off Aspen Mountain, we cut down a skinny trail just above Aspen Alps, which didn't yet exist, and as we passed by a crudely built little cabin on stilts, we peered in the window to see a man and woman engaged in a rather enthusiastic act of sexual intercourse, although at the time, our description may have been a bit more lewd.
Charlie Bolte built that little bungalow, and others around the valley, long before you needed a building permit to do so. To someone's credit, that stilted abode, scene of recurrent shenanigans, some much later by yours truly, still stands.
Bolte lived in Conundrum Creek for a long time, and his occasional visits to town became the stuff of legend as he entertained the local watering holes with his own brand of drunken, melodic song and storytelling. He also was the ski patrolman who hauled me and my broken leg out of Spar Gulch piggyback when I was 9 years old.
There was a different Charlie we all knew, or thought we knew, a man nicknamed Crazy Charlie. Hell, Charlie Davis wasn't crazy but was the kind of guy you wanted on your side when things started coming unglued. He was big, powerful and had a unique talent for seeing a situation from a unique perspective, something which might save your life. Maybe it was the look in his eyes or the appearance of sheer determination emanating from his entire being that helped forge his nickname.
He and H.P. Hansen ran the best-ever Christmas tree lot in the East end, across from the old Aspen Athletic Club, Pope Rowland's land to be exact, the corner lot with a small trailer on it and an A-Frame in the background. Loading trees on top of cars and trying to explain to fussy women how it all worked left Charlie a little frazzled, but there was reward waiting at the pub, underneath the Wheeler.
For years, Charlie was in the firewood business and more than one local put in time splitting biscuits and loading and unloading cord upon cord of firewood. He might pass you on the street and literally strong-arm you into helping him unload a couple of cords for an out-of-the-way customer.
There are a lot of stories that could be told about Crazy Charlie, including one about cattle rustling, but this being a family newspaper and all makes it difficult to figure out how to put them in the best light. He was a good friend to many and definitely what you would call a true character.
Before you get on me about missing this or that one, trust that there is opportunity to write about others. Your recommendations are appreciated, but remember, they can't be "someone looking for attention by living a self-invented slice of notoriety."
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.