Vagneur: Pick your attitude |

Vagneur: Pick your attitude

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It was somewhat of a shock — when I finally reached 21 and could relax with a beer in the Red Onion without looking over my shoulder with every sip — to learn that the internationally famous watering hole also could be a hotbed of practiced bitching and complaining. Even though it was a disappointing eye-opener, I quickly learned to hold my own.

As we all know, there are likely more complainers per square foot in Aspen than in any other city in America, and that is only a slight exaggeration. Not much changes, and some people who moved away years ago now have a proclivity to complain that Aspen isn’t what it used to be, at least not like when they lived here. Unfortunately, and I hate to point this out, those doing the complaining aren’t what they used to be, either.

It’s easy to complain, at least in today’s world. Just ring up (or text) what you think is the proper authority, let loose with your comment, and expect something to be done. Take the Russian couple who live somewhere above “Restaurant Row”: They’ve called the Police Department so many times about disturbing, but legal, noise levels that the cops have made the conscious choice to ignore any further noise complaints from them. Push the envelope, and karma steps in.

Not long ago, a friend and I were tasked with burning a brush pile in Woody Creek Canyon, an accepted agricultural practice established in pre-biblical times. We didn’t know when we struck the match that the wind that day would be nonexistent and the wood, well-cured but still a little green, would send out a smoke signal of which Geronimo and all the tribes of the Southwest could be proud. Unexpectedly, but not unsurprisingly, someone or two people called the Fire Department to complain. I guess they inappropriately called the Fire Department only because there isn’t a smoke department.

Our fire was totally legal and permitted by the authorities, and yet, when informed of such, the complainers were not appeased. In my estimation, that’s when they became whiners. Had they shown up in person to discuss the matter, we might have attempted some mitigation, but since we didn’t know who the complainers were, hiding as they were behind a volunteer group of firefighters, we decided to ignore their protests. Justifiably, whiners evoke a certain amount of pushback.

To further stretch the point, and somewhat awestruck, I couldn’t help but ask myself, is this the same Woody Creek that not long ago sent the ashes of a well-known writer skyward with a fiery explosion, the witnessing crowd causing a traffic jam of local jokers, sycophants, celebrities, armed guards, sheriff vehicles and innocent bystanders, all seemingly without protest? I doubt anyone politely asked them to cease and desist.

Complainers don’t generally consider the hardship their protests cause other people, and if I have to explain that here, you might want to take a look inward before giving me hell.

Karma takes strange shapes and, like a black widow between the sheets, can strike at any time. Last year I was privy to a man (a known whiner) haranguing an Aspen Mountain ski patroller for not being attentive enough to speeders through Tortilla Flats. The man (who has skied almost every day for the past 10 years and still can’t carve a turn — hello, ski school) was downright rude in his estimation of ski-patrol shoddiness, all without concern about how he might appear to the rest of the world.

Late that afternoon, just through happenstance, I was stationed above a wreck at the top of Little Nell, trying to keep skiers from running into the ski patrol as they splinted the victim of a bad fall and got him into the toboggan for transport. The snowpack was incredibly icy, hard and difficult to navigate, and we were in a dangerous spot. And, just like a bad penny, who should appear but the man who had earlier berated the patroller on Tortilla Flats.

He made an unwise turn at the base of Niagara, causing him to pick up speed, and unable to do anything but side slip on his four sporadic edges, he was headed directly toward the victim and patrollers, totally without control. His deep cry of impending doom gave him away, although I’d already pegged him. A disaster was unfolding rapidly, and as I hurried across the hill to try to take him out, he miraculously got a small bite on the ice and missed everyone by mere inches. Sir, out of control, you say?

Observations are welcome, complaints sometimes constructive, and whiners are a pain in the ass. Some people can be counted on to complain, others to be grateful about life in general. Pick your attitude.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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