Vagneur: Sniffing it down the drain |

Vagneur: Sniffing it down the drain

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The noise of a cheap electric jackhammer operating in the basement garage of a Cemetery Lane house brought her out of a deep sleep. “What are you guys doing?” she hollered down the stairs. Her male roommate shouted back, “Putting in another drain,” which seemed to quench her curiosity, maybe just by its sheer implausibility.

It was the 1980s, a more serious decade of drug debauchery than either the ’60s or ’70s could produce, and Aspen was reeling with a reputation for recklessness that was both well-earned and exaggerated. The pinnacle had been reached, or so it seems in retrospect, sometime in the ’80s, although there are still those hoping for a good jolt who’ll snort anything resembling the prized white powder, including pancake batter.

The modern iteration of Aspen always has been that of a party town, and it seems like drug use was something we knew about from an early age. One winter, the drummer for an upstairs apres-ski band at Aspen Highlands was spotted wide-eyed, edgy and desperate, taking the free shuttle to town to score a badly needed fix. His behavior was much more relaxed on the return trip and the inevitable rendezvous with his set of drums. Never mind that yours truly, about 14, sat through every set, every night, waiting for the occasional chance to play piano with the group.

In the 1960s, a couple of high school friends smoked dope with some regularity, mostly to get themselves up (or down) for their gigs at Jake’s Abbey, but the student body as a whole probably had little knowledge of what lighting up was all about. And for those who did, it didn’t really score big on the “exciting things to do” meter. But there were older kids hanging around, big-city kids, who knew a lot about drugs and who slowly were beginning to inculcate the culture into the high school. As a result, the late ’60s were a different story, years I fortunately spent in college.

In looking back, there are many who tout drug use as a badge of “belonging” during their sojourn in Aspen. There are those who’ll still swear that to request “Booth D” at Galena Street East would get you all the blow you could afford and then some. It was what it was. There are more than a few kids who made drug use a lifetime proposition, friends and acquaintances who didn’t live very long because of it. Alcohol didn’t help. Dependency is not a romantic notion; it kills with frightening frequency. Trying to live life faster than you can keep up with it has tragic consequences.

In February 1985, an alleged Aspen drug kingpin was killed, an explosive device placed underneath his borrowed Jeep, blasting through the seat and up the backside of the alleged dealer. Not a good way to go, as he didn’t immediately die. He’d been arrested earlier on suspicion of running a major drug ring, one much larger than Aspen could support, and an investigation was under way at the time of his murder. Surprisingly, in a town where drug use is considered a personal issue and not a crime, there was little sympathy for the guy getting his ass blown off. Most figured he had it coming.

During the investigation of the above-mentioned (and alleged) drug dealer, a sizable hoard of cash and gold coins had been found at his home, but there were other places that needed to be checked — homes of friends — and a money-sniffing dog was employed to aid in the hunt.

It doesn’t matter how well you hide it, there’s always some SOB that will find your stash, especially if he has a good dog. The basement with an “extra drain,” mentioned in the beginning paragraph, already had been searched once, but during a repeat performance, the well-trained canine snuffled out $950,000 in cash, concealed under 8 inches of concrete. Not exactly another drain and not a very good hiding place, either.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at