Vagneur: Transporting to another time

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

For me, time travel seems to come around with predictable frequency, but it’s never known from behind what curtain it might emerge.

We were coming up on the roundabout, a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority busload of us, headed into Aspen, on one of those recent mornings after a blast of real winter snow, a longtime coming, and suddenly I was taken back to those days when I rode a yellow school bus into Aspen each break of day.

Beautiful sun-washed mornings, with cobalt blue skies like only Colorado can see, are exponentially enhanced by the sparkle of small, fleeting diamonds reflecting back off of fresh, light snow. My skier’s heart quickened at the sight, just as it has for the past umpteen years, and there was a restlessness within my chest to get moving.

Some things don’t change — in the school bus days, the Vagneur boys and other malcontents sat in the back seats where we could get away with a little more, and we were rambunctious and noisy. But as the bus crossed the Maroon Creek Bridge, the entire bus would quiet down without being told, as though entering Aspen was some sort of special or regal event. Same thing happens today on those RFTA buses.

In those bygone years, we were not fortunate enough to be dropped off in front of Gondola Plaza like we are today, but had to file into classrooms in the Red Brick school building, now an arts center. Elementary kids hung their winter coats on hooks placed horizontally adjacent to classroom doors and left their overshoes or other “outside” boots underneath those hooks. Junior high students and older got their own steel lockers, placed at rigid attention up and down every bit of available hallway space. Oh yeah, we were cool.

School in those days, at least for me, was mostly a waiting game — waiting for the class bell to ring, waiting for a morning chance to hurriedly sneak up to Little Cliff’s Bakery for a box of donuts, waiting for the lunch hour and then, most impatiently, waiting for the 3:30 bell to ring.

Back in my early days I was a good student, but my attention was seldom on books. Classrooms on the south side of the building had a good view of Aspen Mountain through ancient, lead-laced windows, the north side made do with Red and Smuggler mountains. Many of us were physically in the classroom, but our minds were living outside.

On cold mornings, listening to the steam heaters warm to their task, popping and hissing, was not only entertaining, it was scary for everyone, including the teachers. We always expected a big explosion, or maybe we hoped for a big explosion, so we could get the hell out of there and go skiing.

Before I got much further with those schoolboy thoughts, the RFTA bus dropped me off by the gondola and a car-choked Durant Avenue slipped and slid back-and-forth in front of me. The view of the mountain was predictably enchanting, pulling me in, another ski day in the making and, as I buckled my boots, the ever-present anticipation that has never left was rising up and raring to go.

And then, a couple of kids, six or seven, clambered up the stairs, skis and poles akimbo, faces giving away their excitement of skiing Aspen Mountain. They reminded me of my two grandchildren, Cash and Charli, 4 and 1, respectively, growing up in this ever-changing town, and I felt a twinge of regret that they would never know the town that blessed my youth.

That town is long gone, the memories solely mine (along with a few other kids who survived those years), and there was a realization that to think in such a way was to short-change my grandkids of their own free-wheeling development.

Someday, when they get old enough to do time travels such as mine, in letters and stories to their grandchildren, they will rely on their own extraordinary examples as they talk about the intrinsic personal magic they found along the way, growing up in Aspen, Colorado.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at