Vagneur: Two of a kind | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: Two of a kind

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

How quickly it changes — the cold wraps itself around us with unerring accuracy, stingy snowflakes make an appearance, and in the midst of what should be a joyous time, the passing of longtime friends pulls at our heartstrings reminding us of days gone by.

A deep-voiced, gravelly, "Hey, Vagneur," was the only greeting I ever seemed to get from Fred Crowley. If it was going to be a good conversation, at least from his perspective, it was laid out there with a chuckle and a "what the hell ya doing," but if there were serious issues on the table, it was usually, "Goddammit, Vagneur, I gotta talk to you."

I was introduced to Fred by his cousin Doug Franklin, a kid my parents considered family since 1949 or 1950, whenever the Franklins moved to town. Doug and I were best friends, so when Fred was introduced as Doug's cousin, Fred just sort of automatically became family, as well, and we treated each other as such, both the good and the bad.

For many years, Fred was the electrical inspector for Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, and almost everyone knew it. One night, I breezed into the T Lazy 7 Ranch bar for a quick one before the crowd arrived for Wednesday's Steak Night, and got accosted by Fred. The health inspector had been called out of town to a family emergency and had cajoled Fred into making a scheduled health inspection at the ranch.

Fred said something to the effect that ranch owner Lou Deane seemed like a tough cookie and wanted me to run interference for him. So I bought Fred a beer and walked into the kitchen, telling Lou that the health department was there to make an inspection. Lou followed me out to the bar and upon seeing Fred assumed we both were playing a joke on her and promptly yanked the beer out of Fred's hand and emptied it over the top of his head. And Fred just sat there and took it. For whatever reason, he always suspected me of setting that one up, an accusation I treasured.

On those big snow nights of old, before the city looked at snow as an enemy, the meandering trail of late-night bar-hoppers could be clearly seen on the unplowed sidewalks, a sign that people were looking for something, something not even they were really sure what it might be. But one thing was for certain — stumble into a bar tended by the ever-low-key-but-effervescent Pendo and you'd get bombarded by the wisdom of the day, interspersed with more original jokes than an opening dialogue on "The Tonight Show."

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Richard Paul Pendergraft, "Pendo" (Sept. 21, 1943 — December 2016), was one of those Newport Beach guys who came here in the late 1950s, ready to take hold of an Aspen renaissance that looked like it could only go up. Waiting tables, tending bar, working the restaurant trade was good in those days, allowing for all-day skiing and no need for second or third jobs. Life was sweet. And it got to be a lifelong habit.

Pendo always tried to embarrass me by asking in a loud voice in the lift line or in Bonnie's, "Who knows where Tony parks?" He'd have given a lot to know, but I never cracked and no one knew. You could tell where he parked — he always had a damned canoe strapped to the roof.

Surely you remember the Italian Caviar restaurant, owned by Sirous, under the Tippler and next door to the Copper Kettle. Excellent cuisine. Pendo tended the bar and it was one of our favorite dining spots.

So one night, Pendo says, "Why don't you play the piano in the Copper Kettle on your way out? They'd love it." I played three or four songs and left to polite applause, thinking I'd done something good.

The next time in Italian Caviar, Pendo says, "Don't play that damned piano again. You're gonna get me fired if you do." I felt bad but accused him of having the idea. He let me stew about it all through dinner and on the way out said with a really straight face, "The Kettle wants to know if you'll play a few songs on the way out. They really liked it last time." He laughed, and I called him names.

Pendo was looking forward to skiing this winter — he was going to really get the most of out of it, better than any season before. We talked briefly a couple of weeks ago, about skiing mostly and how we were gonna hook up and show the mountain some serious stuff.

Apparently he couldn't wait and went on ahead to the big mountain in the sky. When I get there, he'll be showing me his secret trails, just like he did years ago on Aspen Mountain.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.