Vagneur: ‘We don’t take Aspen checks’
Editor’s note: The following column, written by Tony Vagneur, ran in our Saturday, Aug. 3 print edition. It did not, however, appear on our website Saturday. We apologize for the oversight.
The other day, a friend revealed that he and his son had made somewhat of an emergency stop at a downvalley oriental restaurant for lunch after an event of some kind. He didn’t have his wallet and mentioned to the hostess that he’d like to write a check, which brought on a two-minute lecture in broken English about what a pain it is to accept checks anymore, and no, she wasn’t going to take his check. All this, in spite of the fact that the restaurant was empty except for my friend and his son.
Hardly anyone writes checks anymore in this plastic society, but there was a time when cash and check were about the only two options to paying the bill. As a kid, I used to stand on tiptoes at Pitkin County Bank’s Western-style barred window (in the Cowenhoven Building) every Friday and withdraw some cash to get me through the weekend. By the time I’d reached junior high school, I had discovered the convenience of writing checks and never visited that window again, except to make deposits.
Many who lived through the ’60s and ’70s in Aspen have the nostalgic memory that everyone was considered equal and life was like a bowl of warm Jell-O. That is unless you went shopping in Glenwood Springs and needed to write a check. The influx of young people to Aspen during the late 1960s brought with it a multitude of transients (some still here) who hung more worthless paper in Glenwood than they did visqueen in their temporary, idyllic quarters in the mountains surrounding Aspen. Ask to write a check to a Glenwood merchant, and the reply would be, “Of course — unless it’s from Aspen.” Guido’s admonishment of “No Beatniks Allowed,” displayed in his restaurant window, was about the same as “We don’t take Aspen checks,” which was plastered in at least one Glenwood storefront. It was a game, devising ways to get the check written and your purchase grabbed before the sales clerk could figure out the draft was from Aspen.
That kind of attitude about checks always intrigued me but never so much as one day at Catherine Store. For about a week, we’d been stopping there every day for sodas and snacks, hauling hay as we were to the Diamond Arrow Farm along 100 Road. The proprietor was a seemingly nice guy, and our crew of three got along famously with him. Normally, we’d gas up our big truck at the Co-Op, where we had an account, but this guy was so pleasant, we figured one day we’d give him the business instead, sort of an appreciation on our part for him being so hospitable. That was in the day of $1.30 gasoline or some such price, and I wrote out a check for 80-odd dollars and slid it across the counter.
His fury was unleashed with a suddenness that startled all three of us. A tirade of expletives came our way as well as the check, which the man threw in my face along with a half-gallon of spittle. That’s what you get for trying to do a guy a favor, I reckon. While I was trying to calm the man down, one of my cohorts put a garden hose in the truck’s gas tank. If the crazy SOB didn’t want the check, we’d give him back his gas. Soon enough, he saw the absurdity of the situation and stooped down to pick the check up off the floor, which somehow seemed like a proper apology.
For years after that, whenever I’d tell the story, people would marvel at the fact that I might have been the only person alive who ever managed to write a check to that man’s store. It’s hard to say, and even though the ownership has changed several times in the past 38 years, I just haven’t felt like going back.
So, the next time you’re in Glenwood, keep the plastic in your wallet and try writing a check to an independent business other than a car dealership. See if times have changed.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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