Sunday, May 23, 2010
In Defense of a Little Place Called Aspen
“Aspen is a place for people who can’t make it to San Francisco and who have enough money to fail gracefully.” ~Hunter S. Thompson
Give me a Peeber and a porch or give me death. I think that’s what some famous colonial once said. Well not really. But some drunk Ohioan, erroneously citing an old, dead white guy whom he believed to be a famous colonial definitely said that. That’s PBR by the way – Pabst Blue Ribbon – for those of you who missed the reference. It might have won a blue ribbon at the 1893 World’s Fair (it’s unclear) and it’s of decent, Midwestern stock. So it’s got my vote – blue ribbon or not.
I’d gladly get rid of the too-trendy-to-function martini bars for the rest of my life if God would promise me that I could drink cold beer and watch the sun drop over Shadow Mountain forever (Palmer 2009). And there you go rolling your eyes at me “Yeah right,” you’re saying, “Look at this poor, little rich girl. Thinks she’s slummin’ it because she drinks PBR. She lives in Aspen. Who’s she kidding?” Or maybe you just think I’m channeling my inner hipster by ironically imbibing with the beer of farmers and steel workers in the town of investment bankers and trophy wives. But just because I competently play the part of a martini bar whore doesn’t mean I am one. And Aspen allowed me to be me. Just me. Jeans and a T-shirt and never a stiletto in sight.
And most people roll their eyes at me and chuckle, “Ohhhhh you live in Aspen.” Or they pull out dated movie lines circa 1996, “A little place called Asssssssspen.” And last but not least, “Where the women flock like the salmon of Capistrano and the beer flows like wine.” Congratul-fucking-lations, you’ve seen Dumb and Dumber. And please know that quoting it is the furthest thing from original. If I had a nickel – well actually a quarter, this is Aspen after all – for every drunk tourist who stumbled down the street quoting Dumb and Dumber at top volume, I’d have a house on Red Mountain.
God bless the tourists for keeping us all in beer and pot. But unfortunately they show up, go big and go home. They leave loaded down with fancy and piled high with stories of Aspen as the American Nightmare. A veritable Sodom and Gomorra – nothing more than a hedonistic playground for Goldman Sachs execs and a fantasyland for their lost and pot-smoking offspring. My friends in Cleveland, good Midwestern souls that they are, love to inform me that I am delusional in thinking that I live in the real world. And this really pisses me off. First, it implies that Aspen is populated entirely by rich people swinging from the rafters of their Sotheby’s acquired homes and resting on the laurels of the Italian leather seats of their Gulfstream V. False. Second, it implies that people who possess said Gulfstream V, make more than $500,000 a year (lowball) or have more than one home are not, in fact, real people. False again.
Despite a healthy base of cash money bling-bling in the Land of Milk and Honey, there are normal people. Now I am not claiming that I live in Hough or Watts or in some backwoods, West Virginia rural ghetto. I know that we are the lucky ones up here in Aspentown, and that most of us have never worried about feeding our children with food stamps, gun fights in schools or foreclosures in the suburbs. Nonetheless we work hard to support this life we’ve chosen. We swig PBR (yes, I’m really hooked on PBR right now. I’m missing luke-warm PBR’s and softball at the moment. It’s the withdrawal talking), make thirteen-bucks an hour, wear Carharts, support families and otherwise bust ass to try and “live the dream” as Aspen virgins are so fond of claiming until they realize that the dream is really just life. And without those people – the bartenders, the maids, the ski patrollers, the APD, the nurses, the firefighters, the waiters, the lifties, the raft guides, the clerks and the baristas – there would be no Aspen. And those are my friends. And we drink Peebers. And watch the sun set. And play beer league softball. And get our kids to school. Just like you there in Des Moines, IA.
It’s a known fact that neither the Franklins in someone’s wallet, nor the cost of their phallus on chrome, matters much to me. However, neither does it give me right, or reason, to claim that they are less worthy of respect just because they possess these toys of capitalistic gluttony. Rather, I judge people (harshly) on their ability to treat others with the basic respect and decency that all human beings deserve. And in my experience, the ability to treat someone like the shit on your toilet paper is by no means directly proportional to the size of one’s stock portfolio. An upturned nose directed at a man with money simply because he has more green than you not only speaks volumes about your lack of class, but also of your ignorance. Because without these people to spend the money, and buy the Prada and drink the Veuve Cliquot, Aspen as we know it would be long gone. We’d all be shit out of luck and shit out of work. Sent packing on the first plane back to Cleveland.
And I’m not ready to see Aspen kick the bucket. When I found this odd little snow globe, I quit my big-girl job three days later, packed a duffel bag and never looked back. Now I understand that my falling-down, former meth lab of a ski bum mansion is valued at $2.5 million. Not just expensive for what it is, but stupid expensive. And I understand that life in Aspen is costly (Well really only real estate. Groceries for example, are cheaper in Aspen than in Cleveland. But that’s an argument for a different day). I also understand that by employing my frontal lobe capacity – made strong through four Ranger Rovers worth of education – I’ll figure out how to make it rain…er…snow. I’ll keep life small enough to fit into the back of my Subaru. I’ll crash in a ramshackle ski bum pad with five roommates to cut down on rent. I’ll give up on the house in the burbs with the manicured lawn (not that I ever had that Steppfordian hallucination, but anyway you get the point). I’ll get rid of the TV. I won’t have kids. And then I’ll maintain my freedom to head of the Kathmandu or Quito at a moment’s notice. So call me naïve and delusional, most people do, but this is where I want to grow old and die.
If I had another quarter for every time someone bemoaned the crippling boredom and unending uniformity of their paltry existence in cubical hell, I’d have a surfing compound in Fiji too. They say, “Man I wish I could live your life,” or, “I would totally live your life if only I didn’t have [Insert Half-Assed Excuse Here] holding me back.” And I think, “Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you attached that ball and chain to your ankle. Or maybe, the ball and chain isn’t as onerous as you think it is. Cut it off. Head on out there into that too vast world and get you one of them lives you’ve always dreamed about.” Why not?
And that’s why Aspen is magical. It’s a sociological study in what happens when you put a bunch of death-sport seeking, adrenaline junkies in one mountain town and cut them loose. My guess is that Aspen is really the psychological study of some vast and secretive government agency, funded entirely by Paepke investment and tasked with studying human behavior in a post-consumer, post-capitalist world. Put simply, we’re a study in what happens to the most risk-taking people when they are given everything they want. What happens is one degree from total anarchy – in the best possible sense of the word. We always ask, “Why not?” instead of, “Why would you do something that crazy?” We will climb any mountain, ski any run, raft and river, visit any country, drink any whiskey and huck any cliff. And we will change the world someday because we’re bold enough to think outside the box. The people inhabiting this little place called Aspen are genuine, certified, grade-A real people. Sorry to disappoint. I know it would have made ye-of-outside-the-snow globe feel better about your lives to think that Aspenites weren’t actually real, or were at least a bunch of rich assholes who spent their days counting and recounting their pile of money.
Come out a see for yourself. Just go ahead and quit your job, pack your bag and never look back. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Would you rather the unknown possibility of a chance or unchanging security of destined certainty?
Ski Co is always hiring lifties.
A little place called Aspen
Our $2.5 million ski bum palace
The view from said palace