Once upon a time, in a bar called The Black Nugget (where the men were men, and the drugs were nervous), a couple of women from out of town walked in and sat at the bar. They ordered a sea breeze and a cape cod and looked around, more with curiosity than trepidation. After a couple of rounds, they summoned the bartender over and whispered, in an I’ve-had-a-few-drinks whisper, “Is this a gay bar?”
“No, ma’am. Why do you ask?” The bartender had fielded much weirder questions than this before.
“Well, it’s just that all these guys are wearing eyeliner and we’re the only women in here.”
“Yeah, these guys are miners,” said the bartender. “And the women around here have a saying, ‘The odds are good, but the goods are odd.’”
The women laughed and decided that Carbondale was a great place to be.
Even before that, back in the black-and-white days, there were often cowboys running amok in the streets of this one-horse town. They would ride their horses home from the bar, and let’s be honest, it was mainly due to the fact that the horses knew their own way home that the cowboys made it back safely. This was back before cattle drives through town were a hit on Instagram; back when throwing firecrackers at someone’s feet just meant you liked them.
Then, along came the hippies. With flowing creeks from snowmelt, clean air and sunshine for days, they had discovered a Rocky Mountain paradise on the banks of the Roaring Fork River; a place where you could grow your own food, build your own abode and still go to the bar to see some funky jam band on Friday night. The hippies eventually won over the miners and the cowboys, and it was not uncommon to see tie-dyed clad folks hitching a ride to town in the back of a pickup or enjoying a cold beverage on the bleachers at the rodeo. Hell, once in a while, probably under the influence of the full moon, I even saw one or two at the Legion. It’s true. Harmony reigned in Carbondale, with people from myriad walks of life living and working next door to each other. Letting it be and imagining yourself in another’s shoes were admirable traits back then, and the best part of bellying up to the bar was not knowing who you would meet or where the night might take you.
Of course, all of that was back in the day. I haven’t set foot in The Nugget for years. For all I know, it is a gay bar now. Which would actually be great, because inclusivity is a big part of this town’s charm. In fact, that’s the first thing we can all do to keep calm and Carbondale on: remain courteous to each other. Mask or no mask, we can still look each other in the eye and smile as we pass on the street/bike path/trail. And we can keep talking to people we don’t know, especially if they don’t look anything like us. Lastly, we can and should tip our bartender/server A LOT. Tip enough so that they can continue to live here. That’s the best way to ensure we will still have places to go and people to see, even as we watch the ones we’re used to fade away.
Today’s Carbondale can still be called a melting pot. But more and more it’s not as much about the contents as it is about the pot, which is harder and harder to afford. Many of the people I’ve lived and loved with in this town are leaving for good. With old houses selling instantly and new ones being built as fast as can be, I hardly recognize this old cow town anymore. And as I watch people flee, young and old, in search of greener (emptier) pastures, I can’t help but wonder how long we’ll be able to hold on to the good ol’ ways of doing business with, and for, everyone. I still love it here, but these days it feels like Carbondale is changing faster than you can say, “A miner, a cowboy and a hippie walk into a bar…”