2021 sure seems to be a year of big change. New habits (and buildings!) are cropping up faster than the tulips, as we all try to figure out how to cope with our new normal. Between learning how to bake bread, entertaining ourselves at home and cutting out the daily commute, maybe COVID was just the thing to bring about compassion, commonality and cleaner energy. If necessity is the mother of invention, then adaptability and creativity must be her sisters …
Speaking of sisters, mine is moving home. Hooray! I can’t wait for Griswold holidays, Family Circus dinners, and Freaky Fridays. I am the oldest of three daughters and we were all born here, in Aspen. But before you get an image of over-privileged, undernourished, resting-bitch-faced sisters, let me remind you that 40-some years ago, Aspen was just a small mountain town with an eclectic community, pretty decent skiing and a significant drug craving (they say more cocaine traveled up Highway 82 than any road in Colombia).
But we were little kids. Our Aspen was homemade bread, playing by the river and picking out school clothes from the Sears catalogue. This was before anyone wore fur in Aspen; in fact, it was pre-animal-print anything. People wore those unisex vests with a sunrise (or sunset, depending on your perspective) on the back. To this day, those down vests — with shades of pumpkin orange, lemon yellow and caca brown — are quite the nostalgic trigger for me. They remind me of a time when I was still naïve about the world, before I saw that profit rules every industry; before I realized our food was genetically modified, our water poisoned with chemicals, our homelessness ignored by polite society.
Aspen in the 1970s was a town full of people who had hitchhiked there with a little dough in their pocket and then just never went home. Instead, they spent their days skiing and their nights drinking in the Red Onion, until the money ran out — then they spent their nights working in the Red Onion. It was real, small-town living, before The Excess showed up. Before the little mountain town became an international hotspot for emotionally unavailable parents to “spend the holiday” with their kids, and long before you could play Daughter or Bought Her? on the Hyman mall.
Our school projects were things like handprints molded in clay, picture frames made from construction paper and Elmer’s glue and poster board all-about-me questionnaires. My sister’s board reported that our dad “drank beer and played Tug-of-war” for a living, because we had just attended the annual Ski Co picnic. Dad always smelled of three-in-one oil mixed with a particular scent that lingers in ski patrol locker rooms … It’s a good smell; like damp wool, cold metal and sack lunch. My primary memories of Aspen are yellow-gold leaves, red mountains and bright white clouds against a cool blue sky.
While I can’t remember seeing anyone panhandle, I do remember neighbors bringing hella casseroles in times of crisis. And the school bus drove all the way down to the end of the road after Ted Bundy escaped from jail. It wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen, but we were all in it together. There wasn’t the level of Haves versus Have Nots that we see today. Maybe because everyone was ordering out of the same catalogue, or because status was held by the quality of your bread and drugs, not your mansion and private jet.
Now I live downvalley, with the rest of the refugees, and it’s happening here. Carbondale is losing ground as we speak, from a small town where neighbors shared potato casseroles to a place of part-time residences and expensive bobble shops (that’s bobble, not bottle). Right now, it is more affordable to live at the Days Inn than any long-term rental in or around Carbondale. But, as a community, we can decide what has value. The level of inequity in this valley is not set in stone, and we can reinvent the wheel — we can even go hybrid. Carbondale, hold the line! The Bread War is not over. I am not giving up. In fact, I’m calling in reinforcements. Just wait ‘til my sister gets here …