When I was a kid, my sisters and I would ride our bikes endlessly around Sopris Village in El Jebel. Our dad lived there, and it was like sci-fi Nancy Drew because it was this suburban “village” surrounded by miles and miles of empty fields: no City Market shopping center, no Movieland, nothing to do but ride around the paved streets surrounded by fields of long grass and weeds.
There was one restaurant on that side of Highway 82, a sit-down, nice-but-not-quite-fine dining place, with white tablecloths and water glasses at each place setting. I can’t remember the name of it, but I think it started with a W, and they kept a little dish of mints at the hostess station.
At least, they did until the Perry girls rode up on our 10-speeds. It felt like a caper to ride up, run inside and grab a handful of mints, before speeding off on our bikes… Around and around we went on those paved streets in the middle of nowhere.
Nowadays, I wouldn’t tell a kid to ride their bike anywhere near that area. Mid-valley traffic rivals the shitshow that is Aspen, and everyone’s in a New York mood: rushed and furious. As we all watched, our valley became a magnet for urbanites who want to live a more natural, care-free life. After all, we’ve got it all: clean rivers, public lands, endless sunshine, affordable housing — err, I mean, it’s all relative. The housing in this valley seems affordable if you’re a millionaire from Manhattan, or if you’re willing to live in your car; there isn’t much available in between.
A big part of Carbondale’s charm is that we are more than an affordable place to stay while visiting Aspen. We have our own lives happening here: pure punk rock, Potato Day, ranching and real rodeo. By the way, now we’ll have the only rodeo in the Roaring Fork Valley, as Snowmass is tearing out their rodeo lot for — you guessed it, rent-controlled housing.
But even this past summer, we could not park our old red Ford pickup with the white wooden rails at the Gus Darien Arena. Every time I went online before noon to try to reserve a spot, they were immediately unavailable. Then my dad told me that Rob Lowe was in the truck next to him, and I thought, well, that does it… now we’ve got the aging teenage heartthrob population coming to Carbondale.
My first exposure to Rob Lowe was full frontal, at about the same age I was riding my bike around Sopris Village. In the movie “The Outsiders,” while stepping out of the shower, Rob’s towel “slipped.”
I was like 12 or 13, and all my friends and I sat up super close to the TV as we rewound that scene more than once on the VCR.
He and Matt Dillon and C. Thomas Howell were always on the cover of Teen Beat (the ‘80s version of TikTok) and Matt Dillon was S.E. Hinton’s pet, in much the same way John Hughes couldn’t make enough movies for Molly Ringwald to star in.
Oh, those were the days! You think you like Carbondale now, you should’ve seen it back then. In 1983 nobody was in such a hurry as to drive through town like their asshair is on fire. The only honks were audible waves because we saw someone we knew. The USFS property looked exactly like it does today* and Carbondale and El Jebel were distinctly different towns, with miles of empty land between them.
Now, the Willitsification of the mid-valley has completely obliterated El Jebel and is quickly eclipsing Carbondale. We are one construction site after another: fancy retail on the ground floor, expensive box-living above, or my personal favorite: architecture-for-the-apocalypse, cinder block-style, climate-controlled storage for the likes of Rob Lowe’s artwork. With the number of storage units going up in Carbondale, instead of a bedroom community, we’ll be a garage community for upvalleyers and all their junk. But maybe these can be the affordable housing units of our future… We could all reside in heated/cooled comfort, with shared indoor plumbing and ADA compliant access. A little dystopian perhaps, but at least it’s affordable.

*Public forum to discuss USFS Main Street plans on Thursday, Oct. 5 at 6pm at the Third Street Center.