Exile on Main Street in Aspen
August 27, 2010
ASPEN, Colorado – His name is Ryan Olsen and he’s resided in Aspen since July, making ends meet on a government stipend he receives monthly.
He’s a haggard-looking man and wears essentially the same clothes every day – green Carhartt work pants and a long, beige cotton shirt, with a gray shirt underneath. The 34-year-old’s face is sunburnt, his forehead on the brink of blistering, his sandy blond hair and beard unkempt.
His favorite haunts include Main Street Bakery, where he sips coffee while gathering at the community table, and Clark’s Market, where he’ll often pick a meal from the salad bar.
But it’s his affinity for the streets of Aspen that has captured the attention of the police department, particularly officer David Thompson.
“I like doing what I can and staying out of the way. I like walking around … it’s nice just to walk along the way,” Olsen said Wednesday at Aspen Municipal Court, where he appeared to answer a trespassing citation given to him earlier this week.
Police have been busy fielding multiple calls a day about him – sometimes up to 15 or 20. Motorists call to report he’s a safety hazard. A handful of business owners have complained of loitering. Some residents have called to express worry for his well-being, while others have contended they feel threatened by Olsen, a concern Thompson says is unfounded.
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“He has no violent history,” Thompson said. “He’s just dealing with a lot of stuff. I think he needs a friend, with all honesty. He enjoys being around people.”
Thompson said part of Olsen’s social connection to Aspen involves sauntering up and down the sidewalks and crosswalks of Main Street. He often straddles the edge of Aspen’s main thoroughfare, appearing poised to step into traffic. His quick, dart-like moves spook motorists into thinking he’s a breath away from becoming roadkill. But since moving here he’s yet to be hit, though there have reportedly been some close calls.
Thompson has made an effort to help Olsen – who apparently has an aversion to cracks and lines on sidewalks – chatting with him multiple times a day. Olsen says everyone in town is “nice,” himself included.
“The reason he’s on Main Street is he wants to be around people,” Thompson said.
It’s not uncommon for people to offer Olsen money or a meal, and even clothes. He declines all overtures.
“He pays for everything and doesn’t accept anything,” Thompson said.
But fairly soon, Olsen could be relocating to Garfield County, following a trespassing citation he was issued by Aspen police Monday after they received a call from Hotel Aspen, whose management complained that he would not leave.
Olsen’s court appearance yesterday got off to a rocky start with Judge Brooke Peterson. When Peterson told Olsen to take a seat, the defendant lobbied to continue standing. The judge declined, ordering Olsen to sit. He originally sat in the front row of the makeshift courtroom, located in City Hall chambers, until Peterson instructed him to sit at the defendant’s table.
Olsen ultimately was given a six-month deferred judgment as part of his guilty plea to trespassing, meaning the conviction will be expunged from Olsen’s record if he abides by a few new rules imposed upon him by the court.
First, he’s forbidden from walking in the bus or general traffic lanes of Main Street.
“We don’t need our police department spending an inordinate amount of time on you,” Peterson told Olsen.
The judge continued: “I want you out of the traffic lanes on 82. I can’t have you out there disrupting traffic.”
Second, he’s banned from Hotel Aspen, Molly Gibson Lodge and the Innsbruck Aspen – which are all located on Main Street – unless he’s a paying guest.
And third, he has been ordered to meet with a state housing officer in Rifle next week. Thompson, who arranged the meeting, said Olsen qualifies for state-subsidized housing that is available in Garfield County.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Thompson, in an interview, said Olsen has no known substance-abuse problems and is a carpenter by trade and a gifted artist, as well. Olsen enjoys people-watching, but his affection for traffic on Main Street has posed a safety concern. He also does not like to have his photograph taken.
“We have to make the community safe, but we have to make sure he is safe as well,” Thompson said.
At the hearing, Olsen told the judge he felt he could adhere to the court’s order.
“I don’t try to walk into traffic, and I just want to be nice,” he said.
Olsen said he’s currently unemployed and is simply living his life the way he wants to. He doesn’t sleep outside, and often spends the night with friends or at a local lodge, Olsen said.
“I’m not in a hurry, and people notice me a lot,” he told the judge.