The People’s Republic
“It’s a long way from L.A. to Denver,It’s a long time to hang in the sky,It’s a long way home to Starwood in Aspen,A sweet Rocky Mountain lullaby.”– John DenverI gotta say, John’s not kidding. It seems like a long, long time ago (in a ski resort far, far away) that I hopped in my car and decided to head to Aspen for a weekend of heavy “research” into that town’s storied nightlife. Now I’m stuck on Killer 82, sitting sore-assed in the driver’s seat of my ’92 Jeep, already feeling broke and inadequate in a line of $40,000-plus vehicles, and I’m still miles away from Johnny D’s happy little Starwood fortress.But all is not lost. After a few more hours of navigating hair-pin turns and gazing down at upturned vehicles in the creek, I begin to see the signs of Aspenization: a tall woman walking a sweatered Shitzu puppy, a man in a beret screaming about “presentation” in front of a minimalist gallery, and an SUV limo complete with a ski rack. When my nostrils catch the faint smell of patchouli floating through the mountain air, I know I’ve arrived.”Boyd,” I say to myself, “Welcome to the People’s Republic of Aspen.”I love this town. I always get a first-hand look at all the quaint boutiques while I search endlessly for a parking space. I make left turn after left turn after left turn, and I practice trying to talk like a liberal until I finally find a parking space near evening.Still spinning, I look up and OH MY GOD, I’M IN LOS ANGELES!Wait a minute, calm down, this is just Aspen’s walking mall, paved with skateboard-proof bricks and lined with shops that can’t possibly pull a profit, but no one seems to care in the land of $17 million homes and $2,000-a-night hotel rooms.Ya know, Johnny D., I think the distance between L.A. and Starwood isn’t quite as much as you thought.Well, no use wasting time. I’m here for beer and that’s clear somebody’s got to get the heart of the Aspen scene, delve deep into its notorious nightlife and find out what this place is all about.A small cigar, the hint of a British accent and one hour later I know what Aspen is about: STATUS. I’ve got five women convinced I’m a writer for Town and Country doing a piece on the refractory nature of Aspen moonlight when it strikes gold-leaf jewelry. And that’s when it hits me: if you hold up something sparkly and expensive in this town, be careful you’re bound to be mobbed by a gang of 40-something divorcees.I’m fending off wrinkled-lipstick kisses when it occurs to me that Aspen’s slopes are always wide open and empty because no one in town actually skis most people are just visiting long enough so they can buy something expensive, return to Hollywood and casually recite this sentence to their friends: “Oh, that little thing? That’s just something I picked up when Henry and I were in Aspen.”So, as a male under the age of 60, I’m having a hard time finding girls from my generation, let alone my tax bracket. I’m about to ask Sven the bartender (whose real name is Jeff) if he serves anything besides dirty martinis, when one of my divorcee suitors tells me Vail is polluted.”Yes, quite,” I say (complete with Hugh Grant accent). “Interstate 70 is a brute, don’t you think?””Oh no, darling,” she says. “I’m talking about all that rabble from the Front Range.”My god, where are all the real people?OK, new approach: I ditch the divorcees, ditch the accent, ditch the turtleneck sweater and toss the cigar into the mandatory bear-proof save-the-earth compost receptacles that are placed every 15 feet, according to People’s Republic mandate. Armed (this time) with a baggie full of tarragon and a hand-knit hemp hairnet, I walk the streets till I smell the olfactory emanations of Rasta Practitioners, which is immediately because, hey, this is Aspen.I head right for that skunky smell, following the trail into the slurring jaw of Hunter S. Thompson, who is apparently doing an Ozzy Ozbourne impression from Inebriate’s Gazebo at Paepcke Park’s famous Feb. 1 peace rally. Looking up at the legendary Hunter S., and surrounded by hundreds of Boulder and Aspen’s crme-of-the-crop, stinkiest-of-the-stinkiest hippies, I am struck by a vision (no doubt enhanced by a growing contact high): Imagine if we took the entire Aspen/Boulder hippie population, led by the circular-flowing-love-rebel genius Hunter S. Thompson, and sent them on a mission to smell every tulip in France while the rest of us continued our lives in the real world.Actually, I love peace. And you’ve got to appreciate the humor of Aspen’s peace-rally brigade: “Make turns, not war! The only Bush I trust is my own!” And here’s a blunt little gem, scribbled on a T-shirt by a wild, blond-haired kid: “Make meth, not war!”Sick of meth and disenchanted by Hunter’s very high Wild-Turkey-to-audible-word ratio, I give the hemp hairnet to a homeless guy.Well, he looks homeless to me until he hops in his Hummer H2 and heads home to Snowmass. I should have asked for a ride to the Double Diamond, but it’s no worries everything in Aspen is within walking distance (except, of course, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass).At the D.D., I find a bastion of good times. Budweisers are available for a mere $9.95 (but I’m used to that), and the tiered decks at the D.D. make for one of the finest places in Colorado to go to a show. Only one problem: the floor doesn’t bounce, and I pine for the one-of-a-kind 8150 hop.Later, it’s a quick dive to Grotto’s, where the guy-to-girl ratio reminds me of home: 814 guys to one girl. I wait in line to hit on her, and when I get my turn, I’m happy to find that she didn’t vote in the Carter election and she’s actually been on a chairlift before. She does, however, have the ability to bench 190 pounds and crush a walnut in the crease of her hairlip.Impressive.But not for me.No, when a hangover welcomes me to another Colorado morning I am, alas, without a lass. Sprawled on a hallway couch of an unidentified mountainside lodge, it occurs to me that Vail and Aspen have quite a bit in common (the fine leather hallway couches, for example). And also the feeling that everyone here is living hard for just one more night, week, month or year before being forced to head home to the dreaded real world, to L.A. or Cleveland or New York or Baltimore, to a place where mountains and snow don’t set the backdrop for a nightly Dionysian drama of wealth and excess, to boredom, to doldrums and the everyday world.Since I’m an old pro at the mountain nightlife, I’m happy to say I didn’t do anything beyond regret. No, I navigated the surly seas of debauchery with a cherub’s heart, and no clever Cupid smote me with a disfigured arrow.Or so I think until I hear the creaking door of a hotel room and not one, but two voices in unison: one tart, one slurry.”Tommy, my love, break time is over.”I look up from my recliner and there they are, the hairlip and the divorcee. I hide my panic, check my pocket for the car keys, and smile up at them as I plan my escape. It’s simple: as soon as I get the divorcee to loan me $45 bucks for parking I’ll be able to hit the road.And nothing could be better because I can honestly say, at times like these, that I love my home town of Vail.Tom Boyd is a lifelong Vail local and assistant editor at The Vail Trail. He can be reached at (970) 390-1585, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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