The real reason your lift operator isn’t voting
Aleece, 25, moved to Avon a year ago in the hopes of establishing residency in Colorado. She wants to attend graduate school here at an affordable price and then return to her hometown of Las Vegas, N.M. (the other Vegas). This is her explanation for why she won’t be voting in the upcoming Nov. 5 election. Eagle County is a means to an end, a transitional period. Las Vegas is home.”There I’m affected by the politics more so than here,” she says. “Because I’ll return to New Mexico, in the long term it affects me more.”There are lots of people around here like Aleece, which is why the county’s median age is 31 and local politics is a geriatric festival. Just look at the attendance at any public meeting. Besides the reporters and the Channel 5 camera people, it’s difficult to find anyone under 40. In fact, 79 percent of the registered voters are over 30.Ironically, the county’s culture outside of the political arena is defined by youth, and the idea of “youthfulness.” An aunt of mine visiting for the first time from Delaware couldn’t get over how young everyone looked.”And everyone is so fit!” she exclaimed. Well, it’s harder to hit powder from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. when you’re out of shape. Like in ancient Greece, the local icons are athletes: Pete Seibert, Pepi Grammshammer, the entire 10th Mountain Division, etc. But in talking to the youth who emulate their forerunners’ sportif ethic, there’s a disconnect between their lives as athletes and citizens. They’re all Sparta and no Athens, in other words.The assumption would be then that Vail attracts one-dimensional people, a euphemism for dumb jocks, but most people I talked to for this article were just like Aleece. They came from big cities where politics was regularly discussed amongst their family and friends, where they voted at every election and considered themselves informed, but left that awareness behind, and most I think didn’t even realize it till they were asked about it.Sitting on stools at the Platz’l, recent residents Amy and Ivy at first seemed shocked that I was even posing the question, at a bar, during the pub crawl. They began, like most, by insisting they were the wrong people to talk to. We’re new. We’re not informed. I’m sorry. But as I persisted, their opinions started to surface.Ivy, who moved to East Vail two months ago from Kansas City and works for the radio station KZYR, doesn’t think candidates correctly utilize the media available to them.”It’s the newspaper or nothing,” she says, taking the opportunity to make a plug for her industry, the radio, which she believes could be an effective weapon in a resort town. “I don’t read the paper,” she says, by way of example.Amy blames her lack of information on the culture, which she asserts is a direct product of a transient population.”No one talks about it out here,” she says, without defining what “it” is, but she doesn’t need to. Ivy and I understand that “it” is everything that’s not skiing, snowboarding, or Bridge Street. Like Ivy, Amy describes herself as a “former voter,” as if it were something she was forced to leave behind to enter Paradise. She’s not apathetic. Politics just aren’t a part of the Life in Vail.Mike, 25, from West Vail, isn’t apathetic either. In fact, he believes the local youth don’t participate in politics because they’re too motivated.”I work 80 hours a week in order to make my free time more significant,” he says. Between playing sports in the summer and teaching snowboarding in the winter, Mike says he doesn’t have time to get involved. He’s registered, is planning to spend the rest of his life in the valley, but won’t be voting in this year’s election.”I’m not looking that far forward now,” he explains.”Why?” I ask.He pauses, looking for the right words, then says, “Life’s not settled. I’m where I want to be, but it’s not settled You know what I mean.”Once again, I’m expected, probably because I’m the same age as all these people, to understand what they mean by “it.”My interpretation of Mike’s reasoning is that he’s a willing victim of the high quality of life. Unattached to things like an office desk, a commute, or a 401(k), he’s free to be unsettled. That’s the lesson of the mountains, isn’t it? Even for those who have two kids and a mortgage, the dream of Vail is climbing above the city skyline, the smog, and the crowds. On any given day, you can get at least 12,000 feet above the rat race.What Mike and so many others have abandoned by coming here is city life, and for them, politics is too heavily associated with the city to be divorced from it. Jacob, 26, a work associate of Mike’s, clearly draws his opinion of politics from the urban picture of party machines run by money and focused on the extraction of votes from the populace, all under the guise of public servitude.”There’s a lack of honesty,” he says, and because of that, he adds, it takes a lot of research to find the truth. Faced with that effort, he says he’d “rather go play in the woods.” Trees, unlike politicians, are honest. People don’t come to Vail to escape. They come to find something they can be sure is real.’Just filling in boxes’The three candidates vying for the District 3 county commissioner’s seat, when asked why asked young people should bother to vote on Nov. 5, point to that “reality” as something that’s just as impermanent as the population. Trees can be cut down. Languages can be eliminated and forgotten. Freedoms, if not defended, can erode.Amy, Aleece, Jacob, et al, seemed to understand these arguments very well. They understood that their lack of involvement, justified as it was by the freedom of youth, is necessarily impermanent (“I could say I won’t be affected, but that’s me being nave,” said Mike). Motivation isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of tools to make the right decision, which everyone seemed determined to make if they were to make a decision at all. The greatest crime seems to be that dishonesty that Jacob referred to. None would dare do something they didn’t believe in wholeheartedly.A good example is Ryan, 25, a co-manager of a local snowboard shop. Despite the fact that he just moved back to Eagle County two months ago, he’s registered, planning on voting, and is very well educated about many of the issues.The one in particular he cites as important is Amendment 31. His girlfriend is a teacher in Edwards, and the two of them talk frequently about the measure and the various articles they’ve read in the local paper that deal with it. A recent meeting he had with snowboard company reps turned into a debate about the measure. He’s also concerned with over-development and thinks there are too many multi-million-dollar homes, but despite the fact that he’s looking to buy a home himself, he’s not overly concerned with affordable housing.”You get what you pay for,” he says. “If you’re dedicated, you can do it.”But he also says he wishes he knew more. He says the information is out there; you just have to get it, and if you’re not educated on something, you shouldn’t vote on it because you’ll skew the decision.”I vote only when I feel strongly about something,” he says. “I won’t just fill in boxes.”Perhaps then the problem is a lack of issues to feel strongly about, says Erica, 23, who grew up in the valley and just recently returned.”We don’t have a leader or a cause we entirely believe in,” she says, extending her analysis to a wider spectrum. “I don’t think I do.”Unlike the 20-something population in the cities, who congregate in the tens of thousands for protests in the streets, the young people who come to Vail are, in Mike’s words, “less opinionated and more open-minded.” The ability to rally en masse suggests a willingness to subjugate oneself to a cause, and that’s the opposite of the Vail mindset and the myth of the West. You come here to make yourself, and then afterwards, maybe you join the world.There’s a realization, perhaps due to the World Trade Center attacks, perhaps not, that the decisions you make really mean something. This is the opposite of the concerns I heard from the commissioner candidates, who were under the impression that the problem with young non-voters was the difficulty with seeing the results of their actions.But listen to Jacob: “In the cities, you can get away with not knowing about the issues. It just comes down to who has more money. Here it matters. It’s more important. You decide how the woods are going to get cut up, if at all. I’m not used to it.”
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