The City of Aspen has been through bad times before, and none worse then the time the “Cross of Gold” fell on mountain towns everywhere and the riches promised by silver collapsed in a heap. So it came as no surprise when the bomber who disrupted New Year’s Eve in the downtown core and then killed himself had a personal grievance at his own core connected to a mining claim.
Maybe it was even a form of cosmic payback.
His sad and shocking death—and the chaos he created on one of the most important nights of the year in Aspen—can’t be looked at as anything less than tragedy soiled by travesty. One way to change the world is to leave it, but to do it after sucker-punching your home town has to fall short of divine justice or retribution. Such an act of desperation also says something about your home town—and the news is not good.
When I heard on New Year’s Eve that Aspen was in lock-down to a bomber, I had a bizarre but unmistakable feeling that 2008 was destined to end badly because of everything that went down during the year. I’m not pointing fingers here—that’s not the point—but I do know that I left the year in my review mirror not much caring if I ever cared about Aspen again. The politics turned so ugly that you couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad girls any more. I ended 2008 asking myself why I had bothered to even care about Aspen in the first place.
Were I picking the top ten stories of the year, one of the surprises on my list would be the time more than half the citizens at a town hall-style meeting said they were afraid to speak their minds for fear of reprisals from City officials, elected or not. To me that bespeaks a cancerous body politic both bone-weary and all but brain-dead.
Who would ever want to live in a place like that?
Maybe it’s just me—quite possibly—but my gut is that Aspen in the five years since I’ve been here has crossed some kind of a line and I don’t know why. I’ve heard said Aspen has to decide if it wants to grow up but that decision has already been made in the negative. A town this dysfunctional and stratified has nowhere to go but down in economies good or bad.
The safety net provided by easy money in Aspen turned out to be fool’s gold in 2008. That’s nothing to kill yourself over—God forbid—but it is reason to wonder if Aspen will ever find what has been lost.