Fear and Loathing in Aspen

Hunter S. Thompson was a gritty character. He was a member of the National Rifle Association. He accidentally shot a person while attempting to scare a bear away. In his house near Woody Creek, he kept dynamite.

He never graduated from high school. He worked for Time magazine till it fired him for insubordination. He once was charged as an accessory to robbery.

His breakthrough novel was about the Hells Angels. For that, he lived with the Angels for a year till one night they beat him almost to death. He later wrote a series of deviant “Fear and Loathing” novels beginning with the classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

He once said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

Whatever you think of how he wrote (well) or lived (less well) or died (badly), say this for the guy: He was a true character.

I thought of Thompson when I saw that the buttoned-down readers of Travel + Leisure magazine recently voted Aspen their “favorite town.” What’s next? Will Aspen be ranked best by the rotund readers of Bon Appetit? By the gentlemen readers of Gentlemen’s Quarterly? By the narcoleptic readers of AARP magazine?

Here’s the tragic part: Some of the locals are crowing about it. When they were in high school, these boasting boosters must have been in marching band. Maybe they still are. These people have lots of school spirit. Not to mention rotundness, gentleness and narcolepsy.

If Thompson were still around to see this affirmation from the pantywaisted readers of Travel + Leisure, I imagine he might scare them to kingdom come, or at least past the roundabout, by riding his Harley into Peach’s without opening the door first, lighting up a stogie (at least), laying his piece on the countertop over the carrot cake and demanding a cheeseburger and pitcher of domestic beer. Hold that aioli crap.

Now that Thompson is gone, to whom has the stinky, smoldering torch been passed? Surely Aspen still harbors a few salty sailors. Surely we still have some characters with true grit, the kind of grit that makes your eyes water and sting. If the collared and coiffed readers of Travel + Leisure don’t fear and loath us, I thought and hoped, it’s only because they don’t really know us.

So I took a quick inventory of our fearsome and loathsome arsenal:

• There was a recent story in these pages about men with mustaches.

• Up in the Red Mountain Labradoodle Sanctuary, we have some expensive foo-foo dogs (the kind who would read Travel + Leisure and might have single-pawedly skewed the reader poll).

• In my neighborhood on Smuggler, there’s an old-timer who has a boat in his yard.

• We used to have the Aspen John Denver statue of an eagle trying to fly away with the poor man, which was the kitschiest oversized bronze this side of a grandmother’s porcelain Hummel collection, but, thankfully, both the eagle and its prey have been relocated to Denver (the city, that is), where it is now known as the Denver John Denver statue.

• I saw a diesel pickup truck with a bumper sticker shouting, “THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH AMMO.” That seemed promising, but I think the driver was from downvalley (and it was nighttime, so I didn’t stop him to ask).

• In the West End there’s, well, actually, there’s no one at all in the West End.

Alas, my Aspen inventory found that in the fear-and-loathing department, we’re shootin’ blanks.

Oh, we have a certain crowd that consciously fancies themselves “characters.” But the typical self-styled Aspen “character” is a government employee with six weeks of paid vacation, practically unlimited sick leave and infinite job security together with a lifetime pension and free health insurance. He collects middle-class welfare in the form of taxpayer-subsidized housing on the grounds that his mere presence enriches the rest of us. His notion of being a bad boy is not to ride a chopper with the Hells Angels till they beat the bejesus out of him so that he can write a novel about it, but to call in sick on a powder day.

Yes, the truly fearsome characters fled long ago, and the loathsome ones followed. Like rats, they shied and shimmied as the ship of Aspen sank into the smarmy sea of suburban schlock.

After all, to them this is a scary place. This is a town that regulates the height of a house, the length of a dog leash, the decibels of a party and the menu of a restaurant. The City Council once seriously considered setting a speed limit of 18 mph till the rest of the country laughed it down. Soon it will just put gates and speed bumps over Highway 82 east and west of town and declare it a gated community. No rats allowed.

That the crease-panted and crease-pantied readers of Travel + Leisure neither fear nor loath Aspen — but instead just adore it! — must make Thompson turn over in his grave. Or whatever is the equivalent for a guy whose cremated ashes were shot into the air by a cannon.

Those readers are right, I have to admit. Fear and loathing in Aspen? Nah. Try Alta.

Published in The Aspen Times on Nov. 10, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/9016288-113/aspen-fear-readers-loathing

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