Aspen, part one: This is a long drive for someone who doesn’t like to ski
Close your eyes. Imagine nothing in view but white, blinding snow, bleached by a cheap digital camera flash, overcompensating for the dark of rural Idaho at the dead of night. All white and sparklingly frozen, except for the gleaming single word: TATE. Masterfully written with an unholy pen and ink of urine as yellow as gold.
That’s the image I wanted to start this post with. It’s the photo stuck on Camila’s camera, which I took at a 3 a.m. pee-break during a 19-hour, non-stop drive to Aspen, CO.
We were headed to a week-long retreat of drinking, hot tubs, skiing, handshaking, dancing and drinking. It’s a 20-plus-year tradition, in which about 500 people from the progressive movement (my friend Anita finds it hilarious when I call it ‘the movement.’ She calls us ‘the Hitler youth.’) gather in the ski town for a week to rest their bleeding hearts and get to know each other. Sometimes a little too well.
We would overstuff several condos, take over dance clubs and health spas, attend gala dinners. Virtually every meal is hosted by someone, and every night has a party of some sort.
Here is a series of photos and anecdotes from my Aspen retreat. To avoid incriminating or embarrassing those involved, I’ve turned down the volume a touch. Use your imagination, and layer on about 30 percent more debauchery, drugs, alcohol, and poor decisions to get a true idea of the affair.
As we pulled up to a resort to register, aswim in Subarus, Audis, North Face and fresh powder, it occurred to me: “We’re about to walk into hundreds of white, upper-middle class, bleeding heart liberals for a ski trip in Aspen. It’s like a week-long cliche.” I was partially right.
This is the view out of our condo. Camila, Matt and I were sharing a three-bedroom suite with two lesbian couples and another guy. We walked in at around 11 a.m. and there were Mimosas and cans of beer flowing already. The pace was set.
After lunch and a Bloody Mary, I crashed and slept all afternoon. We spent the first evening condo-hopping. This photo is at Gavin’s place, where everyone was annihilated when I arrived. Usually when I get together with folks from around the country, it’s for a training, so we have to be somewhat restrained. It hit me around midnight that I had nothing to wake up for in the morning. I vocalized this, and a bottle of Maker’s Mark appeared in my hand. The pace was set.
We closed the night at the Cooper Street Bar, the only local dive that I found in Aspen. Text messages and calls went out and it became a reunion with some of my favorite people.
Day 2: When I awoke, I was in a living room I didn’t recognize, in an unknown condo, lying on a series of couch cushions I had roughly fashioned into a bed on the floor. “I don’t know who that is, do you?” “No. I don’t know him. Should we wake him up?” This would become a typical way for me to wake up.
I stumbled out of the room, still wasted, with a foggy memory of an afterparty. My pissing off a stranger and then apologizing. Someone asking me if I met my girlfriend on MySpace (a half-truth rumor that had somehow traveled like wildfire, and I had to constantly work to dispel all week). And there’s a Southern breakfast! Starting soon! I joined with Matt and Camila on the way.
We walked into a crowded room, where we were greeted with drinks (Bloody Marys and Mint Juleps) and plates of spicy, creamy grits, biscuits and eggs. I put down a Bloody Mary and broke into a cold sweat. Puked in the bathroom and re-entered the fray. The pace was set.
I had a great conversation with a guy I used to dislike, but now like, about modern lit. Another drink was in my hand. “Do you know anywhere I could just go to sit by a fire and read?” He told me, “Oh yeah, you should come to my condo. I’m having people over in an hour to read the Sunday Times, then there’s going to be a Euchre tournament in the evening.”
After a day of couch-surfing around town (drink half a beer, nap for 15 minutes, drink the rest of the beer, watch some TV, repeat), we set out for the Gala Dinner. A formal affair at the Regis ballroom. Coat check, cocktail hour, a program of updates and speeches. And yes, I forgot my camera. Camila was my pseudo-date, as she often is. We shared a table with Blair (pictured left) and a bunch of other campus organizers.
Wine was flowing heavily, and other spirits continued at the Cooper Street, again. Then back at Dave and Keith’s condo for late night. I think things continued until well after four or five. Add that 30 percent I mentioned before and go to sleep.
Matt and Camila. On-again-off-again couple, and dear friends I would spend much of my trip with: