The years have not treated Bob kindly. Thirty years ago, Bob and I were good friends. Unfortunately, he’s aged so poorly that when we saw each other this summer, he didn’t recognize me.
Back in 1974, Bob and I were in the right place at the right time. We had both left the East Coast and, through very different circumstances, had ended up in Breckenridge. At the time, the town had only one paved street. Many of its residents lived in cabins; horses occasionally could be seen tied in front of bars; and beer cost 50 cents.
We ran into one another at a local reunion of sorts, when about 100 former and current residents from the early ’70s got together and tried to remember each other’s names. To my amazement, I was the only one who looked the same, while most everyone else had become middle-aged. We all watched a poignant slide show that juxtaposed shots of the town, its population, and its contours, then and now. Vacant lots replaced by hotels; untouched hillsides untouched no more; the base area of Peak 8 featuring an antiquated two-person chairlift (now a high-speed detachable quad); and a base lodge smaller than many recently built homes.
As I sat in the dark and watched that slide show, I thought about how the town I loved then, and still love, had changed as much as Bob. What was once a wild former mining hamlet hoping to become a fledgling ski area had evolved into a world-class resort.
In my opinion, our town and its residents have aged well. That said, it is more challenging for a place to age gracefully than it is for a person. People age, slow down, become smarter and less raucous, but often retain that twinkle and energy of 35 years past. Towns, left to their own devices, simply grow and get crowded. But if those who love a place stay involved, a community—just like an old former hippie—can retain its vibrant charm.
Others among the gathered alumni felt less positive about the changes. My old friends’ shock and dismay were understandable: the town had remained constant in their memories, and it now looks nothing like it did in the days when two dollars represented a decent beer-buzz. But to those who stayed and watched the changes—whether they supported or opposed specific initiatives at the time—the end result is pleasing.
Still, the slide show made me cry. Was it because of the changes in my mountain town, or was I lamenting my own lost years as I pondered the effects of time on my face and figure? When a slide flashed on the screen of a place and person who is forever lost, it struck me: I was weeping in gratitude.
I was grateful that I was there when the town was young, hopeful, and resilient. I was grateful for the characters I’d met, even those I don’t remember. I was grateful that I was at the right place during the right time—and still am.
Seldom does our city, country, world, or bathroom mirror reflect the exact image we would like it to. But just knowing that you had some input makes the image much more satisfying. I wish my community and I looked the way we did in the days of 50-cent beers, but I’m happy enough with how we both turned out.
I’m just glad I haven’t aged as much as Bob.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book, Steep, Deep and Dyslexic, is available at local bookstores or via webersbooks.com.