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SO I MARRIED A TOUR GUIDE SERIES – Dean Jackson

So I Married a Tour Guide….Home Again

 “Home, Home Again, I like to be there when I can. When I come home cold and tired, its good to warm my bones beside the fire…” Pink Floyd.

Whomever said you can never go home again was wrong. Here I sit, at the San Francisco Airport, ready to embark on a trip down memory lane. For the first time in 32 years, I’m going to the town where I grew up, Aspen Colorado. While I rarely travel alone, preferring the company of my wife and private tour guide, Kyra, this trip is different. I, along with three of my childhood friends, wrote a collaborative memoir about growing up in a small town with big aspirations. Working class kids, in a town of millionaires, which would, in time, become a town of billionaires. I’m going home again, to celebrate the book, see old friends, and do a book signing. While I’m only at the beginning of the physical journey, this trip home started long ago, when we decided to write about the town that shaped us. So I married a tour guide, but this time I’m going it alone.

Having gotten up at 4:30am , in order to catch my Uber and avoid the San Francisco rush hour, I arrived at the airport at 6:15 and cleared security by 6:45. So far so good. Having left the house so early, I resolved to find breakfast at the airport. The breakfast sandwich was delicious, the hash browns crispy, the coffee and orange juice eye opening, and the check breathtaking. $37 with the tip. This is the first instance in which my private tour guide whispered to me (in my mind, as she wasn’t there), that I should have been better prepared, and perhaps should have brought a snack. You see, preparation is her bread and butter, she needs to know all there is to know about San Francisco. Lack of preparation resulted in my egg and bacon sandwich. I’m not complaining, but I shouldn’t make it a habit.

There is a theme on this trip. Small airplanes, large carry on bags. San Francisco to LA, I’m told by the gate staff that when group seven was called, I had better be in the front of the line, or my roll aboard (with several copies of my book, to be signed by all the authors for friends and family) would have to be checked through to my destination. I’ve learned the lesson the hard way that, when you have something essential, carry it with you, lest your luggage end up in Asheville rather than Aspen. I lucked out and got a seat. On the LA to Aspen leg, at least half of the carry on bags did not fit in the overhead compartments. Mine ended up belted into the seat next to me. Another whisper from the tour guide in my life as the snack cart came by. I was perfectly willing to shell out $11 for a fruit and cheese plate. Alas, none of their more elaborate snacks were aboard. I had 12 tiny pretzels for lunch.

There is a second theme to this trip. I didn’t do any of the planning, I’m along for the ride. My friend and co-author, Andy, and our friend David, picked me up at the airport, so no need to book a ride. Dave drove us to the condo Andy had rented in Snowmass, so no need for me to book a room, and then to a party to honor the authors of the book, so no need to do any event planning.

Childhood friend, Erica, planned this party in our honor, at her beautiful Snowmass home. Three of the four of us authors (Andy, Chris and I) were prodigal sons returning home, to be greeted by our erstwhile family with, if not the fatted calf, then the fattening deserts that followed a delicious meal. The fourth author, Lo, having never left, was an ambassador for Aspen, welcoming us wayward children back into the fold. Childhood friends and acquaintances alike showered us with hugs and with stories, food and drink. A huge brown bear walked through the neighboring yard during the festivities, as if to say “welcome back to the mountains.” Whomever planned that cameo should win an award.

The books signing, also planned by others (the wonderful folks at Explore Booksellers), was a wild success, with our book selling out and a crowd so big that people were turned away at the door. At the event, someone announced their run for the presidency, another loudly, and drunkenly, touted our meeting on the plane to Aspen the day before, the readings of book excerpts were, at times hilarious. The next morning Andy, Dave and I drove the back roads into town. The mountains against a clear, deep blue, sky. Dave turned on John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” and we had an impromptu singalong as we made our windy way into town. The meals and gatherings to follow over the next couple of days were mainly spontaneous adventures with the kids from out past, now the local adults holding down the fort while the billionaires frolic.

As the weekend ended and people returned to their post-celebration lives, I found myself alone. It was high time that I became my own tour guide. Was my once-home still recognizable? Would the most beautiful place on Earth (IMHO) still hold the majesty I remembered? I couldn’t leave without finding out.

Tour 1: The Mountains: Maroon Bells is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on Earth. The snow capped peaks rise majestically over a clear mountain lake. The meadow, green and vibrant, slopes gently down to the glimmering water. Aspen trees and Evergreens blanket the slopes. Just as I saw it in my youth, when we would drive up to the parking lot and picnic in the meadow before hiking the trails or fishing in the streams. Sometimes we would camp under the stars, or drink a six pack away from parent’s prying eyes.

As tourists continued to flock to lake in cars, and continued to picnic in the meadow, and pick the wild flowers, the once pristine area was showing some wear and tear. In order to preserve it, cement paths were poured, rope boundaries erected, and cars prohibited. Now one has to take a bus up to “The Bells” as locals continue to call it. This bus provides valuable commentary on the geographic history of the place, and the flora and fauna that inhabit it now. Tours of the lake and the surrounding woods are offered free of charge, and God sculpted peaks still lend grandeur to the skies. In quiet contemplation, I guided myself on a tour of the area, breathed in its beauty, and with a single tear, remembered. While I can no longer picnic in the meadow, the trade off is worth it.

Tour 2: The Town. As I was driven into town I realized that my compass still worked. I was struck by the way I could remember where each turn was, I could remember what business or house resided on what corner. I found myself saying things like “wasn’t that where (insert business here) was?” This was usually followed by a friend answering “yes” or more rarely, “It’s still there!” As I wandered the outdoor public mall which I terrorized on bicycles and other tomfoolery in my youth, I found myself remembering the stores that occupied nearly every storefront back in the day. The red bricks and wooden benches were the same. While Prada may have found a home in Aspen, the home that I remember is still there, under the surface, and the people who remembered it with me keep it alive as more than a ghost.

As I close this current Aspen chapter, writing as I take in the mountain range from my friends’ yard, and awaiting a ride to the airport, I realize that, while a home may change, it can also remain. 

So I married a tour guide and I make my home with her.

 

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