Getting back on the ’Ride

The sun was sinking, a cool wind was on the rise, and curiously, the bar was nearly empty. In fact, it was totally empty until three guys blew into the joint, saddled up comfortably on corner stools and ordered up.

The three knew each other by name and shared time over the occasional drink, ride or ski. On the occasion of that night in that nearly empty bar, the three convened with a specific purpose in mind. And over a few cocktails, they tried to put a long-standing and great riddle to rest.

“Whatever became of the good-old days?”

As with any great and long-standing riddle, they began to pick it apart at its beginning. Dipping into the realm of forgotten dreams and memories, this trip into the lost chapters brought smiles to their faces. But, every sip of beer, twist in the barstool and look outside reminded them of paradise lost, and as bottles were emptied and tales were told, more than a couple regrets surfaced.

No end to the riddle in sight, the three eventually paid up and packed it out of the bar, leaving only heavy questions and an air of lost dreams to mark their passage.
Having spent a big chunk of my life bemoaning the loss of the good-old days, the exchange sparked my interest. And had I chosen a different stool that night, I could have spun a couple tales and mustered a few tears of my own.

Looking back, the ’70s and early ’80s clearly were the good-old days for my hometown of Telluride. Coming from all over, hippies, ski bums and anarchists sniffed out and descended on a silver-mining town gone bust. They populated its classic shacks and filled its dirt streets and bars, opened and operated its new ski lifts, and then they rewrote the rules for living in an unparalleled mountain town. The living was lean, but no one minded. The greater family eased the burden. The shadows of Ajax, Ballard and the San Sophias provided reassurance.

For me, those days were my only benchmark, the only living I’d ever known. My parents were among the squatter hippies, wheeling into the San Miguel Valley in a Volkswagen bus and toting their infant son. I gladly made my way through an unorthodox public school, grew up around the pool tables of the Roma and found solace in the deep powder of Bushwhacker and on the perfect bumps of Zulu Queen.

At that time nothing else really counted to any of us. The happenings of the outside didn’t inspire interest. That is, the happenings of the outside didn’t matter until the outside began to take over.

Looking through the Hollywood haze that now envelops Telluride, those “early” days really do seem like a high point in ski town culture. At that time, the ski bums hadn’t traded in their restaurant jobs for real estate licenses. Hang gliders still outnumbered private planes. And the health food co-op and the Tofu Shop restaurant proudly occupied a space that would later become a gallery. Back in those days, we still thought Oprah was a kind of a vegetable. The last star to visit the high-altitude hamlet had been William Jennings Bryant during the turn of the century.

Many years later in Durango, I’m still tempted to romanticize that Telluride hey-day. A bunch of my friends love to hear me tell tales of those good-old days while mentioning how shitty things have gotten “up there.”

But to be honest, two weeks ago, things in Telluride were far from shitty. And I suspect they’ve been far from it ever since I packed up and left more than a decade ago. Looking around Town Park during Blues and Brews, the old valley seemed like it hadnchanged a bit. Ajax, Ballard and the San Sophias still framed the view. Cool beer poured from the tap, and Dr. John’s piano sounded from that classic Bluegrass Festival stage that’s seen only a few changes in the last 30 years.
More importantly, a bunch of my friends are staying true to those good-old days and keeping that misfit dream alive. And then it really started happening. The first faces I recognized were those of hippie kids I’d grown up with. They were back in the valley making their homes there and living the good life after stints in filmmaking or investment banking.

And almost as if my eyes had adjusted to see what had always been there, I started seeing the ageless faces of those old squatter hippies, first a couple, few and then dozens. And believe me, they weren’t sitting around on bar stools bitching about how lousy things have gotten. They were smiling, laughing and getting down just like during the first Bluegrass Festival, still having the times of their lives in Telluride. And I decided it would probably be alright to get down a little bit myself, comfortable knowing that the good-old days are alive and well.

-Will Sands






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