I know a local woman who once made
her living on meatloaf sandwiches. Twenty-some-odd years
ago, she and a friend mixed beef, spices and tomato sauce,
baked at 350 degrees and sold their fare to a much leaner
collection of job-sites. Truly small business, their earnings
went into a cookie jar, and money for the next batch of
supplies came out of that same jar.
One sandwich at a time, that woman made a decent living
in Durango. And while meatloaf has limited romantic appeal,
she had ample time to enjoy this
area and take life at a leisurely pace. That was an era
when big winters and big water really meant something.
Back then the rat race meant getting in more days on the
ski area and in the backcountry. No one was making much
money, and it didn't matter. You didn't need much.
And as she tells the
story of those days gone by, a smile hangs on her face as thoughts
of the good old days fill her mind.
Twenty some odd years
later, I know another local woman who picks up shifts waiting
tables, teaches skiing and does odd jobs. Her earnings go into a
bank account that struggles to keep pace. Her checks jump straight
into envelopes and cover a car payment, mortgage, utilities and
credit card bills. What's left goes into the cash register at the
One packed work week
after another, she squeezes out a living in Durango, and while
she's passionate about her work, that's the price of her
She does get out in the
backcountry, though only occasionally. Doing things like showing up
at meetings or getting involved in local issues are totally out of
the question. She's lucky if she has time to leaf through these
pages and occasionally misses an issue. Not too worried about the
good old days, she's doing her best to get by.
Personally, I can't
really complain too loudly. But I have been spending more time at
the desk and on the phone and less out on the streets or in the
woods. In a perverted twist, somehow this work thing has been
growing on me. My own car payment, mortgage and new mouth at the
table speak loudly. Occasionally I find myself staring blankly at
the computer and daydreaming about my old part-time job at the
I also feel fortunate. I
am not that former climbing guide who now sells real estate eight
days a week or the artist who traded in his brush for a computer
terminal. And I'm not that woman who used to sell meatloaf
sandwiches. Now, she's up to her eyebrows in a business that does
well during the summer but struggles for the remaining eight
months. The smiles are few and far between, and her skis have yet
to leave the shed this winter.
I know that none of us
came to Durango to work 60 hours a week and continue to slip
financially. There are countless cities throughout the country
where 60 hours a week eventually leads to sports cars and second
I definitely didn't
select Durango because I thought I could make my fortune or further
a career in this valley. I have no intention of working three jobs
to feed a diminishing quality of life. For me, the American Dream
has nothing to do with working more hours and putting less money in
No, I came for a taste
of those simpler times. And in spite of the visible struggle, I
know Durango is one of those places where many people are still
making it happen. Many locals still prefer to do their American
dreaming outside the office.
There is no denying that
times have changed in this valley over the last 20 some odd years
and changed radically in the last few years. The Durango machine
has grown larger and more complex. Housing, gas, clothes and all
the necessities of life have gotten more expensive.
On the other hand, it
doesn't take much imagination to think beyond these hardships.
Meatloaf sandwiches are also much more valuable these