American Dream

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 grocery store.

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 sanity.

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 horse ranch.

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 homes.

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 your pocket.

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 days.

Will Sands




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