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Parrott: Keeping it real (local’s edition) – Aspen Daily News

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“Surfing isn’t something surfers do on vacation. It’s not ziplining.”
Patrick Hasburgh, whose bona fides include “Aspen Extreme” and “21 Jump Street,” wrote these lines in his most recent novel, “Pirata,” and I read them not long after a Caribbean surf session this week — the perfect time to reflect on a path I’m increasingly choosing.
The juxtaposition between surfing and ziplining caused me to recall Ali Margo’s recent column, “Living la pura vida: The real Costa Rica,” in which she suggests — not incorrectly — that such activities are often tourist pursuits.
I admire Margo’s writing and share many of the travel sentiments she expressed in that column, yet something about it triggered me. Perhaps the implication that surfing isn’t necessarily part of the “real” Costa Rica? I know Ticos and expats alike from Tamarindo to Marbella, Cahuita to Dominical, Nosara to Pavones who would disagree emphatically about the surfing comment.
Then again, maybe I was simply projecting my own impostor syndrome about years ago starting as a kook on a foamie in Hawaii and only recently starting to understand mas que nada. Everyone starts somewhere, and no one likes to be told they don’t belong, right? After all, there is nothing more coveted than acknowledgement as a “local” in ski or surf towns the world over.
This got me pondering Aspen’s caste system while on a recent trip to my other home and hideout in Port Antonio (Parts Unknown: Port Antonio, Jamaica, Feb 11, 2022). I thought about the people who come to Aspen to ride the Alpine Coaster, take a sleigh ride to Pine Creek Cookhouse or fly in for a shopping spree at Gucci and wondered if they are any less “local” here than people who zipline in Costa Rica or surf El Zonte or tour Mayan caves in Belize or the Marley Museum in Kingston. Are ZG locals allowed to tour the Aspen Historical Society’s Museum? I still do (but we’ve already established that I’m a gaper).
It occurred to me that across the globe, humans tend to judge people by activity and ability more than by attitude. I did just this on my flight home from Kingston, sitting in a Miami ­International Airport bar listening to a drunk and obnoxious patron ask a Haitain bartender if she had ever been ziplining (I’m not joking about the zipline theme in my life this week). When she answered in the negative, he then cavalierly dismissed Haiti, the island a natural disaster never misses, by laughingly saying, “I’ve never been to that side of the island, just the other part (the Dominican Republic), but I forget the name… We planted some trees there on our cruise, though, so we did some good.”
I wanted to leap across the bar and pummel geography into this man’s head while screaming “Punta Cana! You went to Punta Cana, you disrespectful, cliched export of all of the United States’ worst qualities and none of its best!” but I refrained. How many Aspen locals have wanted to do the same thing to an unsuspecting visitor while seated at the Red Onion, unintentionally eavesdropping on infuriating ignorance after one shift and one drink too many?
And then the solution came to me: I should stop being such a judgmental asshole, because we’re all just getting it how we live it, and we’re all headed to the same final destination on this shared sojourn. Tony Bourdain himself said, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get off the couch, move.”
The guy at the airport bar had moved. To Punta Cana on a cruise ship, granted, but he had moved and he was trying to make a connection with our Haitian hostess via the only means he had. People who zipline have moved. People who come from the Hamptons to shop at Prada have moved. Maybe not much. But they have moved. Territorial local haunts the world over need to embrace the dualistic dichotomy of diamonds and duct-tape more than ever in our post-pandemic panacea.
I may be the prideful “local” man who bailed and buried and boogied with people in Port Antonio; an author in Aspen; and a Twitter leader in tech. I am also the kook who until recently rode a foamie; the gaper who finally started to move down mountains as well as he went up them; the employee who never could have imagined where the ­company is today. Time and chance happen to all.
And that is what I love about life. I love knowing what I don’t know and being awed and amazed at how much I will never be able to learn. This humility forces us to rely on humanity’s infinite sea of stories — each saga occupying a seat on an airplane or a spot in the lineup — the people who can help us navigate the journey. I love connecting with childlike enthusiasm, and paying back expertise in the rare fields in which I have it.
Locals keep it real with their actions, so when locals judge and become righteous, it’s a hair-trigger to the “Chappelle’s Show” skit, “When keeping it real goes wrong” — of which I have countless diary entries. Locals work to create history and a home, and they all start at ground zero. I’m rooting for the guy in the airport bar. May his cruise to Punta Cana be the first of many more intrepid ventures; may the trees he planted in disaster-ridden Haiti bear fruit. May we all move through this life a little more like Bourdain, which is to say with empathy, curiosity and humility that match the strength of our opinions and our ability to evolve.
Bourdain was a local in Port Antonio, Jamaica, and he traveled there for mere days (Parts Unknown: Jamaica, S4, E8). Daniel Craig, too, who personally funded the reconstruction of the iconic Piggy’s jerk chicken after the historic wooden building burned to the ground while “No Time to Die’’ was being filmed. Craig financed the reconstruction in concrete. Bourdain spoke with my friend Cynthia, who featured prominently and cooked for him at Winnifred, producing a show with musings on how to prevent the parish of Portland from being turned into a Bond-villain haven.
That’s all locals are, anywhere on this planet — people willing to pay the price to build community bridges with their individual interests and talents, from boardrooms to the backcountry. I’ll add, since I’m a judgmental kook, that bridges built should at minimum (a) be proportional to one’s privilege and (b) ideally in service of the people that many existing systems are designed to oppress. It can be as simple as picking up a piece of trash or buying someone a meal.
Being a local has nothing to do with who you are and everything to do with what you’re about; it’s an ethos, not a zip code. I hope you enjoy your next zipline as much as I’ll enjoy mine.
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