Monday, March 13, 2017

Sun Valley | Lefsetz Letter

There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed

“In My Life”
The Beatles

Nowhere’s off the grid anymore. Well, maybe if you go to some remote spot with latrines you may not be able to get a cell signal, but otherwise, you’re networked everywhere and we’re never going back.

But it didn’t used to be this way.

I set off west in September 1974 with two boxes of Maxell cassettes with my favorite albums imprinted upon them and a TripTik, an old AAA flippable map that they constructed just for you. I had no cellphone, no credit card, just a bunch of Travelers Cheques. As for checking in with my parents, that was something I did every week or two, calling collect from some godforsaken payphone, reporting what had happened but just happy to connect with someone I knew, because I was out alone on the tundra, in search of something better and more fulfilling.

I ended up in Little Cottonwood Canyon, with the best snow in the world.

And that place attracted its own acolytes.

And we were thick as thieves in the seventies, but our friendships blew apart as time went by. That’s the way it goes, the people you know best you never see at all anymore.

But I saw Mini on Friday.

That’s a nickname, when everybody had one. When Andrew was Andy and David was Dave and I was O.C., I’ll tell you what that means someday.

So I’d been skiing at Sun Valley twice before. Once in ’75, another time in ’76.

In ’75 I met my parents there. Not when planned, I first turned back, there was just too much snow. And when I finally went again days later it was one of the worst white knuckle drives of my life, in between Pocatello and Twin Falls I was afraid to take my hands off the wheel, literally, that’s why I know Loggins & Messina’s “Mother Lode” by heart, it was in the Blaupunkt, it kept repeating as the storm blew and…there was no radio whatsoever, no satellite, no nothing. I was on my own baby.

But we’re all in it together now.

And Sun Valley is intoxicating. Because it’s so far away. And the mountain is so steep. And in the spring of ’76 I went up there again, with the aforementioned Mini and Mike Bossard, I had mononucleosis, but I did not know that yet. So I begged off driving, and I always drove. And it turned out Bossard’s Camaro held less than Mini’s VW, so we went in the green bug. And these road trips…you get to know people so well. Mini was sleeping in the backseat, I bonded with Mike as we rolled on down the highway.

So it was the Lange Cup and it snowed and it was a deep memory, one imprinted upon my brain, and the truth is the slopes remain the same but the experience is different.

Because of the high speed lifts.

Because of my age.

I told Mini I’d meet him outside the ski shop, on the Warm Springs side.

Have you ever reconnected with someone from the past? An old girlfriend maybe, a wife?

I have. A couple of decades back. We agreed to meet at Babalu on Montana, where we’d had dinner once before, when we were still together. It had been five years. She expected me to still be wearing my Guess jacket, I expected her to look exactly as she did before.

But she didn’t.

We don’t expect people to age. We don’t expect their bodies to change. We expect them to be exactly the same, and the irony is they are, on the inside, only the exterior changes.

You dream of an old love and you forget the bad parts, but not long after you reconnect they surface. You expect people to change, but they don’t.

And as I’m waiting for Mini to arrive, I’m getting anxious. Will he look the same?

I keep thinking someone is him, but as they get closer they do not say hi.

But then striding in my direction he was unmistakable.

How can there be 330 million people in America but each one is unique, you recognize each one immediately.

He was just the same, only his hair had gone gray and white and he was nearly 68.

I’m nearly 64.

And what do you do? Embrace, shake hands? Your connection is immediate, hand in glove, but there’s so much to catch up on.

In this case, twenty years.

Where do I begin? The failed relationships, the health issues, the career, the money?

The first thing Mini asked me was about my skis, how I liked them.

You see you pick up where you left off.

And the funny thing about connecting with old friends is they remember stuff you do not, and vice versa. My friend Steve in Taos, who I hadn’t seen in thirty years, started telling me stories about my dad.

Mini talked about where we stayed that weekend in Sun Valley so long ago.

I told him how we met.

And we’re exchanging information. The people we have in common and the people we think we have in common but realize we don’t.

And we skied.

Now I took a lot of classes at Middlebury, but what I did most was ski, at the Snow Bowl, and the funny thing is I use almost none of that classroom material, but I still hit the hill.

And it feels so natural.

It’s where I belong.

But it’s not exactly the same.

The slopes are groomed and the lifts run at two and a half times the speed and I had a glorious time there, hell, watch Tom’s drone footage:

Sun Valley, ID

Yes, he took his drone. I took my laptop, but I barely opened it.

We were a group of guys, in a house.

I guess I don’t know how to be a member of the group. I was there to ski, from bell to bell, they were there to hang.

And I had to see Mini and Marty and it was time spent away from the group and even though I reached out in iMessage, it was clear, I was on my way to excommunication.

So the very last day I decided to go into town with Stuart, who needed his boots customized, to marinate in the memories alone.

I was walking up and down Ketchum’s Main Street, remembering when I was there before, and it struck me…

It was so small.

I used to live in small towns, not like the one in the Mellencamp song, but isolated burgs far away, where everybody knows your name and everybody knows your business, which is so inhibiting.

Which is why I live in Los Angeles today. I’m just a number. And I like that. I walk down the street and no one knows who I am. Ambling back from the market last night in my sweatpants and four days of beard growth no one at the outdoor bar ogled me, took a photo, said hi, and that’s just the way I like it.

But there’s something refreshing about being in the mountains, far removed from everyday life.

But walking around Ketchum’s my iPhone was dinging and I was sending Jim photos of the new Limelight Hotel and Felice the snowpack and my body was in Idaho but my mind was in…

Los Angeles, the cloud?

I peeked into the Pioneer Saloon, remembered eating there with my parents, my father loving a good meal, but he’s been gone since the nineties.

I walked into the ski shops but now you can see all that merchandise online. Shopping used to be an adventure, everywhere you went it was different, but now it’s done virtually, and it’s all the same.

But when Stuart was done we took a drive through the mountains, which were spectacular and I wondered… Who exactly was I, what was I supposed to do?

And that’s when I realized I was a writer. I couldn’t follow Stuart and Phil’s footsteps on Wall Street. Couldn’t run the family business like Tom. Couldn’t wrestle with contracts like Dan. Couldn’t start a clothing company like Joel. Couldn’t be everybody’s best friend like Marc. But I could put my feelings down and hope that others could relate.

You ride the pony and you wake up one day and you realize you’re too old to turn back, too old to make a left turn, you are who you are.

And that’s positively creepy. You were full of dreams in your teens, wide-eyed in your twenties. But then calcification set in and now your direction is set in stone.

So now I’m back in L.A. and I want to be back in Sun Valley.

One thing’s for sure, you’re never where you want to be.

But as long as you want to be somewhere. As long as you have desires. As long as you dream of a better tomorrow.

You’re alive.

Moon over Sun Valley:


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