Columns » Outsider




Those of us who grew up in the '50s have many fond and not-so-fond memories of that distant epoch (actually, a lot of us can't remember a damned thing).

And what memories could be fonder than those of the "invasion" movies that Hollywood churned out by the dozen? Plan 9 from Outer Space! The Thing! The Creature from the Black Lagoon! I was a Teenage Werewolf! Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

We'd go down to the glorious old movie palaces that lined Pikes Peak Avenue, fork over a buck or so, and get our fill of stale popcorn and stale plots. The titles might change, but the subject never did. Evil monsters from somewhere (outer space, Mars, the Black Lagoon, the Subconscious ... whatever) would try to take over our green and pleasant land, but they'd be thwarted in the end by the good guys, who always had short hair and pressed pants.

All very satisfying and reassuring; the good guys were in charge, the planet was safe.

Even after 50 years, the noisy, technically flashy movies that pull us into the multiplexes haven't changed much. Ben Affleck heroically resists digitally simulated Japanese fighter pilots! Will Smith takes on alien scum, and wins! Our heroes may be more diverse, and have better stylists, but they still manage to save the planet.

Well, after a summer of traveling to my favorite parts of our fair state (Crested Butte, Buena Vista, Vicksburg, Winfield, Cripple Creek), I have news for our superheroes.

The invasion started a long time ago. The invaders have won every battle. The defenders have largely given up. The war's over, and we've lost.

And who were the invaders? Just the same crewcut, clean-living folks who set out to save the planet in the '50s.

Along the way, they got older, they got rich, and they decided to buy/build a little place in the mountains. And thanks to state land-use laws, which allow landowners to subdivide their property into tracts of 35 acres or more without regulation, there were plenty of ranchers and speculators ready to sell 'em a nice little ranchette.

So what we have now, in our formerly pristine landscapes, is a kind of mega-sprawl for the rich. Carelessly bulldozed gravel roads (remember, the government has no say in the creation of these subdivisions) fragmented wildlife habitat, polluted watersheds and accelerated erosion.

Twenty years ago, forest managers could allow wildfires to burn until the fire reached a natural barrier -- a meadow, a stream, a rocky ridgeline. Nowadays, lives are put at risk and millions in public funds are squandered in order to save the summer homes of the affluent.

It's a strange kind of world that the richies have created for themselves out in the hills, a world of isolated mega-houses, each embodying its owner's retirement/vacation fantasy. The communities that once held most of a region's population (Salida, Buena Vista) are home to the servants of the rich: construction workers, maids, mechanics and the like.

Many of them live in trailer parks -- which, of course, the richies find visually offensive -- "I can't believe they allowed them to build that!" The new folks don't live in a community -- they live in a landscape, whose aesthetic quality is far more important to them than any community that the landscape might contain.

A couple of weeks ago, in a Newsweek article about the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, an Alaskan bush pilot was quoted saying, "Fifty years from now, are we going to say, 'I sure am glad we drilled in the ANWR'? I don't think so."

Maybe those of us who live along the Front Range, whose votes will determine the future of Colorado, ought to consider the future before we cater to the present. If we apply the pilot's 50-year test to our current crop of pols, how would they score? Given that they're entirely preoccupied with the issues of the day -- economic development, re districting, school testing, highway expansion, picking up dog feces -- I'd give 'em a zero. On second thought, give us a zero -- we elected 'em.

Maybe it's not too late for our local Ben Afflecks and Will Smiths to spring into action and save our particular corner of the universe.

Maybe Mayor Mary Lou and the gang can stop wasting their time worrying about Internet porn, and do what they have to do to preserve Red Rock Canyon. The Aliens Who Want to Turn Colorado into Ranchettes are about to wipe out the good guys, and the movie's almost over ... wonder how it'll turn out?

Too bad that it's real.


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