Unsettled

You know that unsettled feeling you get sometimes when something out of your control happens and tweaks you for a day? It is Tuesday and that is happening. I know most everyone feels the weight of the 10 people murdered at a Boulder grocery store on Monday, but something might be wrong when life moves on in a sort of normal way, anyway. Yes, there are sad conversations about the tragedy and a vigil was held at a Crested Butte church Tuesday, but it feels like the Atlanta shootings happened a long time ago (it’s been about a week) and this latest incident too will feel like that for many people.

A mass shooting in a grocery store basically up the road sends a collective shiver through the community spine since we know people who have shopped there and may have even been there ourselves. Closer to home, we can no longer be sure that “it can’t happen here” but rather understand that the familiar faces of our neighbors who work the checkout lanes or stock the shelves at our local groceries could have found themselves in that evil situation. If it can happen there, we understand it can happen anywhere. Is that now a weird part of the “new normal?”

The unbelievable is no longer that — unbelievable. No one wants to be in a place where they hear the pop-pop-pop of a gun but no one would be shocked if they were. That is unsettling and should not be the new normal. According to a recent article in the New York Times, in 2018 there were 10 mass shootings where four or more people were killed in a public setting. There were nine the following year. Before the shootings in Atlanta there had been many incidents of gun violence but no such killings since March 2020. The odds show that you won’t likely ever find yourself in such a situation but it feels more likely than it did two weeks ago.

This place — Crested Butte and Gunnison County —is certainly more sheltered than most and I can think of few safer places but we are not isolated from issues. It was just a few years ago that the schools were locked down when officials determined a disgruntled employee could go over the edge. That rightfully panicked parents and gave a dose of the ‘real world’ to our sheltered community.

Other examples include the fact that a young woman was found murdered in the far west end of Gunnison County in the sleepy Arrowhead subdivision earlier this month. While it doesn’t appear yet there was a strong local tie to her or the alleged murderer, the fact is local officers are investigating a killing.

Local law enforcement arrested a man within the last week alleged to have been performing perverted acts on the bus. That can give no comfort to parents that have let young kids have the run of the place thinking the safety net was so much tighter than anywhere else. And it is, but still… It might also give pause to single women who haven’t had to look over their shoulder when walking alone. That is unsettling.
A longtime local called me with the story of what should have been a minor confrontation with what he assumes were tourists last week. The encounter should have ended when he threw out the word “Peace.” But the response from one of the women in the other group was that she had a “piece” in her purse and would use it if he didn’t watch out.

In the bigger, more societal picture, changes are fast and furious. If you have driven Highway 135 lately you know that there are some who can’t get to CB or Gunnison fast enough so they drive 70 mph, pass on sketchy curves and look at their phone maps the whole time. Just ask Sheriff Gallowich about the danger of driving that highway. He is lucky but still sore from a significant car accident near Almont a few weeks ago when a car drifted into his lane. Heck, it feels like the same attitude can be found on Elk Avenue from people who can’t get from the Four-way to the apparent Third and Elk mid-street unloading zone fast enough.

Of course, income inequality and associated tensions are growing as regular workers can no longer afford to buy a house in Crested Butte. Lots are selling for a million bucks and houses for a lot more than that. It is harder for businesses to find good employees since one of the beauties of this place was that people could live by and bike to their jobs. While that likely remains easier here than many other resort communities, it is disappearing and stressing the social network. It means having to work (or commute) longer hours and recreating less in the beautiful place you moved to so you could enjoy the great outdoors. As a former ski bum, that is unsettling. So is the rising rate of mental health problems among locals, the increase in property taxes, the rising tension between Black Lives Matter reps and a pretty liberal town government intent on doing the right thing, and the new normalcy of not always recognizing your neighbor down the street.

I’m feeling unsettled on this Tuesday and don’t like writing about it. Life is not as simple as it once was. That’s reality and given the positive trade-offs we have, we are still fortunate. So, give a smile to those who you may not know well personally but who add something good to your life when you are grocery shopping. Show some grace to people trying to figure out the right thing to do. Yeah, maybe be more aware in our valley as it changes and we see more “real world” creeps passing through, but appreciate that most everyone here is of common heart and good people who will have your back.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Most of it is really good…but Lord knows it is still unsettling…

—Mark Reaman

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