Friday, May 12, 2006

If the Hummer fits ...

Commentary by Michael Ames


Michael Ames, former publisher of The Street, does not condone the use of obscene gestures.


Some people in Ketchum feel that our town is under attack, Hummer-attack to be specific. Many full-time residents—let's call them Locals—get the feeling that they are being pushed out, financially conquered by a landed gentry that has chosen Ketchum to build their dream homes, live their dream lives and drive their huge dream-like toy trucks.

It's one thing to feel like you are being attacked by an H2. It's quite another to be actually physically assaulted.

Yet this is exactly what happened to one group of young Locals this past March in Ketchum, our increasingly schizophrenic town. Coming off the ski mountain, they were driving headlong to a convenience store to pick up the requisite snow-day six-pack.

The Local is cruising along when he spots the massive SUV and is struck by a familiar urge. In a moment of uninhibited adolescence, he acted on it and flipped off the Hummer driver.

The out-of-town H2 pulled a quick U-turn, bearing down on the 5B plates all the way to the store. After hastily parking his huge vehicle, the Hummer-Man, whose truck was carrying the precious cargo of his family (wife, two young kids) aggressively approached the Locals. Brief words were exchanged and then, without warning, Hummer-man pounced, like some irate NASCAR pit-crew member, sucker-punching the Local through his driver's side window.

Chaos ensues. Wife and children are screaming. Fists and elbows fly. Car doors open and the two passenger Locals pour out of the pickup to defend the driver as punches rain down.

The Hummer-man caught one behind the jaw, dropped to the pavement and, after one more outburst, realized he was outnumbered and retreated to his bewildered family. Opposite him, the Local nonchalantly walked into the store to complete his original beer-mission.

Ketchum Police arrived too late. The show was over, there was nothing to see here.

But it's worth looking back on this day in the life of Ketchum to understand just how violently our town is being transformed.

Full-time residents—whether true blue "Locals," or younger transplants—choose to live here for qualities of life particular to Ketchum, but have watched as some of those very qualities are bulldozed by relentless change. Architecture changes. Restaurants close. Grocery store options shrink. Banks upon banks rise from the dust. Trophy homes, empty more often than the sun shines, stand silent, wasting resources, driving prices higher and so on and so on. We know the story; it's a familiar one by now.

Granted, Ketchum is not ruined. But, like down-and-out townies in a private college town, some residents have grown bitter. A second-home owner might call it thinly veiled class envy. But in Ketchum, where the guy in the unwashed pick-up truck might have a doctorate in philosophy, it goes much deeper than classism.

Many locals moved to Ketchum not because they were poor, but to get away from the trappings of money. It's not that people here can't afford Hummers, it's that many don't want one. Those who prize Ketchum's historically inconspicuous nature seek refuge from conspicuous consumption. But those who pursue wealth above all else may not understand this existence, gauged not by income bracket or the size of the ladder used to climb into a huge toy car.

A Hummer is the ultimate money show. It fuels men's egos faster than it drains the earth of fuel. It takes a certain kind of person to purchase one; maybe even a person inclined to pick a fight with total strangers in front of his own children. In Ketchum, we take out our frustrations in different ways.

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