Bob Silbernagel Column November 23, 2008

Life on Earth was strange and exciting back in 1973

There’s a new show on television this fall called “Life on Mars,” and it captured my interest.

“Mars,” in this program, is actually Earth — specifically New York City — in 1973. A bump on the head has somehow transported the hero of the show, a modern-day police detective, back to 1973 and a world of bell-bottom trousers, men with shaggy hair and mustaches, and free-spirited women.

The show attracted my attention mainly because 1973 was an important year to me and my family.

First, it was the year Judy and I moved to Colorado — to the Vail area.

I can’t tell you what New York City was like that year — whether the show offers an accurate portrayal or not. But I can tell you that Vail and other ski towns were vibrant, exciting places filled with mostly young people from around the country.

The crowd we hung out with was largely Midwestern — people like us from Wisconsin, or from Minnesota and Michigan. But there were plenty of folks from California, the East Coast, Texas and Florida.

There were high-school dropouts and people with doctorate degrees working next to each other, because both wanted the opportunity and excitement offered in a booming ski town.

Mostly, there were people fresh out of college, or those who didn’t quite finish, who would stay in the ski towns only a few years before pursuing more permanent careers.

Judy and I were among the youngest in our group. Judy was shy and quiet most of the time, and some of the “older” women (one was nearing 30) took her under their wings. They still threaten to tell stories to our children of the things we did back then.

Everyone was intent on having a good time. We worked hard — me in construction, Judy cleaning condos. But we also played hard. Parties were frequent and spontaneous. There was lots of live music, which we enjoyed as often as possible.

As the “Life on Mars” show highlights, drugs were easily obtained and mostly ignored by police. A few years after 1973, I saw an off-duty Eagle County undersheriff smoke pot and I watched Vail police officers pointedly ignore obvious cocaine use.

There was speed around in those days — amphetamine pills, mostly. But if anyone was cooking or using methamphetamine, we didn’t know about it.

Not every community in Colorado was so inviting to people of our age as the ski towns. Eagle, at the time, was far more cowtown than bedroom ski community. And that first summer we were there, a very large, drunken cowboy in a bar in Eagle wanted to fight me for the right to take Judy home that night.

We managed to talk him out of it.


The clothes people wear in “Life on Mars” don’t seem quite right to me. Perhaps that’s because we
weren’t in New York, but the mountains of Colorado. Yes, there were bell bottoms, but mostly blue jeans, not hideously colored pants and shirts, other than a few tie-dyed T-shirts. Photos from the time reveal a standard outfit that included jeans, work boots and flannel shirt. That went for Judy as well as me.

Oh, we dressed up sometimes.

On one occasion that year, Judy wore a full-length, ivory-colored dress with tiny flowers embroidered on it. I wore a rented white tuxedo, and on Nov. 24, 1973 — 35 years ago tomorrow — we were married.

With my shoulder-length, curly blond hair and a tuxedo that was too large, I looked more like Custer in a zoot suit than a bride groom.

But Judy was beautiful, and the pictures taken then of her don’t look dated or out of place even today.

Our honeymoon was the trip from Wisconsin back to Colorado in our beat-up Dodge Dart. Years later, the faint outline of a heart and the words “Bob + Judy” could still be seen on the trunk of the car, remnants of a shoe-polish message from our wedding day.

Judy is still beautiful, and those aren’t just the words of a grateful husband.

Just last weekend, we went on a bike ride that took us through Palisade. Judy was probably 100 yards ahead of me (it always was hard to keep up with that girl) and I saw a man, younger than me, who was working in his yard. He stopped what he was doing to watch Judy as she rode by. He even went around the side of his house to gaze at her as she continued on. He didn’t realize I was following until I came up beside him. Then, with a furtive look, he looked down at his yard and
quickly went back to work.

I thought, “Cool, my bride of 35 years is still turning heads.”

Life on Earth was strange and exciting and full of promise back in 1973, when Judy and I had just begun our life together. It has been a sometimes difficult, mostly wonderful time since, because I’ve been lucky to have my best friend with me the whole time.


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