Jimmy Buffett drove me from the mountains of Colorado. Yes, the flip-flopping troubadour famous for preaching the dropout lifestyle to legions of fans wearing parrot-themed headgear had the opposite effect on me. No more sleeping late. No more tequila sunrises. No more ski-bumming. I ran back to college — couldn't get back to the books fast enough.
It's not that I despise Jimmy Buffett's music. "Cheeseburger in Paradise was a lot of fun — in sixth grade. In the winter of '88—'89, though, I'd simply had too much Buffett. I'd been force-fed from an all-you-can-eat Buffett buffet.
In those days, I'd get out of work (at a Copper Mountain, Colorado, ski shop), head over to the bar to meet my roommates (my girlfriend and my best friend from growing up), and have a beer (Killian's Irish Red) with some ski buddies while I waited. Buffett — heavy on the tweeter, light on the bass — was piped through hidden speakers in the courtyard. If only I could have found those speakers. More Buffett in the bar. But the Buffetts weren't in sync. One minute, you'd be outside in the cold with "Changes in Latitudes, and the next, you'd be inside and warm—the steel drums of "Margaritaville pinging through the air. Not that it mattered. Buffett's collected works are a lot like smooth jazz—the lack of distinction among songs is great for background applications.
Or not so great. Round about January, all that white noise turned dark, triggering what amounted to a Sartrean response deep in my being. Breckenridge, Telluride, Steamboat, everywhere we went on our days off—more Jimmy Buffett. What kind of society would condone the constant repetition of lines like "nibblin' on sponge cake, watchin' the sun bake? What's up with those affected ski instructors? Do you get a soul extraction with that lame coat? And how can you call Killian's Red a specialty beer?
I couldn't answer those questions. But having matured on Boston Lager and Bob Dylan, I knew I didn't want the growing void inside me filled with the type of fluff you could sift through a found shaker of salt. I was adrift, that much is clear. But for the first time in years I was also incredibly grounded. By the end of January, I'd already skied well over 60 days. I'd made new friendships and built on existing ones. I knew that no matter how shitty life got, I'd always have skiing.
I was just going to have skiing my way, not Buffett's way. Which probably sounds incredibly trite — unless you're a 21-year-old skier a long way from home. So I hightailed it back to school in hopes of someday having both skiing
a life. I wanted to have my sponge cake, and nibble on it, too.