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It Takes a Community like Aspen, Colorado - Coming Together for

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

My friend Pete is a smart-ass. He’s the first to tell you, if for some reason you don’t identify it on your own. He lived here for 20 years on and off, according to the final tally. Pete and I share the same sense of humor and we shared the same tired refrain over off-season beers after about eight winters for me, probably 16 for him, something to the effect of heading to the beach or the tropics or somewhere warmer during those first grim hopeless weeks in November when no one is in town and they’ve taken the sun with them. We both grew up in California and this sounds like some hippie thing someone from California would say, but I feel like people from California understand each other. I can usually recognize a fellow Californian in a crowd; and although it’s a big state with too many people in it, when we meet each other across other borders, we often settle into a knowing camaraderie filled-with one liners and similar outlooks on traffic and nice weather and Anchor Steam beer (It’s really good.)

I met Pete through my friends Mary and Diana; our circle of girlfriends loved Pete. We weren’t alone. All girls love Pete. He’s always called me James and we always laughed together over nothing in particular, just general sarcasm and stupid movies and the excess of humor in the world according to us. Pete would tool us around in his Jeep Wrangler, escorting us to the Snowmass Free Thursday concerts; I probably have Pete to blame for my nagging need for the wind in my hair, convertible-style. He was always the pick of the litter for intramural softball teams, having been on his way to the big leagues out of college.

He came back to town recently, as the guest of honor at a fundraiser in his name. Pete has ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he’s living with his sister in Los Gatos, California, close to his family and his health care and keeping in touch with friends via facebook and text because he can’t talk as easily as he used to.

While in Aspen, Pete ran CLS, Colorado Limousine Service, making sure those efficient and sleek black vans brought you to and fro DIA, fancy parties, wherever and whenever you needed to go. I ran into Pete once in DIA when the flights to Aspen were cancelled, due to some sort of snow flurry, and I remember him taking charge of the situation and finding a way for us wayward snow bunnies to get home that night, safely and efficiently and -of course -sleekly.

I imagine it’s a pretty surreal feeling fighting a disease with no known cure. There’s a lot of information on ALS, but no real resolution to date. Pete was diagnosed in February, has lost about 40 pounds and doesn’t sound like himself. But he’s still totally Pete. He’s not in any pain, and his perfect outlook on life remains. I stopped by to see him at his condo at the Gant; the front desk gal, Brooke, had sent him a text: “Pete, I haven’t heard from you so I want to make sure you have everything you need. I’ll be here all day so just let me know!” He tapped the phone, shook his head and turned to me. “James, I’m so spoiled!”

I lost touch with Pete awhile back because keeping in touch has never been my specialty. But I knew he moved to Vegas for a bit, and eventually back to San Diego. During our visit this past week, we talked about my brief stint in Vegas and he told me about having to hightail it out of there; apparently, my friend Pete likes to gamble. I laughed at him, and he laughed, too. He said something about missing the free cocktails.

He’s a really good example of the golden rule; he takes care of his friends -he takes care of everyone he can, really -and he buys drinks for people and helps people out and gets you home from Denver and he always wants to know what’s going on with you and he’s got some wise-crack comment to set the right tone whenever possible. It’s pretty easy to want to spoil Pete.

The Pete Hinojosa Weekend took place August 14-16, and brought a community together. It was 20 years of Pete, some who still live here; some who flew back just for the occasion. Family and old friends gathered for a BBQ in Koch Park with Jes Grew, beer and wine, and food from the Hickory House, all donated, and a dunk tank dousing local celebrities with cold water, all for donations to Pete. A dine around town Saturday night involved more than two handfuls of restaurants with a portion of the proceeds going to the cause, while Sunday was the grand finale at Jimmy’s, with a silent auction, buffet dinner and DJ and all proceeds from the $125 ticket going to help Pete pay for his medical care.

His friends Steve and Grayson and Wes and other equally dedicated Pete-goers put the whole weekend together; they built a website, got donations from local businesses, enlisted food and drink sponsors and accommodation information and then volunteered for three days to be in the dunk tank, serve the burgers, pour the beer and take the donations and print up the envelopes and get the right wristbands for the right event and borrow the mobile oxygen tank and get Pete’s haircut. They even walked around selling tequila shots, shot-girl style, to raise every last bit possible for the man of honor.

Hanging at the condo, Pete and I were laughing about the fact that I still live here -“movin’ this winter, James?”- and the fact that I finally got a convertible and that’s all I seem to talk about on Facebook, when his friend Wes came over. Wes works at Eric’s and he’s an old-school Pete friend, from back in the day. Then three other guy friends came over and turned on the Rockies game. Four girlfriends came by and the condo was packed, with his friend Megan’s homemade banana bread and soft foods that Pete can swallow and his friend Beth doing his laundry and Mary and the others yelling, Pete pointing, at the high sports-action on the flat screen.

I’d brought over all my stupid movies, Wedding Crashers, SuperBad, There’s Something about Mary and of course, Old School, the unrated version, slightly scratched from overviewing – or maybe just overquoting. Wes rattled off a line, and I continued the whole scene, verbatim. I joked that maybe I should just give it to Pete; I’ve probably seen it enough. And then there was Vince Vaughan in Wedding Crashers, Pete’s favorite. He wanted to watch them all: “Any Vince is good,” says Pete.

At the gala dinner at Jimmy’s, 20 years of friends met some key members of Pete’s family. He’s the youngest of eight; his mom and dad were there, two of his sisters and his oldest brother, who marveled at the room – and town – filled with love for Pete. “I remember when Pete first moved to Aspen in 1989 and didn’t know anybody, and he sat in the park and put his head in his hands and was like,’ What the hell am I doing here? I’ll never meet anyone.’” The packed room erupted with laughter, as his brother continued: “Pete met a whole town. Walking around this weekend, meeting people on every corner who know Pete…I now understand what a truly magical place Aspen is.”

A friend of mine named Jevon came to the Jimmy’s dinner. He doesn’t know Pete at all but he paid the $125 donation because, as he put it, ”I want to help anyone dealing with our health care system!” He helped the dance floor, too, and I know he and Pete would have been good friends back in the day. educates, spreads awareness and lets you get a feel for what kind of person we’re dealing with. “Those that know me will understand that I am adamant that this event does not become a “pity party”, that’s just not what I’m about, rather, let’s make it a celebration and event that will spread awareness,” writes Pete.

The weekend is over, friends have returned to respective states and routines, but the energy from all these people coming together remains. You can still donate and you can still learn more and share it with others. And Pete wants to remind everyone that he’s still the same smart-ass he’s always been. So bring it on.