Teri Orr: Matt Alvarez was a good man
I heard Matt Alvarez passed away this week. It opened a flood of memories about when I first moved here. We were small then, 1,800 people and no stoplights. The residents were all like characters out of Central Casting.
Matt was one of the very first people I met when I came to visit Park City in the fall of 1978. He dug my car out of a snowbank. A rental car with no snow tires. There had a been a freak September storm and although I was living full-time at Tahoe, on the North Shore, I forgot I left my 4 wheel drive Jeep there. I wandered in the car to the top of Rossi Hill to get a good look at the little snow-covered town. Then I tried to turn around and landed in a snowbank. Matt lived up there. He took pity and dug me out. I explained I was thinking of moving here with my two young children. He asked if I had a job yet. I said no. He asked if I had a house yet, I said no. He told me to go to the bottom of Main Street to Skyline Realty — ask for Madeline Smith — she could help find me a house. And if I wanted to stay in retail ( I had just sold my beloved children’s clothing store in Tahoe) he always needed sales help in his ski shop.
He remembered me when I showed back up in March of ‘79 in need of a job. Sure enough, Madeline had found me a home but in a soulless, treeless new subdivision on the edge of town, called Park Meadows. I really wanted to live in Old Town but there was nothing available. When I had met with her, she got right on the phone and called her friend who had a home for rent. The voice asked her a question, Madeline looked me over and said, “I don’t know, let me ask.” And then put down the phone and said “ do you have clean feet? “ I had no idea what she meant but honestly everyone was just a bead off. I kicked off my shoes and produced the soles of my feet. “Yep,” Marty said (that was her nickname) “looks clean to me. You’ve got the house if you have the first month’s rent.” I don’t remember any mention of a last.
To this day, when Marty sees me, she still says, “how ya’ doing Clean Feet?“
I started work with Matt at Timberhaus ski shop the third day after I moved to town.
Late one afternoon a handsome guy walked in and wanted to buy a one-piece ski suit. That was a huge purchase back then, in a small town, at the end of ski season. I worked with him, then Matt came over to close the sale.Turned out Matt had sold ME with the suit. The guy said he’d buy the suit only if I would go to dinner with him and Matt agreed. He told me this afterward. And said he would pay for my babysitter. Going out would be good for me and we had sold a suit! I don’t remember the guy’s name — god I wish I did.
We agreed to meet at the Claimjumper. He didn’t need to know where I lived and as importantly, I always want to be driving my own car. As Callie Khouri said, who wrote the film “Thelma and Louise” about a dozen years later, “when women are driving the car- they are driving the story.”
The Claimjumper had the best baseball steaks and the local’s favorite downstairs bar. It was one of about three restaurants in town. After a drink, maybe two, handsome Mr. X started telling me a tale so fantastic I was uncharacteristically quiet. He told me he had just gotten out of Special Forces and bought the ski suit because he had been given a giant, giant bonus for his final assignment. His “assignment” had been to fly the Shah of Iran out of his country.
I was not sure what to make of his story but …did I mention he was handsome? And the Shah had escaped with rumored US military help just two months before. After dinner he said he had a plan for some big fun, and pulled out of his parka, a plastic baggie — full of cocaine. I had come from the ski world at Tahoe, I knew his idea of fun included that bag. So I excused myself to the ladies room and drove home. It was admittedly a chicken move. I had two kids at home under 8 — I was admittedly a chicken.
By now I was also writing this column and when I told the two men — who were the total staff of this paper — what had happened, they said, why didn’t you grab the baggie when you left there? Do you know the street value of that? I did not. David said, It would have paid your rent for …maybe the rest of your life!
The next day I wasn’t on the schedule for the ski shop, which was a relief. And when I came in the following day, Matt said the handsome man had come back to look for me. That I had mysteriously disappeared. Had I been sick or had too many drinks? I told Matt it was “girlie stuff” I just wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to have to explain. I always felt bad about lying to Matt about that night. And I meant to tell him …but then the boys at the paper decided to hire me as a reporter — they could teach me and I left the ski shop. Matt and his savvy wife, Helen, (who became a deeply-valued council member) opened a second ski shop in Vail. They had a good run with it, too. Matt was a kind man who made Park City better and made me feel welcome, always. He will be missed on so many days, like Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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