Wyoming, Strange but True in America Today

Manderson, WY   If there is a flyover part of Wyoming, it’s probably somewhere around Manderson in the central part of the state. This is not the mecca of Yellowstone Park and the Grand Teton Mountains or the ultra-rich western hideaway of Jackson Hole. This is not Cheyenne Frontier Days or Sheridan’s rodeo or the University at Laramie. This is the backside of the fabulous Big Horn Mountains, not the front side that more people know well. This part of the working class stiff backbone of Wyoming, and perhaps a good part of the country as well.

Work trucks pulling trailers with water tanks or logging carriers or oil field and mining equipment roar along the state roads all hours of the day and night. The steady sound of the pumping jack in an oil field and small refinery not far away becomes a dim hum in the background. The train whistle coming through roars like it’s heading for the trailer.

It takes a while, but finally you notice something surprising in America today. There are no fast food restaurants in any of these towns, whether the town was 5000 or 3000. There were bar-and-grills. In Worland, someone tried to get fancy for a minute and spent quite a penny creating a well-appointed restaurant they called an Italian Steakhouse. Too pricey. Too showy. They were losing money, so now they have the same setup for a bar-and-grill with prices on the high side but that side is $12 to $17, not in the 20s. Most of the bar-and-grills roll around $8. These are still special places. Gas stations take the place of cheaper fare and weaker coffee.

Take coffee as another example. No Starbucks within 50, maybe 100 miles. That’s kind of refreshing. There are little coffee “cabins” or “barns” serving the range of coffee drinks. One barista was less than convincing about the espresso, because she didn’t like coffee, but was clear that they were open 12 months a year, “because people need their coffee.” We stuck with the drip coffee with her, realizing anything else would be an error.

Some of this is a challenge for central Wyoming. The coming total eclipse is passing through a broad swath of the state. There are warnings similar to what you would find with a hurricane coming. Locals are being advised to stock up on provisions in advance of August 21st, even in Manderson which is in the high 90% of the eclipse and not in the 100% range. Why? Wyoming is expecting a half-million visitors which adds up to about one stranger for each local. Where are they going to stay? What are they going to eat? You get the picture. At the least we can be assured there will be lines at the bar and grills.

But, this is a working class area that pays high prices for gas and food. They have their ways though. Whether it’s the steakhouse or the veterinarian, if the prices get out of line, there’s a fence post kind of silent boycott. People can’t afford it, so they just don’t go, and that forces prices to come down to tolerable.

Wyoming is not American in the 1950s. It’s all about the future and fueling the economy at large and the stomachs of their fellow citizens. It’s just different, and OK with that.

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