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.


Car Loan from Wells Fargo Equals Ripoff

dinosaur tracks outside in Red Gulch outside Greybull, Wyoming

Manderson, WY  Hey, I know you really want to hear about what Chaco and I are doing in Wyoming. You want to know all about the dinosaur tracks we saw in the Red Gulch. You want to know how we caught two cutthroat trout on Lake Sibley on lures when everyone else was fishing with worms. You want to know how volunteers are keeping the GeoScience Museum going in Greybull and about the Pyramid Rock in the Shell Canyon. Sorry, maybe another day, I was saving some of my fire on Wells Fargo so that we could just look at what happens to the poor suckers who made the mistake of getting a car loan from this banking version of a criminal enterprise.

dinosaur tracks outside in Red Gulch outside Greybull, Wyoming

They had a number of scams going.

The first had to do with forcing people to get collision insurance when they took out a car loan. Wells Fargo had a practice of doing so, and collision coverage is expensive. The bank determined that it had affected at least 800,000 customers according to an analysis they commissioned themselves. Some reports, including in the New York Times, indicated that the number of victims there could also be higher. Not that it wasn’t bad enough!

By larding on the insurance charges they forced at least 274,000 people, ostensibly customers they cared about and not simply marks in a con game, into delinquency, resulting in 25,000 cars being wrongly repossessed. The bank at last report was still debating how much they were going to pay in restitution.

GeoScience Museum in Greybull

I want you to just step back for a minute though. Big numbers sometimes conceal the individual pain inflicted on each individual victim. 274,000 is a lot of people, and could include friends, relatives, and neighbors living near you. They didn’t go out their front door, and yell that they were being ripped off by Wells Fargo. They probably sulked around thinking they had messed up somehow. Meanwhile their credit was crippled, so they could forget about paying lower interest elsewhere, trying to buy a home or maybe even getting an apartment they would like, and certainly buying another car in the future would be a mountain to climb. And, 25,000 of the cars were wrongly repossessed. I’m sorry to be so old school, but I think 25,000 is a big number of people to hurt as well! How many lost their jobs when they lost their transportation or were forced to move. To Wells Fargo, and perhaps to a lot of policy makers, these are just numbers and the penalty will hardly add up to a rounding error on their annual report and balance sheets, but these are real people who were seriously hurt. They weren’t rich people, but people who had to shrug it off and still try to live and raise families.

But, in the relentless quest for extra pennies regardless of the damage to people, it turns out that Wells Fargo also didn’t mind profiteering on some more insurance scams. This ripoff involved GAP or guaranteed asset protection insurance. As the Times reports:

It is not mandatory for car buyers to carry GAP insurance, which typically costs $400 to $600. But car dealers push the insurance, and lenders like it because of the protection it provides. When borrowers pay off the loans early, they are entitled to a refund of some of the GAP insurance premium because the coverage they paid for is no longer needed.

The Federal Reserve and others are now looking at how Wells Fargo closed the GAP to benefit themselves. When someone did their best to pay off their car loan early, Wells just kept the insurance money rather than refunding the balance as nine states require or crediting the unused insurance portion to balance as all fifty states require. Who knows how many were forced into delinquency or repossession by this scam.

Wells Fargo claims that its compliance and oversight slipped up. It’s fair to ask what compliance, is that the guy who closes the door when the bank executives decide in secret that they can steal some money from their customers without them knowing they are doing it?

If you believe that then I have a 20-year old Suburban that I’m glad to sell you for $50,000, and I know just the place that will give you a car loan if you want to add one ripoff to another: Wells Fargo!

Pyramid Rock in Shell Canyon