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.


Fear of Immigrants and Others is a Global Political Monkeywrench

Riots police separate pro and anti immigration demonstrators as a man waves a flag reading "Islamists Not Welcome" during a Pegida demonstration in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Feb. 6, 2016.

Riots police separate pro and anti immigration demonstrators as a man waves a flag reading “Islamists Not Welcome” during a Pegida demonstration in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Feb. 6, 2016. VOAnews.com

Hamburg   Meeting with people in the Netherlands and Germany, conversation quickly comes to the Clinton-Trump race. People want to be reassured that Trump really can’t win. They don’t want to hear that the vote will be close, even though Clinton will win in the Electoral College. Interestingly with all the brouhaha that Trump has stirred up over closing borders, building walls, blocking entry to Muslims, and deporting millions, no one asks about the issue, mainly because these are issues too worrisomely close to home for them as well.

In Holland, a xenophobic, anti-immigrant leader has risen and created a “party of one” largely on this platform. Though he may not have much of a party, he clearly has a base. Political experts believe that he is taking votes way from the Social Democrats, long the dominate party of unions and some of the left. The Social Democrats are in a free fall for many reasons including the compromises they have made on healthcare and other issues as part of the ruling coalition government, but a piece of the problem, similar to the challenge for the Democrats in the United States is anger and desertion of some older, working class voting segments reacting to the anti-immigrant campaigning.

In Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel a year ago during a humanitarian crisis opened Germany’s borders to one-million migrants largely from the war-torn Middle East and Syria, there has clearly been a political backlash over whether or not German standards of living and services are being compromised by these migrants. An upcoming election in Merkel’s home state is being watched closely to see whether her center-right governing party has been able to re-position itself with voters by implementing agreements to hold more of the immigrants in Turkey. Merkel is not retreating from her conviction that Germans “can do this,” but she is equally clear in recently reported interviews that she cannot lead along this path for another year, as she has for the last year. Her party in the state elections is busily echoing rightwing themes of homeland and security as it scurries about trying to hold onto its base. A new anti-immigrant party is expected to take votes away from Merkel’s Christian Democrats as well as the more progressive Social Democrats.

And, what in the world is this urkini thing about in France? Courts there have overruled local municipalities over their burkini banning, but reports are indicating that the activity, right down to having police stop Muslim women on the beach and make them disassemble their outfits, were very popular with the general French public. The rightwing, anti-immigrant party there did not fare as well as they had hoped in recent elections, but continues to be a serious force nationally.

Country to country immigration, migrants, and refugees are divisive political issues. Muslim women in particular are reporting worldwide that they are being viewed differently and worse than in the past. Discrimination in large and small ways is increasing.

Today there are no hard questions for an American traveler on immigration, because embarrassingly, too many progressives and others are fearing that politically we may be more united by hate that any other national value. Everyone is living in glass houses now, so no one is throwing stones, and fewer and fewer are leaving their doors open.