Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Confessions of a conservative expatriate

I have a confession to make: I find myself perversely fascinated by the whole Park51 debate.  I often teach my freshmen about framing narratives in my 101 course, and the story frames surrounding this erstwhile "community center" for reasoned Islamic outreach turned "9/11 victory mosque," and the public flap which erupted with the change of story, is a perfect example of that. It just  goes to prove that it's not really events or circumstances that we often react to, but rather how we are told the story.  Although the article at doesn't quite put it in those terms, Justin Elliot does a great job of showing the change in public opinion based on how the information was preached. It's interesting how nobody cared about people praying in that building for two years until someone connected it to 9/11 and went on a rant-fest. 

Ground Zero Mosque Supporters 4So anyhow, since I was at a protest a couple of weeks ago, I've been looking at the way the protest has progressed on Flickr just to compare notes.  In one picture, I saw this picture of a couple of little kids supporting the Park51 center with American flags in hand, and I smiled.  Then I saw a picture of a man across the street in a military T-shirt holding a crude drawing of the prophet Muhammad as a pig.  It had the word "pedophile" written across the top.  Then I really wanted to throw up.

Certainly, the whole Manhattan mosque debate isn't the only reason for my recent political ambivalence, but it sure crystallizes a lot of issues I've had with my moral place in the political universe recently.  You see, I have come to realize over the last few weeks that, while I still feel like I still have a lot to offer a conservative political philosophy, I look around at our rapidly-approaching mainstream Tea Party movement and the wackos who cling to its sides like remoras, only to discover that it has absolutely nothing to offer me.   I see hate and intolerance, violation of freedom out of fear, decisions gauged by reflex instead of reason...  what the hell just happened?  Where's the voice of reason in all this madness? If she's calling out, I can't hear it through all the static I'm getting from the hate-mongers. 

Certainly my dis-ease has been brewing for a while, but what has finally pushed me over the edge has been the response to the immigration and Islam debates.  There are no ideals backing up these ideas anymore.  It's entirely about fear.  We're terrified of the threat of the "other" so we try to force them into hiding with a noisy show of force. We make them out as less than human, and this entrenched fear, ironically, scares me.  For the sake of my own sanity and the people I am trying to help, I realized that I couldn't stay here any more, and I am now essentially a woman without a country.  It's time for me to pack my philosophical bags, move into exile, and pine for the loss of my homeland. I am no longer a conservative; I'm a refugee. 

Don't get me wrong: my identity as a "conservative" has always been an uneasy fit.  (Heck, I stopped being a "Republican" years ago.)  It's not always easy for a rabidly pro-gay justice freak who doesn't support the death penalty and supports affirmative action (though I would prefer that it be governed by socio-economic issues instead of race) to fit in even in the big-tent ideology of the conservative movement.  I still like the idea of fiscal responsibility.  I still think you can get things done better on the state rather than the federal level.  I'm still convinced that a tightly regulated capitalism is the best way to improve the lot of all people in the world (although that stance requires a lot of explanation, I know.) I see immigration reform as a necessity because it's a huge human rights issue; you can't turn a blind eye to people being shipped about and slaughtered like animals in the desert by coyotes just to make them second-class citizens without legal protections in the US.  And I truly feel that the Constitution is our best judge of how to protect the rights of both the greatest and least in our society.  We just have to let it do what it does best-- protect freedoms and limit interference of persons and institutions against the inalienable rights of the individual. 

But it's that last issue, the Constitution, that's been the last straw for me. I think what finally pushed me over the edge was all this talk about changing the Constitution on the one hand and ignoring what it says on the other.  There are mainstream conservatives-- some whom I have respected even when I haven't entirely agreed with them-- who have seriously considered looking into changing citizenship requirements listed in the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to people born on American soil.  And when Americans start protesting the right of other Americans to peacefully practice their faith-- and offering state land to a religious group to make everyone happy-- I really start to fret.  On the one hand, that interference in Park51's right to exist under the rule of New York law is a violation of the separation of church and state.  On the other hand, so is an elected official offering to give state land to a religious entity to incentivise the move, and both of these should have bothered true conservatives deeply.  But they're the ones promoting it. 
Ground Zero Mosque Protesters 7
I have yet to hear anyone patrolling the border or arguing against amnesty talk about the plight of those immigrants-- they're a "cancer" or a "drain."  Real American citizens are "anchor babies."  When asked where she'd like the Cordoba Initiative to move their Islamic center to if she didn't like it at Ground Zero, one woman said "they ought to move it to the Middle East."  When asked what injury or injustice building a moderate-leaning mosque would cause two blocks away from the WTC, the only response I've seen from opponents like these guys is that it's "offensive" or that their feelings are hurt.  The last time I checked, getting your feelings hurt wasn't a violation of your civil rights.  Preventing the free exercise of one's faith, however, in a privately owned building set aside for that purpose is. Besides-- let's take the whole WTC fiasco out of the equation entirely and look closer to home.  If that's the only reason this mosque is an issue, then why are two similar projects in my home state in Appalachia getting this same kind of resistance, with protesters in one nearby town bringing their dogs just to offend the Muslims? 

I wish that I could blame this on just a few crazies in the conservative movement, but I can't.  Conservative politicians whom I used to respect have weighed in on the mosque conflict, asking for it to be moved; Franklin Graham, whose charities I had previously supported, not only viciously opposes the Park51 mosque but recently called Obama a "Muslim," and he's extremely influential in my circles.  That makes him part of a too large minority in the conservative movement who seem to be calling the shots more and more.  Add that to the entire state of Arizona, several other states considering similar statutes, and the score of mainline conservative leaders seriously considering changing the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to native-born people based on the crimes of their parents, and I'm absolutely flummoxed.  I feel like I woke up on another planet.     
I can no longer consider myself a member of an ideology whose fear has made them do violence to the First Amendment and seriously consider dismantling the Fourteenth.  With the exception of Prohibition (which was rightly fixed), basically all of the additions to the Bill of Rights have been to extend freedoms to the people, not to limit them.  And the proposed change to citizenship standards, as well as for a proposed Constitutional amendment preventing gay marriage, do the opposite.

I certainly hold no ill feelings towards those who, unlike me, have the fortitude to stay behind and fight this out on the front lines in the conservative movement; rather, I wish them well, for I know that if I were to stay it would wear me down.  All I know is that I can find no leadership who represents me, and I don't really know how to stay behind among them without tacitly supporting the same civil cancers I'm fighting against.  As such, I feel it's time for me-- at least for a little while-- to leave this homeland behind, not to reject it, but to kneel here at the waters of my American Babylon and lament its descent into madness. Welcome to exile, Jackrabbit. 

1)  Two young girls protesting on behalf of Park51, from david_shankbone's Flickr photostream. 
2)  NYC protesters against the Park51 mosque, from david_shankbone's Flickr photostream. 
3)  NYC protesters against the Park51 mosque, from asterix611's Flickr photostream.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: The Railroad

When I left my hometown to go to Laramie this summer, I did so with the goal of fulfilling two different requests:
  1. From my father: "Go take your brother Coyote out for a steak and make sure he's eating." 
  2. From my husband:  "Go spit on a train for me." 
I guess that tells you, in a tacky sort of way, where trains rate in the Laramie experience.  As you know, in the first play, the railroad plays an important part in setting the scenery in setting up Laramie's mythical landscape.  This is a ranching and railroad town, we learn.  And, even today, that's true, even if the railroad isn't as central-- or as busy-- as it once was.  The enormous rail-yard bordering the edge of the downtown district and dividing east from west Laramie is still one of the focal points of Laramie culture.  Some of us go to the catwalk over the switching yard to think, or to spit on trains.  Some people go there to make out.  And there are always photographers hanging about trying to get pictures of the engines which go zipping through the town. 

So, I wanted to give you some idea of what kind of experience the Laramie rail-yard affords in pictures: by day, by night, and from the catwalk.

And did I spit on a train, you ask?
Well, I couldn't leave my husband disappointed, now could I?

The Catwalk, Laramie, Wyoming

One Way, Train

The rail yard catwalk, Laramie

Catwalk is for Lovers

From the Catwalk, Laramie

From the Catwalk, Laramie

Laramie By Night

railroad cars

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Buck Fence and Place

 Since I was in Laramie, did I go to "the spot" while I was there, some might ask?  No.  I'm not going to further that landowner's angst and resentment by trooping through his private property to gawk at a murder site.   My respect for private property is too strong to do so, and I don't need to get arrested for trespassing.  But I did drive through the Sherman Hills subdivision just to see how much it has changed in the last ten years.

As the Vanity Fair article (March '99) on the Shepard murder made clear, and as Beth Loffreda talks about in her book, Matt was murdered basically in between two subdivisions still under construction at the time; the empty field between them, stretching a little more than a half mile wide in either direction, buts up against the rolling hills of the more expensive district of Sherman Hills.  These foothills roll straight into the walls of Telephone Canyon, the Medicine Bow National Forest, and a large, beautiful state park about nine miles up the road.   

The two subdivisions couldn't be more different.  The first one is everything that gives me nightmares about subdivisions: large, overpriced houses so close together you can listen to your neighbor breathe at night, tiny yards, even less privacy...  just an upper middle-class nightmare.  It's still growing, too-- you can see dirt in some of these yards and a couple of unfinished frames at the end of the street.  (And yes, that is a throw pillow on the sidewalk.  I have no clue.)  No trees or room for lawns, but wide, overdone infrastructure: wide, paved streets, street lights, sidewalks.  I pass kids on plastic Power Wheels and playing horse with their friends in the driveways, bouncing their basketballs off of garage doors.  It's about as close to a pre-fab middle class Americana as you'd ever want to see. Give me west Laramie any day. 

Take a bit of a drive down Grand Avenue one more street to the east and you end up in Sherman Hills, which is a bit of a mixed neighborhood.  It started out as just a normal neighborhood on the edge of town, but a large tract behind it was bought by developers and turned into houses that run into the upper six figures to a low million.  The houses to the north and east of Sherman Hills are all enormous, high-windowed affairs that no one in their right mind would want to heat in the middle of the winter.  They have more rooms than most families could possibly need, and many sit right on the top of these low, rolling hills, where the view is spectacular but the raging winter winds sometimes blow hard enough to knock the fillings out of your teeth.  (This is why older homes are often nestled on slopes and low-lying areas, or alternately, have tree breaks around them.)

The houses themselves are massive, grandiose-- and yet they try to keep an "out of town" profile as well.  Unlike the area around Bill Nye, in this stretch of the subdivision there are few paved roads, and the few that are there are one-laners, winding and narrow, with no shoulder to speak of.  They're barely marked with street signs, even.  The landscaping around them is heavily manicured but natural: scrub juniper and cedars, imported granite rock, deer antlers.  One yard has a four-foot sculpture made out of what looks like old elk antlers twisting up into the air, perfectly positioned on a gently sloping hill of native grass.   The main colors are deep cedar green, prairie yellow, pink feldspar boulders accented with lichen.  There are no livestock, feed pens or horse sheds like in the liminal neighborhoods on the other side of Grand Avenue, either; you'll see no llamas here.  Offhand, I don't even see a watered lawn within eyesight. There might be some, but I'll be darned if I drove by any.

Those gravel roads aren't a sign of recent development, either; the house near the murder scene was under construction when Matt was murdered.  It was graded as a gravel road, and it has remained one still. And, every one of these enormous, beautiful houses sits on up to an acre of land.  Many of them are far enough apart to give the illusion that they have no neighbors, even though they might be just on the other side of the same hill.  While the newspaper reports used words like "lonely and "deserted" in their descriptions of this area on the night Matt died, the real estate catalog probably calls it "private" and "secluded." 

There's a strange, careful construction of identity in this area: they want to live in opulence and they want to live sequestered from the rest of town in their own private luxury, but they want to maintain the illusion of a rugged, rural existence. This isn't town space, the landscape proclaims.  And yet, it cannot really be anything else.

And yet, this is where I finally start seeing buck-and-rail fences in Laramie, Wyoming-- dozens of them, essentially, and I see some in both of these neighborhoods.  (The most are in Sherman Hills, however.)  Normally, the only place you'll ever consistently see buck fences is around state maintained areas, like city or state parks and rest areas, or around monuments like up on the Lincoln Highway just to the east.  And yet here, every fifth house or so has some kind of wooden or split-rail fence around it, and the buck-and-rail is one of the most popular I see. 

An old style buck-and-rail fence, LaramieAs I stare at the landscape around me and take in the aura, it strikes me how different my perception of this place is from my students, from the thousands of people who have tried to imagine what this spot is like and what that buck fence represents.   That fence wasn't there because this was the Wild West.  It was there precisely because this place wasn't the Wild West.  For me at least, the buck fence was a sign of class difference and exclusion, not small town ideals, or cowboy morality, or even rural existence.  The buck fence was there because this land had been co-opted to create a middle class utopia and an upper class getaway community; it was there because the wilderness and rural edges of Laramie were squeezed out and they wanted to create the illusion that they had never disappeared.  When look at these fences, I don't see of a story of western outlawry, but a story of two poverty-class men who kidnapped a rich kid because he was gay and murdered him on the site where the difference between them was still under construction, in the secluded red earth hills east of Laramie, on shaggy pine rails.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: Prairie Storms

Many people think that the Great Plains and the prairies are boring because they are so uniform: unending, unchanging, lifeless; nothing but an endless stretch of flat grass and mosquitoes.  (They're right about the mosquitoes.)  In reality, the prairie is a land of tensions and contrasts, and therein lies its real beauty.  The prairies I roamed as a little jackrabbit lay at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and above that endless stretch of golden grass is an endless sky, so deep blue you could swim in it; and in that sky are an endless parade of clouds fleeing as fast as the ripples through the golden tide below, casting shadows over the grass which glide, like ships, over the ground.  And in the seeming stillness and peace of the flatlands lurks the ever-present threat of the prairie storm, one of the most amazing feats of raw power God's ever given mortal man.   

When I was in Laramie, I was treated to an amazing display of weather-- in fact, a prairie storm which swallowed up the plains and spun off tornadoes to the north of town.  Here are a few shots of that storm so you can see it for yourself as it rolled towards, and through, Laramie:

Storm's a-coming!

Summer Storms, Laramie

Prairie Storms, Laramie

Prairie Storms, Laramie

Storm's a-comin'!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Laughter may be the best medicine, but can it destroy hate?

There are pictures of both neo-Nazis and their opponents doing stupid things below. Let the viewer beware. 

Knoxville Protests the Nazis, 8/14/10
These kids were AWESOME.
A very strange thing happened here in my college hometown this past weekend-- we had about fifty National Socialists from freaking Michigan descend on our downtown and hold a rally against illegal immigration.  I really have no idea why they bothered coming to Appalachia, but they caused quite the gridlock in the downtown area because it took 400-500 police in riot gear to protect fifty Nazis from getting creamed by the enraged locals.  It was just so surreal-- I felt like I was on a different planet. 

They had a short (as in four block) parade down the main drag in our downtown area (which is called Gay Street, mind you) and parked their sorry neo-Nazi butts on our old courthouse lawn to spread their message of hate from an itty-bitty PA system.  Yours truly, along with about 100-200 other people, showed up for a counter-protest across the street.  Since I've written about the ethics of using humor to combat hate previously (but with Fred Phelps) I thought I'd show you the varieties of response I saw to the Nazis as they made total fools out of themselves.  I saw a lot of love, a little bit of hate... and a whole lot of humor.  And the humor really interests me, I have to admit. 

Okay, so if you don't want to be offended by racist people doing nasty things, go no farther. For the rest of you, let's start off with some pics of the so-called "master race" to set the mood for you...

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's in a fence?

Okay, so I was wandering around in the subdivision just across from the Laramie Wal-Mart a while back, just a stone's throw from the city limits sign you see on the Vintage edition of The Laramie Project.   It's exactly what I have nightmares about when it comes to subdivisions: rubber-stamp versions of the American Dream with almost nonexistent lawns, people made out of ticky-tack and all look the same...  (oh, wait.  That's a Joan Baez song.)  I hate neighborhoods that are all stacked together like frosted cupcakes all popped from the same pan: identical, crowded, tiny, with only the sprinkles indicating their difference.  They just feel soul-killing to me. 

Anyhow, I was tootling my way up the roads to the end of the subdivision to get a better look at this new church just off of Grand Avenue, as I had been taking pictures of churches that day, and here's what I saw:

Big church in Laramie

Oh, wait-- my bad.  That's not what I really saw when I dropped by this church.  The first thing I actually saw was this:

Big church in Laramie


I can remember this congregation from my undergraduate days at UW.  This is a reformed church for sure, and might even be Baptist (I'm pretty sure it used to be, but I can't remember if they changed.)  A friend of mine went to this church when they were still in a tiny stucco white building not far from campus, and they tended to run conservative to fundamentalist back then.  Then the church split over some doctrinal issues which were never really clear to me, although they seemed really important to my friend at the time.  This building is new to me, constructed sometime after 2000 because I can remember the flap about the remaining members selling their old building to the Islamic association.  It was built at least two years after Matt Shepard was killed-- and they chose to put a buck fence around it.  Um, what am I supposed to do with this?

Okay, so I know I'm the same person who thinks that the demonizing of buck fences is unfair, because I've always rather liked them, and they're unique to my home territory.  (I mean, imagine how pissed off the French would be if for some reason the Eiffel Tower suddenly became an international symbol of hate.  That's how I feel.)  This fence wouldn't bother me near so much if it weren't for the location.  You see, If I turn my back on this church and look away from their roundabout, I can sight my eyes down this road like the barrel of a gun and see the exact spot where Matt was murdered.   They're on the same damn road.   The only difference is that it turns to a dirt track about a third of the way down its length.  This church sits on the pavement, tucked back in the corner of the cookie-cutter subdivision; Matt was beaten just off of to one side of a the dirt track in the scrub.  

Okay, so I have to confess-- my ambivalence meter hit the roof when I saw this.  On the one hand, it's their land and they can put up whatever the heck kind of fence they want, I guess.  And, up to this point, I suppose I would have even applauded someone who fought the stereotype and reinforced the good side, the rugged and beautiful side, to the buck fence.  There are, after all, a lot of split-rail fences in this neighborhood, so maybe they're just trying to blend in, right?  Right? 

There are a lot of reasons to choose a buck fence.  For one, it is rather decorative, and it adds to the "little white chapel in the wilderness" motif (although the church is too big and modern to really pull it off.)  Maybe there's a neighborhood association covenant that says you can't have chain-link or picket for all I know.  And, you don't have to paint it, and there's no maintenance needed... and maybe they don't buy into the buck fence as a symbol of hate.  I kind of wish I didn't either, so that's understandable.  And, maybe they don't know where Matt died, though I find this impossible.  If you have an infamous crime scene practically in your neighborhood, you know

All these justifications aside, one thing seems clear to me regardless: they don't give a crap whether or not a gay person feels welcome at their church, because regardless of how the congregation might feel about buck fences, the GLBT community in Laramie has one very big, negative association with them.  And for a community with an already embattled relationship to the church, walking up to a church with a symbol of a gay bashing encircling it (and a fifteen minute walk away from the murder location) certainly isn't going to make it any easier.  To be honest, that probably never even occurred to them because, in my experience, most of the churches on my end of the faith spectrum don't spend much time thinking about gay people at all.  Maybe the nice people in this particular church would prove me wrong; I'm certainly open to the possibility, but after ten years of battling it out with others, I'm not holding my breath. 

I would have to sit down with the pastor or a couple of deacons over a cup of coffee and chat candidly with them to really see what their thought process was when they decided to mark off their property with that fence; and to be honest, I would really welcome the possibility of that kind of conversation if they'd be interested.  I bet they have a unique perspective on that location, how the neighborhood relates to it, and how they negotiate with the space where they live and the knowledge of what happened down the road.  And that conversation would be far more productive than assuming terrible things of people I don't really know, especially when they might have very complicated and interesting things to say if I'd let them. And, since they still live in that community and I don't, they might have a much, much more nuanced and interesting approach to all this.  I can't really know until I let them speak for themselves, and at the moment I can't.

The only thing I can really know for certain is this: for all my pontificating about buck fences and disliking what they've come to symbolize for so many, apparently I can't escape that association between the buck-and-rail and brutality, either.  I can dislike the association, but I can't get rid of it.  It's a part of my imagination now, making me flinch at something as seemingly innocent and picturesque as a rustic fence in front of a clean, white mission church.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: Bosler

On the 4th of July, I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for one of the nastiest prairie storms I had seen in ages to blow into town. I drove out chasing the storm about an hour previous to watch the thunderhead build up and get a few pictures. The clouds were stacked up about a mile high, thick, with a lot of heat and water in them. They were almost black near the bottom. If they hit town, I was pretty sure we’d at least get some serious hail. Once I realized that the black, ominous eye of that storm was hurtling in my direction, I turned around and went back to Laramie.

So, while I’m eating lunch and watching the wind pick up, two people, an older lady and a kid in his twenties, greet each other and start chatting about the day’s events. Eventually that conversation turns to the storm gliding over the prairie towards town.

“I heard there was just a tornado north of town,” the lady says.
“It didn’t kill anybody, did it?” The kid asks. “There’s not much out there.”
“Nah, it can kill a couple of cows for all I care,” the lady replied. “As long as there’s no harm done.”
The young man thought for a moment. “It could kill a couple people in Bosler and I wouldn’t mind,” he observed dispassionately.  Yeowch.  

As it turns out, it became clear as their conversation unfolded that the young man was referring to a certain eccentric old man who has a small role in The Laramie Project. Apparently, opinions haven’t changed much since I was here last. 

The funny thing is, about ninety minutes after that kid hoped for a tornado in Bosler, I guess it really did happen. From what I could see, however, none of the buildings or houses were touched-- not that I’m sure I could tell even if they were. Bosler’s pretty much a ghost town anymore; it's no longer even considered a town by the state.

So, for your viewing enjoyment, here is the legendary Bosler....

This is Bosler

This is Bosler

This is Bosler

This is Bosler

This is Bosler

Monday, August 9, 2010

Faith as Landscape in Laramie, WY

Laramie By Faith
With the exception of the Interstate, when you drive into Laramie, Wyoming from any other direction, the first thing you will probably see cresting over the horizon is a church steeple pointing to the heavens.  It's St. Matthew's, the Episcopal church which sits like a beacon on the corner of 3rd and Ivinson.  Its undressed sandstone tower and red archway doors basically define the whole of downtown Laramie.  A lot of the locals use it as a navigation point for newcomers: "Turn left at the big church there, that's Ivinson Avenue..."

Landscape was something I really started thinking about this time when I was in Laramie.  We talk about Laramie as an outlaw town in the popular imagination-- you know, Butch Cassidy, Big Steve Long, the territorial prison and all that-- but the strongest visual cue for that past is the territorial prison and its Wild West reenactments, and it's tucked away in West Laramie.  You can't see it until you get past the overpass at Snowy Range Road.  That might be the image you get in your head if you've never been here, but when you stand in the very heart of the old Downtown and turn your face to the hills, you get a very different impression.  This is a landscape dominated by faith, and now that I see this, it's no wonder that Tectonic Theater would have focused on faith as a major player in the Laramie drama.  Tectonic is very aware of Laramie's landscape, I have always thought-- and if they were, the landscape of faith is a part of Laramie's topography you simply cannot ignore... 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: The Road to Laramie

While I was in Laramie, I took literally hundreds of photos from Vedauwoo to Centennial, and I'd like to share a few with you over the next couple of months as I continue to write through some things. The first series I would like to share with you isn't Laramie proper-- rather, the vast chunk of land between Laramie and Casper.  These photos, taken on that lonely, beautiful drive, stretch from the Shirley Basin, to Medicine Bow, Rock River, and just north of Laramie. 

So, here are some of the most iconic images from the road to Laramie: wind turbines, antelope, and fences.  Oh, and mosquitoes, but they don't photograph so well.


Welcome to the Shirley Basin
Why, yes, I am sitting down in the middle of an active highway...
This is the road approaching the Shirley Basin.  

Land Scenes, SE Wyoming
Medicine Bow, WY's newest additions, which aren't producing power just yet.

Prairie scenesLand Scenes, SE Wyoming

Prairie scenes
These are snow (also called "drift") fences, which keep the snow off the roads in winter.

Land Scenes, SE Wyoming

Land Scenes, SE Wyoming

Monday, August 2, 2010

Back to Laramie

[This is the first of several posts about my recent visit to Laramie, Wyoming to visit my brother and do a little informal research.  I hope you enjoy it!]

How to See Prairie BeautyAs I write this post, it is the beginning of July and I am sitting in the self-proclaimed "Home of Edgy Coffee" just a couple blocks off of campus, drinking an iced coffee with a wedge of lime in it.  Some crooner from the fifties drifts out a lazy melody over the radio.  In fact, this new branch of Coal Creek Coffee Company is about as "edgy" as a paperclip on a quarterly report, but, hey-- I guess they can call themselves whatever they want.  At least it's not Starbuck's.

How does it feel to be back in Laramie after at least six years?  Pretty darn good.  I started out for Albany County from my in-laws' house on the first and took a leisurely drive through the Shirley Basin in the early evening and crossed into the prairie just ahead of a huge set of thunderclouds brewing on the horizon.  It's as green as far as the eye can see right now, just starting to get its earliest tinges of gold as the heads on the grasses ripen and dry.  In a few weeks, if it doesn't rain much, those oceans of rippling green will turn into a golden, waving sea. 

My brother Coyote walked me around the downtown my first night here to introduce me to the new Laramie.  He's in school here now, sort of, trying to walk that delicate, fine balance between school and starvation.  Right now he's out of a job, but he's also out of school, so he can eat.  He looks more gangly than starved-- a little like Shaggy off of Scooby-Doo, with his wavy red hair he never cuts until he donates it to Locks of Love and a chin patch that should be on a saxophone player.  On the way he introduces me to a good portion of Laramie's fringe culture: a bouncer called "the hippie" and several real hippies, one of whom got in trouble with the city for living in a wigwam by the river.  As we walk he chats about his friends, most of whom don't fit in to the mainstream in one way or the other: punkers, rebels, gays and lesbians, bluegrass guitarists, hippies, artists, philosophers, troublemakers.  Coyote knows all these people because he's one of them, and their company suits him well. 
Fox Laramie
Has Laramie changed much since I lived there?  Yes and no.  Most of the downtown looks virtually identical to my high school days except that the names of the stores have changed.  The restaurant where my sister Sparrowhawk worked when I was in high school is now an Italian restaurant, and the downtown now houses two yoga centers, an honest-to-goodness sushi joint, and an oxygen bar.  (An oxygen bar?  Really?  That's just over the top.)  The major change is that the old Fox theater, which had stood as an abandoned piece of Laramie Americana for generations, was finally so dangerous that they were forced to tear it down.  Now an empty lot stands next to the Cowboy bar, its glaring, yellow sign no longer oxidizing in the Laramie heat.  Farewell, ye vintage pigeon haven.

The major changes are all east of town.  The little strip mall I'm sitting in behind War Memorial Stadium is entirely new, as are the big hotels clustered around it.  It used to house a couple of old rain barrels in an empty field.   In fact, there's a set of "Cowboy Condos" going in right next door, too-- as housing for Wyoming football fans, I suppose, which will overlook the pitiful cinder-block married housing for college students that should have been torn down when I was in college.   Out towards Cheyenne around Sherman Hills there are hundreds of gleaming, new houses all stamped out with a Technicolor cookie press.   Coyote tells me this is all just a few years old.   Little Laramie is growing up pretty fast, it seems, though I wonder from the numbers of houses whether or not the population has grown to match. 
Laramie at Dusk
And yet, for all this growth it doesn't really seem to be that much bigger-- nor does it seem to have a different character.  I almost had to smile when I pulled my car over a few miles north of town and a black cloud of mosquitoes made the windows go black.  Some things never change, it seems.  It's been one of the wettest summers on record, and the mosquitoes are getting so big and so nasty that I'm waiting for them to run for political office.  The Public Health office is handing out cans of Off to help the poorer residents deal with the bugs.  Laramie has never had much of a mosquito abatement program, and it looks like that hasn't changed at all.  Scratching the bites on my ankles with my pen as I type is a good reminder of the not-so-good side to the town.  

As we wandered around town last night towards the railyard, I looked up at a deep blue sky edged with purple and sighed.  "I would really love to come back here," I said.  Coyote gave me a fuzzy look.

"Seriously?"  He asked.  "To be honest, I'd give anything to get out."


2) The old Fox theater in Laramie, from awkwardindeed's Flickr photostream. available through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.