By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist
“Where is the most typical town in Wyoming?”
My grouchy neighbor asked that last week.
I’ve written about this guy before. Out of our little settlement of about 50 cabins high in the Snowy Range, I am this guy’s only friend.
My other neighbors identify him by saying, “You know, the guy nobody likes except Dave. Dave is his only friend.”
He admits that other than me, he has no friends on the mountain. That’s because when he was building his cabin – a hurry-up deal because he wanted it closed in by snowmobile season – he would tell folks who came by to welcome him to the neighborhood that he didn’t have time to waste talking. He can be rude. Yells at kids who get too close when he’s felling trees.
I just laugh when he says something rude. The last thing I want is a fight with a neighbor. We’ve become pretty good friends.
He has deep Wyoming roots, and his question intrigued me. He knows I have a daughter in Gillette.
“Gillette is not a typical Wyoming town because of the coal boom,” he said. “The boom brought a bunch of Okies and Texans to Gillette as well as Midwesterners looking to make some good money. A lot of ’em stayed and the place benefited from huge inflows of outside money.”
It took a while, but I’ve come to agree with those buttons Mike Enzi and his delegation wore to the state Legislature back in the 1980s that said, “I kinda like Gillette.” It’s a hard-working community where you can wear your work clothes to just about any restaurant in town and fit right in. I used to compare Gillette to Rawlins, but these days it’s more like Laramie, with plenty of nice restaurants, a great rec center, and lots of traffic on Highway 59.
(And two granddaughters.)
But, it’s not your typical Wyoming town.
Neither is Laramie, where I lived for six years back in the 1970s. There’s nothing typically Wyoming about our only university town, where 11,000 students goose the dickens out of the economy every August through June. And it has one of the best downtown business districts in the state.
(My old pal Greg Bean – remember him? – once said you always think you’ll run into someone you know in Laramie, but you never do. Lots of turnover.)
Rawlins has the penitentiary, and when I lived there the coal mines in Hanna were booming, so you can’t say it is typically Wyoming. I met some nice folks in Rawlins during my year as editor of the Daily Times. But typical? Not a town with a Death Row.
You’d be crazy to suggest that Jackson is typically Wyoming. A business editor at the Star-Tribune once said of the Tetons and Jackson – “I want to go there when I die.” Typical? No way. Same goes for tourist mecca Cody.
Former Star-Tribune Editor Phil McAuley used to make fun of Sheridan’s polo fields, and connection to British royalty, so we can cross it off the list. Nearby Buffalo could have been a contender, until it was dubbed the best place in America to retire in a Wall Street Journal story. What a non-typical burden.
Cheyenne isn’t typical because of state government, the air base, the railroad, and close proximity to Colorado. An old friend from Casper calls folks like me who live in Cheyenne “greenies,” and “jet butts.” Lander? Don’t they all wear those waffle-stomper boots and eat granola? Not typical.
I always liked Casper because it seemed like a city that didn’t need a state facility to keep it alive. But I think it’s too diverse and big to be a typical Wyoming town. Rock Springs could be a contender, except it benefits from mining and the power plant.
“So where is the most typical town in Wyoming?” my grouchy neighbor asked. “Gave this some thought and came up with – open the envelope – Riverton. Place is mostly untouched by tourism, no nearby attractions, diverse ranching and farming economy and populated by ordinary Wyomingites. Lusk came in second.”
My guess is some will disagree. But, beware.
This guy can be pretty rude.