By George Wienbarg, guest columnist
It all started 3 months ago in The Summer of ‘22. After years of waffling, I had decided to drive a U-Haul truck back home to Wyoming. In it: everything I owned. I left on July 4th, the same day I’d arrived. It was Cheyenne’s 155th anniversary.
After arriving with $35 in my pocket, two suitcases, and a guitar in 1981, I had now been considering my escape from New York City for well over a decade.
Being a great-great nephew of William Frederick Cody I think Wyoming may have called out louder to me than most.
And though every Wyomingite has a reason for being here, whether from the military, a tourist who came back after seeing our outdoors, someone stopping off from an I-80 or I-25 detour, or anyone else who’s seen the grandeur of the state in a movie or visited someone who’d already been smitten—for whatever the reason, we came.
On previous trips, a week or so would be all the time I’d have needed to visit relatives and friends, get a breath of fresh prairie air and head back into the fray; the honking horns, constant construction, people yelling, subways rattling and hundreds of museums, educational institutions and media outlets of New York.
This time, however, in the Summer of ‘22, I put my four decades of “winnings” into that rental rig and headed over the mighty Mississippi, west to the Magic City of the Plains—for good. Or so I thought.
When I got back “home” around July 5th, the Cheyenne Transit Program immediately hired me to drive one of their a PARA transit jitneys. It was simple. Since our family had a farm, and I had driven the church bus at First Baptist, so it was easy.
Besides, in the Summer of ‘22 Cheyenne weather was exquisite, and it gave me a chance to see how my town’s cup had started to run all over Laramie County. Talk about a growth spurt! Also, there was no wind and only the afternoon rains that come during Frontier Days.
But when the other CTP drivers, 3 ex-police officers and an ex-airman, found out I was from New York all bets were off. The reason, illogically, was that being from New York already signaled I was liberal.
I made the mistake of bringing up Liz, who was just about to be expelled, and nobody much wanted to discuss why with me.
After working in news for so many years in New York City I simply had to broach the subject of politics, gauche or not. I lasted at CTP for 2 weeks. Was that the existential version of being tarred and feathered?
A few other little things caused me to start glancing over my shoulder Eastward.
Folks with guns were a surprising aspect of my homecoming. Though it’s something I might be seeing more of here in New York.
Wyoming has always espoused 2nd Amendment rights and we may have led the way in promoting broader acceptance since the recent Supreme Court decision recently allowing guns outside the home here in NYC.
I was still somewhat unnerved at a family gathering where one guest arrived at the Olive Garden dinner wearing a Glock on his hip like the county sheriff or an off-duty armored car driver.
That surely wasn’t the way I remembered gun manners in the 80s when I left Cheyenne, even though open carry has been legal for a hundred years or more. A few times people actually felt compelled to hand me their loaded weapons to inspect like we were in an elementary school show and tell or a trust ritual of some kind.
Things change. Yes they sure do!
A predominant local view of the outside world was poignantly illustrated to me at the Donny Sands car show in August when I overheard a lady near me say, “I don’t read books.”
Since I’d just come from the publishing capital of the world, and am a writer, that glib statement stopped me short. Other people I met in my travels say they don’t do Facebook, use email, text or even voicemail—much less the Internet—at all! “Don’t call me, I won’t call you, but drop over anytime!”
I view much of this as the result of social pushback. The incredible onslaught of newspaper, radio, television, magazine and Internet influence that emanates from New York is rammed down our throats there and can result in an emotional disconnect.
Kind of like, “It barks over here and bites over there.” Or, instead of a gun, it’s the media, talking in New York, and influencing the rest of the country.
I learned Wyoming’s newspaper and television outlets are now homogenized as in many other smaller communities around the country. This made fortunes for small town operators after FCC deregulation over the years.
Researchers get an average pulse of the cities, states and regions they target, then deliver a statistically palatable, familiar and relatable version of their content to that target average. In the end, consumers are left to digest views that are not only alien—but anathema.
Hateful or not, people in entire communities remain alienated by the floodgates of information delivered by vast networks—think iHeart, and Audible, Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN,—over which we have little input and no control.
Our now marginalized personal views are forced to crystallize into the basic precepts we already know we can comfortably hang onto. Politicians then pander to this “groupthink” and legislate according to what research dictates. A vicious cycle.
I got a pretty good taste of our Wyoming media on this last sojourn home. The excellent Cowboy State Daily is, by the way, a worthy stand-in for our poor deceased local newspapers.
I was honored to be featured in an article in the CSD when I first arrived back home in July and was consequently offered an on-air position at the local television station, which I declined.
Both of these experiences gave me a taste of the current state of news gathering and dissemination in Cheyenne and the Great State of Wyoming.
Exiting Cheyenne at the end of August, leaving all of the “baggage,” i.e., notebooks, furniture, clothes, kitchen stuff, broadcasting equipment, etc. behind in one of Cheyenne’s many storage units, I arrived back in New York at the beginning of September after two months of proving true Thomas Wolfe’s adage that “you can’t go home again.”
I had something more with me this time than I had when I arrived in New York City four decades ago. It was this adage: The leaving is easy; it’s the coming back that’s hard. This goes for both for the coming and going.
—George Wienbarg III