Rod Miller: Apologia of a Booksellin’ Cowboy

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "I liquidated my net worth -- state retirement, my stock in the ranch, drained my piggybank and opened Joe Pages Bookstore & Coffeehouse in downtown Cheyenne."

Rod Miller

December 03, 20234 min read

Rod miller headshot scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It was the Dutch theologian Desidarius Erasmus who said, “When I get a little money, I buy books. If there’s any left over, I buy food and clothes.” 

So, as stretches go, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to open a bookstore when the curtain came down on my life in government. I’ll blame Jo McFadden, my eighth grade teacher, for my love of books. But there’s plenty of blame to go around.

My grandfather had a hand in it to. A crusty old cowboy who had bookplates in all his books that said, “Ex Libris Kirk Miller. If you ever want to borrow another book you sonofabitch, don’t forge where you got this one.”

I liquidated my net worth...state retirement, my stock in the ranch, drained my piggybank... and opened Joe Pages Bookstore & Coffeehouse in downtown Cheyenne. 

At that time, Barnes and Noble was the gorilla in the bookselling room. But I’d done my market research and they weren’t interested in markets of less than half a million. It wasn’t until a couple of years after I’d opened that they did a stock split and entered markets of fifty thousand, like Cheyenne.

That gave me time to enjoy my second-favorite career before Darwinian economics forced my hand 

Located on the ground floor of an old hotel that was down at the heels and little more than a flophouse, Joe Pages evolved into a hangout for legislators, lobbyists and general lounge-lizards who loved to congregate amid the smell of books. 

I enjoyed the company of characters like a grizzled homeless guy in a wheelchair who was the finest con man I ever met. And a kid from Youth Alternatives who invented an entire spoken and written language based upon dialog from Tolkien. 

Jorie Graham, the sitting Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry read from her “Dreams of the Unified Field” one night in Joe Pages, quite by accident. And I refused readings to other authors, or to even carry their books, because they were jerks.

The interplay between customer and bookseller is sort of symbiotic. I’d recommend books to them that I thought they’d like, and they recommended books for me to stock that meant something to them and that they wanted others to discover. 

A local lawyer and I were and are huge Cormac McCarthy groupies, and we used to count down the days over coffee until a new McCarthy novel was due to hit the street. Another regular had just finished “Gravity’s Rainbow” and needed someone to talk it over with him.

The ferment and the motion and the fierce energy of ideas circulating among humans as expressed in books and the human hunger for those books is, to me, an impossible force to resist. 

My clientele varied from devoted readers of Alberto Bayo’s “One Hundred Fifty Questions for a Revolutionary” to Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative." I always kept a copy of each in my inventory.

Bright-eyed students from Diane Panozzo’s Honors English program at East High School began coming in. They cleaned up the basement of the store and used it as a venue for their poetry slams. Changelings they were, on the cusp of discovering the incredible power of our language and taking it for a test drive.

When economic reality finally reared its gnarly head, the kids helped me close the store for the last time. 

We read Ginsberg’s “Howl” together, beginning with “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” We started in the basement and worked our way slowly up through the darkened store, like stations of the cross. 

Reading all the way.

When we got to the sidewalk, I locked the door behind us and we read the last verse together. “in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night “


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Rod Miller

Political Columnist