That’s not a typo, folks. Exit 1A is back.
Simple. I finished my book. It’s titled In Praise of the Ecstatic, and though entirely fictional, it’s essentially a radical distillation of everything that went into Made in Michigan.
For those that don’t know – and let’s face it, no one really cares – Made in Michigan was the precursor to Exit 1A. It covered Michigan’s culinary and cultural curios, and a couple people enjoyed it, I guess. Then I moved out of state, and that was the end of it.
But I get homesick sometimes, and In Praise of the Ecstatic has been my way of revisiting Michigan, even when I’m over 1,000 miles away.
Now that the book is basically done, I can get back to more frivolous pursuits, like this blog. Not that I don’t try to provide good content, but when you get as little traffic as I do, Exit 1A is really just a vanity project.
That’s why I’m going to focus on having as much fun as possible with my posts from here on out. There’ll be a lot less research on niche subjects and a lot more general observations on America. And honestly, that’s probably where the best stories are.
But enough bloviating. Let’s get to the good stuff.
Such as Laramie, Wyoming.
I’m hanging my hat in Colorado at the moment, and I’ll travel up to Wyoming once in awhile. It’s a fascinating place. It’s the least populated state in the US, despite being the country’s 9th largest. Tiny Rhode Island has about twice as many people.
This is the real frontier, folks. Or, as the signs say, Wyoming is forever west.
Wyoming is everything I thought Iowa would be. Empty roads. Rolling, pristine prairie, beautiful gradients of amber, gold, and brown. Historic towns with lovingly preserved heritages. It’s all there.
In comparison, Iowa is like a less populated version of Indiana or Ohio that’s also fucking amazing for growing animal feed. It has some empty roads, to be sure, but it’s an aggressively industrialized and farmed state. There’s little in the way of the untouched. Whatever Iowa was before it was a US territory can only be found in artistic renditions.
Wyoming, in contrast, is raw and wonderfully strange, with mountains ranges thrown in as a bonus. Yes, Wyoming features some serious elevation. Laramie rests at over 7,000 feet above sea level, on a high plain. That’s right about at the point where your body starts to seriously feel the effects of high altitude.
If you’re from a lower elevation, a couple beers your first time in Laramie will almost assuredly knock you on your ass. That’s handy information if you ever visit, since Laramie is a true college town with all the attendant watering holes.
The town only has 31,000 people, and local University of Wyoming enrolls over 13,000, so the students have a pretty sizable influence on Laramie. And when you combine the conservative, independent, hardscrabble Wyoming spirit with the liberal college mindset, the result is awesomeness.
In my opinion.
To paint a quick picture of how Laramie looks before I dive in, imagine an Old West downtown radiating east from a thick band of train tracks. Think brick buildings with pediments, cornices, and other baroque embellishments. A grid of quaint homes with modest lawns surrounds the downtown, leading up to the sandstone buildings that make up the University of Wyoming campus. There’s some suburban sprawl on the outskirts, but not too much.
Welcome to Laramie.
OK, the setting established, let’s get to my informal list of why I love Laramie:
1. The food. At this point, I’m pretty committed to the vegetarian lifestyle, and Laramie has an exclusively vegetarian restaurant in Sweet Melissa’s, and a very vegetarian-friendly restaurant in Jeffrey’s Bistro. There’s nothing quite like eating “parmesan crusted portabello slices layered with cheddar cheese on a toasted jalapeno roll, with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and peppers (green and red) served with an au jus dipping sauce (burgundy, soy sauce, garlic and vegetarian chicken stock)” while watching a guy drive down the street with a shotgun resting in the passenger seat of his truck.
I swear that happened. Which might explain the bullet hole in the mirror at…
2. The Buckhorn Bar. But really, the bullet hole was from decades ago. Don’t let it alarm you.
And hopefully you’re not creeped out by mounted animal heads, because the Buckhorn is overflowing with ’em. There’s even a jackalope.
The Buckhorn has a lot going for it. The drinks are cheap. There’s live music. Strangers will actually talk to you.
You can’t beat that.
3. The Wyoming Territorial Prison. Just west of town, you can walk in and around the old jail for a measly $5. Built in 1872, back when our country’s prisons resembled low-key castles, it’s an imposing structure. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was the original University of Wyoming building or something.
Until you get closer and see the bars on the window.
It’s a museum these days, and inside you’ll find out that Wyoming handed out pardons like candy and that prisoners escaped at alarming rates. Oh, and that Butch Cassidy was imprisoned there, though they pretty much make Cassidy out to be a Robin Hood folk hero.
Darn those Pinkerton detectives hassling Cassidy! He was just trying to redistribute the wealth!
4. The motel with drawings of a cartoon bear in pajamas engaging in various recreational activities. Copies are in your room, hung on the walls. The guy at the desk says Wyoming is where Pangaea happened.
Whatever that means.
5. Vedauwoo rocks. Wyoming, if you weren’t aware, is windy as fuck. The insane wind chill factors in the winter are part of the reason Wyoming is so sparsely populated. That, and the wind whips the snow into huge drifts, temporarily closing down main roads.
But the wind isn’t all bad. It’s a great source of renewable energy, and it’s why the Vedauwoo rock outcroppings are so darn kooky. The constant wind has dramatically altered the appearance of the rocks, polishing off the edges until wonderfully smooth.
If Bed Rock from The Flintstones had ever existed in real life, surely this is its ruins.
Giant boulders sit on precarious inclines in the woods, seemingly poised to roll away any second. Some, carved by the ages, resemble strange creatures or even people. Many are over a billion years old. The stories they could tell.
Rising triumphantly from the earth, the mighty rock outcroppings have a rounded, cartoonish quality that are truly a sight to behold.
6. I’d better stop here. The fact that I made it to #6 and could easily write more says enough. I didn’t even get to the fashionable young hippies, the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, and the cool coffee shops.
You’ll just have to discover the town for yourself.
Looks safe, right?