Escape from the Jingle Bells

The strolling tourists depart. Town is quiet, the summer houses are dark and empty, and the Thanksgiving turkey is all gone. Nighttime sets in during late afternoon.

I resign myself to the thought that the slow, sleepy period has begun. Then, with surprising speed, another busy season is upon us.

Back East in the city, it arrived like an invasive weed. At some point,  and far too soon, I’d be aware of background music with the sound of jingle bells. Before long, it was everywhere on the shopping streets. The sound made me literally agoraphobic: afraid of the market. Shoppers seemed stressed out. Carols intended to make me reverent made me want to flee.

The holidays are also busy in Dubois, but with a notably different feel. This is, after all, a town of 1,000 permanent residents with a reputation for friendliness, and about 50 nonprofit organizations, many of them devoted to charity.

My first sound of the season this year was the barely perceptible strain of classical background music in the Opportunity Shop (which raises many thousands of dollars each year, all of it given back to the community).

“Oh, yes,” I thought. “Christmas is coming.” And then quickly forgot about it.

Songwriter Skip Ewing, who used to hold workshops here and moved to town last spring, took it upon himself to open the season formally with a concert in the Dennison Lodge on December 1.

I wasn’t in the spirit at all when I bought tickets–not to celebrate the season, but to listen to Skip.

The Dennison was decked out for the event, and was packed for both performances. Here, we are waiting for him to start the first one.

Skip began by saying that he had brought us there to get us into the Christmas spirit, and warned that eventually, like it or not, we would all be singing too. After a long series of his county favorites (some of them top of the charts in their day), he segued into his new holiday songs — some silly, some sentimental, others solemn.

“In the meadow we can build a snowman,” he croons,
“and pretend he’s Santa bringing toys.
When he asks us ‘Are you naughty?’ we’ll say No, man,
’cause everybody’s nice here in Dubois.”

His last was “Silent Night.” Skip began simply and quietly, and sure enough some of us began to sing along. Gradually his voice grew softer and ours louder, until all that came through the microphone was the sound of his guitar. Then that fell away too, leaving nothing but our voices–and the spirit.

It’s the season of open houses now, at the bank, the phone company, the museums and the community centers. There’s no need to go far to find Christmas cookies.

People don’t speak of being stressed out by the shopping. We can gift shop online, of course, and the FedEx and UPS guys are visibly busy. We can find Western-themed gifts at Olsen’s, or a handmade item at the Christmas extravaganza in the Headwaters or at Anita’s shop, Wyoming Wool Works. Or we can treasure-hunt at the Opportunity Shop, which is actually fun.

The other day I sat on a stool in Superfoods wearing a silly elf’s hat and now and again ringing a little bell. At that very moment, some unlucky folks were certainly standing in front of Bed, Bath, and Beyond next door to my former office building in Manhattan, ringing their bells without a pause. In that context, it was another irritating noise of the season.

Just one particle in a floodstream of pedestrians, I used to pass by without paying them any attention at all. They rang like automatons, and looked cold and miserable. I didn’t know them or the people they helped. I supported other causes.

Superfoods graciously allows us to sit indoors next to the shopping carts. Most of the Salvation Army bell-ringers here are volunteers affiliated with other nonprofits.

This year I’m ringing on behalf of the Dubois Museum. Shoppers pass me one by one as they enter the store. I greet them all, and many are personal friends.

About half of the people drop something into the bucket on their way out, and now and again a rather large bill. I love their generosity. Almost everyone greets me again upon leaving the store. A few apologize for not contributing, or say they donated last time.  The sum of donations seems to increase every year.

As the sign beside me says, all the funds remain in Dubois. I know the person who runs Salvation Army here, and I have met some of the people that it quietly helps: Cross-country backpackers who have had a turn of bad luck in this remote location. Travelers stranded after a breakdown without enough funds for a motel. Impoverished old folks without the skills to navigate the social networks.

My favorite part of this gig, other than the obvious charitable benefit, is watching the banter and chatter that goes on in Superfoods.

“The way you mumble and with my hearing problem, we could probably start World War III,” jokes one guy.

“Let’s leave that to the oligarchs,” says the other.

Fortunately, the oligarchs are very far away. What we have is peace on this small part of the earth, and plenty of good will to go around.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.


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In Praise of Moms and Pops

Not, well, cool. But what she doesn’t get …

VillageCafe1“You know, Mom and Pops.”

I thought of this, as I looked at my sausage and scrambled eggs. Out of curiosity, last week I called the Wyoming Office of Tourism, posing as a tourist, to ask whether there are any restaurants in Dubois.

You know, it’s a pretty small town.

Sure, she said. There are places to eat there. You know, Moms and Pops.

I recognized her tone of voice: the big-city cognoscenti. I’ve been there myself, for many years, in a much bigger town than Cheyenne, where she was speaking from. “Moms and Pops” are not, well, cool.

I was waiting for my car repair across the street at 3D Oil, this week, and I stopped by for breakfast at the Village Cafe. Not the place the Office of Tourism would recommend, clearly. Their promotional material tends to focus on the Cowboy Cafe, which has the right branding. A fine establishment itself, but always crowded in the high summer season (therefore).

I guess nobody had told her about the Bistro, which is pretty darned cool itself.

You can usually get a table at the Village Cafe.

VillageCafe2_editedIt’s quiet season now, only a few hunters and retired ranchers stopping by for breakfast. The old guys at the next table were talking about cattle, tractors, and hay. The other folks were quiet.

There was a nice, hometown feel about it. I sat back and read my book while I enjoyed my eggs.

In Dubois, we thrive on Moms and Pops who started their businesses years ago and stay around because we love it here, and (like the couple who just opened Noon Rock Pizza) the kids of Mom and Pop, who start something new because they want to live here. Or the couple who opened Moose Outpost, the hamburger stand across the highway, which rivals Wendy’s for quality but not for brand recognition.

VillageCafe3I’ve always admired the big screen TV at the front of Village Cafe, which features real facts about our history and geography, like this one. So folks passing through can learn a little about the area with their hotcakes and hash browns.

The menu is sparse: Eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, French toast, in various combinations at corresponding prices. Nothing fancy. You know what you’re going to get, and it’s pretty good.

“A chain restaurant would never survive here,” said Dustin, coming out from the kitchen to talk with me. “They wouldn’t be able to make it through the slow season.” For that, you need the Moms and Pops who are committed to the community and determined to stay in this place they love.

Of course because I live here, I have never actually stayed in the Wind River Motel, which is attached physically and financially to the Village Cafe. From the outside, it looks modest, to say the least. I’m not sure I would stop here myself if I were a stranger passing through.

WindRiver1In recent months, I’ve taken the opportunity to speak to several people who have stayed there — a man from Colorado who brings up his truck full of peaches and tomatoes in late summer, and a pair of cyclists passing through from coast to coast.

They told me it’s a great deal: good beds, very clean and comfortable, and the price is definitely right: Well south of $100 a night, about a third what you’d pay over the pass in Jackson.

There are those who won’t stop in Dubois because we don’t have a Hyatt or even a Holiday Inn Express. We’ll manage just fine without them, thank you. We’re OK with who we are: Moms and Pops and folks who just like it here and want to keep it this way, which is pretty wonderful.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

 

An Exhilarating Farewell to Summer

Live. Jam. Funk. Free. This looked promising.

PerfectFallDayPark“I’m so sad to see the end of summer,” friends will say, as the fields turn to gold and the air grows crisp. Not I.

The smoke has cleared. Most of the tourists are gone. The skies are blue and the days are warm.

September is the most wonderful time in Dubois, and I do not dread the end of summer. I begin to think of the brilliant beauties of winter.

Last Friday, I was musing about how so many others elsewhere would be spending their Labor Day weekends: Dressing light on account of the humid heat, getting out the suits and shovels for a trip to a beach somewhere that would deposit sticky sand in every crevice, packing food to keep the ants out of the picnic. Here in Dubois, we added another layer to the T-shirts to prepare for the cool of evening and headed off for Coyote Blue, where Alli and Noah had set out a gift for the entire town in the back yard of their coffee shop.

SneakyPetePosterThe text and look-and-feel of their poster said it all: Live. Jam. Funk. (Free.) Nothing like our usual laid-back country music band strumming away as a few old-timers shuffle around the dance floor doing the two-step. This looked promising.

We arrived right on time, which of course is not the coolest time to arrive. Sneaky Pete and the Secret Weapons were still warming up on the platform behind the coffee shop, as people slowly began to filter in across the blocked-off side street.

It brought to mind our annual block party in Brooklyn, one of the few things I miss about the city I’ve left behind. There’s something special about reveling to music outdoors on the street with your neighbors, who aren’t the people you usually choose to get down with on a weekend evening. You never know who will turn up. It felt like that.

We nursed our beers and watched the band or gazed across the highway at the foothills of Whiskey Basin, talking about not much as the shadows lengthened. Small children were chasing each other around on the lawn behind the building. Parents felt no urgent need to be vigilant.

EarlyCrowdAllie and Noah were briskly selling brisket from a food van at the back, which quickly ran out — but nobody seemed to care. There was plenty of the crucial element: beer.

Somehow the funky jazz enhanced our wistful sense of general goodwill as we savored the slow decline of a beautiful thing–the day, the summer, the season.

Then the sun went down, and the feeling changed. Many older folks got chilly and went home. Many younger ones finished their workdays or the left the bar and dropped by to check out the scene. The canopy of strip lights went on. And as it got darker, the band got hotter.

Eventually, almost nobody could resist the growling bass line and the beat. This band was really remarkably good. The dance floor filled to capacity and spilled over onto the gravel and the lawn. It seemed that every body–young, old, inbetween, or small enough to carry–was literally moved by the music.

Dancing1For a brief few hours, we all shared a remarkable sense widespread exhilaration. This is not something I’ve experienced before in Dubois. I may witness others’ joy in beauty, often a sense of relaxation or the peace of rest after hard work, the pleasure of a good, hard hike–but never anything quite like this. Not here.

For all that everyone did a year ago to make an even bigger thing of the total eclipse in our tiny town, this event was more memorable. Alli told me that she and Noah decided to create the evening simply to celebrate the end of a summer of hard work. She added that they intend to do it again next year.

I heard others that evening express my feeling that we must find ways to offer more small free outdoor dance events that bring out all ages and all tastes, and give us us a chance to enjoy a collective sense of good-natured abandon. The few tourists who stopped by seemed to have a good time also.

The Irish poet Seamus O’Sullivan captured the feeling:

A piper in the streets today
Set up, and tuned, and started to play,
And away, away, away on the tide
Of his music we started; on every side
Doors and windows were opened wide,
And men left down their work and came,
And women with petticoats coloured like flame.
And little bare feet that were blue with cold,
Went dancing back to the age of gold,
And all the world went gay, went gay,
For half an hour in the street today.

The tide of the music. Let’s find a way to do this again. And often. Please.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois’ Delectable New Drive-Thru

The reasons the Outpost is succeeding say a lot about our town.

MooseOutpostWhat this town needs, my husband has been saying for years, is a really good burger.

God forbid we should get a McDonald’s or a Burger King — let alone a Walmart or a big Marriott. That’s not Dubois at all.

But the drive-thru burger joint on our main street, opened a month ago by a pair of locals, fits in handsomely.

Handsomest of all is that wonderful moose out front (of which more, later).

BurgerThe Moose Outpost replaces an ice cream and coffee stand that failed last summer. The reasons why the Outpost ought to succeed say a lot about our town. It’s a commercial venture, sure, but it’s more.

Waiting for Travis to finish my car repairs today, I took the chance to nip across the street and order a cheeseburger. I was not disappointed.

Karrie and Bob Davis advertise that they’re serving fresh ingredients and hand-made orders at the Outpost. I couldn’t resist chomping down before snapping the photo.

As the patty slid around on the ciabatta bun and the tender onions tried to divorce themselves from that bright-red slice of August tomato, I had to run back inside for more napkins.

Just look at that lettuce leaf.

“So how long is your lease?” I asked Karrie, fully expecting her to say “through the end of the summer.”

“Five years,” she replied.

“And how’s business?” I asked.

Moose sculptureUnbelievable, she said. She added that even the Sysco people are surprised at how much meat and produce she is ordering. But it’s also, predictably, crazy.

Her job ads haven’t brought in enough helpers. “If it wasn’t for my church family,” she added, “we’d never be able to make it.”

Burger stand as a church mission: That fits too. The venture is crucial for the town (which needs good eateries not only in the busy tourist season but year-round) and typical of the helpful spirit in this place that seems to run on volunteers.

As I sat on the porch enjoying my burger, I admired the magnificent moose from behind. He seemed to be guarding the folks at the picnic tables. The creation of Karrie’s Dad, artist and sculptor Vic Lemmon, he used to stand outside another restaurant that her family owned elsewhere in town. For a long time, he’s lived near the highway east of Dubois, in a spot where he wasn’t noticeable.

MooseOutpost4Inbetween, Kerrie told me, he’s has been shot at, stolen (and returned),  inappropriately painted, and driven to Utah to oversee Christmas tree sales. Now he’s challenging the jackalope down the street as our town mascot.

Just yesterday, I read a post on TripAdvisor asking where to see a moose in Yellowstone. The odds aren’t great. But as they pass this way en route home, at least people can see what one looks like.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Cybermagic Brings a Drugstore to Dubois

After a half century, an actual main-street pharmacy.

Drugstore_Exterior I was in a meeting yesterday when someone texted me that the pharmacy was open. I rushed over as soon as I could. Co-owner Lisa Bailey, who was standing on the boardwalk in front of the store, smiled at me.

It’s true: The pharmacy is open, in what website developers would call a “soft launch.” There’s no ice cream at the fountain, no greeting cards, and no gauze pads on the shelves as yet. But I’ll be darned if you can’t get a prescription filled in Dubois today.

When we first heard that a pharmacy was coming to town, we didn’t really believe it. That old sign “Dubois DRUG Sundries” (with its implied lie) had hung above the store so long that we no longer even saw it. We knew that all you could buy in whatever store was there would be hats, purses, and ice cream. The explanations to tourists were awkward.

The misleading sign went up in 1964, when new owners began to operate the “drug store” without a pharmacist for the first time since it opened 1932. I guess “drug sundries” was meant to signify over-the-counter pills.

SandysShop2When we first moved to town, you could actually buy nonprescription pills and first-aid supplies in the store where Ian and his wife sold mostly ice cream cones and souvenirs. Later, Fawn opened a sandwich shop and curio store called Serendipity at the site. When her family left town, Grandma Kathy and a friend reopened the ice cream fountain, selling all sorts of vintage items on the side (but no pills).

Briefly there was a pop-up Christmas shop in there. But never, we knew, any drugs or even any Band-Aids. You got Advil at Superfoods. Real medicines? The Walgreens in Riverton would mail them over, or you could drive an hour to pick them up.

An actual pharmacy coming back to main street in Dubois, after a half century? It seemed too fantastic to be true.

Drugstore_ConstructionIt was true that Wyoming passed a law last year to allow telepharmacy — prescriptions filled by a pharm tech, working online at a satellite location, linked to a licensed pharmacy somewhere else. We know Dubois has the digital mojo to support such an operation (after all, Mountain Sage Clinic already offers specialty visits online), as well an eager supply of customers. But a pharmacy here? Really?

Ladders appeared inside the old drug store, and some painting went on. But then, for many months: Nothing.

“Are we ever going to have a drug store?” I asked Reg, the property manager. He would smile and shrug.

It seems that staffing problems back at Frontier Pharmacy in Big Piney delayed the grand (soft) opening in Dubois, but at last Lisa and Rob Bailey, a licensed pharmacist, are open for business here.

Pharmacy1Yesterday, Rob seemed to want to assure me that he has the right intentions for our old-West town: He talked about where he found that vintage “prescriptions” sign back in his home town of Palmer, Nebraska, and the charming old American Greetings display yet to appear. But when a neighbor peeked in the door to say welcome, I knew that the broad smile on her face wasn’t about greeting cards.

“Tell everyone our phone number is simple to remember: It’s 2400,” Rob said. “And it’s really easy to transfer your prescriptions over.”

The counter and stools are still in place, and ice cream may actually return too, once they figure out all those food-service regulations. But the Baileys already know all about medications, which is what really matters.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Fake News About Dubois, and the Facts

Groceries, grizzlies, antelope farms, and more …

Most of what follows is hearsay. In the past few weeks, several people have told me about some remarkable comments they’ve heard from visitors to town. I’ve also run across some other amusing misconceptions on my own.

I decided I should set the record straight:

Outfit1. We don’t dress this way as part of a historic re-enactment. This is really how we like to dress, and for good reason. We wear brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts for protection against the fierce sun. We wear vests because it’s just enough to keep us warm in the high-desert cool. We wear jeans because they’re comfortable and sturdy. We wear boots because they keep the rocks out. (Here’s what I might be wearing today, if I hadn’t chosen a different shirt, vest, and jeans.)

2. Whatever that person in Jackson may have said, there’s no need to stock up before heading this way. Dubois does have an amply stocked grocery store, a gas station (well, actually four of them), and many places to buy a cup of coffee (or even a latte, a cappuccino, or a chai).

3.  There probably isn’t a grizzly bear in the Town Park just now.  Our bear expert Brian does say that, in theory, except in the dead of winter, a grizzly could be anywhere. But a grizzly doesn’t want to see you any more than you want to see her. We know better than to leave trash around for her to find, and she prefers to be in the forest anyway. Everybody knows how to recognize the signs that a bear has been around, and if any had been seen recently, you can bet that (1) everybody would be talking about it and (2) it would have been taken care of long before they began talking.

Antelope_1006174. We do not “farm” deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, or other animals you may see behind fences near town. This is actually the wildlife you have come all this way to view. They come here of their own free will, probably because they like it around here as much as we do. They leap the fences, live in peace with the livestock, and like to graze our fields. (Please drive with care.)

5. We’re not all cowboys in Dubois. Indeed there are many working cowhands, retired cowboys, former cowboys, and would-be cowboys. But the population also includes (off the top of my head) a computer architect, a designer of medical devices, a lobbyist, and many painters and photographers.

stopsign6. Dubois does have stop signs.“There’s not even really a stop sign in town,” Jeda Higgs said on the video “Chasing Totality: Making the Eclipse Megamovie.” I probably would have been dazzled by the exposure too, but that was hyperbole. More accurately, there is no stop sign, yield sign, or traffic light for cars making the 90-degree turn on the highway as it passes through the center of town. They have the right of way (and locals know it). People do face stop signs as they enter the highway from many side streets in town, and there are more in the residential parts of the village.

7. Dubois is not the most remote town in the lower 48 states. I dealt with this long-held and much-quoted myth in a previous post. The following is true: Dubois is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest large towns. A remarkable proportion of the surrounding landscape is publicly owned wilderness. The nearest Interstate is about 3 hours away. On the other hand, goods and services are easily accessible and residents take the commute to big-box stores and other conveniences as a fact of life (just as people elsewhere endure traffic, which we don’t have). Besides, those “commutes” are unusually scenic. But by any published criterion, Dubois is not the most remote town in the US. Maybe the most interesting or most charming or most authentically Western or most friendly remote town in the lower 48, but not the remotest.

100_06658. Winters aren’t brutal in Dubois (generally). Last winter may have been tough, true. But in general, temperatures here are several degrees warmer than in Jackson. Most of the snow (usually) gets dumped on that side of Togwotee Pass or on the Pass itself, giving us wonderful opportunities for snowmobiling and snowshoeing. The dry climate keeps winter temperatures surprisingly tolerable. And the air is magically clean.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

How Google Came to Love Dubois (Too)

The real action behind the great Eclipse Megamovie took place right here.

MegamovieCapture12We knew beforehand that a Google team was coming to Dubois to watch the Eclipse. But only weeks afterwards, when I saw their video on YouTube, did I hear what I had thought was too good to be true.

Our hometown was actually the base of operations for the great Eclipse Mega-Movie project.

Thousands of people around the country took pictures during the total eclipse, and Google has melded them all into one video. The eclipse images submitted by volunteers will offer astronomers unprecedented views of the corona, the edge of the sun, that will vastly increase our knowledge about the sun’s activity.

But the real action took place right here.

“It was part happenstance, part location,” project manager Calvin Johnson told me today. “We were looking for a place that was on totality, where the weather was predicted to be good and where we could hang out beforehand and not spend a lot of time getting ready.” It was important to be in one place in case something went wrong.

MegamovieCapture45But they also wanted to watch the eclipse together in just the right location, “not so much for the project as for the experience,” said astronomer Laura Peticolas of University of California-Berkeley, one of those who dreamed up the project in the first place. (That’s Johnson and Peticolas in the image, watching with wonder from the top of the Scenic Overlook, as totality was fading.)

Lucky for Dubois (and for Google), just as the Google team began looking for the right location, Lisa Bivens was opening the newly remodeled Chinook Winds Motel, and was hoping to fill all the rooms during Eclipse Week. She had the initiative to reach out to astronomers by emailing places like NASA and Sky & Telescope Magazine. The listing made it into an astronomy listserve, where another member of the Google team saw it.

So they took over the entire motel: An engineer, an astronomer, the project manager, some camera operators, a few undergraduates, and some family members. The team stayed in constant contact with engineers at Google’s offices in Mountain View CA during the eclipse, checking to make sure the pictures were uploading and formatting properly and dealing with any technical issues.

If you haven’t done so already, do log onto YouTube and set aside 15 minutes to watch “Chasing Totality: Making the 2017 Eclipse Megamovie,” if only for some of the best images of the total eclipse crossing our valley. About 90,000 other people have already seen it, and they have had a huge dose of what’s wonderful about our town.

MegamovieCapture13

They hear Johnson describing it as a “tiny little cowboy town” about an hour from Jackson, and see Jeda welcoming visitors with her customary enthusiasm. “We still have that old-West mentality of everybody’s welcome at the campfire,” Monte says, and you see him at his piano. Twila talks about the Eclipse as an exciting time for the town.

Meanwhile, the team sits around a campfire. You see some of them throwing horseshoes.

To tell the truth, they actually spent much of their time scouting for locations before settling on the obvious: the top of the Overlook. Some of them went to the Museum. A few rode the jackalope. They all went to the rodeo.  Peticolas called it “amazing, so crazy!” She said she had worried a lot for the riders, but then she added, “I guess they sign up for this.”

The team also drove across the pass to the Tetons, which gave everyone a chance to see more of what we love about our location.

MegamovieCapture44I asked Johnson whether the ride over from Denver had been boring, after he got this side of Rawlins. “It may be boring for you-all that live there,” he replied, “but it was beautiful for all of us. Much more beautiful than Boston [where he lives and works]. I would love to spend unlimited time there.”

“I fell in love with Dubois,” said Peticolas, “the painted hills, the valley, the beautiful mountains. It was so serene at the time of the eclipse.” A “small-town” girl who grew up in Oregon and spent several years in Alaska, she describes her current home town of San Francisco as “all cement and cars.” She says she will definitely return to explore more around Dubois.

“I can’t imagine having found a better place,” she added. “There are a handful of places I want to go back to. Dubois is one.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.