America At Its Best: Dubois, July 4, 2017

Serious. Fun. Together. It’s what we do, over and over.

DuboisWyomingJuly4
Here we went again, enjoying the best Independence Day celebration anywhere. That designation, awarded this year by several tourists on Ramshorn Street (who were obviously delighted and astonished at their good fortune in being here), arises in large part due to the nature of the town that creates it, year after year. I second the nomination, of course. It’s just the kind of July 4 we kept wandering around New England hoping to find for our children, back when they were small. We had no idea back then that we should be thousands of miles farther west.

 

 

Dubois WY July 4
For one thing, as someone who came all the way from Cody pointed out, you don’t have to stake out your spot the night before to get a good view. An hour ahead of start time will do. Ramshorn Street is unusually crowded, but the scene is just about right: Festive, but not frenzied.
Dubois WY July 4
We saw Daniel Starks’ fleet of Army tanks laboring slowly down the highway shoulder as we drove in. Seems like he sent out three times more this year than last.
Dubois WY July 4
They set the pace in the parade, a powerful and sober reminder of what we celebrate on Independence Day. I wonder what, if anything, parents said to children about that. What would I have said to mine?
Helicopter
Meanwhile, a neighbor kept making passes with his helicopter, just to add atmosphere. This sound normally means med-evac. Today, just more fun, and in the sky.
July 4 Dubois WY
What an odd juxtaposition against the century-old motel! Somewhere in the back of the mind: How far out of harm’s way we are. How many of own neighbors ready to put themselves in harm’s way for us–whether it’s mortar fire, forest fire, or house fire.
Dubois WY July 4
Same location, much less thought-provoking display. Friendly wranglers from the CM Ranch turn up every year. This is what brings people here first–the image easiest to sell to the outside world, and least difficult to convey persuasively.
July 4 parade Dubois WY
“It’s great to celebrate July 4 in a town that is happy to be patriotic,” a visitor remarked. (Now that brings up a lot of thoughts this year!) I like the fact that nobody around here goes out of the way to tell me what my patriotism should mean to me. Just show the flag, and put your hand over your heart. We take it for granted you deeply feel what you feel. Whatever it may be.
Dubois WY July 4
Someone chose to honor a fallen veteran in this wonderful old pickup. Another reminder that freedom is not free.
July 4 parade Dubois WY
Could it ever be a July 4 parade if there were no kids chasing free candy? So much of it! I asked for a little Tootsie roll. Someone didn’t want to share, but Mom shamed him into it.
Fire trucks Dubois WY July 4
Uh-oh! Here come the fire hoses! Loudspeakers warn: “You WILL get wet!” The crowd begins to thin as people take cover.
Fire trucks July 4 Dubois WY
Some older folks complain about the fact that the firefighters don’t always aim the hoses straight up. Some younger folks seem eager for the harmless adventure. (Hey, it’s hot out here!)
FireHoses3
“Come under here!” urges a friendly gentleman, and I duck into the garage at Bull’s Conoco. (I’m not afraid of the water, but my camera is.) You can see that Dubois’ Bravest can be straight shooters when duty calls for it.
Fire trucks July 4 Dubois WY
I’ve never known a place more fond of its firefighters, except perhaps New York right after 9/11. Dubois’ Bravest are volunteers, of course. These are the same guys who came out in frigid subzero temperatures at midnight a few years ago, trying to save the old Mercantile. When we hear a siren in Dubois, everybody’s ears perk up and I’m sure many people think a prayer.
Dubois WY July 4
There’s an ice cream social on the church lawn, just after the parade. (This picture is from last year, but the scene was the same.) I’d hitched a ride down to the middle of town with Randy, who was driving his SUV at the rear of the parade. He was exhausted after an early start to his day. After dropping me off, he would circle back and clean up the orange cones to let the traffic get through. “This event must really bring the town together,” a stranger from Riverton said to me, as he was enjoying his ice cream. Well meant, but I had to stop and think about that. “Um, I don’t really think so–no more than usual,” I said finally. “The town is together already. This is just what we do every year on July 4.” Along with everything else we do together every year. (Randy wasn’t present for ice cream, having gone home for a nap.)
Square dance, July 4 Dubois WY
Was there going to be a square dance on July 4? Well, of course! If it’s a Tuesday in the summer, there’s a square dance in the back room at the Rustic. I helped to serve soft drinks at the bar last Tuesday, as I often do. A quarter for a Pepsi or a 7-Up. The proceeds go to local charities.
Square dance Dubois WY July 4 2017
It’s fun to watch the dude ranch folks trying to figure it out, and slowly succeeding. But the best part of it all is the square that always forms in front at the right. The 8 young locals who turn up every week seem to have reserved that spot. They know what they’re doing, and they clearly enjoy doing it. I love how they take it very seriously and keep getting a kick out of it, at the same time. This is the very definition of good, clean fun.
Square dance Dubois WY
The lovely teenager at left began the evening helping out with the soft drinks. The Bob Marley shirt was an act of defiance. (“I’m not wearing any of those stupid Western clothes!” she had told my friend, whom she’s visiting.) And she refused to dance, saying she can’t. Once mother of a teenage girl, I found this all quite familiar. One of the young people saw the stranger at the bar, came on over, and pulled her onto the floor. (Friendly just isn’t something you can sell in a travel guide. You simply have to be here and witness it. Then you’re hooked.)

Wishes Come True: New Merchants in Dubois

Springing up like wild flowers, and just as beautiful.

WRArtisans3For a long time I have been hoping to see two new kinds of shops in town, and here they are. Maybe this came about because I finally got around to reading a Harry Potter book, and some magic rubbed off. (Or maybe it’s not about me at all.)

Last evening, the doors opened on the first new shop in the complex built on the site of the old Mercantile, which was destroyed in a famous dead-of-winter fire in late December 2014. The new business is an outgrowth of Sandy Frericks’ charming Christmas shop, Yeeha! Studio, which operated out of the old drugstore last November and December.

SandysShop4As I told Sandy yesterday, this answers my dream that Dubois would have what I’ve seen in so many other small towns on my road trips: A shop that features art and craft items by local designers.

Hey, presto! Wind River Artisans and Sky Photography now proudly faces onto our main street. (More, I hear, are coming next month.)

At least as important, but not so visible, is Scarecrow Bike & Key, operating out of a lean-to on the side of the hardware store at the back of the Mercantile site. This great idea bubbled up out of a couple of Bud Lights at the Rustic Tavern one day last winter, when Chris Wright told his buddy John McPhail that he had always wanted to open a bike shop in town.

100_0838As the official host for the many cyclists who spend a night at St. Thomas church while passing through town on cross-country bike treks, John quickly saw potential in the idea.

“Do you know how many cyclists came through town last summer?” he replied. (At least 375, in fact, who stayed at the church house. Who knows how many came through without stopping or camped out at the KOA?)

“Two weeks later,” Chris told me, “we were ordering parts.”

BikeShop 2Like two famous Wright brothers a century ago, Chris Wright was attracted to mechanics early in life. Growing up in a small California town, he and his friends built bikes from trash parts left in alleys. They saw to it that no kid in town was without a bike.

After working as a diesel mechanic in high school and at oil fields after graduation, he decided to become a fly fishing guide. Chris has worked at guest lodges near Dubois for the past four years.

John McPhail, who also enjoys making broken things work, has hoped for years to open a locksmith shop. He had seen an ad in the Roundup that said simply, “Don’t call me any more,” put there by a local man who wanted to close a locksmith shop he had been running out of his garage. John did call him, snapped up the equipment, and the other half of Scarecrow Bike & Key fell into place.

BikeShop4The bike shop opened in early May. John said they made 11¢ on the first day. (I didn’t ask what on earth had that price tag.) Not many touring cyclists reach Dubois in mud-and-slush season, and the startup was scary. But by the third week, he told me, “the floodgates opened.” (I don’t think he intended a metaphor; the actual snowmelt floods in Dubois didn’t begin until a few weeks after that.)

“We got bike after bike that had sat in a garage for ten years,” John said. “People would say, I just never wanted to take it all the way to Lander.”

BikeShop3Chris pointed out a vintage red-and-yellow model sitting outside the shop, waiting to be picked up. Its owner got it as a present for her ninth birthday. She wanted it tuned up so she could ride it again — at the age of 75.

What will happen to the business when the cycle tours end in the fall? Bicycles are always breaking, John responded calmly.

“That’s one good thing about bicycles,” Chris had said a few days earlier. “They are always repairable. And they always make you smile.”

© 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.

Small-Town Info Central, 2017

Our online news source: a new Facebook page.

discardedtoysIf you want to sell stuff in Brooklyn, you’d put it on Craiglist and hope somebody legit would be interested.

Or on a nice day, you’d have a tag sale (we called them “stoop sales” because the front porch of your brownstone is known as a stoop). It was a lot of work to put all the items out in the hope that people would buy what you didn’t want.

Lots of passersby would cluck their tongues, remark that they were downsizing too, and walk on past.

Here in Dubois, the thing to do has been to post an ad in the Roundup, the weekly stapled package distributed by the VFW. (Popularly known as the “poop sheet.”)

roundupYou can put a little notice in the For Sale section, on the tightly packed front page, for free. Or you can make a flier about your tag sale, drop off 402 copies at the VFW (why 402? Don’t ask), and for a small fee it will be distributed to stores and offices around town along with everything else stapled to the front page.

We never miss the chance to pick up the Roundup, because it’s fun to see what all is going on. However, new technology has created a robust competitor. Facebook is already the place to go to keep up with friends here, but it’s also quickly becoming our newspaper (by another name).

Someone created the invitation-only Facebook page called Dubois, WY-Area Classifieds in October 2014. It now has 1,504 members — larger than the year-round population of Dubois. The word “Area” in the title is construed broadly: Many of them are from out of town, from Shoshone, Ethete, Riverton, even as far away as Rawlins and Rock Springs. I think lots of people look at it not so much to see what’s for sale as to see what’s going on.

duboisclassifiedsWhat’s really going on, I mean. Not just what you see in the Frontier.

It goes way beyond items for sale, but those are interesting of themselves. This week we have Black Baddie heifers, a 10-year-old gelding, and under ISO (in search of) someone looking for a backhoe. Not long ago we had a Barbie doll collection, and there are usually some Western or heavy-duty outdoor clothes on offer.

There are event announcements (the new children’s choir, a Bible study group, the snow princess contest at the Rustic Tavern, a spray tan party). And there are  items of a more personal nature: A photo of a baby in a snowsuit, with a wish that everyone will be safe in the snow, and an appeal from someone moving to town who’s looking for a place to rent.

The replies are often as engaging as the posts. For instance:

“Anyone here in town selling Girl Scout cookies yet?”

duboisclassifieds2           “Need a fix!”

“Order online!? Where?”

My favorites are the posts about lost animals, because of their human interest appeal and their immediacy. In this one, a woman in search of a lost cat has shown us a gallery of her dogs as well. (That blue heeler looks like he needs a job.)

Some time ago, I saw a post from someone out Crowheart way whose heartbroken boys had just lost their dog. Someone replied quickly that some friends of theirs had just posted about finding a similar dog trotting up the highway while they were driving over toward Jackson.

Next I saw, the family from Crowheart had posted thanks and were heading west to meet up with the other folks. I hope it was the right dog!

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

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Nail File: Getting Glam, Dubois vs NYC

tammyssalonI dropped into Tammy’s new salon again for a manipedi. (I’m the daughter of a Nebraska farm girl; I learned the term only a few years ago in New York City. It means manicure and pedicure.)

Three other women were already in the salon when I got there, two of them getting new hairdos from Tiffany, and the third present apparently just for moral support or for fun.

Although I hadn’t met any of them before, they welcomed me into their friendly conversation, the kind of chat women everywhere have when they’re kicking back. We  moved from fresh-vegetable delivery services to the latest about Melanie’s young husband and his medical treatment in Denver, and on to what kind of shops we would like to see  in the new storefronts that are replacing the burnt-out Mercantile.

We need something like the original Mercantile, everyone agreed: A place to buy good jeans and strong boots, you know. Carhartt jackets. Maybe another place that sells local handmade crafts, like Sandy did in the pop-up shop over Christmas, as well as sewing and craft supplies.

I never used to get a manipedi in Dubois. Here, my feet are in boots all the time, and since I play mandolin and fiddle, I have to keep my fingernails very short. Anyway, who wants a manicure when you go hiking every day?

640px-fifth_av_14st_bk_jehI would wait till I got back to New York, where manipedis are essential to normal grooming if you don’t want to feel like white trash. Back in our Brooklyn neighborhood, there’s literally one nail salon per block. They’re even more prevalent than Starbucks.

In there, you wouldn’t exchange any words with the stranger flipping through InStyle at the next station. The only conversation took place with your manicurist. “Choose color. Square or round? File or cut?”

Sometimes I would try to strike up an actual conversation with the young woman working so intently on my hand. (Or, more embarrassing, my feet. Visions of Jesus and the disciples would come to mind, and the implications of servitude.) The conversation often failed, because the young woman spoke so little English.

Most of the clients are fairly affluent. Nearly all the manicurists in New York City are recent immigrants from Asian countries, most of them in their teens or early 20s. They wear name tags that say Nancy or Mandy or Susie, but you know that’s not the real name. It’s there in the hope that you can remember them when you come back. But who does?

A few years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about abuses in the nail salons that made the relationship even more awkward. It reported that some salon owners charged high “training fees” before a young woman would be allowed to work there, that many of the employees earned only tips, not  salaries, and that usually they lived crammed several to a bedroom, in basements or wherever.

I’d sometimes ask my manicurist about her working conditions, but who knew if she was telling the truth? You wouldn’t dare to ask about their living conditions.

Tammy, the manicurist in Dubois, is somewhere near my own age. With the demeanor of an ancillary health professional, she discusses the physical state of my keratin and my cuticles: why I shouldn’t cut cuticle (infection risk), whether I’m going to lose the nail on that finger I slammed in the car door (probably).

nailsGiven the ugly smashed nail (it makes Tammy’s tummy hurt to look at it), we decide on wacky dark teal polish that looks close to black. As she works, we discuss how she came to open the salon.

Tammy used to own the coffee shop downtown. She sold the business because she wanted something easier to leave behind when her husband gets around to retiring. She noticed that there was no manicurist in Dubois, so she got herself trained, got a certificate, and opened the shop.

The wacky blackish manicure lasted only a few hours. I ruined it putting on my snowshoes later that afternoon. Oh, well. I’m more the kind to just wear that ruined nail, or a Bandaid.

© 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.

Remote Shopping: Spending (and Saving) in Dubois

How do we get what we need or can’t resist? Count the ways …

We had to deliver some boxes of documents to a friend in Oklahoma, which gave me the chance to revisit a guilty pleasure: Wasting time in big box stores.

Back when I worked in Manhattan, I used to spend my lunch hours on stressful days wandering the aisles of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and being tempted by things I didn’t need. “Get back to work,” I’d whisper to myself after about an hour.

Can’t do that any more. But the trip to Tulsa did give me a chance to roam the aisles of Target and Lowes, and to find exactly the right iron-black knobs and handles  to replace the  shiny faux brass vanity hardware that looked so out of place in a bathroom in our log house.

Now, what to do with the old ones? I could just donate them to the Op Shop, but it did cross my mind to put them up for sale on that wonderful new marketplace, the Dubois, WY Classifieds group on Facebook.

duboisareaclassifieds

It’s fun to wander these virtual “aisles,” just to see what’s on offer, from trailer hitches to horses and hiking boots to curling irons. The site is also a sort of community central where people can post ISO (in search of) items, seeking babysitters, strong guys to do repair jobs, and even lost cats and dogs.

Not long ago, some children in Crowheart were reunited with their lost puppy when some friend of a member saw a post from travelers en route to Jackson who had picked up a young dog trotting along Highway 26. They were happy to wait in Jackson if someone would drive over and retrieve it. The last I saw, local people heading that way (for shopping?) were offering to help.

roundupThe time-honored place to announce items for sale, along with tag sales and events such as wine tastings and art shows, is the Roundup (aka the “poop sheet”), put out weekly by the VFW and delivered to shops around town. We always pick up the Roundup on Wednesday or Thursday, and scan it eagerly.

The serendipity is just as enjoyable as my previous forays into Ikea, but generally much less costly. It’s far easier to put the Roundup down on the kitchen counter than to return all that stuff you have already put into your shopping cart. But our garage also contains evidence that sometimes we have succumbed.

Of course, I could easily have found my new drawer pulls and knobs on the Internet. If you really need it soon, and you can’t get it from one of the hardware stores here or from Family Dollar, you can order it online and UPS or Fedex will drop it at your door. There’s one important difference from Internet shopping in Brooklyn: I haven’t heard that anybody here follows the truck around and nicks the box before you can get to the door to retrieve it.

And if you don’t really need it soon, maybe you don’t need it anyway. This is yet another reason we save money by living in Dubois.

There are plenty of large retail outlets about an hour away, in Riverton, Lander, or Jackson. People going “down county” or over the pass often ask whether neighbors need something from over there. I’ve also heard that Walmart in Riverton will make announcements on the PA system asking if anyone in the store at that moment could take something back to Dubois for someone who’s buying on the phone.

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On the other hand, new temptations are always turning up right here. Sandy and some of her friends have opened a charming pop-up holiday shop downtown, and the storefronts on the site of the burned-out Mercantile look like they’ll be finished, at least on the outside, by the anniversary of the Great New Year’s Fire of 2014. We don’t know who’s planning to set up shop, but the empty windows are already appealing.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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.

Dining Out in Dubois: Not Badlands!

Bistro, steakhouse, cafe, barbecue. How much more do we need?

bistro5I sat at the Nostalgia Bistro one recent evening, waxing nostalgic about our wonderful trip to Sicily. I was remembering another restaurant, in the ancient city of Siracusa. We had been celebrating our 40th anniversary.

Travel-weary, happy, and a little tipsy that memorable evening a few years ago, I sat idly enjoying how the wait-staff danced around each other, pirouetting with huge heavy-laden trays or scurrying past to take an order. They never came close to colliding. They made me think of  a finely tuned machine or a well-planned military maneuver.

Same here, I thought while sitting at the Bistro. The service there is equally adept and seemingly effortless, however busy the night. But they remind me more of a busy family.

bistro2Unlike that night in Sicily, at the Bistro I always recognize the person who’s “going to be my server tonight,” and they recognize me. I can joke with Bigi or talk with Norman about something that has happened recently in town. They’re friends.

Back when we lived in Brooklyn, we enjoyed an embarrassment of riches when it came to fine restaurants. Deciding where to go out for dinner usually entailed a rather long conversation.

But after spending some time in Dubois, we realized that in Brooklyn we would almost always wind up at one of 4 or 5 favorite restaurants nearby. We seldom traveled more than a few blocks to have dinner out. So being in Dubois isn’t all that different, in fact.

The Bistro is our go-to place when we want to eat out after Happy Hour, to dine with friends, or just not to cook for ourselves that night. It has an inventive fusion menu, with a mix of comfort food like saucy ribs, delicate light fare such as tender fresh fish, and variations on international kinds of cuisine. (Shannon obviously knows what he’s doing.)

bistro3My husband has observed that Dubois is missing a Thai restaurant. But I like the Thai steak salad at the Bistro so much that I have to resist defaulting to that order every time.

The restaurant would probably succeed in the culinary battleground of our former neighborhood in Brooklyn. But it’s not our only option here, by any means.

For a change of pace, we can choose the steakhouse next to the Rustic Pine Tavern.

Is it Wednesday? My husband has to decide whether to resist the lure of going a few minutes up-mountain for the weekly prime rib special at the Wilderness Boundary Restaurant. I’m not usually a red meat eater, so I prefer their little thin-crust pizzas and their hearty soups du jour.

Football Saturday? We’re going to want the barbecue from the place near the KOA and the wings from El Jarro.

In a hurry or want take-out? It took us quite a while to discover that the kitchen at Taylor Creek Exxon west of town prepares a variety of really good meals. You’d never go to the gas station for food in Brooklyn but, hey, this is Wyoming.

PassHighway022514_4For a larger variety of choices or a more exotic option, we can always travel to Jackson or Lander, which takes about an hour – not that much longer than a trip into midtown Manhattan from our former home in Brooklyn. But there’s no reason to travel all the way to Jackson to spoil ourselves. The new restaurant at Turpin Meadows Lodge, closer than the entrance to Grand Teton National Park, served up the best meals we’ve ever had on that side of Togwotee Pass.

All of these are only counterpoints to the classic option, the Cowboy Café. It’s the obvious choice for a hearty breakfast. Later in the day, I like their sourdough sandwich with pesto and chicken breast. But when I’m feeling really peckish I go for the elk sausage and home fries.

One benefit of spending all year in Dubois is that we can easily get a table off-season.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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.

Good-Looking New Faces in Dubois

Uplifting results with good “bones” and a facelift.

mercantile100616Probably the best sight to greet folks downtown these days is the rank of strong steel girders rising on our main street. This is the site of the great Mercantile fire of New Year’s 2015.

At last, something uplifting has replaced the chain-link fence and the empty lot between the Rustic Pine Tavern and the hardware store parking lot.

The new structure looks reassuringly solid, like a resounding answer to the midwinter devastation and the crumbling relic it destroyed.

Project manager Reg Phillips says he expects work to continue steadily this month, and we should shortly begin seeing a new facade. He hopes the front side will be looking good by the end of the month. The facade will be a mix of materials: wood, tin, and faux stone.

The object, as with all new construction here, is to have the exterior completed before heavy winter sets in (although we rarely get enough snow in town to make a buck-and-rail sag, let alone dent a roof). Here’s what the view across the street from the Rustic should look like, more or less, by the second anniversary of the fire.

merc100716wide

Insurance money wouldn’t pay for a two-story structure, as originally planned. I think this looks more old-town western (and less like Jackson) anyway.

Who’s going to fill all those shop windows? I’ll update when I know anything.

kioskMeanwhile, another sweet facade has appeared in town, just west of the SuperFoods. It’s a face-lift on the boring old brown box that used to be the Visitor Center (which has relocated to the Headwaters).

It’s amazing what some stained planks and a front porch can do to a place! According to my sources, it’s going to become an ice cream and snack shop that also sells souvenirs.

(Anybody want to create some beautiful new Dubois branded T-shirts?)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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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