04 March, 2010

Highways and byways: to Laramie via Laguna.

Old signs have intrinsic appeal for me. They suggest that a particular life has happened in a given place. They remind you of graphic and font styles that came and went, or that were never really here to begin with. I like the idea of one-of's, the no-franchising-likely-with-that-kind of-signage, but if you stop on by, we'll provide you with a service of one sort or another kind of places. Heck, I like that you can still get gas at Sinclair gas pumps, and that sometimes there's an actual model of a rather beaten-up green dinosaur. I know it's a corporation, but those gas stations are still old school.

Perhaps I like old signs most of all because they remind me of the kinds of road trips that involve more time on the secondary roads than the numbing major highways. If that sounds like it's your way to travel, here's where I strongly recommend William Least Heat-Moon's transcendent Blue Highways, for serious dreaming and escaping in the comfort of your shabbiest armchair. His book may even occasion a shift in how you view the United States.

This latest trip was limited in scope, though I did have time to recharge my vitamin D levels on the coastline (for a emptier beach, like the one above, try Crystal Cove State Park, just to the north of Laguna Beach), and to people- and seagull-watch on various boardwalks and piers.

How I'd love to take you up the coastline north of LA; that'll have to wait for another trip. Can you see how much affection I have for all the microclimates--coastline, desert, deep forest, mountain range--that make up the state of California? Too soon, it was time to head north (by plane, darn the pesky constraints of real life). Upon my arrival in the snow-stung state of Wyoming, the hotel clerk asked "business or pleasure" and looked at me in mild disbelief when I declared the latter.

The winter months aren't exactly high season in Wyoming (population 550,000, give or take) where until recently the pronghorn antelope outnumbered the people. It's the emptiest state in the nation (which is perhaps why it teems with wildlife); in the winter, you basically only go to Wyoming if you dig snowmobiles. That, or if your sister has just had her first baby. (Wyoming summers, on the other hand, while brief, are incredible).

Laramie is home for my sister--and the University of Wyoming. The presence of students may help explain why it is a liberal oasis in an immense, solidly conservative state (aka Dick Cheney Territory). At 29,000, the town isn't that small. Just up the way, Centennial proudly stands at 110 residents. Down the highway, the metropolis of Buford wins. Its population? One. I kid you not.I strolled through the well-stocked organic co-op (you can grind your own flours on the spot!), browsed for books in the independently owned, immensely welcoming Second Story. Perhaps its past as a thriving brothel and dance hall (located strategically next to the train tracks) explains its openness. I was pointed to the "best coffee in town"--Coal Creek Coffee Co.--just past the "massage therapy & oxygen bar". From their extensive (for a coffeshop) menu you can order a "Hot Snow", which is a hot chocolate made with almond extract and--you guessed it--white chocolate.

The people are friendly in Laramie. Very friendly. They make the French locals where I live seem nearly surly in comparison, which they actually (almost) never are. There were chats left and right and unsolicited offers of help for the duration of my Wyoming visit.

6-foot high snowbreak, to limit the drift of snow.

Maybe you get friendlier when you live where it's winter more than half the year--and a stranger rolls into town.


  1. I've always had a soft spot for Wyoming. Too many cowboy romances probably. :P Drove through many years ago and stayed in Green River?

    That hot snow sounds wonderful.

  2. Hi WC,
    It's certainly a far cry from your home state, right? I love its feeling of wildness. Really, it's surprising more people don't live there, given the fact that many other states are snow-bound for half the year--and this one has no income tax (corporate or personal) and no sales tax on food...But when the wind picks up, it's COLD.

  3. How strange it must feel to be back in the US. You must experience it in a different way than the rest of us who see it every day. That book "Blue Highways" looks interesting. I'll have to see if my library has a copy.

  4. Hello Rose,
    The scenery and space in Wyoming are exhilirating, and all the good-mooded, smiley people in CA are a pleasure, but yeah, some things are disconcerting. Like a gun shop open 24/7. You know, just in case. Or the two different large-scale gun expos I passed (one in CA, one in Colorado, on the way to WY). Or the number of violent (gun-related) incidences that were covered on TV during my short stay there (ack, how do you continue to your cereal and watch that stuff? I'd sort of lost practice).

    Blue Highways is a revelation. You can get lost in its pages. It is a bracing alternative memoir to the franchising of the nation.


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