Column: Heard Around the West
| December 21, 2009 11:00 PM
You might think that Sweetwater Station, population “plus or minus 5,” doesn’t have much to brag about. It sits on a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, about halfway between Muddy Gap and Lander, in central Wyoming.
But you’d be wrong, because nine years ago Sweetwater Station became the new home of a booklover’s paradise called Mad Dog and the Pilgrim Books. Thanks to the Internet, its stock of 75,000 titles is browsed and bought by people who live all over the world – including readers at Buckingham Palace (“mostly military history and equestrian stuff”).
It’s become one of “the mountain West’s hidden treats,” reports Rone Tempest in Wyofile.com . Owners Lynda German and Polly Hinds specialize in out-of-print books with an emphasis on Western Americana, old fiction, military history and children’s literature, among other niches. Before their wares filled up an old Wyoming farmhouse that sits at 6,500 feet, the owners ran a bookstore in a seedy section of downtown Denver, on Colfax Avenue.
But that all came to a crashing halt after a police bust. The women were also working as janitors to make ends meet, and one evening, after cleaning a bank building, “they were swept up in a police manhunt.” To their dismay, the police handcuffed them, suspecting that Hinds’ feather duster was a weapon and their truck the getaway vehicle.
That did it, Hinds says: “The universe tells you when to go.” Sweetwater Station didn’t seem particularly remote, German adds, since “people who like books will find you.”
Hinds tells what she calls a true story about a fruitless attempt to hire writer Larry McMurtry for their store in Wyoming. Visiting McMurtry’s huge bookstore in Texas, she saw a man she assumed was an overworked employee stocking books and asked if he wanted a job.
The man, “up on a ladder drenched in sweat,” turned out to be McMurtry, who responded, ‘Well, I’ll think about it, ‘cause the pay here is crap.’”
The antiquarian book site biblio.com carries some 1,000 titles from Mad Dog and the Pilgrim. There’s a bonus if you shop in person: The owners also sell fresh eggs.
Small towns hoping to entice tourists might learn a little something from Nevada’s Virginia City, 26 miles south of Reno and inhabited by 1,000 “souls,” as rural newspapers used to call residents.
Virginia City specializes in “Old West kitsch,” says the Los Angeles Times, hosting a “Testicle Festival” with platters of prairie oysters, a pet parade, camel races and the “World Championship Outhouse Races,” a November phenomenon that features human-powered privies with peculiar or punny names.
This year’s entries included the Party Pooper outhouse, the Flapper Crapper and the Urinator, whose makers promised “I’ll Pee Back,” but the Haunted Outhouse crossed the toilet-paper finish line first.
As a drill team dubbed the Plungerettes paraded up the highway, twirling their plungers like batons, one watcher noted, “It’s a little strange, a little Nevada.”
Retail therapy is a term that makes no sense at all to 48-year-old Daniel Suelo, who lives alone in a 15-foot-by-5-foot sandstone cave an hour’s walk from Moab. But Suelo, who chose this life some nine years ago, isn’t lonely or yearning for anything different.
As his former roommate at the University of Colorado put it, “He is the happiest person I have ever met.” Suelo, a former Peace Corps volunteer, told the Denver Post’s Jason Blevins that he used to worry all the time about making a living and buying stuff until he realized that he needed nothing – no money and no possessions – to enjoy life.
Now he’s the ultimate recycler, living on the waste stream of a small town. When he needs food or clothes, our throwaway society provides: “Even after all these years, I’m still asking myself, ‘Why would anyone throw this out?’”
Only one thing about Dumpster-diving disturbs him: It’s when people in authority say he shouldn’t search a garbage can “for his own safety.”
The Teton County commissioners didn’t think they’d gone around the bend; they merely thought they were being responsible, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Gas-field workers inject hydraulic fracturing fluid deep underground to free the gas, and the chemical formulas used in it are known only to the industry.
The commissioners see this secrecy as dangerous – not just for injured workers, but also for the hospital employees who take care of them.
So, the commissioners approved a resolution that urged Congress to pass the “FRAC Act,” which, among other things, says if an injured gas-field worker goes for treatment after a “fracking” fluid spill, the gas company has to reveal the chemicals used in the fluid.
But this made absolutely no sense to the president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. The commissioners, Bruce Hinchley told the Casper Star-Tribune, were just “a bunch of environmental wackos.”
(Betsy Marston is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )