September 10, 2005

From Cheyenne to the Black Hills

Thursday, September 8, 2005:

We generally buy lunch in the morning so we won't have to scramble later on. This morning (Thursday), we picked up sandwiches at the coffee shop attached to the Plains Hotel; the hotel clerk said it was pretty much the only choice in downtown Cheyenne at that hour (9 am). From looking around town on the way out, I'd concur.

As we waited, a man – gaunt, hollow, and a little off-kilter – started chatting me up. What kinds of pictures did I take with that camera? Where had I been? I mentioned a few places. He kept asking questions. I answered, polite but not chatty. Two women sitting nearby – in their late 60's or early 70's, I'd guess – perked up at some of my answers. Turned out one of them had just moved from the New York area to Flagstaff. She was currently in Cheyenne visiting the other woman (her sister). It also turned out her son is an editor in LA. So we were strangers living overlapping lives. One person leaves, another arrives. A place means different things to each.

While the woman and Dan started talking film, the man (unrelated to them) asked my name, and then, inevitably, "What kind of name is that?"

"It's Hebrew."

Dumb of me in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He didn't recoil, but he was convinced I must therefore be from Israel, since I was a Hebrew. He started asking me a lot of odd questions. Nothing offensive, but… odd.

Sometimes it's hard being Jewish on the road. Mostly not, I'm hardly observant, I eat pork and such. But there have been times in the past like this, where I feel like a zoo animal. An exotic. A stranger in a strange land. It's uncomfortable.

So. Cheyenne. Not much of a city, but then we didn't give it much of a chance. Road fatigue. And, too, that passing strangeness. The hotel bible not tucked into a drawer but out on the desk. In the hotel book, not a list of local restaurants but, rather, a list of local churches. This town not my town. This place not my place. The first time I felt that on this trip. Maybe the last. Hope so.

I did like the cowboy boots, though:


On the road north and east, through Wyoming into South Dakota. Softly undulating plains, great big sky. In the right light, the tan grass looks like velvet.

We veered off the main road to visit Fort Laramie. Not a stop we'd planned, particularly, but in preparing Damian for this trip, I read him If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, which he greatly enjoyed. So we wanted to show him a slice of the Oregon Trail. Fort Laramie was a major stop along the way, travelers stopped here for supplies and rejuvenation. And there are wagon ruts nearby. Actual honest-to-god ruts in the rock. Those must have been incredibly heavy wagons.


It was a good stop, better than I expected. As Dan says, we identify with the people making that trek. Setting out on a great adventure to seek a life that satisfies more, not really knowing what they'll get. They used to call the ones who went west and then returned go-backs. I joke that we're go-backs too, but really we're not. We did go west, we did make a life for ourselves, it did work. We did succeed. We just choose to try something else. To challenge ourselves in a different way. Much like the pioneers mapping out their lives anew.

And on we go. Next stop: the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Posted by Tamar at September 10, 2005 10:07 PM | TrackBack