Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is Cheyenne on the map yet?

Dan Danbom was waxing quite eloquently Thursday in The Denver Post about "putting Denver on the map." It was a clever piece about the phrase "putting ______ on the map," the ______ in this case being Denver.

I am a Denver native and I know Denver's need to be on the map, to be a part of the national conversation. Denver has always had a knack for keeping itself on the map. When the Union Pacific bypassed the burgeoning mining supply town in favor of a Wyoming cross-continent route, William Byers and fellow civic boosters cajoled politicians into getting a spur built from Cheyenne to Denver. Byers was the founder of The Rocky Mountain News and newspapers needed growth for advertising revenue and transportation was essential for that. The railroad beat the heck out of thousand-mile covered-wagon or horseback treks or just plain walking.

Denver had already proven itself to be a breeding ground for hucksters with the great gold rush of 1859. Gold was discovered along Cherry Creek and Denver City entrepreneurs blared the news to the rubes back East, who had no clear idea of the difference between an actual gold field and golds flecks embedded in a river bank. The madding crowd rushed to Cherry Creek with their picks and shovels, only to find that the gold was way up yonder in Central City and Gold Hill and Idaho Springs. While you're in Denver, prospector, why not avail yourself of our white lightning and fleshpots and buy some supplies while you're at it?

Denver was born, and got a place on the map.

By the time I was born in Mercy Hospital almost 100 years later, Denver had not only managed to survive but thrive. It had weathered the boom and bust cycle a dozen times and, in 1950, was booming, thanks to all those WWII vets who had trained in Colorado, liked it and decided to desert their villages in Illinois and New York for life at 5,280 feet. The suburbs and the ski industry was born, which eventually led to the birthing of many Baby Boomers such as myself. We transformed Denver into a pretty cool place to be in the sixties and seventies. Boulder became a counterculture Nirvana and Denver a sports-loving, ski-crazy city with Red Rocks and Rainbow Music Hall and a singles scene with lots of wet T-shirt contests. Gentrification followed, and then came the lattes and craft beers and the Broncos, at long last, winning a Super Bowl and putting Denver on the sports map.

I digress.

I'm not sure why Danbom needed to write about putting Denver on the map at this late date, unless it was to cast stones at other, less map-worthy burgs such as Cheyenne. Here's his comment about Cheyenne:
You have to wonder: Why does Denver have to be on the map? When someone promises that something will put us on the map, the implication is that we are currently not on the map and instead in some sort of obscure, anonymous place that no one has ever heard about and therefore is destined to dry up and blow away. Like Cheyenne.

Danbom may not have been up north in awhile. But Cheyenne is still here. Yes, it is dry and the wind blows, but thus far it has not picked up Cheyenne and blasted it to smithereens -- or to Nebraska. We are pretty well anchored here in southeast Wyoming, just across the border from Colorado. We don't plan on going away any time soon.

Yes, life is slow in Cheyenne. We are a Capital City just like you, but growth is slow in this place and that is how many Wyomingites like it. Not me, but, to borrow a nicely-turned phrase from the Pope, "Who am I to judge?"

Wyoming has always gone its own way. If growth comes at all, it comes slowly. The search for oil and gas and precious minerals often fuel the booms. Just look at Gillette. If the coal gives out, or those dern Obama EPA bureaucrats get their way, Gillette may be as ephemeral as Jeffrey City, the uranium boom town that has pretty much dried up and blown away, except for the crazy artists at Monking Bird Pottery and the barflies across the street at the Split Rock Bar & Cafe.

Cheyenne has been on the map for many years, but maybe not for the reasons that urban hipsters imagine. No, not for Cheyenne Frontier Days, although that's what the organizers imagined when they nicknamed it "The Daddy of 'em All." And no, not for our legislature which has become one of the nuttiest in the West.

We got on the map big time during The Cold War, when the Russkis had Cheyenne and its nukes as one of its primary targets. That's one heck of a map. It may be getting a bit frayed around the edges since The Wall came tumbling down. But maybe not. Putin's Syrian policies and Mr. Snowden and Pussy Riot and anti-gay legislation could dust off those old maps and give us all a reason to live again.

Live, or die.

Thanks to Ken Jorgustin at the Modern Survival Blog for this cool map. Here's what he had to say: "Oh, and there is no way I would want to be living near the three large zones in Montana, North Dakota, and the corner of Wyoming-Nebraska-Colorado where there are evidently numerous nuclear missile silos."

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