NOT FOR REPUBLICATION BY OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE CONTENT LAB.
We drove the two cars out along Hat Six Road, on the east side of Casper last week. A green field to our left, rock outcrops opposite, nobody else in sight. We lined up side by side, blocking both lanes of the road, and the Mustang Mach 1 revved as we started down the pavement. I pulled ahead, then the Mustang pulled even. Around the corner came a pickup speeding in the opposite direction. I floored it, swerving ahead of the Mustang and avoiding a collision.
A moment later the truck was gone and the Mustang was beside me again, and we were roaring down Hat Six side-by-side. The driver wore a white cowboy hat. He hunkered down in the bucket seat. The Mach 1 engine rumbled. We jockeyed for the lead. Then, another truck, coming at us. This time I slowed down and fell behind.
Teenagers in hot cars have been coming out to Hat Six for generations. Maybe we’re a bit old for this. The driver of the Mustang happens to be 73 now, though he was once a Casper teenager. We pulled off onto a dirt road, got out of the cars, and faced each other. I moved a step closer. “Okay,” I said, “that’s enough of that, Mr. Vice-President.”
Documentary work. We were reliving the time back in the 1970s when a young former White House chief of staff from Casper drove around Wyoming in a leased Mustang running for Congress. It was fun, and a little weird: a guy who was not long ago one of the most powerful people in the world, no entourage in sight, gamely indulging us with risky behavior.
A documentary, like a book, begins with a question, not an answer. In this case, several questions, but perhaps the simple core of our inquiry is: Who is Dick Cheney? Which leads to many other questions, including: what part of him was forged by Wyoming?
The answers are still elusive, after much research and many interviews. Here’s what I wrote over a year ago, as this project was getting underway, and the producer was wondering what he’d gotten himself into:
August 8, 2013
The shadow of the Tetons was beginning to stretch across the Snake River toward Antelope Flats when I rode my bike into Dornan’s, the old family resort that sits above Grand Teton National Park headquarters at Moose. The restaurant was crowded so I went to the outdoor barbeque to get a plate of food.
“How you doing?” the young girl at the cash register asked, with an accent that sounded New Zealish.
“Tired,” I said.
“You should be, you’ve been riding your bike.” From a pullout near the Elk Refuge. Now, a bite to eat overlooking the Snake River plain, put the bike on the Toyota’s roof rack, head home to Lander.
“Not tired from biking – that was to wake me up. I’m tired from hours and hours of interviewing. For public television” – never miss a chance to plug – “I’m drained.”
Her playful response caught me by surprise: “You must be interviewing the President or something.”
What a set-up. “A Vice-President, actually. One of your neighbors up here.”
It was irresistible … and maybe a tad boastful. But it threw the easy, forgettable badinage off the tracks. She squinted at me, looking for a put-on, wondering about the “neighbor” thing. I grabbed a plate and moved on down the line.
So begins a project that will entail several in-depth interviews with former Vice-President Dick Cheney, now retired (and writing books) in Wyoming.
The V-P’s reputation as a man of few words is only one of numerous potential obstacles. He brings a lot of baggage from a career that spans Congress, the Department of Defense, the energy industry, and what many say is the most powerful Vice-Presidency in the nation’s history. There are, shall we say, a few critics out there – and they will turn their critical eyes on, as well, whatever Wyoming PBS produces in this documentary. (Take note, political wonks following a rather vexing U.S. Senate contest: no eyes will see this project until well after November 2014.)
For the moment, though, the only anxiety is an out-of-line brake on my front tire. It’s the end of another day at work, cycling out the anxieties. Peter Mallamo, second camera, was already on the road, driving through Yellowstone and home to Cody. Production Manager Kyle Nicholoff was heading back to Riverton with the Wyoming PBS van, and another shoot (taping the U.S. Secretaries of Interior and Education talking about Indian education at Central Wyoming College).
I was girding myself for the drive with ribs and salad, looking up at the darkening Grand and wondering if a few climbers might be getting a late start coming down. And reading the New York Times (you can actually get a print copy in Jackson)… a newspaper that struggled mightily to figure out Dick Cheney. Can we?
The girl at the cash register eyed me suspiciously.