Having lived in Wyoming most of my life, you’d think I would know that winter is a terrible time to move. That holds true whether it’s across the street or, as in my case, the windy, snowy and icy 180-mile trek down I-25 from Casper to Cheyenne.
This wasn’t how my wife Corryne and I planned to return to our hometown. We wanted to move in summer, but it wasn’t until last month that we made a successful offer on a house in the ultra-seller’s market that is the capital city. Luckily, we sold our Casper home a day later.
Inspired by WyoFile Managing Editor Katie Klingsporn’s excellent essay about her Lander homecoming, I too have been ruminating on my long relationship with this state.
Unlike Katie, I never left Wyoming to find myself before deciding to return to my roots. For better or worse — and at times both simultaneously — I chose to stay in the Equality State.
I’m not a Wyoming native. I know, I know — people don’t like interlopers here telling them how things should be run. I’ve been here long enough to become familiar with that feeling.
I was born at an Air Force base in upstate New York and lived in California and Pennsylvania as the child of a military family. When I was nearly two, I got my first taste of life in Cheyenne when my dad was transferred to Warren Air Force Base. I have no memory of that year.
After a tour of duty in Vietnam, my father was once again assigned to Warren AFB, and my family returned to stay. I was in eighth grade, and Cheyenne became my adopted hometown for the next 30 years.
The transition from California’s booming Bay Area to the comparatively empty plains of Wyoming was a trying, lonely time for this teenager. There simply wasn’t much to do here. I wasn’t old enough to enjoy the Summer of Love, but at least it was fun to watch the hippies in San Francisco and relax on the beach.
So, like many kids, I vowed to escape Cheyenne as soon as I could after high school. But a funny thing happened — I started to like Wyoming. After living in huge cities in California and tiny rural towns in Pennsylvania, Cheyenne was exactly the right size for me.
I decided to go to Laramie County Community College instead of bolting past the state line, and I never regretted it. After LCCC, rather than go over the hill to the University of Wyoming to study journalism, I got a job in the “dispatch” section of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, running advertising proofs all over town.
Eight months later a newsroom opening materialized. I was a rookie reporter for the afternoon Wyoming State Tribune under the tutelage of editor Jim Flinchum, one of the hardest-working, most conservative people I’ve ever met. He’d arrive in the newsroom at 4 a.m., bat out his daily editorial, jog home for breakfast and return to exhaustively cover state government.
I disagreed with Jim’s politics, but he was a good role model for a young journalist trying desperately to learn and match his output.
Another huge influence was Kirk Knox, the legendary Cheyenne reporter who worked at the paper for more than 40 years. I sat next to Kirk as we wrote our stories on manual typewriters, then made the conversion to computers.
Smoking was allowed in the newsroom back then, and he always had a cigarette dangling from his mouth (though he claimed he never inhaled). Every few weeks our production supervisor would turn over Kirk’s keyboard and bang it on the garbage can to unclog the ashes.
Kirk was the proverbial big fish in a small pond. Everyone in town knew him. He covered the cops and courts beat, and he interviewed subjects ranging from infamous killer Charles Starkweather in 1958 to Mark Hopkinson, the last man executed in the state in 1992.
Kirk was an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, and Hopkinson’s death by lethal injection devastated him. He’d gained incredible access to the condemned man through his friendship with Len Munker, the state’s public defender, and had grown fond of him.
I credit Kirk for my love of covering crimes. He was a reporter who managed to succinctly nail exactly what happened in a trial any given day. I’ve covered sports, education, state government and been a photographer, editor and columnist, but by far the happiest I’ve ever been in a job is when I could spend days on end in a courtroom.
After 18 years at the Tribune-Eagle I moved to the Casper Star-Tribune, but continued living in Cheyenne as the capital bureau reporter for more than five years. I had the great privilege of working with Joan Barron, who will be inducted next month into the Wyoming Press Association’s Hall of Fame.
Watching Joan cover state government was an incredible experience, like being enrolled in a masters’ journalism program. News sources automatically turned to her with tips, knowing she could always be trusted to report a story accurately and fairly.
She conducted many of her interviews in the Capitol newsroom, where we were the only year-round occupants. She had amazing interviewing skills and could elicit information like no one else in the business. I remember her questioning a state budget official and being incredulous at one of his answers.
She leaned forward in her chair and said with a smile, “Now you don’t actually believe that, do you?” Her subject hemmed and hawed, then finally answered her question truthfully.
I could have stayed at the Capitol forever, but at the urging of Star-Tribune Editor Dan Neal I accepted an editing job at the home office in 1999. The thought of leaving Cheyenne was daunting, but I grew to love Casper almost as much.
It was fun to be back in a lively newsroom, which Neal referred to as “an intellectual furnace.” The first time I entered the building, there were at least a half dozen groups chatting, debating and yelling about a host of issues. I was hooked.
It’s difficult to pull up stakes after 20 years and leave friends and beautiful Casper Mountain behind, but my gigs writing this column for WyoFile and as a writer-researcher for Laramie-based Better Wyoming enable me to live anywhere in the state.
Cheyenne, though, was the only logical choice. My father, 85, still lives there, and our son Dylan is in nearby Colorado. In my mind, the city has remained my hometown all these years. It always will be.
Our move wrapped up Sunday. I am typing this in my brand new home office, where I hope to write many more.
One thing this late-in-life homecoming taught me is the value of the friendships I’ve developed throughout Wyoming, but especially in Cheyenne and Casper. I wouldn’t have survived the past few weeks without the help of friends at both ends of this trail Corryne and I have traveled.
The holiday season is a good time to reflect about the people who have made a difference in our lives. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, but especially to those who, like Katie, had the good sense to return to their native state, and people like me, who were lucky enough to find Wyoming and make it their home.