Monday, December 11, 2017

Flashback: How the LSD revolution almost came to Wyoming

Always on the lookout for mentions of Wyoming on the Internet. This one is a chapter in Wyoming counterculture history.

An Oct. 31 Westword story by Chris Walker was headed "Acid Trip: Denver's secret LSD labs fueled the psychedelic revolution."

It  tells the story of Tim Scully, LSD-maker in the 1960s. Scully spent time in a federal penitentiary for making and distributing LSD. He and his pals had two labs in Denver. They were discovered, but in a fluke, Scully didn't  serve time for his Mile High City transgressions. He later got busted in California and served hard time.

In November of 1967, Scully and his childhood friend and drug partner Don Douglas scouted the West for places safer than Berkeley, a counterculture hotbed in the sixties.

From the Westword article:
He convinced Douglas to join him on an interstate scouting trip. They managed to evade the feds and travel to Seattle, where they bought a used station wagon that they used to drive east through Washington into Idaho and Wyoming. The pair had envisioned setting up a lab in an extremely rural, isolated location, but they realized that wouldn’t work for two reasons. 
“In Wyoming, we learned that cowboys don’t like hippies. We stuck out like sore thumbs,” says Scully.  
The other reason? To run certain processes in the lab, they’d need plentiful supplies of dry ice — which were only available in big cities. So Douglas and Scully turned south, setting their sights on Denver.
The article doesn't mention just where in Wyoming cowboys hated hippies and there was a shortage of dry ice. Any guesses? Could be almost anywhere, I suppose. It must haven't occurred to the duo that two longhairs settling in any small town was sure to cause reactions from the populace, since nothing that happens in a small community goes unnoticed and gossiped about.

Small town resident #1: What do you suppose those two longhairs are doing in that house over on Elm Street?
Small town resident #2: Making some bitchin' batches of pure Orange Sunshine, most likely.
Small town resident #1: That's a relief. Thought they might be plotting the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Small town resident #2: That's the job of the John Birch Society. They meet over at the Grange Hall.

Hitchhikers cruising through Wyoming in the late 60s and early 70s heard stories of cowboys picking up a hitchhiker and taking him into Cheyenne for a mandatory haircut. I heard the story in 1972 when hitching rides in Wyoming. I also have heard the tale since moving to Cheyenne in 1991. It could be one of those Hitchhikers' Myths, kind of like Urban Myths but passed along by hitchers of yore. I heard many similar stories during my years on the road. Grisly murders in New Mexico. "Easy Rider"- style shootings in Georgia. Rapes and near-rapes everywhere.

I only experienced a few scary episodes, most in Nevada for some odd reason. Rural Nevada can be a lot like Wyoming, only hotter. .Rednecks are rednecks, I guess, but I got rides from some in my longhair days.

What a long, strange trip it's been....

A final note on LSD. Microdosing LSD is a hot topic. This from Business Insider:
LSD microdosing has emerged as Silicon Valley's favorite illegal drug habit, with engineers, programmers, writers, and artists sharing their stories of the practice in numerous blogs and outlets, including the New York Times. Many people say it improves their concentration or creativity; others say they use it to help treat symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. 
And this:
Paul Austin, 27, bills himself as a professional microdosing coach. After personally experimenting with the regimen — which involves taking tiny, "sub-perceptual" doses of LSD or another psychedelic for up to 7 months — Austin said he was inspired to share what he learned with the world. He now offers 30-minute Skype microdosing "consulting" sessions for $127 through his website, The Third Wave
As a writer with depression, I may have to explore this further. Just as an academic exercise, of course.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Wyoming wingnuts bash gays at legislative meeting in Sundance

I've often remarked on the cruelty of the current crop of conservatives. Whether it's Trump picking on people of color to Congress shafting the poor and middle class, the right's raison d'etre is inflicting cruelty on people, usually those least likely to be able to respond.

But the right-wingers who showed up in Sundance to bash gays has to be a new low. Why? They did it with Rep. Cathy Connolly in the room. Connolly of Laramie was the first openly-LGBT state legislator here in the Equality State. She drafted a bill, along with co-sponsors (and Republican moderates) Sen. Cale Case and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, to make our state's legalese more gender-neutral.

The wingnuts, spurred on by local evangelicals and the Arizona-based right-wing group Alliance Defending Freedom, showed up to spew their hatred at the Nov. 20 Joint Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee hearing in Sundance. Crook County boasts some of the nicest people in Wyoming. Venomous creeps, too, it seems, although some came from neighboring Campbell County. 

I will let Wyofile tell the story, as the reporter did a fantastic job tracking down the creepy proceedings. 

Here is the link to the Wyofile story by Andrew Graham. 


Saturday, December 02, 2017

The stuff that dreams are made of

What do you dream of, Laramie County?

That's the question asked in the lead editorial in the Nov. 19 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle.

Good question. Dreams should be big. Write the Great American Novel. Cure cancer. Become president (please, someone, anyone but T).

What is my vision for Cheyenne?

Develop downtown into a destination that reflects the soul of Cheyenne. This place is called The Magic City of the Plains because it is located in what used to be known as the middle of nowhere. Ask any twenty-something and they will say it still is the middle of nowhere. They will wave at you as they depart for Fort Collins or Boulder or Denver.

I am not advocating for some fake Wild West town such as the frontier village out at CFD Park. Cheyenne was founded in 1867 when the West was wild. It experienced its heyday in the 1880s, when Cheyenne was a beacon of civilization among the frozen wastes.

We are 150 years old now and it's time to act like a grown-up. Let's create a downtown that reflects the needs and tastes of 2017 and beyond. Breweries and coffee shops are great -- both beverages make the world go around. We also need reasons to shop downtown. People will then want to live downtown, sacrificing their suburban spread for a two-bedroom condo above a busy art gallery or bistro. To make that leap, people need a solid infrastructure within a walkable distance. They need reasons not to have their Nissan Sentra parked within feet of their front door.

Shelter. Food. Culture. What comes first? Downtown boasts galleries and shops but we need more. We need a grocery store. A wide range of activities to attend. We need more venues for those activities.

I know that Cheyennites are tried of comparisons with Colorado cities. But some examples are worth noting. Old Town Fort Collins was not always the community's busiest hub. When I lived there in the late 1980s, it was just showing signs of life -- Foothills Mall was the happening place. A few years back, developers tore down the semi-deserted mall and created a pseudo-Old Town in its place. The same sort of transformation is happening at our mall. The newest tenants occupy outward-facing stores to give it that downtown look. Now that Sears is gone, the mall has a lot of space to fill. Let's hope the owners thing creatively.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) was not an instance success when it opened. Its main promoter, Donald Sewall, was called names and tumbleweeds blew through the deserted DCPA plaza. Same with the 16th Street Mall. On a typical Saturday night, the mall was almost deserted because there were no reasons to wander downtown. In 1979, when I worked the night shift at The Denver Post at 15 and California, there were only a handful of dining experiences, most of them bars that also served greasy-spoon fare (Sportsman's, Duffy's), one lone Burger King and the Mercy Farm Pie Shop. A myriad of places that served locally-sourced ingredients in small portions at high prices was a thing of the future. Beer selections were Bud and Coors.

What happened? A population boom fueled by legal pot and a rootless generation looking for The Next Best Place. Jobs, too. Professional sports teams and the arts jockeyed for position. Downtown won with its many venues. The DCPA was deserted no more. When Chris and I go to touring productions there, I always run into people from Cheyenne. They would avoid Denver traffic if only The Book of Mormon played closer to home, say, at the Cheyenne Civic Center. We just don't have the facilities or the numbers here. We need more seats. More butts in the seats.

Big dreams come with a population increase. No way around it. Cheyenne is already the largest city in the state. Laramie County will be the first to reach a population of 100,000 some time in the next decade. We already are home to one in six Wyomingites.

It's not as if there isn't hope in Wyoming downtowns. You can see successful examples of thriving Main Streets in Laramie, Lander, Sheridan (its new WYO Performing Arts and Education Center is a gem), and Casper. You don't need a total eclipse to have people wandering downtown Casper. Its David Street Station, reminiscent of Cheyenne Depot Plaza, has sparked a downtown renaissance in what's called the Old Yellowstone District. Breweries, bistros, a performing arts center. Outdoor summer concerts on the plaza. What did Casper do that Cheyenne didn't?

I have no solutions. Lots and lots of ideas, but those are a dime a dozen. What we need is imagination and investment, two things sorely lacking in this burg.  The Dinneen family and the City of Cheyenne collaborated on the transformation of the former Dinneen auto dealership. It'snow home to businesses and one of the best restaurants in town -- the Rib & Chop House. It's a small chain, but it has invested heavily in Cheyenne, also spawning a brewpub to full the empty retail space in the historic Depot. My one-time colleague at the Wyoming Arts Council, Camellia el-Antably, and her partner, Mark Vinich, rehabbed an old building downtown and now it's home to Clay Paper Scissors Gallery and its fine arts shows. The arts play a crucial role in any dream of future prosperity. Arts Cheyenne gives us an organization and an events calendar to rally around.

Just a couple of examples. If I had the money to invest, I would put it into downtown ventures or the nascent West Edge Project. It's going to happen. The only questions is WHEN?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Forget Christmas -- 'tis health care insurance selection season

It's that time again.

Christmas season. Or holiday season if you are a damn liberal like me who doesn't believe in saying "Merry Christmas" to every Tom, Dick, and Donald I meet. I even like the new Starbuck's Christmas cup that shows two cartoon women holding hands, at least that's how paranoid Evangelicals see it.

More importantly, 'tis the season to Make A Decision on Health Care for 2018. The U.S., in its wisdom, has the most screwed up health care system in the world and bound to get worse with Trumpists making the rules. Our family has a triple layer of coverage from private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. Cash, too, in the form of deductibles and co-pays.

For most of us out here who live amongst Trump voters in Flyover Land, the situation is made worse by indecision. The Republicans sabotage Obamacare in any way possible because they want to totally wipe out any sign of an African-American president. Trump's Ministry of Truth will soon create an America that is all-Trump all of the time.

Meanwhile, the American people are left in limbo. Will the ACA remain or will it be dismantled bit by bit since Repubs can't seem to muster enough votes to kill it outright? This affects millions.

I am 66 and my wife Chris is 61. I am on Medicare and she is not, covered instead by my allegiance to CIGNA via Wyoming State Government, my former employer. I pay $1300 a month to keep my CIGNA policy for me, Chris and daughter Annie, who is younger than 26, the cut-off date in family insurance created by Obamacare. For me, Medicare is primary and CIGNA is secondary. \Once I meet the deductible, I am covered like a blanket through my investment in Medicare and private insurance.

Let me pause here and say that I have no quarrel with CIGNA. While corporate-fueled insurance is expensive (must pay stockholders and CEOs a princely wage to afford those gated communities they are building for the apocalypse), it provides great coverage. When I inconveniently suffered a heart attack on Jan. 2, 2013, I ended up paying less than $1,000 for a bill that totalled $150,000, when you factored in ambulance, ER, oblation, stent, a week in telemetry and great cardiac care at CRMC. That summer, I received an ICD courtesy of  Syrian ex-pat cardiologist Dr. Obadah Al Chekakie. Since I already surpassed the $100,000 threshold, I paid spare change for a Made in the U.S.A. gizmo that monitors my heart 24-7 and sends results to master control at CRMC. It also includes a defibrillator which can kick me back into life should I ever experience Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which is as bad as it sounds.  My heart needs this assistance because it suffered damage during the long-term 100 percent blockage of my LAD artery, the so-called widowmaker. At a recent funeral, a long-term heart patient said that he had never met someone with a LAD who lived. I was pleased to hear that. I am pleased to hear almost anything. Except Trump is on Twitter again -- not that.

Chris is a diabetic so she benefits from plans that guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions. That could go away too. So she's worried that the ACA will go away along with all of its guarantees and she has to shop for health care on the open market which may not cover a diabetic. I am worried with her, as Medicare is three-plus years away for her and we will have the clowns in the White House and Congress during that time. A dangerous time.

This brings us to our daughter. She is 24. She has been in and out of mental health treatment centers for 11 years. With some exceptions, most care was covered by CIGNA. You think our health care system is a mess? Just try to figure out the mental health care system. Annie, fortunately, moved to Colorado and got on the state's Medicaid program and when I received Medicare, she did too. So she is covered. Republicans threaten her coverage. One saving grace is her Colorado residency. It's a blue state south of our very red border. Not too far-fetched to think that we will have health care refugees in the near future, diabetics and cardiac patients and the mentally ill leaving their backward red state to find sanctuary in places such as Colorado and Oregon and Massachusetts. Canada, maybe even Mexico. Wouldn't that be ironic?

I am a retiree with a pension. Half of that goes to health insurance. In 2018, Chris will be covered by ACA and Annie will be covered by Medicaid/Medicare. I will be covered by Medicare and CIGNA. All of these programs (except for CIGNA) are in the sights of Congressional Republicans. They aim to reduce or eliminate these programs to give tax breaks to their corporate masters. We no longer live in a democratic republic but an oligarchy. It will truly be a country run by the rich for the rich if all of these lame-brain actions come to pass.

So it's decision time. You make the best decision you can under the circumstances. I have to remember to be thankful for what I have as there are millions who suffer from inadequate health care or none at all. Those ranks are certain to grow in the next few years. So be thankful -- and fight like hell to stop the Republican assault on "the general welfare" of the U.S. and its people.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On the look and smell of old-fashioned print books

The New York Times reports that sales of "old-fashioned print books" are up for the third year in a row, based on figures from the Association of American Publishers. And indie bookstores are doing well, reversing a decline sparked by big box bookstores, Amazon and e-books.

Good news for book lovers. Are the books being read and understood? No, if the American electorate is any indication.

But I am a book lover. At this point in my life, I am trying to shed books with little success. I occasionally clean up the shelves and take a few boxes of books to the library store. But I find a need to read a certain book that I can't get at the library and I end up buying it. My latest purchase was "Sons and Lovers," the 1913 novel by D.H. Lawrence. When a friend and one-time indie bookstore owner saw the book in my car, he picked it up and said, "This is how I learned about sex." I replied that I hadn't reached that part yet. Paul Morel and his potential sweetheart Miriam are still in the platonic stage.

I had a selfish motive for reading "Sons and Lovers." I discovered it was filled with wonderful details about a British coal-mining village of Eastwood before World War I. My grandfather lived and worked in a British coal-mining village before and during the early years of the war. I portray a character like that in the novel I am working on. Also, I never read a Lawrence novel. How I could be an English major and not read Lawrence is a surprise to me. I knew more about his life in Taos than I did about his books.

"Sons and Lovers" is a good read. The prose is dense at times but it was 1913, the same era as Edith Wharton, William James and Upton Sinclair. I read "The Jungle" earlier in the year and it was slow going at times.  Lawrence's prose is better that some of his contemporaries. He had an eye for detail.

This edition of "Sons and Lovers" is a trade paperback published in 2003 by Barnes & Noble Classics. It carries a scent but doesn't have that old-book smell.

But my 1921 copy of John Dos Passos' "Three Soldiers" does. It got it at an estate sale for $4 with the tag "library condition." Well used but not battered. From the Merced County Free Library. It still has the sleeve for the borrower's card and date stamps on the outside front cover. It smells like old paper. The pages are yellowing. But it's still readable, so that's what I'm doing. The novel concerns the journey made by three young men as they volunteer for service in World War I. Written after the war by veteran Dos Passos, the slang and expressions and description are of that time and are quite something. I can read about old times and smell them all at the same time. Not possible with an e-book.

Not sure what I will do with my books (old and new) after I'm finished with them and my research. I would say leave them to my adult children but they look upon their parents' accumulated goods as if it were radioactive waste. They're both big readers but my literary passions are not theirs.

It's good news to see that print books are back. Is it a trend or a passing fancy? Who knows. My habits are not likely to change. I will still get suckered into used book sales and garage sales and will just have to have that 1930 edition of "Death Comes for the Archbishop." I found that book at the annual Delta Kappa Gamma used book sale in Cheyenne. Only 50 cents. Who could pass that up?

Monday, November 13, 2017

I remember Uncle Bill

When my first book of stories was published in 2006, I drove from Cheyenne to pick up copies from Ghost Road Press in Denver. I stopped by my Uncle Bill Taylor's house and delivered a signed copy. He called me the next week to comment on the stories. He was complimentary, and especially liked the ones set in post-World War II Denver. He did have a critique, though, one I always will treasure. He commented that my stories didn't seem to have endings. True, I said. I explained that contemporary short stories don't have endings, that some writers describe them as "slice-of-life." He took that in, absorbing the words better in his mid-80s than most of my 20-something students did. He said he would take another look. I am not sure if he did. But I appreciated his diligence. He didn't read books as a rule and I was glad that he read mine. Uncle Bill's reading consisted mostly of the Denver Post sports section. This was fortunate when I was a stringer covering high school sports for the the Post in 1978-81. I knew my uncle would read my blow-by-blow account of the latest game under the Friday Night Lights.  

Uncle Bill died Sunday morning. He was our family's last link with what's sometimes called "The Greatest Generation." They were great, in our eyes. My older siblings and I had the pleasure of growing up with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Then my father began to be transferred around the country to build sites for Atlas missiles. We never lost touch, though, but the moving around frayed our connections. We are an itinerant bunch, we Americans. It was traveling that helped our Florida-based family reconnect with our Denver roots. In our gallivanting days, my siblings and I wandered out to the Rocky Mountains to visit relatives, drink Coors beer (couldn't get it in the South), and to see what all the Colorado hubbub was about. My brother Dan ventured to Denver in the summer of 1971 and came back with some stories. Dan's future wife and her pals ventured West that same summer and dropped in on some of our Denver family on the way to the Grand Canyon. I hitchhiked through Colorado with a girlfriend in 1972. My brother Pat and I hitched from Houston to Denver in 1975 to traverse the mountains and see our relatives. Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill always welcomed us wayward family members. 

My brother Pat was stationed at Lowry AFB in the 1970s. He found family with the Taylors and my paternal grandparents, who, as luck would have it, lived in a senior housing complex that looked out over the Lowry AFB runway where the Army Air Corps trained its pilots during World War II. My sister Molly moved to Denver for a short time in the late 1970s. She knew she was in trouble when she discovered she had to wear a sweater on July nights. Same goes for my sister Eileen, who kept having complicated encounters with ice and snow on Denver roads. The last straw was a spinout and collision on Florida Avenue in southeast Denver. She saw it as a sign and soon after decamped for the real Florida where the road hazards are real but much less icy. 

When my then-girlfriend Chris and I arrived in Denver during the very pleasant summer of 1978, Mary and Bill took us in. We stayed there until we found an apartment in Aurora at the edge of the air force base. We had family but didn't know anyone else. They took us in and we were grateful. 

The World War II generation passes and we are sad. My life is different because of the experiences of our forebears during that era. Uncle Bill told me stories of how he and my father drove the Ribbon of Death (the two-lane precursor to I-25) from Trinidad to Denver to see their girlfriends in Denver. They were two sisters, Mary and Anna Hett, who grew up in an Irish neighborhood near South High School . My father worked as a salesman for Armour Meat Company in Albuquerque and Uncle Bill sold insurance in Trinidad, a sleepy town on the New Mexico border. My father would get off work on Friday and take a bus to Trinidad. Bill drove them in his jalopy up the dangerous road to Denver, where they arrived early on Saturday morning. After some frenzied courting, the two young college grads and war veterans were back on the road, reversing the trip they had made less than 48 hours before. I can imagine their conversations as they negotiated a snowy Colorado night. Do you remember when you were in your 20s and in love? You would do anything to bridge the gap. Anything. They did, as soon both couples married and began families. I was conceived in Albuquerque after a spicy Mexican dinner and a few beers in Old Town. I have been fond of Mexican food ever since. Beer too.

We would be nothing without stories. They tell us who we are, and were. I transform tales of those who came before me into tales of the present. One of the critiques I get is "You have so many people in your stories." Yes, I do, because I have so many people in my life. I grew up in a big family and have many friends. They find their way into my stories, with names changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike. And, as Uncle Bill said, they don't always have tidy endings. 

I hate to tell you this Uncle Bill, but your story is not over. We will continue telling stories about you as long as we are part of this world. Some of those stories will outlast us, and tell our descendants what sort of people we were. 

We hope we are worth remembering. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Cheyenne: When will you get serious about your role as a city?

Tuesday was election day.

In Laramie County, we voted on a bond issue to fund three new projects at the community college. It would generate some $30 million for the construction and revamping of three buildings: fine arts, rec center, and a new dormitory. All necessary. But this is the second bond issue for the college in four years. Still, I voted for the bonds because I would like to see Cheyenne shake off its dusty image and plan for the future.

The measure was defeated 59-41 percent.

Bummer.

Meanwhile, 90 miles south, Denver voters approved a $937 million bond issue for package for roads, parks, libraries and cultural facilities. The measures passed by large margins. They include money for the city's big cultural entities such as the botanic gardens, zoo, DCPA, art museum, etc. The central library and ten branch libraries will get major renovations. The city will build a rapid transit project on infamous Colfax Ave. It also will build 17 miles of protected bike lanes and 33 miles of sidewalks. The city will revamp the 16th Street Mall, which has needed it for awhile. Bridges will be built and repaired.

Damn. That's a community planing for the future.

I know, there is a world of difference between Denver and Cheyenne. Denver grows larger and more expensive and traffic is a nightmare. Cheyenne stays basically the same, just how the old-timers want it.

But the old ways are getting really old. Cheyenne's 60,000-plus population makes it the largest city in the state. County population nears 100,000, which makes it the largest county in the state, home to one in every six Wyomingites. It is the state capitol and home of state government. Cheyenne is seen as  the northern terminus of the Front Range of the Rockies, usually described as the area between Pueblo and Cheyenne. One of the routes proposed for the Hyperloop Project is Cheyenne to Pueblo, with the first link proposed to be built between Greeley and DIA.

Cheyenne is often seen as an aberration in Wyoming. It's a rural state and many of its residents like it that way. In some parts of this windswept place, Cheyenne is described as North Denver. This earns laughs from Denver natives such as me. Still, when you live in Lusk or Thayne, Cheyenne is a metropolis with strange ways. Denver is, well, the L.A. of the prairie.

In the 2016 election, good liberals in the state legislature were defeated. We are close to living in a one-party state. Legislation is crafted by rural white men who won seats guaranteed by Republican gerrymandering. In Laramie County, suburban Democrats are represented by Rep. John Eklund.  During the 2014 session, he sponsored a bill that repealed gun-free zones in public schools. This, apparently, was the only solution to massacres such as the Newtown school shooting.

Those of us who complain are told to leave the state if we don't like it the way it is.

Young people have no problem departing for points south along the Front Range. My daughter Annie has lived in Colorado for the past year. I am with her often as she explores ways to live with her mental illness in a state that takes mental health seriously. I meet Wyomingites at every turn. The receptionist at the dentist is from Sheridan. Annie looked at renting an Aurora apartment from young man who happened to be a Cheyenne native. One of her therapists in Fort Collins had just moved from Casper. Teachers are in high demand in Colorado. One of my daughter's former teachers just left a decades-long high school job for new opportunities in Denver. A good friend who twice ran for the legislature recently moved to Greeley, finding a better political climate in Weld County's biggest city. Airmen and airwomen at Warren AFB live in FoCo, or spend all of their off-hours there. It's become such a challenge to keep its troopers close to home that Air Force brass has looked at plans to build a mini-Fort Collins in Laramie County. How you gonna keep them at the base after they've partied in FoCO? When alerts come and the weather is bad, the base can't get the necessary staff back to the base to man the missiles that might be pointed at North Korea or, as we like to call it, NoKo.

All this is distressing to those of us who have made it our mission to make Cheyenne and Wyoming a better place. Chris and I are among them. We have served on many committees and boards. We have planned hundreds of arts and culture events. We vote and work at the polls. We attend arts events. We drink our beer here. We own a house.

My question on this post-election day is this: When will you get serious, Cheyenne, about your role as a city?