Louie Kistler is one of my oldest friends from Casper, Wyoming. We met in a creative writing class where he pissed me off with an crisp critique of a piece I’d just FedExed to The New Yorker, I was so sure it was great. He was right. And for the following 20 years he has been right more often than not, and he has continued to piss me off from time to time, and I’ve returned the favor. Louie’s kind of candor is precious, because he’s smart and he cares.
We each drove more than two hours to meet for a long lunch at Coal Creek Coffee on Grand Street in Laramie. It was very sweet to dip down again into the kind of conversation we used to have nearly every week at Blimpies in Sunrise Shopping Center. Spiritual quest is our favorite shared passion, and when we wore that one out we turned to judgmental gossip about mutual friends, state and national politics, videgames, and Louie’s latest passion, his arsenal of iMac gadgets and programs.
Laramie looked like a western-town movie set on a brilliant fall day. As the lunch hour wore on, the set turned into a ghost town, because anyone who was anyone was watching the University of Wyoming Cowboys play football against somebody. Waiting for Louie, I scanned the Casper Star-Tribune, happily blaring news of the state’s projected $1.8 billion surplus. My old friend Dave Freudenthal picked an awfully good time to fulfill his lifelong mission of becoming governor. But I remember how quickly a Wyoming boom can turn to a bust. When I arrived in Casper in June of 1981 to start an energy magazine, we all expected the price of oil to soar toward $100 a barrel, at which prices everything from shale oil to squeezing energy from turnips was going to make economic sense. Sorry pardner. But I hope this boom lasts a long time for my Cowboy State pals.
Wyoming’s serene size and spaces took hold of me like an embrace as Darlene and Claire and I drove up from Denver on I-25 and I-80. I was amazed to see a 75-mph speed limit sign in northern Colorado. And soaring through southern Wyoming on cruise control, listening to a new CD by Paulina Rubio titled Border Girl, reminded me of how calming the state’s highways had been for me, especially before the widespread use of cellphones. I love Denver city life, and I love the twisty, clogged little highways of New England. But there will never be a place that touches the places in me that Wyoming found and claimed. It was great to be back, and great to see Louie again.