I rang in the new millennium in Evanston, Wyo. I figured if all technology was going to fail at the stroke of midnight, I should be in a place where there WAS no technology. (Many of the people there already think the year is 1900 anyway.)
Evanston’s biggest claim to fame is that Utahns go there to buy fireworks that are quite understandably illegal in Utah. I was there, however, to hang out with my friend Other Eric, who lives there.
I had never been to Wyoming before. My first impression of it as I neared Other Eric’s house was that it’s a scenic, beautiful place, a winter wonderland full of WHY THE CRUD AM I BEING PULLED OVER?! I was not speeding. The officer did not give me a ticket, but neither did he ever say why he stopped me. I later learned that it was probably because my car has Utah license plates, which is evidently against the law in the otherwise lawless state of Wyoming.
We learned late in the evening that the town of Evanston (pop. 12,000) was having a big celebration downtown, including the dropping of a ball much like Times Square does. So we went downtown and found the area packed full of excited Evanstoners and their cigarettes. There was a grandstand on which stood a man who I’m guessing was the mayor, who was speaking into a microphone that did not seem to be working, though this did not stop him from speaking. All the local police were there, thus allowing people with Utah license plates to run amok in other parts of the city. People were talking and smoking excitedly. Some of them were dressed (I’m serious here) in hunting fatigues. I did not see any guns, but I’m sure the fatigue-wearers had them at the ready, in case something crazy happened at the advent of Y2K, like a riot erupting or a homosexual existing.
The ball, it turns out, was a glittering disco ball attached to a cable that someone was going to lower from atop a crane. When midnight struck, the dropping of the ball proved to be rather stupid, as you might expect, but it was followed by a fireworks display that, in all honesty, was 1,000,000 times better than Provo’s annual “Stadium of (Fire the Employee Who Recommended You Go to Stadium of) Fire.” Seriously. They might be a little back-woodsy in Wyoming, and sure, maybe they have more guns than library books, but I’ll give them this: They know how to put together a fireworks show.
Immediately after this, there was a party in a nearby building. Much of the crowd began to file festively into this party. Other Eric and I mixed in with the revelers, many of whom, being efficiency-minded, had saved time by getting drunk beforehand, possibly as early as November. We couldn’t afford the cover charge at the party (and didn’t really want to go in anyway); instead, upon leaving the building, we saw four men in suits standing behind a pickup truck, urinating in the parking lot. All four were turned at precisely the same angle, making it look like an event of Synchronized Peeing.
Back at Other Eric’s place, he introduced me to his family’s New Year’s tradition, where you run a lap, barefoot, around the outside of the house. This is easily as stupid as it sounds, as there is a great deal of snow on the ground on New Year’s Eve in Wyoming, but we did it anyway. Then we went out back and shot off a bunch of fireworks. Other Eric, ignoring the label on the Roman Candles that said “Do not hold this in your hand,” held it in his hand. When it didn’t shoot out its fireballs immediately, he feared it was going to explode in his hand, so he dropped it on the ground, at which point it DID shoot out its fireballs, only instead of being pointed at the sky, it was now pointed at us. We all ran for cover as fireballs erupted around us, and Other Eric’s brother took one in the butt. (The worst part about that was that he later insisted on showing us the welt it caused.) The millennium was not even an hour old, and already Other Eric had endangered the lives of others. His family did not seem surprised by this.
So if the first night is any indication, the new millennium is going to be one of festivities, drunkenness, public urination and poorly handled explosives. Just like the old millennium! Hooray!
I wanted to make fun of the rednecks of Wyoming more in this column, but space was tight. Be assured that at the downtown festivities, we all had quite a laugh at the expense of the locals, although their goofiness could have been blamed mostly on their drunkennes.
In fact, there were several details that had to be omitted, such as the drunk guys waiting to get into the parties at whom I made pirate noises ("Yaarrrrr!"), who then made the pirate noises back to me. It was truly the friendliest group I'd ever seen, thanks to our friend Alcohol.
My feelings on fireworks shows are basically the same as my feelings toward parades: If you've seen one, you've seen them all. When I first moved to Provo, I was conned into watching the Stadium of Fire display on the grounds that it was DIFFERENT and BETTER than anything I'd ever seen before. Bull. It's the same as every Fourth of July fireworks show any city has ever done. I will no more be conned into watching Stadium of Fire, let me assure you.
Anyway, I was legitimately impressed with Evanston's display. It really was the best I've ever seen. From now on, if I have to watch a fireworks show, I will do it in Evanston.
At the Daily Herald, we received a phone call from a woman who had lived in Utah for 30 years but was originally from Wyoming. "There were many things in that column that were just uncalled for. That is NOT Wyoming," she said in her voice mail. "It's almost enough to make me stop taking the paper." (Almost.)
And I got this e-mail from someone who had been on the mailing list. I am reprinting it exactly as I received it:
Dear Eric, I was just writing to let you know, that up to now, I had been sharing your colum with friends. I will stop doing that immediatly now that I have seen your little warning at the beginning of the colum.
I also made note that since all people in Wyoming seem to be classed as such back woods rednecks, (with the notable exception of the 'other Eric', who "doesn't act like he is from Evanston", but of course, did run around outside barefoot, and shot off a Roman candle in his hand), that perhaps I don't have the 'sofistication' needed to read your colum. After all, I was born in Wyoming myself. I guess being an office manager, wife and mother of three, keeps me too busy to realize I was supposed to run around outside barefoot, and play incorrectly with fireworks.
I often don't have the time to read about the fasinating adventures of local Provians, so I guess you should just remove me from your list. Thank You.
She has a point. I ought not to have made fun of Wyomingans' lack of sofistication in my colum. I'm fysically sick over it, in fact.
She mentions the irony of my mocking Evanstoners, while at the same time engaging in New Year's Eve behavior that was at least as stupid as what they were doing -- which means she ALMOST got the point of the column. I recall telling Other Eric sometime New Year's Day that I had figured out the angle I was going to take: I wanted to make fun of Wyoming people, but then show myself (and Other Eric) to be as dumb as I was accusing them of being. Effective satirists can't always be looking down on others, or else they come off as aloof and snobby. They have to be self-deprecating now and then, too, and I thought it would make a nice irony here to rip on Evanstoners for their back-woodsiness, and then to describe my behavior as being not any better. Perhaps I didn't do a good enough job of making the point.
About a month later, someone from Provo mailed (or otherwise delivered) the newspaper version of this column to someone in Evanston. Soon, it seems, it was being circulated all over town. I got the following several e-mails all within a few days of each other, eventually making this column even more hated than the "Titanic" column, in terms of e-mails received -- and that's no small feat. In fact, it would eventually surpass that column in terms of number of letters received. (Who would have thought the two things that would upset the most people would be making fun of "Titanic" and making fun of Evanston, Wyo.?)
In response to your article, I would like you to consider the following. Although we have substantial technology or don't according to you, we also don't have a single gang or any gang related crime or violence. [You also don't have a mall. I would guess, in both cases, it's the smallness of the town that accounts for that.] Must be our gun tote-ting citizenry that keeps them down where you live? [Oh, yeah, Provo is simply OVER-RUN with gangs.]
I'm glad you liked the fireworks, they were provided by a single family. The Porter Family were recognized for carrying on the family business that is three generations now. Families and community was what was being celebrated in Evanston. [Fine, but cigarettes and beer "was" what they were using to celebrate it.]
Are you aware that you folks from Utah have such terrible driving habits that it is often the subject of hilarious discourse on your own KSL talk radio! [Yes, I'm aware. What escapes me is how being from Utah is automatically "probable cause," justifying a cop in pulling you over. Maybe if Evanston had some gangs, the cops would have something better to do.]
Yes, we have many small town corny habits. And yes, the Other Eric does have a terrible choice in friends. [I know, I've met some of -- hey!]
All of us in Evanston, hope that you found being here such a terrible experience that would kindly not bother to grace us with your presence. But, if you do come back expect to be treated with decency and respect, unlike your portrayal of us. [Unless, of course, I'm gay, or driving a car with Utah license plates, in which case we can't guarantee the whole "decency and respect" thing.]
John Jones [whose e-mail address begins with "wyomingcowboy," by the way]
Here's one that I got the same day as the last one. It's actually a pretty well-written treatise.
What trait of human nature causes people the world over to elevate themselves by cutting others down? I have put considerable thought into this subject for a number of years and not yet reached an adequate conclusion. It is a fact that most peoples look upon their group as being superior to others. Some of the more common vehicles for promoting this ugliness are the divisions of religion, race, gender, and geography.
What's that? geography? Oh yeah, that's like the Bosnians vs the Serbs, or the Turks vs the Greeks. Getting closer to home, it is also like the Coloradans attitude toward Texans, the attitude of most western states to Californians, or as you have so nastily demonstrated, the Utahn's outlook toward Wyomingites. Having recently moved to Wyoming and to Evanston, I could write many words telling you how wonderful Evanston is, or how there are proportionally as many low-lifes in your community. [Believe me, I know already.] Instead, let me simply point out that your recent article demonstrated a high level of divisiveness, ugliness, nastiness, and ignorance. A printed apology to the people of Evanston and of Wyoming is appropriate.
If you can't tell, I feel strongly that you should never cut others down simply because of where they live. There is good and bad everywhere. I have lived in big cities and in small towns. Each has its positives and its negatives. Every place is only as good or as bad as you make it. Cutting people down based on geography may be socially acceptable, but it is every bit as ugly as cutting them down for reasons of religion, race, or gender. I dare you publish an article making fun of a group whose distinction falls into one of these three categories. [Actually, I've made fun of both genders and a few religions over the years. Race hasn't entered into it -- I think he errs in putting all three in the same category. Gender-based humor is commonplace and accepted, and religion-based humor is OK in some circles.]
Here's the one that made me realize there was an organized effort to distribute this column to every citizen of Evanston (which shouldn't take very long, by the way).
Dear Mr. Snider:
I am in receipt of the column you wrote for the Daily Herald, entitled "Millennial Madness - Wyoming Style." The article was given to me by a citizen of Evanston who received it from a resident of Provo. I am absolutely enraged over this vicious diatribe. ["Vicious diatribe"?! Please.] Please know that I will distribute this attack on the citizens and the City of Evanston throughout our fine community. I pity your insecurity in the preparation of this column.
He's going to distribute my column all over town, and I'M the insecure one?
The following writer mentioned in a follow-up e-mail that he works for the city of Evanston. We'll count the untrue things he says in his letter; it will be fun!
Snider, I had the opportunity to read your Millennial madness-Wyoming style column today. I guess it takes a while for the Provo news to reach us here in the back woods. [I think he's joking.]
Why did you come to Evanston? Was it to find a way to insult twelve thousand people you know nothing about all at once? Well if that was the reason your trip was an overwhelming success.
Were you picked on as a child? Were You always picked last? Or is your newspaper actually that desperate for material. [No on the first two counts, yes on the third.]
You slam the people [who I said were drinking and smoking -- not a slam], the mayor [who I said was speaking into a non-functioning microphone -- not a slam], the police department [who I said pulled me over and wouldn't tell me why -- a slam, but a pretty well justified one], the town and the state of Wyoming [which I said was beautiful and scenic]. At least your through. You even slammed the party [which I said had drunk people at it and that I couldn't afford to get in -- not a slam] that I happend to be the host of. I'm sorry you could'nt scrape up the $25.00 cover which included catered dinner, open bar (with soft drinks and juice) music and chauffeured limo service to and from anywhere you wanted to go. [Never said the party wasn't WORTH $25; just that I didn't have it.] Oh ya, you were'nt invited anyway.
Eric, I'm glad that Provo has room for someone with such a sad and pathetic existence as yours, I know Evanston does'nt. Please don't come back. We don't want you.
Rick Lunsford...Evanston, Wy.
And they just kept coming....
An E-Mail from the world of the techno challenged........I would say that You have really strange friends....that could explain your whole experience and why you chose to run barefoot in the snow. Was that around a trailer by chance..hehe. People that live and have lived in Wyoming actually know better than to risk a little thing called "frostbite" for the sake of a holiday. [Ah! She seems to have grasped the concept of "humor"!]
Smoking isn't an issue in Wyoming because we still have the priviledge of freedom and the right to choose. Something I know you have small quantities of in the grand oppressed state of Utah. So there for you are not used to seeing people exercising their rights and smoking in public.. Terrible thing, isn't it when the government isn't telling you what you can and cannot do.....People just tend to run amuck.
By the way .... You should mention to those whom you have told your colorful story that the party that you attempted to enter was a private party. There was no cover charge...the problem there was that you were not an invited guest and therefor could not attend. I am sure you were told as much when you tried to enter. [Actually, I was told by the woman at the door that the party cost $25. I said, "If I go get $25, can I come in?" She said I could. That doesn't sound very exclusive to me, unless by "exclusive" we mean "limited to people with $25," which may indeed exclude quite a few people in Wyoming.]
The homophobic comment was way out of line. I am sure that your own gay community would have a thing or two to say about utah's stance on the issues of gay rights should we compare? Before you begin to insult a community, not to mention a state...You had better stop, research and check your facts ... Most of all you should take a look at your own back yard because the chances are real good that it could use a little weed whacking. Maybe even a whole new landscape...Could be that is why so many from Utah come here....eh. [Oh, yeah, people from Utah are FLOCKING to Evanston.]
Good day to you sir.
The "good day to you, sir" part reminds me of a comedian I saw once who talked about how, a century ago, things were so dignified and proper that that was the worst thing you could say to anyone. "Good day to YOU, Sir!" you'd say in a very indignant voice as you put on your gloves and hat and left the room. And the person would feel very rebuked. It doesn't really work anymore, though.
Then this one came, with the subject heading "Happy Valley Jackass." ("Happy Valley," in case you don't know, is what many people mockingly call the Provo area.) Apparently, I was the Happy Valley jackass in question. Anyway, here's what she said:
Since we don't wear signs, I wonder how you're so certain the people in your Evanston article weren't also from Utah?
I didn't have much patience with being called a jackass, so I replied to her by saying I could tell the people were from Evanston because of "the glazed look they got in their eyes when I used big words." This was rude, and I freely admit it. But she did call me a jackass first.
On Friday, Feb. 4, 2000, Evanston's paper, The Uinta County Herald, reprinted this column with permission from the Daily Herald. (I was not consulted, though I probably would have agreed to it. After all, it's sort of like being syndicated.) This ensured that anyone who had not already read the photocopied version being passed around would still see it. According to Other Eric, who happened to go home to visit that weekend, the entire town was "up in arms" (though, keep in mind, this is Wyoming, where "up in arms" describes 90 percent of the residents at any given moment, especially during the 11-month hunting season). His family feared for his life, should the town ever discover who "Other Eric" is. Other Eric seemed unafraid. Good for him.
Anyway, after the article was reprinted in the Wyoming paper, I started to get more e-mail....
Coming from Happy Valley I would have thought you might be a Christian. Oh well. [This is about the time when I stop listening.]
For such a small city Evanston is outstanding in all that it offers. The time and expertise to put on the fireworks show and the entire celebration was almost all volunteer! [OK, OK, I'm sorry I ripped on the fireworks show. No, wait, I didn't rip on the fireworks show. I thought it was cool. I don't know WHAT this lady's talking about, then.] You must be from a big city and not know anything about "community" and the work it takes from everyone in town to put on such a celebration. We are sorry you came. Wade must be right. [I have no idea who Wade is. I suspect it might be an editor of the Evanston paper, who probably added his own "response" when he reprinted my column. Whoever Wade is, I'm glad he was right about whatever he said.]
Here's another one:
Dear Eric, After reading your article in our local paper I must say you are a jerk.I have lived in Evanston for 24 years and have seen this town grow into a wonderful community.You show up for one day and make us out to be back country hicks.With all the Y2K scare going around at least you felt safe here in Evanston.I think you should come back and visit without the new years celebration going on and see the real us.Everone who lives here wouldn't live anywhere else. ["Wouldn't," or "couldn't"?] Thanks Bill Brobeck
It was at this point that I wrote another column on the subject. Why? Because their reaction to this first one was so amusing, and I wanted to see if they would STILL get mad, even when it was obvious I was doing it JUST to get them mad.