If anyone ever asks you to drop everything to go to Jackson, Wyoming, do it. Jackson is extremely beautiful, it is like you put heaven into a bowl and added a few elk. There is one small caveat, which is that it has been pretty much ruined by rich people building enormous homes in its meadows and along its streams and rivers. Also the downtown is just this gross overbuilt menagerie of galleries selling paintings of all the animals that died to make this place more habitable for more humans. I knew this going in, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. I just really wanted to get away from full apocalypse mode Nevada City, California, where we live, and where there was one wildfire, then another wildfire, then another wildfire, and suddenly it was like living in a hibachi. The smoke was bad in and of itself; day-to-day breathing was not fun. But worse was this sadness and fear, this climate-change horror that lives now with me all the time, so that I really honestly haven’t been truly happy for years, which I guess is just reality. I knew there was no way to solve it permanently, but I figured, hey, why not just take this opportunity to drive away?
Tor, my boyfriend, runs a furniture business with his father, and they had a furniture show in Jackson, Wyoming, and that’s how this trip happened.
Our drive to Jackson Hole involved few surprises. We stopped in Truckee for a breakfast burrito and the owner of the establishment was weird, alternating between invasive curiosity and hyper-aloofness, like we were such losers to actually answer his questions. We crossed into Nevada, which was endless and beige. I went into a store in Lovelock to buy a bottle of water and walked out without it. The clerk came running after me with the bottle in her hand. “I have to stop looking at my phone,” I said to her, and she said, “What are you gonna do?” which, increasingly, is my response to just about everything.
Passing through Battle Mountain I thought about a friend of mine who grew up there in the ‘80s, who told me that her family and lots of other families there shot deer for food in the winter, and that she knew some people for whom this was about the only food they had. Nevada was smoky too. We stopped in Wells and shared a terrible salad, and Tor ordered a piece of pie that looked like blueberry yogurt dumped into a pie shell. As they were bringing it a friend called me to complain about her soon-to-be ex. While I listened to her tell me what a dick he was, a fact that no one in the world needed to be reminded of, I paced the restaurant’s heartbreaking gift shop, which featured wildlife mugs, shot glasses, and liquor that appeared to be cast-offs from the staff’s own liquor cabinets. Like, they were selling one dusty bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and one dusty bottle of white wine. They were also selling plastic bear-shaped containers of honey like the kind you can get in the supermarket. The honey did not appear to be special in any way, and was $15. I wanted to take a photo but it seemed like it would be rude. “I’m so angry and frustrated,” my friend said. “Go to Al-Anon,” I said, for the 100th time. “I am begging you.” I felt bad afterward but I didn’t have anything else helpful to say.
We turned left and were in Idaho. For a bit it was more just rocks rocks rocks. But then patches of greenness started to emerge, and then stretches of farmland where massive irrigation systems chugged away and filled the atmosphere with an otherworldly sparkle. Tor seemed unmoved by this sight, which I found remarkable. I was driving so I asked him to take photos, and I feel the job he did reflects his opinion of the beauty of large irrigation systems, not mine.
We listened to a leftist podcast that isn’t super popular, and then to another one that is. Tor told me that the guy (of course a guy!) who hosts the less popular one might not be a fan of the more popular one. Tor guessed that maybe the less popular podcast guy thought the more popular guys didn’t have great praxis. I countered that the less popular one was jealous, as the more popular ones no longer had day jobs and didn’t have to do anything other than Be Podcasters. Tor said that I was caught up in capitalist paradigms of success. I fought this tooth and nail for about ninety seconds but was eventually forced to admit that truer words had never been spoken.
North of Idaho Falls, we stopped for gas and snacks. This is a super white part of the country, and the store was owned by a South Asian family. The mother, about 35, smiled as she rang up my beef jerky, Diet Coke and popcorn. Her son, 10-ish in thick glasses, sat nearby, online shopping for above-ground swimming pools with intense concentration. Tor came in after me and asked the kid which pool he was going to get. The kid smiled a little but didn’t say anything. The mom explained to Tor in greater detail: The pool he was looking at was $500, which was a lot of money. But her husband had pointed out that maybe he could build a below-ground for less. Unfortunately, they were living in a rental so this plan would require that they first spend $100,000 to purchase the house. “Definitely that’s the way to go,” Tor suggested. The mom seemed amused. The son’s eyes lit up.
Bob, Tor’s dad, had already worked a furniture show in Colorado, so he’d been in Wyoming since the morning, just hiking and hanging out. Our plan for the first night was to stay at a campsite with him. When I was growing up, I thought my dad was frugal. Bob would crush my dad in a frugality war. He and Tor travel a lot for their business and their employee contract has a clause in it which is basically like “if you go to a furniture show with Bob and Tor and they are going to sleep in a ditch you will also be sleeping in the ditch.” We were definitely not sleeping in a ditch, we were sleeping on a nice platform in the middle of a clearing of quaking aspen and lodgepole pine, at a campground just off the highway. Bob was sleeping in a small trailer he hauls behind his van. “Don’t worry,” Tor said. “There are no bears here.” I knew this wasn’t true because the place had giant metal bear boxes, for food and trash, and signs at the entrance saying stuff like “Hey, there are bears here.”
I was glad we were near a highway. I know this isn’t good outdoorsman praxis, but I figured the more loud vehicles going by the less chance there was that a bear would come along as I slept, lock his jaws onto my skull and drag me into the forest. Tor blew up air mattresses and made a bed for us while I took a very long time to brush my teeth. I abhor the labor involved with camping, however minimal it is, and since I am never the reason I am camping, I feel exceedingly comfortable letting someone else blow up the air mattresses.
I was very relieved to wake up in the morning with my head attached to my body. Bob had already taken off but he left us a thermos of hot coffee and I wrapped myself in a sleeping bag and drank my portion while whining that I was cold. Tor narrated: “She inhaled the crisp mountain air into her nostrils. Had the scent of pines ever been so sweet? She was suddenly struck with a powerful sense of belonging and she knew, the way one suddenly just knows something, that indeed God did exist.”
“Put your shoes on and get in the car and I will take you into town to the fancy cappuccino place,” Tor said.
“Mmmm,” I said. “Fancy cappuccino!”
We drove along the Snake River. We crossed a few bridges. Several times, I gasped at the landscape. Jackson Hole is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. It’s mutation-level beauty: a valley, teeming with life, encircled by mountains, with a river running through it. This is all you see for a while. It never stops being beautiful, because it just can’t stop. But it is challenged. It is challenged with cars and fake log cabins and animal statues and rich, rich, rich people who think whatever you can afford is what you should have. People say it’s like Los Angeles here. They fucking wish. Sure, it’s Los Angeles, without the culture, without the food, without the people from everywhere. (Yes I know Los Angeles is not Los Angeles “anymore” either.)
Almost no one who works here can afford to live here. Many people who have jobs in Jackson Hole have homes or apartments in Victor, Idaho, and drive over the Teton Pass to get here. Within ten minutes, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Some of the cars contained tourists. Some of them were cars driven by people trying to get to work. At least their commute includes a view of the Tetons. Which, you know, things could be worse.
Next, in this week’s Tempo: Maria Bustillos compares the 1976 Goldenballs! scandal at Private Eye with the demise of Gawker. Who has the power to guarantee press freedom?