Ever thought about ‘making the great escape’? You know, getting out of the city, leaving the rat race behind?….. Leaving L.A.? Well, then….I have a story to tell…..
It was 1998, and I had been toying with a little fantasy for nearly 2 years. It was a dream I had of open space, trees that didn’t sprout from concrete holes, quiet country roads and vast blue skies. Whenever the traffic got to be too much for me, I would look at a map of the U.S. and find a small town. When the lines were too long at the grocery store, I’d go to the library and do some research. When I got tired of the high cost of living, I’d order a newspaper from a new small town. I would watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie, just to imagine a simpler life.
So, one day, when my husband got home from work and was exhausted from his forty five minute commute from his job in Redondo Beach, to our home in South Torrance, (keep in mind, that’s only about 8 miles) I decided to share my peaceful, little fantasy with him.
By this time, I’d collected quite a bit of research, I was looking for a town with sports, preferably auto racing and plenty of work for my husband, a college town for our boys, then ages 16, 10 & 8, and a place with some history and culture for me. I had narrowed my fantasy life to 3 small towns, one in Oregon, one in Idaho and one in Wyoming. Although I had phone books, newspapers, maps and brochures, and a good case for each town, I was fully aware that this was just a fantasy…..a coping technique, for days when I couldn’t find space to store one more item in the teeny, tiny house we rented for an outrageous amount of money. And, I thought maybe my husband needed a far away dream to help him cope.
I was surprised when he actually reviewed the material thoughtfully, asking me questions and taking my research seriously. After all, he had grown up in Manhattan Beach, I was from Long Beach, and we had both decided that the 5 years we had spent living in Palmdale were much too far from the ocean. But after considering my presentation, my beach boy looked at me and said “We’re not moving, but Casper, Wyoming looks like a great place for a vacation!’
And so, after nearly two years of research, and a couple of months of planning, we packed our suitcases and left to visit one of the little towns I had researched so diligently as part of my fantasy.
It was late August, and we were shocked to need sweaters and jackets as we drove across the Wyoming State line at 7am. But the crisp mountain air was refreshing and invigorating. We arrived at our destination and spent ten days exploring, visiting historic sites, enjoying the state fair, seeing a rodeo, and going to the dragstrip in a nearby town. Then one day we stood on top of Casper Mountain, looking down at all of that amazing open space, and decided we could do this. We could leave the city….we could make the great escape, and start a new life in this beautiful, little town that lay between the North Platte River and the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
It actually took another 4 years to make our dream happen. But we did make it happen. We felt like pioneers loading our U-Haul truck until you couldn’t have put a matchstick between the boxes, and heading out to the wild west….only it was actually north east for us.
We landed in town the end of June knowing virtually no one, and having nowhere to live. My husband did have a job to start the following Monday, and we had reserved a room at a little motel that had a kitchenette. We unloaded our U-Haul into a storage unit, and Paul started work on Monday……meanwhile, my job was to keep our 10 & 12 year old boys occupied, while finding a house for us to rent………but there were just plain no rentals.
So, within one week, we had made an offer to buy a house with a great location, and lots of ‘potential’, closed escrow in less than a month, and we began to set down roots.
The first year was an adventure. We went out to lunch with one of my husband’s new co-worker’s and I ordered a grilled chicken salad.
“What’s the matter with you?” grumbled the big cowboy sitting across from me. “You one of those California Vegetarians??” I felt like I’d made a major faux paux.
“But, but,” I stammered. “Chicken’s are animals!”
“Yeh! So, what’s wrong with beef?”
That summer passed quickly and uneventfully as we unpacked boxes, enrolled the boys in school, and started to get settled.
I got a part time job teaching sewing classes at a local sewing store. I was to begin teaching on October the 1st. . Now, I always try to dress professionally, so I wore a nice skirt and jacket, some low heels and stockings……but, it had started to snow, and I hadn’t realized that I didn’t have any shoes that actually covered my feet, except my tennis shoes, or that I didn’t really have a coat warm enough for the sudden drop in temperature, and that the wind and snow were going to make a sticky wet mess of my freshly curled, and sprayed hair, and did I tell you that I’d never driven in the snow…..heck, I’m from Los Angeles, I don’t even drive in rain!!!! So I arrived at my class, eyes red from crying, hair sticky and matted, feet frozen and I was drenched from head to toe.
My first class looked at me like I was from another planet…….. “It’s okay,” the store owner told them, “She’s from Los Angeles”. And as my students started nodding and laughing I realized that I was from another planet.
I’d been teaching sewing for a few years, and was prepared for questions like “How do I sew on satin without it shifting?” and “What kind of stabilizer do I use for a button hole?” I was not prepared for “What kind of needle do I need to use when I’m fixing my husbands “Carharts” and “What fabrics are best for sub zero temperatures?”
Having spent most of our lives in the Los Angeles South Bay, we were used to the sounds of airplanes passing overhead, police, news and a variety of helicopters hovering, freeway traffic, street traffic, sirens, etc. But, our new, small town life was peaceful and quiet. If you saw an airplane overhead it reminded you that you hadn’t seen one in awhile, the sound of helicopters meant one of the medi-vac helicopters was probably off to rescue someone. There are no police helicopters, no news helicopters. That’s right business is not going to stop for a high-speed pursuit. You are not going to sit on a stool at your favorite bar, have a drink and watch the latest high speed police chase as filmed by seven different news helicopters, and tracked by one or more police helicopters.
But then, the news is different too. Unlike the Los Angeles news market where local news anchors may make triple digit (or higher) salaries, good anchors become local celebrities and there is stiff competition for news anchor jobs, in Wyoming, you aren’t likely to see any particular news anchor for more than a few months, before they’re off for greener pastures. There is little crime to report, and the political issues are a far cry from the issues discussed here in Los Angeles. Gay Marriage, Immigration reform, and Gang Violence are not likely to be hot topics. More likely they will be discussing how long wolves should be on the endangered species list, penalties for poaching on private land (I don’t mean poached salmon, this is hunting), and giving you the high school sports scores for the entire state.
We spent that first year learning things we had never needed to know before. My husband learned that you can’t wear steel toed boots in sub zero temperatures. I learned that you had to scrape the snow off your entire car, not just the windows, otherwise when you drive the snow from the hood blows up onto the front window, the snow on the roof will slide down onto front and back windows, and when you open the trunk to fill it with groceries, the snow will slide down the trunk door and into the back of your trunk!! Also window squeegees….do not work as snow scrapers.
We learned that although in Los Angeles we could put our pumpkins out on the porch to display them, if you leave them on the porch when the temperatures are in the teens, they will freeze….and you won’t be able to carve them, and if you thaw them out in the house….they become mush….and again you won’t be able to carve them, you will be scooping them up off the floor. We also learned that people don’t trick or treat when it’s 13 degrees outside, and the sidewalks are covered with black ice. What’s the point of a costume when you have to cover it with your heavy winter coat, some warm boots, sub zero rated gloves and a ski mask….hmmm in Los Angeles that would be a costume!!!
After living in Palmdale, California for a few years, where the schools are shut down when you have 3 inches of snow and it’s 30 degrees outside, we were surprised to find out that in Wyoming the schools don’t shut down when there are 17” of snow outside, and the temperature is 12 degrees…..and there is now school bus if you live within 2 miles of the school. However, the police do take snow days, and if you have a non injury collision you are asked to please exchange information, and make a report to the police department when the weather clears up!! Ahhh yes, the honor system.
Now, being from the Los Angeles South Bay area. I’m used to crowds at the malls, and plan my shopping trips around the busy times. When we got to Casper, where we had one of the two actual shopping malls in the state, and our mall was central to most people in the state, I was told to stay away from the mall and Wal-Mart on the weekends because the “entire state comes to shop on the weekends”. For the first few weeks I heeded that advice, but after a few weeks I got to thinking about it, and realized that even if the entire state showed up on the weekend (which wasn’t likely) there were only about 500,000 people in the state, less than the population of the Los Angeles South Bay area, and I could probably handle both the traffic (hahahaha) and the lines. So I went to the mall….. I’ll try to stop laughing now, because I think you know where this is going. In fact, although my gifts were all purchased by Halloween (years of habit) and wrapped by Thanksgiving, my husband and I decided to go to the mall the day after Thanksgiving, yes, Black Friday, just for the fun of it. We parked right in front of JCPenney, laughed when we saw the longest check out line had 3 people in it, and those people were complaining about having to wait. It was fun to be able to laugh at the natives after being laughed at for the past 6 months.