Steamboat Springs At a recent dinner party the term “Nouveau Local” came up. The eight of us sitting around the table were all longtime locals, and we were reminiscing about bars gone by.
Once upon a time, there was a great bar called the Steamboat Saloon where everyone went post-rodeo to dance with the cowboys. The dance floor was about the size of a football field (or so it seemed after a beer or two), and there was nothing better in my younger, single days than to spend a Saturday night swing dancing with dreamy cowboys. I even went so far as to accept an invitation to visit one of these dreamy cowboys in Cheyenne, Wyo., during the infamous Cheyenne Frontier Days. Armed with a platoon of girlfriends I arrived at what I was fantasized would be a cozy ranch house straight out of the TV show “Ponderosa.” Furthermore, I expected this dreamy cowboy to have roommates like Hoss and Little Joe for my girlfriends who were so kind as to chaperone me.
Instead we arrived at a trailer “air conditioned” with holes in the wall, a month’s worth of dishes piled in the sink, a bathroom so dirty that we were afraid to place a toothbrush on the sink for fear of contracting hoof and mouth disease, and piles of dirty clothes everywhere. Alas, my “Ponderosa” fantasy died quickly.
That experience was just one of many I had as a Nouveau Local. Although I grew up in the Midwest I moved here from Manhattan. Whooo-eeeee. Coming from a big city my learning curve was steep. In 1989, Steamboat was really small and isolated. There were no self-serve gas stations (hallelujah), no Internet and at one point I even had a party line. The Steamboat Pilot was published only once a week — Wednesdays.
I remember being fascinated by the word “ranchette.” I marveled at the fact that a 35-acre parcel of land was viewed as small whereas in Manhattan a 2,000-square-foot apartment was considered big. I had no idea what the sign “Open range” meant (was someone cooking?), and the sign “50 Miles Between Services” scared the heck out of me. What if my car broke down? Who was going to help me? There was no cell phone service then and I was not going to hitchhike for help.
Coming from a big city I was shocked at how slooooowly everything happened. People were not in a rush, they spoke thoughtfully and they never got dressed up. And they were so darn friendly. I came from a city where it was a good idea to be slightly suspicious of other people.
I learned some important things, such as never to ask someone how much land they owned and never to say things like, “When is it going to quit snowing?” I learned it was a bad idea to try to pry windshield wipers from a frozen windshield and that spending money on snow tires is a worthwhile investment. To help establish local status it was imperative to have a license plate that began with WZ and a phone prefix of “879.”
I had a garage sale and got rid of all my umbrellas and fancy shoes and spent the money on sunglasses, winter boots and sporting equipment. It just was not possible to own too much “gear,” and when it broke it was OK to hold it together with duct tape. I learned that looking at the Milky Way in the night sky was magical and that owning an iron was useful only if I planned to wax skis.
I learned to love wide-open spaces without crowds and congestion. And, 22 years later, I still believe there is no place else I’d rather live.