TRAVEL FILTH / FOOD BILE
A quantitative, industry-grade review of a stranding, unsettling, and scarring little town in Sweetwater County.
Hawthorn and I were on what was supposed to be the last leg of our cross-country (Incredibly, - capitol and most populate of Wyoming - has only 62,845 occupants as of 2014.) to Portland, blasting up the vast, otherworldly Interstate 80, about 90 minutes East of the Utah border. It was late afternoon and we were both beginning to get hungry, so we decided to stop in Rock Springs, which the roadside signage had been emphasizing for a significant distance. Despite its miserly population of less than 25,000, the area is the municipality in the state.
I spied and set course for Exit 104, but hit some kind of massive, traumatic fissure in the asphalt with my XJR’s right-front tire (this will become important information momentarily.) The sort of impact that makes you yell, but doesn’t quite worry you about a puncture or damaged suspension, though perhaps it should have worried me, considering that I’d already destroyed two tires and a wheel in a particularly-harrowing pothole strike in July, back in rural Missouri. Regardless, the twenty-year-old, massively overladen Executive Saloon had already endured so much more than I would’ve expected from it in the past four days of the trip - including the moderately treacherous Loveland Pass near Keystone, CO - that my confidence in its invulnerability had been significantly bolstered.
I also posted the following section on Yelp! — my new toy — as my review of the Renegade.
The exit’s ring-around-the-rosy revealed a nearby oddity: a banner for “AMERICAN AND CHINESE FOOD” around a rather neglected looking diner situated in the center of a decaying asphalt parking lot. Hawthorn had been craving Chinese cuisine for weeks. I parked us quite close to the entrance and winced too late at my contextually-idiotic getup as we entered - my borrowed black women’s skinny jeans and the bright red “FUCK TRUMP” pin on my jacket collar were likely the cause of the trouble included in the long-lingering stares we received. The place’s demeanor indicated a regular-saturated atmosphere - two young couples in working clothes would come and go in the hour or so it took us to get our food and eat. The rest of our company were significantly elder - quiet and weary.
Our waitress seemed to be neutral to us and professionally welcoming. She took our orders promptly and tended to our coffee consumption politely, despite my waning farm boy manners. Of course, we were the loudest of the whole bunch, shuffling around a huge road atlas, laughing at the television’s display of Fox News, and admiring from a distance the user interface of the “’s” prehistoric point-of-sale system. The menus were simply split equally between “Chinese” and “American” dishes. I’m 90% sure I ordered a burger and fries, which were forgettable, but my taste is subpar enough to be totally irrelevant. Hawthorn reported seeing a cook drop a carrot on the ground before adding it to a dish. She ordered “something Chinese,” but would experience enough disgust that she prefers not to recall more specifically.
“It was bad. I didn’t take pictures of it because it was too grotesque to look back at. I felt ill during and after the meal. Slimy.”
After we ate, we crossed Highway 191 to fill up at the Flying J, which was so well-stocked and spectacular (I found the most beautiful CB radio I’ve ever seen) that we ended up lingering in the store for some twenty minutes before pre-paying for our fuel. As we walked back to the car, I noticed something odd about the right-front tire - a ten-inch gash in the outer sidewall had appeared sometime since our last stop in Colorado, late that morning. To me, it looked like tread separation - the beginnings of the outer tread’s leave from the rest of the tire - which can be quite dangerous, at speed, and is often caused by pothole strikes. Naturally, I assumed immediately that it was that mid-lane-change event just before our exit that caused the wound.
I returned to the station for my change and asked if any nearby auto service shops were likely to be open (it was now after 7PM, local time.) The attendants took a beat to arrive upon a consensus: WalMart was probably my best bet. Hawthorn remained had remained in the Jaguar, where she observed a man behaving oddly - staring at her and the car, coming a bit closer than was appropriate.
A failed attempt to slash our tire, presumably by one of our fellow diner-goers in reaction to our liberal-ass appearance.
The Wal-Mart’s Tire & Lube department had just closed, but the manager was kind enough to step away from her counter and have a look. Her opinion echoed the statements I’d hear from at least three other tire service professionals: “I don’t know, but I wouldn’t drive on that.” Considering that we had another thousand miles of interstate with every last one of my possessions packed in the car, we decided we had little choice but to stay the night. As we entered the store to find alcohol and a bulb for the XJR’s just-extinguished headlight, I searched online for hotels. Though Days Inn advertised the cheapest-available room ($59,) total for the two of us in a single, smoking room was over $70.
Before resigning to the expenditure (our cash for the trip was, of course, quite limited,) we decided to bum around town for as long as we could stand it - first, lurking outside a just-closed Starbucks to steal their wifi before moving on to IHOP, where the waitresses graciously allowed us to remain until just before close, charging our devices and researching the area. I bought a copy of - a surprisingly well put together daily newspaper serving Southwestern Wyoming. Whilst Googling “Rock Springs,” Hawthorn happened to notice the word “massacre,” which would lead us to discover - and mildly obsess over - an infamous historical manifestation of hateful murder which stained the area’s aura forever.
It was nearly 11 when we conceded to the ideal of a restful night. I found the elderly night watchman suffering from some horrible affliction. By the manner in which he spoke and walked, he appeared alarmingly close to death. In fact, I’m not so sure I didn’t actually revive him from his grave - after we parked in the circle drive, it took a significant moment for him to appear from the darkened corner of the Inn’s meager lobby, and his responses could barely pass as verbal communication. Mostly, he gurgled. However, he graciously waved the usual cash deposit for us and still maintained a more cheerful demeanor than I would, in his position.
Our room, itself, was… something else. I’ve stayed in my share of shady motels, but a few especially-bizarre, long-outdated features and our continued preoccupation with Rock Springs’ bloody history combined to make the night especially unsettling.
I’d forgotten how bad smoking rooms smell in places like these - they’re especially neglected by the cleaning staff and must only be frequented by the sort who smoke Decades and Pall Malls, watching ancient MASH reruns at three in the morning. Perhaps that’s just what I’d like to think - at least ours didn’t smell like piss, though the door’s peephole was stuffed with dirty tissue, the bathtub had a large whole that was surely causing actual water damage each and every time it was filled, and the couch’s faux leather was visibly greasy.
Free wifi was also advertised, unsurprisingly, but our room was just out of usable range of the router - close enough to tease connectability, which fooled me for half an hour of frustrating attempts to log in the archaic, HTML-only page.
Then, we made the mistake of turning on the old CRT television, and quickly discovered the unsettling spectacle that is the public information cable channel of nearby Greenville, Wyoming, which played a slideshow of absurdly-designed PowerPoint cards to a skipping CD of Tchaikovsky’s “Grand Sonata in G Major.” Through them, we were introduced to the Nightmare Parade (a Halloween occasion - we estimate the presentation had not been updated since July) and The Tremendous and Terrible Pete Rust, Mayor and Lorde of the Land, all of it behind an everpresent and enduring watermark: “WELCOME TO DAYS INN.”
Thing are happening in the community, indeed. It’s important to remember, though, that Days Inn is a two-star establishment, and — if anything — the “quality” of our room was on-par or above with that of most alternatives within its price bracket. It’s not as if we were hurt or robbed – as if our room was not utterly luxurious compared to the nightly dwellings of the vast majority of human beings, even. The only actually troubling experience was the literature we discovered about The Rock Springs Massacre.
In 1885, Rock Springs was a mining town with a fairly large population of Chinese immigrants and a history of building violence against them. They’d built the railroad networks that fast-industrialized the West coast, and had stayed for good money.
“If they were careful, in a few years they could save a lifetime’s fortune to take back home.”
The Union Pacific railroad owned the mine, and had for decades been increasing pressure on the culture of Chinese and white miners, who had worked “side by side every day” but maintained speaking “separate languages and [living] separate lives.” They’d lowered wages and encouraged employees to buy day-to-day necessities at company-owned stores for inflated prices, spawning worker strikes that would escalate to firings in 1871, and the presence of federal troops in 1875. By 1885, the two were utterly split – the 300 whites lived downtown, and the 600 Chinese lived in Chinatown in the northeast. That Summer, there were “scattered threats and beatings” of Chinese men in three major Wyoming settlements: Cheyenne, Laramie, and Rawlings, but they were more or less ignored by Union Pacific.
Most resources on the matter mention the disgruntled white miner’s Union – the nazi-named Knights of Labor – supposedly formed because of the Chinese workers’ willingness to work for lower wages, which naturally ceilinged wages across the board. A member of the latter was killed by white employees in mine No. 6 on September 2nd in a scuffle, spawning a viciously escalating wave of “100 to 150 armed white men” who eventually mobbed Chinatown, unbridled, burning children alive in their dirt basements and publicly & horrifically mauling men and women in the streets. All in all, 28 Chinese were killed, and 15 wounded. They destroyed millions of today’s dollar’s worth of homes and demanded that “the Chinese should be no longer employed” before they’d cease and resume work. The governor of Wyoming began sending long, frantic telegrams to then-President Grover Cleveland, detailing the carnage and emphasizing their law enforcement’s desperate requirement for military support, which wouldn’t arrive and assemble for three days. Eventually, the “Knights” would be stayed, and many of the fleeing workers rescued, but the survivors’ post-massacre plight was far from heartwarming. Despite having provided the context to one of the worst hate crimes in history, their employer would soon issue an ultimatum to the Chinese miners who remained in the area: report to work, or be terminated and simultaneously banned from ever riding a Union Pacific train again.
It would be inappropriate for me to express any thoughts beyond my horror reading associated newspaper clippings and Isaac H. Bromley’s account – – save for my bewilderment at my own ignorance. I’d never encountered the event in any of my high school history classes, nor amidst the thousands of hours I spent watching the History Channel as a child. Even now, research turns up very little in the way of resources or organizations devoted to archiving, tracking, or reporting on hate crimes against Asian-Americans, save for , who launched just this year. Neither Hawthorn nor I are spiritually-attuned people, per se, but it was difficult to see the community of Rock Springs without blood stains after learning about such swiftly-escalated murder spurned on the land around us, a century prior. Despite our independent attempts to restrain ourselves from cross-referencing the historic map of Rock Springs with the goddamned Maps app on iOS to see where our bed for the night was in relation to the killings, we’d both do so, discovering that – while our Days Inn (northwest area) was still across Bitter Creek from Chinatown (northeast area) – victims had been slain amidst their attempts to escape in all directions. We weren’t visited by any livid miner’s ghost, but perhaps we should have been.
Interesting, isn’t it – given this knowledge – that our first encounter with Rock Springs, Wyoming was in the form of an “American & Chinese Restaurant” called “Renegade?” Some light digging turned up that another establishment bearing the same genre was once operating in town, but the only offered phone number has been disconnected, and their Map listings suggest that they’ve been out of business for a good while. According to , there were still 306 remaining Rock Springs residents who identified themselves racially as “Asian” in 2015, though virtually all cultural evidence of the massacre seems to have been erased. The acreage where the Army base – which was constructed and manned for thirteen years afterwards – once stood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, but has since been removed.
There are no physical monuments to – or memorials for the victims of any kind, but our short visit proved that the history is wide-open, digitally, and not out-of-mind for those with ties to the area. In the morning, I’d chat up the only other Big O Tires customers present in the waiting room within their opening hour – a young woman who’d just relocated to Rock Springs from Portland with her husband and two children – who’d mention it immediately, cutting me off mid-prompt: “so, have you heard about…”
“The massacre. Yeah…”
I’ve been a long-time customer of Big O - I recently worked for the company that owns most of the locations in the Missouri area, and the store in Columbia knows my XJR and I all too well. When I discovered their presence in Rock Springs, I’d thought my luck was just showing off - I’d bought their “Road Hazard Protection Plan” on my tires, which had already served me incredibly well when I’d destroyed two of them, back in July. By , both were replaced for only the cost of labor and disposal. Naturally, we wanted to conserve what cash we had left for the remainder of the road trip, so the potential of such a cheap fix seemed miraculous. However, after describing the gash to the young woman and successfully shutting down her insistence that I needed an alignment, the mechanic spent less than ten minutes with my car before returning it, declaring that he “didn’t see anything.” I warned him that - should the tread separate and kill us, I’d have our bodies delivered later that day, and all his family’s sons would be cursed for 13 generations, but nonetheless failed to coax anything else out.
On the way back to our motel, I made the split-second decision to stop by Plains Tire - Big O’s nextdoor neighbor - for a second opinion, since my eggs in one basket factor at the time was at its absolute peak. Despite knowing I wouldn’t have a bill to pay, they exhibited a wee bit more attentiveness in mentioning that that Rock Spring’s Big O Tires is actually the worst-rated location in the nation and - once again - that they “wouldn’t drive on that.” The manager suggested we proceed cautiously to the next nearest store, ninety minutes West, in Evanston. After taking it especially easy, the manager of that store suggested replacement after taking a look, but didn’t have access to the correct tire. He sent us to Salt Lake City, home of the Big O Tire distribution center for the entire country.
Suffice it to say, I did not get a definite answer until the manager of the fourth store we visited personally checked the wound with a depth gauge, consulted with one of his techs, and finally declared it cosmetic - just vandalism. It was late evening by then - the culprit had cost us an entire day, at least — but only because I’d forgotten the secret to dealing with such businesses - instead of politely requesting what one needs of car service folk, they must make themselves as much of a problem as possible. Not to be petty, but that’s in need of a change, I think.
Astonishingly, Hawthorn and I made it safely to Portland along with all of our skinny jeans and progressive propaganda, despite Rock Springs, Wyoming’s best efforts. Quantitatively, I must give it a rating of hate crimes out of five stars. I doubt we’ll ever return again, should the punk who failed to puncture my tire decide to finish the job. Unless I suddenly become a celebrity Yelp! travel blogger, I can’t imagine a reason to go back, though I will never forget the Nazi shit that happened there - just a few miles away from where we “slept.”
If you ever find yourself headed West on I-80, watch out for the goddamned pothole just before Exit 104.