Old Perspective Red Letters Spectacle Words

Rock Springs, Wyoming

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 road­trip 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 fourth most pop­u­lat­ed munic­i­pal­i­ty in the state. (Incred­i­bly, Cheyenne - capi­tol and most pop­u­late of Wyoming - has only 62,845 occu­pants as of 2014.)
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 Rene­gade Restau­rant’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 The Rock­et-Min­er - 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 The Chi­nese Mas­sacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming Ter­ri­to­ry 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 Asian Amer­i­cans Advanc­ing Jus­tice, who launched their track­er 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 a sin­gle piece of evi­dence 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 City Data, 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 pol­i­cy, 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.