I’ve been in Cody for 14 years and lately I’m spending an inordinate amount of time crossing the streets. It’s partly my age (54), and partly a marked increase in traffic volume, but my devil-may-care jaywalker days are over. I use the crosswalks at the lights now.
Cody has been discovered and is bucking the national trend of a slow real estate market. In this respect it reflects the Mountain West as a whole. There are foreclosure nightmare spots such as Las Vegas and Denver, but the scenic boondocks are increasingly sought out by a new species of bird mostly not observed before (though I’m one myself), the newly retired (or semi-retired) Baby Boomer. The new joke in Cody is that “The billionaires are kicking the millionaires out of Jackson.” Though it’s more complicated than that. These newcomer Boomers are coming from both coasts and everywhere in between, and causing the largest demographic shift ever seen in the 200-year history of the American West.
Rocky Mountain bohemian Cody is certainly disappearing. Reasonable rental housing scarcely exists now. The $300 per month apartment of old now rents for twice that price. Five hundred dollar per month houses are now $1,000 to $1,500. Landlords no longer cover the “City bill.”
An old Wyoming standby, trailer parks, are going under — literally — as developers buy the land under them and evict the occupants. Large venerable Victorian houses once carved up for apartments are now home to the icon of gentrification in any mountain town — the Bed and Breakfast. So I’m thinking of becoming a “Niner.”
THIS WOULD ENTAIL moving from Park County (with the prefix #11 to designate county identification on a Wyoming license plate) to bordering Big Horn County (which is #9). Becoming a Niner means I would be going to a nearby part of the state that is still what Wyoming used to be, unlike gentrified towns such as Jackson, Lander, Sheridan, and Cody, burgs now filling up with upscale amenities junkies. Niners live a simpler life.
Niners drive around in rusty, beat-up pickup trucks with empty beer cans clattering around in the bed; Elevenites prefer SUVs or shiny, late model pickups with glittering dashboard technology that looks like it came out of the cockpit of a 747. Niners might have a defunct refrigerator in the backyard, but if there’s a stovepipe built into the side of it, it’s actually a fish smoker; Elevenites might have an old sheepherder’s wagon out front, but it’s been cleaned up and painted and decorated with wind chimes and potted plants, and this lovely customized restoration done by a local artisan cost a lot of money.
An Elevenite might be living in a five thousand square feet custom-built log trophy home with a smooth river rock fireplace (or two or three), elk antler chandeliers, a grand view of the craggy Absarokas, and whose only problem is an occasional 70 mile-per-hour chinook wind that will blow out the giant picture window or scatter around cedar-shake roof shingles like scores of flying wooden playing cards; a Niner might be residing in a doublewide next to the bentonite factory in Greybull. Though that Niner could be an ex-Elevenite who moved his trailer when a developer bought the land under the trailer park that was his last Eleven county address. Niners don’t have the cedar shingles roof problem because they use old tires to hold down the trailer’s roof tarp.
Elevenites work out on the exercise machines at the Cody Recreation Center; Niners shovel sugar beets. When it comes to the blood sports, some upscale Elevenites go for outfitted elk hunts; Niners get a standard deer tag or — in a pinch — poach. Elevenites go fly fishing on “live water”; Niners go ice fishing on, well, unlive water. Elevenites spend many weekends enjoying Yellowstone National Park each summer; many older Niners stopped going in the Sixties when the Park Service banned feeding roadside bears, which people usually did from the comfort of a car (or rusty pickup).
Niners prefer Wal-Mart furnishings and maybe a velvet Elvis on the wall; Elevenites are big on expensive, pretentious yet kitschy Western motif furniture and bad Rocky Mountain landscape reproductions by artists such as Russell Chatham. You’ll find ungulate head mounts on both sets of walls, but the Niners are a bit whimsical: sunglasses on a deer, a corncob pipe hanging from an antelope’s mouth. Elevenites pursue a serious hunting ethic; Niners don’t mind making fun of dead animals.
So am I moving? We’ll see. The streets of Greybull or Lovell are narrow and quiet, and I can probably revive my jaywalking career. Such good habits are hard to break.
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