June 8th, 2017
Cody, Wyoming, is a small city surrounded by hills about sixty miles to the east of Yellowstone National Park. The Shoshone River flows through a deep canyon in Cody. Karin and I had once visited Cody in 1985 on our way to my Army assignment in California. It was smaller and more compact back then. This time it looked spread out, with miles of hotels lining the main highway through town. One of the founders of the city was Buffalo Bill, hence the name of this community. The history and legend of Buffalo Bill Cody permeate all aspects of this place. The locals promote the Wild West theme as much as they possibly can. Their patron saint was a Civil War veteran, Indian scout, buffalo hunter, and all around savvy self-promoter. Buffalo Bill’s influence still shows up everywhere in Cody.
Cody is a tourist magnet, but I don’t believe that anybody actually comes to Cody because they want to come to Cody. No, they come to Cody because of its proximity to Yellowstone. People want to go to Yellowstone. After all, Yellowstone has geysers, a beautiful lake, scenic mountains, excellent fishing, and occasional sightings of bison and elk. The problem is that Yellowstone has very limited accommodations. We went to Yellowstone during this trip, and one of the first signs we saw said: “All Campgrounds Full”. This translates to: “You’re screwed, if you are looking for a place to stay.” This explains the attraction of Cody. Your options are limited. Even Buffalo Bill knew this over a one hundred years ago.
Karin and I had spent the previous night at the Monastery of the Ascension near Boise. We had not set up a place to stay prior to leaving the retreat house there. That proved to be a mistake. Our plan was to drive east along the Snake River Valley on I-84, and then venture into Yellowstone. We had been there three decades ago, and we were due for another visit.
We entered through the west entrance in Montana. The journey through Yellowstone, even if a person doesn’t stop to see anything, takes hours. Of course, nobody just drives through Yellowstone. That’s not real. By God, you are going to at least visit the geysers. You do that, along with the throngs of Japanese, Swedes, Frenchmen, Indians (from India), Brits, Chinese, and other tourists from all over the globe. Oddly enough, I met only one German during our visit, and that was Karin.
In any case, Yellowstone is an all-day kind of gig. Traffic slows to a crawl so people can take pictures of bison, or elk, or geysers, or some damn thing. Also, the roads are not designed for speed. Many year ago, the road to the eastern entrance used to include a stretch called “Corkscrew Bridge”. They have since straightened out the corkscrew, but the road consists almost entirely of hairpin turns and steep grades. We crossed the Continental Divide (8391 feet above sea level) twice. This is not a drive for the unwary. There is nothing like constantly shifting gears on a narrow, winding road to keep a person in the moment. “Focus, Grasshopper.”
Once out of the park, there is another scenic drive going east. A person drives past towering mountains and a roaring river. There is a long tunnel and a lake produced by the Buffalo Bill Dam on the Shoshone. There is an occasional hunting lodge along the road, and a few camp grounds. However, there are no services until a person gets to Cody. Nothing. Nada. It is also an interesting fact that there are no services beyond Cody, at least until you get to Greybull, which is a solid hour’s drive to the east.
We pulled into Cody around 6:00 PM. Karin and I were hungry, tired, and irritable. We stopped at the first hotel in sight, which was aptly named “Cody Hotel”. It seemed kind of upscale, but I figured we would give it a try. We walked into the expansive lobby, and I asked if they had a room for us. The woman at the counter checked, and told me that they had a room available for a mere $200.
I was aghast. This woman actually wanted me to fork out $200 to stay overnight in this cowboy ghetto that barely had enough people to support a Walmart. Naw, I don’t think so.
We got back in the car and drove a bit. We saw a Best Western and drove into their lot. We entered the lobby and immediately noticed the “No Vacancy” sign. There were two young women standing behind the counter. They looked bored.
I sensed some really bad energy. It was all starting to click. Karin and I were in Cody at the height of the tourist season with no hotel reservation. I asked a clearly unnecessary question:
“So, uh, you folks haven’t had any cancellations, have you?”
One girl looked at me stone-faced and shook her head slowly.
“Okay, uh, you wouldn’t maybe have any phone numbers for your competitors?”
The other girl sighed and said to her partner, “Well, I guess he could try to call AmericInn. They might have something.”
The severe-looking girl stared at us like we had cholera, and then gave me a phone number. I called AmericInn. A lady answered, and I asked hopefully, “Do you have any rooms available?”
The lady asked me, “You mean for tonight?!”
“Yeah, for tonight.”
The woman at the other end of the call apparently checked her computer and said, “Well, I have one room here with two queen size beds. It also has a refrigerator and, of course, WIFI and cable. It goes for…let’s see…$176 per night.”
I rapidly assessed our situation as the woman rambled on about nothing. The fact was that Karin and I were utterly screwed on this deal. These backwoods yokels were going to bleed us white no matter what we did. If I didn’t take this room, it was likely that we would be sleeping in the Toyota. I tuned back in.
The woman said, “So, if this works for you, I could book the room for you.”
“Yes! Please! It sounds great! Just what we were looking for!”
The woman was quite pleased. “Let me just get some information from you…”
At that point, Karin asked quietly, “Where are we staying?”
“The AmericInn. The room has two queen-size beds.”
“But we don’t need two queen-size beds.”
“Oh, yes, we do!”
Karin let it go.
I completed the phone arrangements, and then Karin and I drove a mile back to the AmericInn. The building looked like a three-story log cabin. The hotel had that rough-hewn, faux Western look. It stank of tourist money. Our money.
We staggered into the lobby of the hotel. There was a middle-aged woman standing behind the desk. She had a round face with rounder glasses. A young woman with perfectly applied make up worked next to the lady. I explained who we were. The woman’s face beamed.
She said breezily, “We just have some paperwork for you to sign…initial here and here and here… and sign here.”
I mumbled, “I’ll sign the confession.”
“What was that?”
“Never mind. Uh, my wife and I need to find a place to eat supper, within walking distance.”
The woman’s face brightened. “Well, Bubba’s Bar-B-Cue is right in front of the hotel. It’s quite popular. They have an extensive menu…”
I cut to the chase: ”Do they have beer?”
The young woman burst out laughing. She looked at me slyly and asked, “Long drive?”
“No…not really. I was just curious.”
The girl snorted, “Yeah, mmmhmmm.”
Karin and I dumped our belongings into the room. It was a really nice room. It was just too big and too expensive. We decided to sleep separately. If we were paying for two queen-size beds, then, damn it, we were going to use them.
Bubba’s wasn’t bad at all. Sure, it had all the cowboy crap that it required to look properly Western, but otherwise it was a good place to eat. They actually offered an extensive, all-you-can-eat salad bar. Karin liked that. I was going for the pulled pork sandwich.
A young waitress with a red shirt that had “Bubba’s” embroidered on it came to serve us.
“Would you all like something to drink?”
Karin smiled and said, “I’ll have a water.”
I asked, ”Do you have any local craft beers?”
The waitress smiled and replied, “Oh yes. We have Buffalo Bill Cody Beer.”
Of course, they would have that. Is there anything in this fucking town that isn’t named after that guy?
I said, “Yes. I would love to have a Buffalo Bill Cody Beer.”
The waitress smiled again and said, “I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
The food was good. The beer was gone long before I finished the sandwich. The waitress hovered near me and asked,
“Would you care for another Buffalo Bill?”
I spoke through a mouth full of pork, ”No thanks. Could you bring me a glass of Moose Drool instead?”
“Sure. You know that is a dark beer?”
“Yeah. Sounds good to me.”
Karin and I crashed shortly after supper. It was probably good that we had a room with queen-size beds. I sometimes get night terrors. I don’t know why and I don’t know how. All I know is that I scream and thrash about in my sleep. That used to freak out Karin. I had night terrors that night. It was worthwhile for me to have a bed to myself.
Breakfast we in the lobby. I hadn’t really checked out the lobby closely prior to that time. It had a vaulted ceiling and a grand staircase leading to the second floor. It also had a total of twenty-four stuffed animals (I counted them). These weren’t the plush, cuddly animals that you give to a little kid at bedtime. No, these had been real, live bear and sheep and deer at one time. Now they looked down on us dolefully as we ate our scrambled eggs and bacon. The perfect end to our stay.