I find myself waving vigorously at faces I recognize these days. I wave hard at people I know like we're close friends who've found ourselves in a big, unfriendly crowd. I'm happy to see them, and often they wave back just as vigorously.
I live five miles out of Pinedale, Wyo., this town booming with tight sands natural-gas development all around us, and I don't feel as safe as I used to. Last night, for the first time, I caught myself locking my truck doors when I got home from work. Bizarre, right, in a town of less than 1,700 people? I see heavily tattooed guys walking around town and I have a knee-jerk reaction: I want them arrested. It's not so much the crime rate, which is up, but the feeling I have of being invaded. At convenience stores, groups of rough-looking men and women tumble out of beat-up cars with out-of-county license plates. They look scary.
The young women who work for me at the weekly paper in Pinedale have horror stories about guys approaching them in the bar. Stuff like being offered money for sex and men grabbing at them as they walk by. My office window overlooks the alley alongside the Corral Bar, and again, late last night, guys were screaming cuss words at each other for all to hear. It seems the louder they yell and the more f-bombs they use, the better they feel. This happens often now. Why are they so rude? What are they trying to prove?
Early this morning, when I walked into Faler's for breakfast, I found a bag full of fast-food restaurant trash and several fountain drink cups on the sidewalk right near the door. The people who ate their dinner in front of Faler's didn't care enough about Pinedale to step just inside, and find a garbage can. Even worse, they may have cleaned out the trash from their car, and left it on the sidewalk.
It made me mad. I actually gritted my teeth. I see a lot more trash these days. It could have been there before this energy boom descended on us, I know, but I notice it now. So you know who I blame.
A lot of gas-field traffic drives by the front door of the newspaper. When I see them speeding, I yell at them to slow down. Speeding on some streets is rampant. I find myself slowing down on purpose just to make a point, which causes impatient drivers behind me to seethe in frustration. I'm just as mad at them.
Every business owner I know looks hollow-eyed and haggard. The town is just crazy-busy, which means that the demands of customers overwhelm everyone's available help. Customers get mad, and employees and business owners get mad right back. We're all on edge. Everyone seems angry.
Before the drilling projects were approved, the companies were happy to talk to us — the "locals." Now, Halliburton won't answer when I call and ask questions about their hotel opening later this month, and I'm no longer allowed to talk to Geoff Sell, Shell's local man in charge. Ultra won't return my calls either. Only Questar and EnCana still seem concerned about their impact on the town and the people who live here.
You probably think that I'm not being fair. It's true that many good people are moving to Pinedale now. We're all making money — finally. It's inevitable that the town has to change.
My head may reason with my heart, but my heart says Pinedale is losing its small-town feel. The boom is taking it away. I know, it's not like all the locals are angels. There are plenty of homegrown jerks: I've been called one many times.
But I can't help it. What I see, and how I feel about it, hurts.
Rob Shaul is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. He is the publisher of the Pinedale Roundup in Wyoming.
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