Mama, can this really be the end?

–B. Dylan

We were resting in The Virginian, the only customers in the bar, watching a doomsday program on CNN about peak oil and what will happen when it has incontrovertibly arrived. Outside it was about 88 degrees and impossibly sunny; inside was dark, cool, comfortable. We had a good distance left to drive to get back to Laramie but were in no hurry: we ordered sandwiches and cold drinks.

The waitress left. The only other person in the bar was a disheveled, nondescript old man with slick gray hair and a full mustache. He sat in a corner drinking coffee, alternately watching the TV and us – the kind of character, a staple of rural Wyoming watering holes, who initiates conversation with strangers no matter how reluctant, or even hostile, they seem.

He inevitably turned to us.

“Do you folks know the abiotic theory of the origin of oil?”

“Uh, can’t say I do,” I mumbled; Lisa shook her head. We knew there was no way out of having to talk to this guy, as our chicken sandwiches were yet to arrive. But of all the ways to open a conversation, this was maybe the last we anticipated.

Riley proceeded to explain, in careful detail, about the abiotic theory, and soon he had our complete attention. He clearly knew what he was talking about. As he spoke he gesticulated mildly with long, pale hands and shuffled his feet under the table, scraping the well worn wooden floor with a pair of construction boots that had a new shine to them, into each of which had been stuffed a khaki pant leg.

Riley worked all his life in oil fields and on oil pipeline projects in Alaska, Montana and Wyoming. A few years ago, working on a project in northwestern Wyoming, he began to wonder for the first time where all the oil was going. He never found out.

“But that one question led to two more, and those led to four more, and so on,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading ever since.”

The floodgates opened for Riley, and the Internet gave him all the resources he needed to pursue his various investigations. Now, years later, he espouses some very enlightened views of corporate power, government propaganda and modes of control; he finds himself questioning sources of information, really becoming a critical observer of the methods used by this government and its underwriters to disseminate misinformation, control and manipulate media, and punish and marginalize dissent.

He sounds, frankly, like a Radical in the best anti-authoritarian, quintessentially American sense, and it was encouraging to find him in the rough.  I suggested he read Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, a reference he gladly noted. I suspect he’s poring through it right now. He recommended Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and we’re adding that one to our list.

Having just come from Casper Mountain where we spent much of an evening and the following day talking with our friend D—– about the oil industry, with which he is tangentially aligned, and about the folly of Bush’s War and other political topics du jour, we came away from our brief visit to the heart of the West’s heartland with the distinct impression that people are starting to wake up to what’s going on in this country. They are asking questions and they’re not satisfied with the non-answers government, and in particular the current ruling party, provides. This isn’t commentary: it’s an observable truth.

It isn’t my design to make this blog a political tool, but after spending six years in and around Washington, D.C. and at various points feeling dismayed by the awareness level in other parts of the country, I’m delighted to detect a change in the wind.

I suppose we have the Internet to thank. Its full impact is, perhaps, starting to be felt in even the most isolated corners of the nation.

(Speaking of wind, Medicine Bow, Wyoming, where the Virginian is located, is also home to one of the first successful wind energy projects in the country. . .another source of hope in this dusty little outpost in the Wyoming outback.)