A wild night in Centennial, Wyoming, usually consists of shooting firearms out of a moving vehicle, ATV, or snowmobile if it's past September. But this Tuesday, the Costello family took to the town hell-bent on having a great time without poaching animals. As you can see on the left, the town is fairly small. The picture is from 1979, but looks very similar to Centennial today. There is gas, diesel, basic foodstuffs, lots of fishing tackle, two stores with "Western" memorobilia (mostly fake guns and homemade candles), a post office, three hotels, three bars, and two fake cop cars that sit empty to scare speeders. The sign on the right is real, but an informal census by a local hippie census-taker revealed around sixty full-time residents. One hundred was during a platinum boom which has since faded.
We started at the Beartree Restaurant and Tavern, which on Tuesday nights has some of the better chicken fried steak I've tasted outside a middle school cafeteria. You best call ahead, though, because there are only twenty-five available each week, and they sell out around six most of the time. It's also one of the biggest social events in town. After introductions to five different people, we sat down and had quite a meal. I did have to stand up and approach the bar in order to obtain a second beer. Zagat rating: 19, Michelin rating: half star.
After dinner, my sister Christy and I scored enough cash from Moms to pay for most of our drinks throughout the night: $11. Big! I did think it a little strange that the $11 consisted of a five, two twos, and two ones. We proceeded to the somewhat dilapidated Trading Post to continue our night out. The limo was late, so we walked across the street. Notice: if you're looking for a one-speed bicycle, this place has everything you're looking for. There are twenty gently use fixies parked out front, unlocked. Seeing that vandals have broken into the local one-room school and the post office, it's a wonder that these bad boys are still there.
At the Trading Post, we doubled the number of patrons. The bartendress was a bit chilly at first, but warmed up to us when she learned I was a doctor; the chiliness returned when I informed her I recently retired. We chatted up some locals and heard some jokes, none of them racist (score two for the locals, although someone did think I was an Arab due to my dark tan and flowing beard) but most of them pertaining to bestiality (score three for the locals). We earned a tee time at the local seven-hole golf course, complete with coffee can holes and deer on the greens. We downed a pitcher, we played a game of pool in which the white ball went in eight times, and I donned a hockey helmet resting on a peg in the corner, thank you lost and found.
After the Trading Post closed at ten (?), we stopped off at the hippie's house (the former town flea market, Valley's End) for a beer. We then headed across the street to our third and final bar; on the way, I had a particularly surreal and touching moment looking at the stars with the hippie. The Milky Way was clearly visible, and I created some metaphor for retirement and the stars and the galaxies far off. The long and short of it was, retirement is great, and Wyoming is a great starry place to spend it.
But enough starry-eyed talk; the Friendly Store beckoned. The place really lives up to the name, as over the years it has morphed from general store to general store/hotel/greasy spoon/bar without missing a beat. At this particular destination, we only increased occupancy by fifty percent. We commandeered the jukebox and played quite a bit of Fleetwood Mac, which is agreeable to everyone in Centennial. My sister danced with an elderly man who repeatedly told us that he was the newcomer and town and had never played pool, and after awhile I believed neither statement. One-Eyed Jack entered (I later found that he was nearly the victim of Centennial's only drive-by shooting) and left quickly; fortunately for him, the legal alcohol limit was waived by the sheriff in absentia!
Perhaps the most peculiar thing there, though, was the bartender's electronic cigarette; evidently, you provide it with cartridges of nicotine, inhale hard, and it provides you with the nicotine you so desperately crave! It sounded an awful lot like a cigarette to me; he said it's meant to wean people off cigarettes, but he smoked three in the hour that we were there, so I have a hunch it was simply a way for him to augment his nicotine intake. We ended the night watching a tribute to Nat King Cole, bless his soul, on mute.