Feb 17, 2010

The Showboat Motel Casper Night

Tuesday 16th - Day 9
The whole of the USA was there to choose from, but the one non-negotiable destination was Casper, Wyoming. A city of less than 50,000 people in the middle of the least populated state in the union? Yes. And this is why.

Richard Buckner could well be my ultimate favorite artist. He has written songs that have gripped my mind for years. Yes, pop music is great and rock 'n' roll is even greater, but most music has its limitations. You'll excuse me for being precious here (I swear I'll be crude again soon) but Richard Buckner makes art. That's why he hardly sells any records and a few years ago said he was retiring from music. (He didn't, thankfully.) The Ocean Cliff Clearing is not an easy entry point into Buckner by any means and it still baffles and intrigues me after over a decade of listening to it. If you do a Google search for the lyrics you'll find a lot of lyric sites draw a blank for this tune. (Yes, I am that cool.) And as for the ones that do... well I think they get them wrong. Quite a bit. But even when I can be sure of the words he's singing, I don't know what they mean. Carol and I used to jokingly shout "All together now" and then sing along with the line "The Showboat Motel Casper Night" not knowing that Casper was a city and that within its limits there is a motel called The Showboat. But once we knew that we had to visit it. And that enthusiasm wasn't dimmed when we read the following reviews on Trip Advisor...

“There were about ten thuggish people hanging around the lobby, the desk clerk was more involved with hanging out with what looked to be locals. This hotel felt very unsafe."

“If I would not have had a touch of a stomach flu when I checked in, I would have immediately checked out.”

“We weren't looking for anything fancy, just a nice, clean place to sleep. We didn't get any of the above.”

“We thought it was odd that it wasn't carpeted.”

And... the crowning glory...

“I do NOT appreciate being solicited in the lobby of a motel while I am obviously checking in - or at any other time - during that visit.”

Didn't see any of the above sadly (the no soliciting sticker on the door is working) but we did see a motel that time forgot. The landlady (or Madam?) was an imposing figure with old school sailor-style tattoos on both of her formidable forearms. I'm not sure what she made of us, but she couldn't have hated us because we were given the room next to the lobby just so we could get wi-fi. We couldn't complain about the cleanliness of the place. Not that we would have dared. One member of staff was a Hispanic looking youth dressed like a south London wannabe gangsta and his job seemed to be standing in the lobby staring at the TV with the kind of focus you normally only see on a predator when it's closing in on a kill. And special mention must go to the little Asian cleaner who seemed to be vacuuming every time we stepped outside our room. She didn't even stop when we were checking in which meant I had to ask the boss to repeat herself at least ten times.

But what really made the place special was the decor. Every wall was made out of some weird kind of white pre-fabricated material that looked like it had been designed for an industrial unit or a lunatic asylum. It would make a great location for a slasher movie. The Marriott it isn't, but a lot of these chain motels are crappy. The Showboat isn't entirely independant, it's now under the umbrella of the National 9 brand, but it's a special place and long may it live. (Of course it might be a little different in the summer when it's full of cowboys and oil workers.)

Casper was a pretty special little town too. It put me in mind of Austin Texas, only smaller, colder and poorer. (Plus no no annoying UT students.) It had a real nice western wear store called Lou Tauberts which has been there since 1919. And two movie theatres (or cinemas as we'd call them) in the tiny downtown area. There was a brew pub selling 1$ drafts and another selling penny pints. Which are just what they say they are... a pint for a penny. And... an independant record shop called Sonic Rainbow that was totally cool and yet a little upsetting. It carried the smallest stock of CDs I've ever seen. Not sure if that's down to the evils of downloading or just the size of Casper. But I can't imagine it will be there for long. Is it telling that they don't have a website, just a myspace page?(It did have cool Earth and SunnO))) posters on the wall - though nothing by them in the racks.)

Casper is great. I don't know what kind of hell Richard Buckner went through that night he stayed at the Showboat, but I'm glad it inspired him. All together now...

By the way, Wyoming is the most beautiful part of America I have seen so far. The drive from Cheyenne to Casper was stunning. The way houses were scattered randomly across the fields on the outskirts of towns had the same sort of feel as alpine villages in the summer, only set in rolling, scrub grass covered dunes on the edge of British golf links, then stretched out onto a very wide canvas and framed with Wild West rocky outcrops. It's like they took the mesas of the south west and put them in the north. It's colder, but you still feel there are cowboys and injuns beyond the horizon. The landscape is magical, and I thank either geology, God or Bob Ross for it. I'm a serial tourist, I (almost) always go back to the places I visit but I think Wyoming is the only spot from this trip that I'm sure I want to see again. (Except for maybe ESL - but that's because I missed the strip clubs this time.)

And one other thing about Wyoming. It's nicknamed 'The Equality State' because it was the first state in the union to grant women the vote. That was back in 1869. Though a local told me it was granted because the horny cowboys wanted to do anything they could to lure more females to the state.

Frigid Bones needs a new name. No snow today and we finally broke the 40°F barrier.


  1. I like your writing style. I'm staying at The Showboat right now, and it's as terrible as every other time I've stayed here. It's the cheapest place in Casper, for all the reasons you listed, which is the only reason I endure it. For what it's worth, I should like to add that I stumbled upon this article while searching for reports of "the dropping marble phenomenon" associated with this hotel. This is a little off topic, but seeing "0 COMMENTS:" made me decide to include this tidbit of worthless information: expect to hear what sounds like marbles dropping and rolling around on the floor above yours (provided you are on the ground level) at night, if you plan on visiting. Why anyone would choose to live/stay in Wyoming is beyond me...I don't care how poetically you describe the landscape; it's desert and it's ugly. Did I mention that it's nearly 4am and that I am a bored insomniac?

  2. Hi Anonymous. I can't tell you how much I envy you. I wish I was in Casper, WY I truly do. It seems exotic to me. As did the Showboat. I plan to return and listen for "the dropping marble phenomenon". Did Google throw up anything? And thanks for commenting.

  3. Hey Mate,

    I'm in Tanzania listening to Buckner with my kid, making pasta with tomato sauce in the kitchen. Ten years ago... wow, a decade... I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia and my friend Adam sent me a minidisc (I was cutting edge in the village) with Ocean Cliff Clearing on it. Didn't know it was called that, of course... it was a mix-disc... some Devotion and Doubt, some Bloomed, some Since. I'd listen to it at night when it was dark and silent and it would twist my head. I would try to play "Casper Night" as I called it, on my guitar by ear and ended up mashing out something that passed the test so far from home.

    Anyway, home for me is Worland, WY. The Showboat in Casper has always been in my memory as a place of mystery. Never stayed there, but seen the neon steamboat pipes in various states of disrepair since I can remember. Worland has 5000 inhabitants, so Casper was a city for us. Saw my first concert in the Event Center up the hill (Bon Jovi) and later Def Leppard. Knew the minute I heard the Buckner song that it was my Casper he was talking about, that it was my Showboat. I just knew it. Only now did I decide to Google it.

    Anyway. This link is to some photos I took of things in the neighborhood of Casper, Shoshoni and Worland that I think you'll like. Maybe when you get back out that way you can try to find them. You're dead right about Wyoming. It's priceless.