I’ve lived in Wyoming all my life, but convincing young adults to stay and make the Cowboy State their home has been a decades-long struggle. In recent years, Wyoming towns have made strides to accommodate the interests of a new generation. At least a dozen new bars, restaurants, breweries, food trucks and shops have popped up here in Casper just in the last year, many of which seem to be geared toward young adults and families (and capitalizing on the 2017 eclipse). Despite these efforts, local businesses still seem to be struggling to compete against a longstanding American pastime — hanging out in parking lots after dark.
I often find activities in Casper that are fun and culturally stimulating — art shows, open mics, plays, concerts — but when my friends and I drive past the Verizon Wireless store on East 2nd Street and notice a hoard of young locals meeting up in the parking lot, it’s hard not to feel like we’re missing out on something special.
Is it the warmth of that towering neon red sign that draws them in? Is it the sense of community they feel with other like-minded people who enjoy revving their engines and taking in such sights as gas stations and fast food joints? Perhaps it’s just an homage to our parents before us who had few other options than to meet up in lots to coordinate plans. The reasoning is anyone’s guess, but the fact is, there are young people in this town who would rather bask in that neon glow than step out on the town.
Plenty of young people still forego the thrill of the parking lot to head out and grab a bite at one of our newest unique and sophisticated restaurants like The C85 Wonder Bar, The C85 Branding Iron and the C85 Pump Room. With such a diverse array of restaurants and business owners to support, it’s a wonder young people still park their cars outside of local businesses after hours and just hang out.
I also wonder why they never move their parties to one of the several parking lots in town that regularly host local food trucks and vendors. There they can find all the allure of hanging out in a parking lot, plus the added bonus of food options just steps from their fenders. For someone like me, it would be much more appealing to head downtown to catch the food trucks all in one convenient, central place. (Have we tried this?) However, these fine people already enjoy spending time in parking lots, so what keeps them away from the food trucks?
I find comfort in knowing I can catch live music on any given weekend night in Casper. Downtown alone, there are at least seven venues serving all different demographics and regularly scheduling live acts; still, dozens of locals insist it is more fun to blast country music out of blown-out speakers while doing what I can only describe as a type of tailgating that lacks the context to make it enjoyable or even necessary. I imagine they would probably enjoy at least one of the musical acts these venues offer, but how do we get them to leave the parking lots long enough to get them there?
Honestly, I do not have a clear solution to this disconnect. I don’t know how to make local attractions seem more appealing than the Verizon Wireless parking lot. I wish it were as easy as building a Dairy Queen next to every new hang. Local vendors, event coordinators, artists and the like invest their time and energy into making Casper a stronger community, only to continuously struggle against the enduring popularity of hanging out in parking lots. I don’t have the answers; I can only hope someday soon we can find a way to make Casper’s growing list of activities compare to the rush of parking a late model Mustang in the Verizon lot and just sitting there.