Arno Rosenfeld in the Casper Star Tribune, 3/31/17:
In the recently published "Postcards from the End of America," writer and poet Linh Dinh offers dispatches from a low-budget trip across the United States by bus and train. Dinh sees a country with the bottom falling out, a view captured in his account of Wyoming's capital. "Entering Cheyenne," excerpted in part below, is the opening chapter of his book.
Entering Cheyenne, I saw an inquiring ad, “Missing a tooth?” Then a large billboard, “8 Million a Day for Israel. It just doesn’t make any sense.” I got off my coach and walked three miles into town. In summer, Cheyenne may appear more cheerful, but in early April, it was overwhelmingly gray and brown, with most of the larger buildings left over from the seventies and box-like. On Lincoln Highway, there was a line of motels advertising “clean rooms” for under $30, so I had likely overpaid for mine, booked online for $70. I had spent two nights on the bus, and would have to endure two more likewise before reaching home.
Cheyenne has long lost its intercity rail service, but there’s a Depot Museum on its main square. It being winter and even colder than usual, few visitors were present, and as I photographed a John Wayne image through a store window, a uniformed soldier suggested that I should go inside for even better shots. Earlier, a man had pointed out Sanford’s as a cheap yet decent drinking hole. Cheyenne folks were remarkably friendly. Presently, however, a man with bad facial skin strode up, carrying a cheap six-pack. I can’t recall who said what first, or second, but in no time he had become my unofficial tour guide. Meth Visage said I could get $1 beer at the Drunken Skunk if I ordered some food. If I liked to look at dancing girls, well, there’s the Green Door, just down the street. Meth boasted of once making $54 in a single day, just giving tips to tourists, mostly European, and taking photos for them. Meth had a single occupancy room at the Pioneer Hotel, and I was tempted to buy two six-packs of tallboys, which would likely gain me entry into the sparse or messy world of Meth and his buddies, one of whom was already walking beside me to act as my second unofficial tour guide. To offer unsolicited service is common in all Third World countries, so with Meth and others like him across this increasingly desperate land, we’re getting a glimpse of what’s to come.
Having just gotten into town, and with my bus leaving the next afternoon, I decided to pass on the Pioneer. Under-dressed in a thin jacket and slacks, I was freezing as I wandered, but I toughed it out for another hour or so before ducking, finally, into the Eagle’s Nest. With its proximity to the Hitching Post, my hotel, I wouldn’t have to stumble too far to lie down at the end of my boozing. I planted myself on a stool near a boisterous group rolling dice on the bar. There were two pool tables and two kinds of beer on tap, Bud and Bud Light. Before long I found out that the cheerful lady next to me was named Ginger. Her easygoing boyfriend was Terry. The lanky cowboy, Jim. The bartender, Leaf.
Up to three years ago, forty-five-year-old Ginger, born and raised in Amarillo, was a manager at a video rental store, making $18 an hour, but it went out of business. She then bartended, at this very joint, but it didn’t suit her, so now she works in an appliance store, making just $8 per, before tax. To add to her troubles, she and her husband of twenty-three years filed for divorce, “I never really loved him. I met him when I was just twenty-one. He got me pregnant, so we got married.” She had only known two men before him, Ginger confided, and two men after, before she met Terry, “the love of my life. Now I finally know what’s it’s like to be loved, to be wanted. Now I finally have someone who is glad to see me at the end of each day.”
Ginger has three daughters, twenty-three, twenty-two and nine years old, with the twenty-two-year-old serving in “North Korea,” she said.
“You mean South Korea?”
“No, North Korea.”
“It’s South Korea,” at least two voices chimed in. “South Korea!”
Also, Postcards from the End of America will be my second book to be translated into Japanese (after Blood and Soap).