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More Dogs on Main Street

Years ago, my family made the iconic family trip to Yellowstone. It’s one of those rites so central to being an American that it’s hard to imagine anybody not making the trip. It’s also a lot of fun. There were actually two big family trips, one in 1948, when my sisters were toddlers and I wasn’t even on the horizon, and the second trip just months after I was born. There are old photos and 8 mm home movies of both trips, showing all the classic Yellowstone points of interest. The family is out on Yellowstone Lake in a speedboat with nobody wearing any kind of life jacket. There are pictures of my sister more or less dancing on the railing of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, teetering on the edge of a 1,500-foot drop.

In the 1948 films, there are numerous close-up shots of bears. There was no zoom lens. These were taken at distances of maybe 15 to 20 feet. There were no splices in the films, so the bear encounters seem to have been happening at all locations in the park, and with such frequency that there was plenty of time to get a very clunky old camera out of the case and wind it up. The bears were very patient, though there is one shot where a bear seems to be pounding on the roof of a very tall 1940s car, demanding service.

In the photos of the 1950s trip, there are lots of shots of my father feeding Oreos to the bears. He’s standing on the side of the road, holding the Oreo up as high as he could reach (which wasn’t very high). The bear is up on his hind legs snatching it out of his hand with a big tongue. My sisters, wearing the all-purpose wilderness gear of ruffled dresses, are handing what looks like marshmallows out the window of the car, with the bear more or less reaching inside to get them. The older sister is thoroughly enjoying it. The younger one isn’t quite as sure about the whole thing.

In addition to the casual feeding of the ubiquitous bears, the other thing that stands out in the pictures is how everybody is dressed. My father is wearing a white shirt and tie. My grandfather, who was a farmer and normally in overalls, was also in a white shirt and tie. Their pants had hard creases pressed into them. Mom and the girls are in dresses in most of the pictures, though in some my Mom was in actual blue jeans. Grandma is always in a dress. The men wore white straw "boater" hats for the summer.

But there they are, feeding the bears along the road, standing in front of Old Faithful, and playing in front of the cabins behind Old Faithful Inn, watching the geysers, and trying to capture the grandeur of Yellowstone Falls on a hand held, wind-up home-movie camera.

It was fun to pull the old photos out this week after returning from Yellowstone. I’ve got the same photos, minus the bears, from essentially the same points. Instead of my sisters feeding marshmallows to bears out the window the Packard, there are pictures of me riding a bicycle through buffalo and elk standing in the road. The straw boater hat my Dad wore has been updated to a bike helmet. The 7-Up in a bottle is now a Diet Coke in a can. But with those few updates, it’s the same trip my sisters enjoyed 60 years ago. It’s hard to imagine how many millions of photos have been taken of how many millions of families standing in front of Old Faithful from the 1870s forward. Every time I’m there, I have to get another one. I’m sure there will be some more taken before I’m done.

While I was in Yellowstone, the presidential campaign squirted off into a new and unpredictable direction. The past week was spent on the important issue of porcine cosmetics. With two wars, an economy teetering, an energy/climate/security crisis, and the public in a generally nasty frame of mind, the election coverage has focused almost entirely on whether you can, or should, put lipstick on a pig. We wouldn’t want to waste time discussing tax policy, health care or any of that hard stuff. That just gives people brain cramps.

Obama says you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. McCain took great offense at the comment, and has come to the defense of pigs, saying that putting lipstick on them is anti-pig and should not be condoned. Despite frequently using the old expression himself, McCain now finds it offensive. Activists have come out of the woodwork demanding chemical-free cosmetics for pigs, and saying that dressing pigs up is demeaning. The libertarians have come out to say that if wearing lipstick makes a pig feel better about itself, it’s none of our business what goes on between consenting razorbacks.

So far, the pigs themselves have been silent on the issue. Fox News tried to get an interview with Porky Pig, but cancelled when it was revealed that while he wears a nice sport coat and bowtie, he doesn’t wear pants.

But it’s quite clear that the election will turn on the pivotal issue of whether putting lipstick on a pig accomplishes anything, is a good idea, or is abusive to pigs.

In other news, the Interior Department is in trouble because several employees who were supposed to be collecting oil lease money from big oil companies were apparently collecting a little more. The allegations are that they were receiving gifts from and having sex with oil-company employees at the same time they were supposed to be regulating their activities on federal lands. When the story broke, the crawl line at the bottom of the TV screen said they were having "improper sexual relations" with the oil company employees. I don’t know about this Bush administration they can’t even manage to have proper sex with the oil companies. They just can’t do anything right. Yeah, drill, baby, drill.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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