The rain was falling in sheets. The wind was howling. The temperature was 40 degrees and I could see my breath. My raincoat was soaked through and my umbrella was inside out. It was late at night and I was standing on a street corner in Cardiff, Wales, waiting for a bus.
And I was thinking about The Best Part of America.
Those Wyoming mountains in my mind were looking mighty good about then. Wyoming’s low humidity and bright sunshine were only distant a memory — but in between shivers, it kept me going.
That was 35 years ago this month.
My visit to the Centre for Journalism Studies at the University of Wales was about over. And although it had been a great experience, it was time to leave. The Cardiff faculty had invited me to join their mid-career Master’s program in the fall of 1986. The program included journalists from all over the world.
There were newspaper editors, television newscasters, magazine editors and government media people. They came from as far away as China, Malaysia, Korea, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Qatar, New Zealand, the United States and other countries, too.
While there, my duties also included serving as a guest lecturer to grad school students from the United Kingdom.
But that October night in the rain, all I could think about was my Wyoming.
These people wanted to know about America. They liked America and they liked Americans.
My philosophy has always been to be polite when visiting another person’s country. I rarely bragged about my home and always complimented them on everything.
Once you get beyond the politeness, inevitably the conversation would turn to my part of the country. They wanted to know about this mysterious place called Wyoming? Cowboys, Indians and mountains fascinated them. I told them about the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express and Yellowstone National Park and Frontier Days.
And how Wyoming was just one of 50 states and how our state had 23 counties. And how Fremont County was larger than Wales. And despite all that land, just 39,000 people lived there. And how there were 40 places in my county over 13,000 feet in elevation.
I also told them about incredible mountains like the Grand Tetons and Devils Tower. And our vast distances and how Wyoming was the least populated state in America — about the same population of Cardiff.
And they were surprised to hear about how the sun shines 300 days per year and the humidity is so low, the sky is always blue. And how you can’t count all the stars in the sky at night. And how easy it was to see more than 100 miles on a clear day.
And then there was all our wildlife plus our wonderful fishing. And I raved about the Red Desert with its wild horses and shifting sand dunes. And how just a century ago, cavalry and buffalo were roaming these valleys.
Now remember, I believe in being polite when in a foreign country. It took a lot to get me to talk about my home. But they wanted to know more. They just couldn’t get enough information about this land called The Best Part Of America.
I couldn’t help smiling when talking about our clean air and clean water or even how wide our streets are. And the great condition of our roads and highways along with all the walking and hiking trails. And our tax situation was almost non-existent compared to theirs.
Hearing about public lands that were available to everybody surprised them. I told them about my spread, the three million-acre Shoshone National Forest that was just 10 minutes from my home. And how our family shared that spread with millions of other Americans.
My tales of the Shoshone and Arapaho Indians drew a rapt audience.
And I talked about my family back there in 1986. And how most Americans are friendly and Wyoming people are the friendliest of all. And how Americans always believe in the “American Dream” — that if they work hard and don’t give up, they will almost always come out on top. Americans believe the best in people and in situations and how optimism is a national disease in our country.
And as I was standing there in the rain that chilly night many years ago, I thought about all those things. It was then that I realized that I really did live in the best part of America.
It was good to know that.
And it was time to go home.