Editor’s Note:
A team of videographers and journalists led by Geoff O’Gara is producing three documentaries on Wyoming subjects, partnering with Wyoming PBS and The Content Lab LLC. Each documentary is, in its own way, a search for the state’s character and heart: a biography of Dick Cheney, the historic Green River Drift cattle drive, and a portrait of the entire state using helicopter aerial cameras. O’Gara is keeping an occasional journal of the ups, downs, and sideways slips of these projects. WyoFile is pleased to post the entries here. Check back for more in the weeks to come.

We drove the two cars out along Hat Six Road, on the east side of Casper last week. A green field to our left, rock outcrops opposite, nobody else in sight. We lined up side by side, blocking both lanes of the road, and the Mustang Mach 1 revved as we started down the pavement. I pulled ahead, then the Mustang pulled even. Around the corner came a pickup speeding in the opposite direction. I floored it, swerving ahead of the Mustang and avoiding a collision.

A moment later the truck was gone and the Mustang was beside me again, and we were roaring down Hat Six side-by-side. The driver wore a white cowboy hat. He hunkered down in the bucket seat. The Mach 1 engine rumbled. We jockeyed for the lead. Then, another truck, coming at us. This time I slowed down and fell behind.

Teenagers in hot cars have been coming out to Hat Six for generations. Maybe we’re a bit old for this. The driver of the Mustang happens to be 73 now, though he was once a Casper teenager. We pulled off onto a dirt road, got out of the cars, and faced each other. I moved a step closer. “Okay,” I said, “that’s enough of that, Mr. Vice-President.”

Former Vice President Dick Cheney
Former Vice President Dick Cheney

Documentary work. We were reliving the time back in the 1970s when a young former White House chief of staff from Casper drove around Wyoming in a leased Mustang running for Congress. It was fun, and a little weird: a guy who was not long ago one of the most powerful people in the world, no entourage in sight, gamely indulging us with risky behavior.

A documentary, like a book, begins with a question, not an answer. In this case, several questions, but perhaps the simple core of our inquiry is: Who is Dick Cheney? Which leads to many other questions, including: what part of him was forged by Wyoming?

The answers are still elusive, after much research and many interviews. Here’s what I wrote over a year ago, as this project was getting underway, and the producer was wondering what he’d gotten himself into:

August 8, 2013

The shadow of the Tetons was beginning to stretch across the Snake River toward Antelope Flats when I rode my bike into Dornan’s, the old family resort that sits above Grand Teton National Park headquarters at Moose. The restaurant was crowded so I went to the outdoor barbeque to get a plate of food.

“How you doing?” the young girl at the cash register asked, with an accent that sounded New Zealish.

“Tired,” I said.

“You should be, you’ve been riding your bike.” From a pullout near the Elk Refuge. Now, a bite to eat overlooking the Snake River plain, put the bike on the Toyota’s roof rack, head home to Lander.

“Not tired from biking – that was to wake me up. I’m tired from hours and hours of interviewing. For public television” – never miss a chance to plug – “I’m drained.”

Her playful response caught me by surprise: “You must be interviewing the President or something.”

What a set-up. “A Vice-President, actually. One of your neighbors up here.”

It was irresistible … and maybe a tad boastful. But it threw the easy, forgettable badinage off the tracks. She squinted at me, looking for a put-on, wondering about the “neighbor” thing. I grabbed a plate and moved on down the line.

So begins a project that will entail several in-depth interviews with former Vice-President Dick Cheney, now retired (and writing books) in Wyoming.

The V-P’s reputation as a man of few words is only one of numerous potential obstacles. He brings a lot of baggage from a career that spans Congress, the Department of Defense, the energy industry, and what many say is the most powerful Vice-Presidency in the nation’s history. There are, shall we say, a few critics out there – and they will turn their critical eyes on, as well, whatever Wyoming PBS produces in this documentary. (Take note, political wonks following a rather vexing U.S. Senate contest: no eyes will see this project until well after November 2014.)

For the moment, though, the only anxiety is an out-of-line brake on my front tire. It’s the end of another day at work, cycling out the anxieties. Peter Mallamo, second camera, was already on the road, driving through Yellowstone and home to Cody. Production Manager Kyle Nicholoff was heading back to Riverton with the Wyoming PBS van, and another shoot (taping the U.S. Secretaries of Interior and Education talking about Indian education at Central Wyoming College).

I was girding myself for the drive with ribs and salad, looking up at the darkening Grand and wondering if a few climbers might be getting a late start coming down. And reading the New York Times (you can actually get a print copy in Jackson)… a newspaper that struggled mightily to figure out Dick Cheney. Can we?

The girl at the cash register eyed me suspiciously.

For earlier posts please visit The Content Lab.
To learn more about The Content Lab, please visit this website. 

Geoffrey O’Gara is a writer and documentary producer based in Lander, Wyoming. He works for The Content Lab, LLC and serves on WyoFile's board of directors. His column, Weed Draw, is named for a remote...

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  1. “American students should learn where we as a nation have fallen short. But if they are to have a true understanding of past and present, it is crucial that they also know about what we have done well–very well, indeed.” From Lynne Cheney BOOK, Telling the Truth, Why our culture and country have stooped making sense, and what we can do about it., 1995

    Lynne’s husband did very well, by Halliburton, to the tune of vast millions. Dick and Liz Cheney are still playing their cards, as protectors of America.(reputedly). As a State Department honcho on Near Eastern Affairs, Liz Cheney had placed under her administration many millions. Did any in Wyoming have a clue what she did in her high D C positions, gratis of her Pa, DICk Cheney?
    Dick Cheney was not born in Wyoming, he has not spent most of his life in Wyoming.
    You can not blame it on Cheney’s mother, who played softball in Casper, for how weird he became after he was influenced by Donald Rumsfeld, the most arrogant man on earth, and worst Secretary of Defense in American history. Because Stan Hathaway once gave him a job in the State Capitol, (Wyo), as some clerk, that is not crucial as to what made Dick turn out to be so weird, after he went to the beltway. On the 5 draft exemptions of Cheney, are there any in Wyoming who recall, there used to be trains in Casper, that left for Denver, carrying young men to the draft induction center in Denver. The reason Dick turned out so weird is very much linked to Donald Rumsfeld. You have no trademarks or copy rights to hide that from America. Dick Cheney is really the man you do not know, he is like an Asian riddle to you, and you should just admit it.

    Jim Hagood

  2. There are thousands of Dick Cheneys in Wyoming: The don’t speak until spoken to, let only family close, will let you jabber until you are done then walk away if they count you a fool, they do not give a crap what you think, and will see you in Hell with a broken back if you cross them. I was raised with, and by, men like that, and I admire all those qualities even if I don’t like how they do things or how they think. Those people make bad enemies, but almost always make good neighbors. Lesson 1: Don’t think you are smarter than the man you are talking to. Lesson 1.1: Don’t stick your leg out of your outfit unless you were invited. Lesson 1.2: State your business, and be completely honest because there just might be a very smart dog lying right behind your driver’s door, and he is listening too. Lesson1.3: The women are often smarter, and tougher, than the man and the dog, taken together.

  3. Cheney’s rigidity about the correctness of the decisions he made, his daughter Liz’ career of standing on President Obama’s neck both before and after she jetted in to run a failed senate campaign that can only be called arrogant and inept, as well as their joint career of justifying the vice president’s actions in every venue they visit, may have provided employment for the family, if not a lifetime vocation, but the fact is that neither have contributed to any meaningful effort to get us out of the mess he and Bush so eagerly created, not to mention the financial crisis that administration perpetuated on the entire world–one from which many will never recover.

    What’s more, both ran with the pack to undermine President Obama’s performance and authenticity at every opportunity, and it’s pretty much accepted fact that the Republicans made a pact early on not to support this president. On anything.

    I look forward to this documentary. I hope it’s better than this article.

  4. Agree with your post Richard…too bad they didn’t swerve…I don’t see any insight into who Cheney is from this article, I must be missing something…I think he has shown who he is…no insight to be gleaned from this article or any other place…A draft dodger that has no problem sending others to die for money.

  5. Thinking about this, I kind of imagine Colin Powell at the wheel of the other vehicle, both racing toward a point in the distance — Iraq. Unfortunately, neither Powell nor Cheney swerved in time to avoid the wreckage that macho racing in the desert half a world away left to our country.