By: Nick Perkins

We’ve all wanted to be a superhero at some point in our lives. Maybe it was when we were kids, wearing a towel and our mom’s rubber gloves, jumping off couches and pretending to fly. Maybe it was the first time we did something that we knew, deep in our hearts, was the right thing to do.

Maybe it was any time we had to do something really hard. Maybe tragedy struck and we had to choose whether to let it destroy and define us, or to inspire and empower us.

Regardless of the when, we’ve all dreamed up being something more, of doing something better, of finding something within ourselves that we didn’t know was there.

That is the position that Billy Batson (played with shocking vulnerability by both Asher Angel and Zachary Levi) finds himself in Shazam, a 2019 superhero movie from New Line Cinema and DC Films.

Shazam tells the story of a young orphan named Billy, who was separated from his mother at a carnival and spent the next several years trying to track her down. Unfortunately for Billy, it’s hard to find somebody that doesn’t want to be found.

After running afoul of local police, Billy finds himself in a foster home, where he meets Freddy Freeman, a fellow foster child who knows everything there is to know about Batman, Superman and the rest of the DC crew. Billy initially dismisses Freddy and his fandom, but it would eventually come in handy.

After saving Freddy from a group of bullies, Billy finds himself on a subway train that is certainly not headed for 2nd and Main. Billy is transported into another realm, where he comes face to face with Shazam- an ancient magician with all the powers in the world. He deems Billy worthy or, at least, ‘worthy enough,’ to pass on his powers, as well as his name. All Billy needed to do was say the word: ‘Shazam.’

He does, and is instantly transformed from a meek-yet-feisty kid into a full-grown adult superhero. Not knowing what just happened, Billy-turned-Shazam seeks out Freddy, hoping his new friend will help guide him on this new path.

Shazam is a comic book/superhero movie, no doubt. But it’s more than just a guy in a cape beating up bad guys. It’s about finding your own self-worth, not being afraid to rely on others and finding the hero within one’s self. More than anything, Shazam is about family.

The word family means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For Billy, he thought family was about who gave birth to him. And he spent years trying to rebuild that family and each time he failed, he felt less and less worthy of love. But then he met Freddy, along with foster parents Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans). He met other foster children, like Mary Bromfield (played by Grace Fulton), Darla Dudley (played by Faithe Herman), Eugene Choi (played by Ian  Chen) and Pedro Pena (played by Jovan Armand). Eventually, Billy realized that family isn’t about birthright- it’s about being there when nobody else is. Family is about love, unconditional. It’s about being a hero to the people you love.

Billy Batson was chosen to be a superhero, not because of what he could be but because of what he was. Billy was always a hero; he just needed to find that out for himself. Once he did, he was ready to take on the world. He was ready to battle bad guys and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Billy learned a lot of lessons when he took up the mantle of Shazam. But perhaps the biggest lesson was ‘family is what you make it.’ Billy found his family, and he pledged to be there for them, whenever they needed him.

All they have to do, is say the word.

 

Shazam is now playing at the Fox Movie Theater in Downtown Casper. For show time listings, ticket prices and more, visit the WyoMovies Facebook Page

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By: Nick Perkins

She kept reiterating ‘customer service.’ Throughout our conversation, those were the two words we kept coming back to. It didn’t come across like a rehearsed, corporate PR line, either. Customer service is sincerely what Jennifer Trupp, General Manager of Urban Bottle Wine & Spirits, believes is the foundation of what she is trying to build.

It is, in fact, the foundation of what the entirety of Downtown Casper is trying to build, in all honesty. Every decision that is made, every brick that is laid, is done so with the desire to build a better downtown for the people of Casper.

Customer Service is the backbone of The District and, if one wants their business to be truly successful, they need to adhere to that idea as quickly as possible.

Luckily, while Trupp has only been the GM of Urban Bottle for a short time, it is already a mission statement that has been ingrained in her heart and on her mind.

Urban Bottle first opened its doors in December of 2016. In the short 3 years it has been open, Urban Bottle has proven itself to be a fixture of The District. Owners John and Lauren Griffith, along with their silent partners envisioned Urban Bottle as more than just another place to buy booze. Casper already has enough of those. What the owners of UB wanted was something that would remembered. They wanted their store to be an event, an experience. They wanted Urban Bottle to be, in their words, a “liquor store love story.”

Fast forward 3 years and that’s exactly what it has become. Urban Bottle has grown from a boutique liquor store into one of the biggest, most consistent highlights of The District and at the forefront (or storefront, as it were) of it all is Jennifer Trupp.

“I think the vision of Urban Bottle really is to see downtown thrive and to be another focal point of The District,” Trupp said. “I want it to be a place where people can just stop in, grab a bottle of wine, share it together and then be on their way to check out other places downtown.”

As a Wyoming-native with a background in marketing and sales, Trupp knows that the most important aspect of any business is, without question, customer service. The owners of Urban Bottle share that idea, and that is one of the reasons that they hired Trupp as their proverbial “face of the business.”

“The customer service side of this business was very intriguing to me,” she stated. “I think that there’s a need for that in this environment. If you look at what Urban Bottle has to offer, especially in the community and in the downtown area, the customer service side of what we have back here is so unknown.”

While Urban Bottle was originally just a liquor store that occasionally hosted wine-tastings and jazz trios, it has since grown into an operation that features tastings, concerts, catering opportunities, partnerships with other local businesses and more. On a weekly basis, customers are invited to partake in wine tastings, as well as beer and cocktail tastings. Urban Bottle has a fully-functional bar, keg and tap and Trupp encourages passersby to stop in for a drink and actually stay for a while.

“If you ask people, ‘hey, what do you know about Urban Bottle?’ they don’t realize that you can open up a bottle of wine, or that there are kegs back here, or wine on tap, cocktails on tap and more,” Trupp boasted.

Any establishment that features wine on tap is sure to be a head-turner, and that’s exactly what Urban Bottle has become. But it isn’t just their product that sets Urban Bottle apart. It is also, stick with us here, their customer service.

“When people come in, we want to make it a full experience,” Trupp reiterated. “We don’t want people to just buy their beer and leave. So we ask ourselves, ‘how do we become more knowledgeable?’ That’s why we hold wine tastings. Because the more knowledgeable we are- even not just me as the General Manager, but the employees too- the more knowledgeable we are, the better we can help our customers.”

It’s not just the relationships with customers that Trupp and her team want to continue to develop, either. They also understand how pivotal it is to build relationships with other businesses in The District.

“We’re always partnering with everyone around us,” she said. “It’s not a competition with everybody else; it’s a partnership. And that’s what makes a great downtown.”

In just 3 short years, Urban Bottle has partnered with businesses like ART 321, Racca’s Pizzeria, Grant Street Grocery, Backwards Distilling Company and more. Trupp knows that the more local businesses partner and work together, the better it is for all parties involved, especially the customers.

Almost every business owner in Downtown Casper has stated that they want The District to become a destination for tourists and locals alike. They’ve said that they want Casper to be viewed as on-par with bigger cities in neighboring Fort Collins or South Dakota. Trupp is no different.

“I would like to see [downtown] as another form of Fort Collins,” she said. “I would like to see the city pass the idea of having a veranda out here so that people would be able to have a glass of wine outside on the sidewalk. That’s how it should be. I would like to see downtown full of people just walking around, shopping and enjoying their surroundings. That’s how it should be.”

That is how it should be. And it’s what it could be, as well. So many people in Downtown Casper are passionate about their business, about their city and about their people. Urban Bottle is but one of the many stories that are being written in The District. But this one is a different kind of story. It’s a love story, actually. And it’s that love for their city, their downtown and, most importantly, their customers that will determine Urban Bottle’s success moving forward. Luckily, for the owners, for the customers and for the store itself, it seems to be in good hands.

 

Urban Bottle is located at 410 S. Ash Street in Casper, WY 82601. They are open Monday-Saturday, 10am-10pm and Sunday, 11am-4pm. For more information, visit their website, check out their Facebook Page or give them a call at 307-333-6424.

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By: Nick Perkins

“What have I become, my sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away in the end
And you could have it all; my empire of dirt
I will let you down; I will make you hurt”
– Johnny Cash

 

 

“I came in alone; that’s how I’ll leave
I lost a lot of blood, but there’s enough still left to bleed
A tentative angel; that’s why my wings are singed
I don’t need forgiveness now and I don’t want to be avenged.”
– Thomas Gabriel

 

Photo Credit: Diane Sterk

The fact that he could dream at all while sleeping on the cold, hard, unforgiving cot in his 7×12’ cell was astonishing enough. Even more astonishing was how real that dream felt. In fact, in the early hours of the morning, before the lights were turned on, before the shouting started, before he shook away the grogginess to face they day before him, he wasn’t sure if it was a dream or a memory.

In the dream/memory, his grandfather called him on the telephone.

“You can’t do this forever,” he said.

“I know,” the man replied.

“So what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about you?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Well,” his grandfather said, “I want you to come over and talk to me. There’s something that I need to say and you need to hear.”

But before he could get there, before he could see his grandfather a final time, he started to wake up.

“No, no, no,” he pleaded. “Let me stay just a little bit longer.”

But he couldn’t, not this time anyway. The dream ended, his reality came rushing back to him and he woke up in his cell, alone.

Thomas Gabriel knows all about prisons. As a former police officer and an ex-con, Gabriel has been on both sides of the bars. More than that, though, for years Thomas was a prisoner of his own mind and his own heart.

And who could blame him? As the grandson of the legendary Johnny Cash, Gabriel has had to live up to other people’s expectations his whole life. Often, he failed to meet those expectations, like most of us are wont to do. But most of us don’t have a grandfather whom people refer to as “The Man in Black.” Most of us don’t have a legacy to live up to. Most of us aren’t born into a family dynasty, predicated on a proverbial ‘Ring of Fire.’ Gabriel has spent his life dancing through the flames of his family name. Sometimes he got burned. Other times, he burned somebody else. All too often, his life went up in smoke. But he never stopped fighting for it.

Gabriel is a fighter. He has been his whole life. But it was a different kind of battle, the battle within, that he spent years fighting and almost lost. Except, he didn’t lose.  He survived. He kept fighting. When ‘The Man’ came around, Gabriel told him to go back from whence he came. He’s stubborn, that’s all. Just like his grandfather was.

Gabriel shares many similarities with his late grandfather, including his singing voice. When Thomas Gabriel sings, if you close your eyes at just the right moment, you’d swear the year was 1965 and Cash himself had just taken the stage. But it was not just a similar voice and a rebel yell that he shared with his grandfather. Gabriel, like Johnny before him, was also a tortured soul who used his music as an escape, when the drugs would no longer suffice.

When Gabriel was a teenager, he got involved with a variety of narcotics. It wasn’t his first love, but it was certainly his only love for many years. Music always had a place in Gabriel’s head and heart, but it took a backseat to addiction.

“From the age of 11 to 18 or 19, I played [guitar] quite a bit,” Gabriel said. “I was in some bands, but after that, I got into police work. Then I went to prison and whatever else and I didn’t see a guitar for a long time.”

The prison sentence came after a string of assault charges. Gabriel makes no excuses for his behavior, but does note that his drug-use had also gotten out of control.

“I was a police officer and I had gotten to a point where morality had gone out the window and I was basically just callous to a bunch of things,” Gabriel stated. “I was a violent person. I had a drinking problem. I had a drug problem. I was a cop driving around, taking amphetamines at night to try and stay awake and, during the day, I was taking pills to try and go to sleep.”

He continued, stating that he “got to the point where it was just out of control. Mentally, emotionally, I was a wreck, just completely bankrupt.”

It got so bad that Gabriel had planned to seclude himself in a Motel 6 with his sweetest friends- drugs, alcohol, his motorcycles and a broken heart. There, he would wait for a pale horse to take him away, into the unknown.

But then, something happened.

“Out of nowhere, the phone rings” he remembered. “Not my cell phone. The phone in my room. I thought it was probably the guy at the front desk telling me to get my bike out of the room. But it was my mom. She said ‘there’s a man that wants to talk to you.’”

Gabriel admitted that when certain people found out he was Johnny Cash’s grandson, they would try to take advantage of him. They would come into his life, with their hands out, asking for anything that he could give. That’s how it usually was when strangers reached out to Thomas.

But this time was different. Somebody was definitely sticking out their hand, but, this time, it was for Gabriel to grab a hold of.

“My mom ended up calling back and saying the same thing and I hung up on her again,” he said. “Then, an hour or two goes by and the phone rings again and it’s this guy.”

That guy was a man named Brian Oxley, a fan of Johnny Cash’s music who recently purchased Cash’s former farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee. Oxley had been researching Cash and his family and he read that Gabriel was struggling, so he reached out.

“All he said was ‘Hi, this is Brian. I think you’re going to die,’” Gabriel remembered. “That got my attention real quick. He told me that all he wanted to do was meet up and talk. So we did.

During the course of that conversation, Oxley asked if Gabriel would go to a rehab clinic, if he were to send him.

“What Brian didn’t know,” Gabriel said, “was that I’d already been [to rehab], 21 times. But I thought, a month to dry out, eat a bunch of food, hang out and not have any responsibilities once again? Sure, I’ll do that. So I agreed to go. He paid for it and sent me there.”

It was anything but a vacation, however.

During his 22nd stint in a rehab clinic, Gabriel began facing all of the issues and emotions he had spent so long trying to bury. Still, those feelings are tough to face head-on, which is why self-medicating is such a prevalent solution for many people.

“About a week before I got out, I made up my mind that once I left I was going to do what I usually do,” he admitted.  “But then Brian talked to me again and said ‘I’d like you to try something else, more of a long-term thing.’

I fought him hard on that. But I ended up going. And I ended up not only going, but also working there. I became a counselor and did that for a while before coming back to the music thing.”

Gabriel was good at his job as a counselor. Most recovering addicts are, because they know how hard the battle to save one’s self really is. But it wasn’t his calling, it wasn’t his passion, it wasn’t his song.

Photo Credit: Steve Sutton

It was always going to be music. From the time he was a kid, he displayed talent. He had been singing, as he put it, “since day one.” In 1995, he even recorded an EP in his grandfather’s studio.

“I took it to him and apparently he thought it was good too, but he told me to stop,” Gabriel said. “He wanted me to become a cop. It was his idea, not mine. I would have never made that decision on my own. I was the one who was always getting into trouble. But he did say, ‘come back to it.’”

Thomas Gabriel finally did come back to it. Three years ago, Gabriel started singing, writing and touring. In doing so, he realized that his voice sounded “eerily similar” to that of his grandfather’s. It would have been easy to get by and make a few bucks as “the grandson of Johnny Cash.” But that’s not what Gabriel wanted. He wanted to make his own name and share his own story. In fact, Gabriel only plays a handful of his grandfather’s songs and it’s not definitely not for monetary purposes.

“There are two reasons why I do his songs,” he detailed. “One, it makes me closer to him. It really does. I feel closer to him now than I did when he was alive. [The second reason is because] people miss him. I miss him. It just so happens that I have a similar voice so I’m able to keep his voice alive. I don’t do it to walk in his footsteps, because I never could. Nobody could. He was an old soul- very wise and an extremely deep person.”

Gabriel doesn’t give himself enough credit. He, too, is an old soul. He’s less interested in being a “rock star” and more interested in connecting with people.

He prefers to play smaller stages, like the one at The Gaslight Social. Gabriel played a show there on Friday, May 2nd 2019 and audiences expecting merely “a good time” were given something completely different.

“I have no interest in entertaining,” Gabriel admitted. “What I have an interest in is getting a message across, whether it’s to one person or five people. I want the audience to say ‘I can relate to that.’ I have guys that just got out of prison, or that are strung out or whatever and they say ‘that touched me.’ That makes everything worth it. That’s what I want to portray. That’s what I want to get across. I want it to be real, which is why I don’t put up a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

Gabriel had been living a life of smoke and mirrors for years. But the smoke was starting to fade and he was finally able to actually start looking at himself in those mirrors, long-thought broken.

Now, his reflection doesn’t make him wince. He sees the man he has become and he’s proud of the man he continues to be. He knows he couldn’t have made it, but for the grace of God and his family.

That grace led him to a stage that held an especially sacred place in his heart, Folsom Prison. It was there that his grandfather recorded his infamous ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ record. It was recorded live, in front of the inmates of Folsom State Prison in Represa, California.

50 years later, Gabriel himself performed for the inmates. While playing some of his own songs, as well as those of his grandfather’s, Gabriel reflected on his life behind those very same bars. The location was different, but it always looked the same. Thomas Gabriel isolated himself for much of his life but now he lives for connection. And he felt no greater connection, perhaps, than when he was playing the same ‘stage’ that his grandfather did, all those years ago.

“I love connection,” Gabriel said. “Every show we’ve got, we make a connection. I’ve made more friends on these tours than I’ve ever had in my life. Coming from a 7×12’ cell, where nobody even knew I was alive, to being able to travel around the country and connect with people, it’s amazing. I feel like I’m picking up where, at one point, I left off.”

“I’m doing what I should have been doing the whole time.”

 

After playing the legendary Folsom State Prison stage, Thomas Gabriel was exhausted. When he got back to the hotel, a hotel not unlike the one he had almost ended his life in, Gabriel collapsed onto his bed and fell asleep almost instantly. And, after countless nights of trying, he finally came face-to-face, one last time, with his grandfather.

“There’s something I need to say and you need to hear,” Johnny Cash told his grandson.

Thomas glanced up at his grandfather, relieved that he could finally look him in the eyes.

“I made a lot of mistakes in my life, son,” Johnny started. “And one day, I’ll have to atone for that. I just hope that maybe my music, my story, my songs did a little bit of good for the people who heard them. But in the end, the greatest thing I ever did was create this family. You, your mama, your sisters, June, all of you…you’re the greatest song I ever wrote. Now, go out there, and write something better.”  

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By: Nick Perkins

It was a rainy Thursday on May 2nd, 2019. While clouds were teeming with precipitation, various crowds in The District were shivering with anticipation. That’s because Thursday was the first Casper Art Walk of the 2019 season and, boy, did it deliver.

Crowds gathered all across Downtown Casper, taking in everything The District had to offer.

Whether it was a restaurant, a bar or The Science Zone, all of the best businesses in Downtown Casper came together to start the 2019 Art Walk Season off right.

Local musicians performed at businesses like Urban Bottle, restaurants like Racca’s and coffee shops like Metro. Urban Bottle hosted the Ron Coulter Trio, who served up solid jazz licks while patrons sampled various types of on-tap wine, beers and cocktails.

Quinlan Valdez brought his talents to Racca’s Pizzeria, while Sean Peverly rocked Metro with some acoustic tunes to accompany the incredible hot and cold drinks Metro serves up on a daily basis.

ART 321, one of the sponsors of The Art Walk,  started the season in Scottish style, hosting their May Exhibit and featuring bag pipes! If you’ve never heard bagpipes before, or even if you have, this was a sight and a sound to behold. Other sights to behold at ART 321 included a watercolor show and a collection of flower-themed art pieces. ART 321 is also “paving the way” (heh) for the Keep Casper Beautiful Art Project- an endeavor designed to use art as a way to promote a greener Casper.

The Office Bar & Grill, one of The District’s major sponsor’s, had a bevy of beverages and entertainment and the used the Art Walk as a platform to promote Singo Bingo, one of the most fun, immersive games that can be found in The District.

 

The Gaslight Social hosted a WyoGenerosity auction that certainly brought in a crowd that wanted to have a good time for a good cause.

All of these things and more took place during The Art Walk, despite the gloominess of Mother Nature. While this was the official start of Art Walk season, there are no doubts that once June hits, the sun will be out; as will even more people who want to experience all that The District has to offer. The May Art Walk was a blast but it’s safe to say one thing:

The best is yet to come.

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