Bozeman Bits

In the Men’s room at The Cannery there is a mirror over the urinal. On the wall behind is a sign, positioned so it is right over your head in the mirror, that says. “ENOLA GNIVAEL ER’UOY REDNOW ON”

I spent my last evening at the Ale Works tonight. I invited Kristen out on the road with me, but she turned down the offer. Just as well; If I ditched Winnebaggo there would be room for her, but she didn’t look like the kind of girl to travel light. I could be wrong about that. I think she wanted to give me a hug when I said goodbye but I got all stiff and awkward before she could even think about it much.

Right now I’m back at John’s, and Sal is on a beer run. Sal is short for Salvatore Vaspolli, and he has a book out called Montana. It’s a photo book, and it’s funny now how many of the images on those pages made me say, “I tried to take that picture!” But the images he has captured are really friggin incredible. He drives around, trying to sell his posters to retailers, and scouting new photos.

What I really want to do is show him my shots, and get his critique. I want to learn from him. Instead I chipped in for the next beer run. He doesn’t want to see my amateur shit. John gave him the opening – “Jerry’s taken some really nice pictures.” Sal did not say “Really? Let’s see.” And seriously, can you blame him for that? The dude’s trying to relax and enjoy a ballgame.

Tomorrow I go. I’ve had a great time here, but the road is out there, a jilted lover jealous of my straying ways. Or staying ways. She wants me back. She calls to me with a whisper that no one else can hear, an enticing sound that promises that I am the only one. I will be the only one once I get out there. My seductive mistress is a fiction that comes from inside my own head, and her promises are emptiness. Sweet emptiness.

So tomorrow I return to the road, to the simplicity that implies, and to my life of solitude. I leave behind a place where I had become a regular, and perhaps even a borderline fly. I was a known stranger. I had not been around enough to lose my exotic veneer (telling a bartender that your bar crawl has gone over 6,000 miles gets you points), but long enough to allow my simple charms to begin to work. It’s a sweet spot that, like the perfect buzz, cannot be sustained. Eventually I have to move on. At this moment in Bozeman, I’m all promise, all potential. I can dance out now and leave a good aftertaste.

Independence Day

Bozeman sounds like a suburb of Baghdad this evening, with the reports of the fireworks echoing through the neighborhood. Big bangs, little pops, single and in bunches. There are bigger fireworks on the way – a thunder storm is heading this way. The air is chilling and the wind is freshening; the lights dim occasionally as lightning strikes in the distance. The thunder is getting closer and sharper.

And now the rain. The civilian fireworks continue, however, a testament to just how drunk some of the celebrants are. If you don’t catch pneumonia while looking for the fingers you blew off, the terrorists have won. They do love their explosions around here. The pops and bangs have been reverberating through the night with increasing frequency over the last few days. I guess you have to go to Wyoming to get the really good stuff.

It takes me back to when I was young and stupid, running around with many of you, with a downright silly amount of bottle rockets (thanks to Pat). Something like 19 gross. Shooting them up in the air got old pretty fast, so it wasn’t long before we were divided into teams, dashing between trees and shooting them at each other. It wasn’t nearly as dangerous as we hoped, unfortunately.

At one point we had a length of PVC to use as a launcher, and we were driving around in The Heap shooting rockets out the window. Good times, at least until someone in the back seat found himself with the exhaust end of the launcher pointed directly at his face. “Point it out!” he called, only to have the person holding the tube point the front end farther out, so the back end pointed even farther into the car. Who was that? Jess, maybe? My memory is getting fuzzy. Was it even The Heap? I think I was driving, but the more I think about it the less sure I am. It’s funny now how I can rearrange the people in the car and make a memory of it. Maybe I was holding the launcher tube. Maybe I was driving. Maybe I was in the back seat, next to whoever it was looking down the wrong end of the tube.

I’m losing my mind. Now I think I was holding the tube. Anyone have a better handle on that story? Did anyone notice where I left my brain?

The Crystal Bar

At the time of my departure chez John the poll consensus was to find another bar. Which sucks, because I haven’t found another bar in this town with the right combination of tables where I can set up my writing and being slow in the afternoons. Montana Ale Works is closed afternoons, or it would be the obvious choice. So, find another bar I must. A laptop on my back, I made my way into the light of day with a vague recollection of John mentioning a bar across the street from The Cannery. That would do nicely. Down Main Street I trundle, moseying along until I’m across from The Cannery.

I saw no bar. Most of you who know me are probably assuming the bar was right in front of me, and you’re probably right. Probably there was a giant flashing sign shouting “BAR! BAR! BAR!” but I didn’t see it. I continued. It was a few blocks before I saw the red neon in the shape of a cow skull that announced Crystal Bar. The neon in the window proclaimed that they had all the standard domestics on tap. Like there was any doubt. I crossed the street (safely, at the corner) and pushed into the bar.

It was exactly what you would expect from a bar identified with a red neon cow skull and a sign proclaiming this to be burger night. It was mid afternoon and the seats at the bar all appeared to be taken. There were a couple of pool tables lying idle and a few slot machines, but no tables where I felt good about pulling out the technology. The few tables were large and crowding the slots. There were peanuts on the bar, and shells on the linoleum floor.

At the end of the bar, near the burger cooking station, was one empty stool. There was an unfinished drink in front of it. I moved that way, since that’s where the standing space was. One woman at the bar turned to me and said, “She’ll be right back.” Presumably the ‘she’ was my new bartender. I bellied up to the bar. “Have a seat,” the woman said. “Is someone sitting here?” I asked. “No,” another patron said. “You are!” said someone else. Message from everyone: “You are welcome here.” I took the stool.

While I waited for my beer fulfillment, I looked around. Above was baseball – Cubs vs. Astros. I hate the stinkin’ Astros. It’s not about the team, it’s about their ridiculous stadium. Somebody in Texas needs to be slapped. But I digress. The TV was over the beer fridge, which was covered with the usual collection of bumper stickers and hand-written signs. Prominent among the signs was this gem, hand-lettered in red El Marko: WE DO NOT FUCKING SELL MIKES HARD LIME DOWNSTARIS!! PERIOD!! Yes, “fucking” was underlined twice.

Eventually my bartender returned. Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) was spitting acid and lighting fires with her eyes. She had been talking to her boss, and I guess it didn’t go to her satisfaction. I found myself in The Land of Disgruntled Employees ™. The woman sitting next to me, the one who had led the way in making me feel welcome, had recently quit the bar for the fourth time. She knew what to do. She bought Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) a shot. The next bartender, whose name is not Jersey, showed up early and was dragooned into covering for Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) for “a few minutes”. Not-Jersey graciously agreed to cover and then grumbled for the next half-hour while waiting for “a few minutes” to expire. She was grumbling to the burger-cooker, a pretty girl whose name was probably not Allison. Probably-not-Allison shared a general disgruntlement with Not-Jersey about some other person (We’ll call her Bill) who was supposed to be working but wasn’t. Or something like that.

Probably-not-Allison doesn’t like working with sauerkraut and wanted to know why she needed to scoop pickled cabbage from the big jar into a tupperware container. No one had an answer, but if she didn’t do it, she was going to “get a note.” There was general agreement that getting notes sucked. Eventually Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) returned and Not-Jersey ran off to change before her actual shift started.

So while I sipped a particularly unsatisfying Kokanee the staff and former staff had a long discussion about Bosses and the girl called (by us) Bill. The rest of the bar was pretty cheerful, right down to the drunk husband of the woman who had quit for the fourth time, who accosted a Korean tourist to get him to go fishing. Communication was tricky, since both parties were having difficulty with English, but it was good-natured. Eventually drunk-husband-of-four-time-quitter learned that the Korean tourist was traveling with three pretty girls. At that point drunk-husband-of-four-time-quitter was trying to get Korean Tourist and Harem of Korean Tourist to play pool. In the end, they just settled for a group portrait.

The final note on the Crystal Bar, John reports it’s the only place he’s even been where the bartender (reliable sources say her name is Madame Curie) didn’t know how to mix a margarita. Also, I moved on to Sierra Nevada and pulled through just fine.

Montana Highways

Bozeman’s a pretty cool town; it has all the stuff you need to be considered civilized, a significant percentage of the population is associated with the university in some capacity, so the (um, how to put this gently?) redneck influence is reduced, and it is small enough that it would be very easy to use a bicycle as one’s primary means of transportation. Plus, it’s got a couple of pretty nice bars.

Oscar John’s place isn’t that large, made to feel smaller because it is filled with toys. I’m not talking about nerf balls or action figures here, John’s toys are of the high-end sort. (Question: What do you do when you have too many CD’s for your jukebox? Answer: Buy another jukebox!) I expect that the computing power of his remote control far exceeds that of the Apollo spacecraft. He’s still tweaking some of the commands on it (you set up the commands on your computer then transfer them to the remote.) It is a gadget-lover’s wet dream, and John so surpasses my love of toys that is makes me look like a Quaker. (Although I did get some credit when he learned I was traveling with my own wireless network.)

I call it John’s place, but we stay here with the permission of Oscar, a cat, who is spry considering his twenty years.

Out for a cruise John’s favorite toy of all is parked outside, and we have been exploring the highways of Montana in it. It’s a Miata like mine, except he has added on a really nice sound system and some other go-fast parts. Also, there isn’t a giant suitcase in his passeger seat. That’s a big plus. So is the radar detector.

Buuilging Our first day out clouds covered the tops of the mountains, but it was still a great trip. I think, even after all these years, Lewis and Clark would still recognize it. The grass is probably shorter, and there are fences and buildings and cows instead of bison, and highways with cars hurtling along, and bridges over the rivers and railroad tracks and fly fishermen, and billboards and no Indians, but the sky is still Big, and the mountains are still majestic. The Missouri River is pretty much where they left it, though perhaps tamer.

The Indians that subsequently got kicked off the land may have a harder time recognizing it now, since they’re not on it.

As you can see from the picture above (That’s John driving, me in the passenger seat), the beard is getting pretty bushy. When I imagine my face I don’t have a big beard, so when I see pictures, especially with myself in profile, I see just how ugly it’s shaping up to be. I’m glad I didn’t drop the camera on that shot; at highway speeds that would have been the last of it. I have a few more pics that were good enough to not throw away, but most of them will be for the upcoming Yellowstone entry.