Montana, You Crazy

Montana, You Crazy

Montana is the state I was most excited to visit after Alaska. Fly fishing … mountains … glaciers … the state has everything! But it wasn’t what I expected, but it’s exactly what I should have expected.

Gopher hunting: Montana Official State Pastime.
Gopher hunting: Montana Official State Pastime.

The first clue was the Inside Bozeman magazine we grabbed in Gardiner, MT. Most of the articles were interesting, but one advised readers to look no further than gopher hunting if they were searching for some good, wholesome recreation. Gopher hunting, with a .22 or a slingshot or a blowgun. Presumably because the last issue was about what fun it is to shoot coyotes, their predators. The article closed with a recommendation to ask landowners permission before blasting away at every gopher you happen to see. Good call – ask permission before discharging a firearm on somebody’s property and killing the wildlife living there, somebody that also probably owns guns and is versed in whatever stand-your-ground law they have in place here.

Then, on our first night camping in the state, the campground host tells me why Chicago has so much crime – its gun laws. Not enough people own guns in Chicago. Oh, really? I don’t think the guy had ever been within 500 miles of Chicago – probably gets his news from the NRA Times. “Yep,” he told me, “everybody out here has three or four guns.” Which is why there’s so little crime he explained. Forget the fact that nobody has anything worth stealing outside of their guns. Forget the fact that towns contain a few dozen families, all a bit interrelated, so committing a crime would likely result in robbing a second cousin. And forget the statistics that say Montana has essentially the same rate of property crime as Illinois (IL does has more frequent violent crime). Whatever, dude. Enjoy stroking your blued barrels. We say something about wanting to move west. “I would,” the man that’s never been to Chicago says. Thanks for the endorsement.

Finally, while passing through Hot Springs, MT, we stopped for gas at a gas station / casino / deli / absolute fucking train wreck. I should admit that I don’t know what the deal is with casinos here – they’re like coffee shops and they’re everywhere in Montana. I tried to go to the bathroom – it was not yet 11AM and we’d been driving for a while. There was a drunk taking a piss without the door locked, so I ended up barging right in on him. I had an excuse — he was wearing a camouflage jacket so I didn’t see him. He was speech-slurring drunk, wobbly-walk drunk. Probably pissing all over the toilet drunk. Before lunch. I browsed the aisles and killed some time. Somebody that referred to him as ‘brother’ eventually pulled him out … probably put little ‘him’ away too. So I let some time pass, then tried the door again. Two four-year-old kids taking a piss together looked up at me as I again barged into the bathroom that apparently has a lock that nobody wants to use. I learned my lesson – I wasn’t going to pee there. I grabbed Lisa and we sped out-of-town.

And, as if on cue, as I’m writing this at our campsite a car stops, backs up, reverses. The driver exits. I get up to talk to him and see what’s going on and maybe get a bullet in the chest. We’d found a blown-over tent near the river and I figured the guy was coming to retrieve it. That or shoot us.

“We couldn’t see your license plate – thought it was Missouri,” he says. His buddy rolls down his window. They ask where we’re from. I say Chicago.

“Oh, Chicago. You’re from a BIG city!”

Indeed. I really don’t know what to say to these guys. I ask where they are from.

“Oh, we’re from around here. We’re just cruising around, drinking some beers.”

“I had a buddy from Chicago in college!” the other one says. “Used to sing ‘Chicago is my kinda town‘ while walking along the halls.”

I should add that these guys are maybe 80 years old. I think one was wearing a WWII hat, could have been WWI. Old men. Just cruising. Montana!

But I get a kick out of them. We chat for a little while, shoot the shit. Maybe this state isn’t so bad. Cruising around, drinking some beers, I guess I can understand that.

Anyway, Montana wasn’t what I expected. I was expecting Colorado, a more mountainous Vermont, but Lisa put it best when she described it as Northern New Mexico. It’s a bit weird here.