Well. We thought we would take advantage of low fuel prices and not-lethal road conditions to take a Montana trip this past weekend. See some people. Visit some places.
We had a sunny day walking in downtown Bozeman. Of course, we stopped in the toy store and purchased our own dinosaur that emerges from an erupting volcano (we bought my friend’s 3 year-old the same gift last week). We really wanted one. We stumbled upon (okay, we clearly saw it on mainstreet) a distillery and I drank a particularly strong apple cider whiskey drink. Then we went with Ryan’s cousin to the Museum of the Rockies, which is the best museum in the history of ever because it has dinosaurs. One of our favorites is B-Rex and medullary tissue and how medullary tissue is found in female birds and the relationship between birds and dinosaurs! I realize that is a ridiculous sentence, but I imagine that is how I would speak about dinosaurs in a 9 year-old voice. And let’s be honest…all that information really is amazing.
(That is Ryan. Angrily fighting dinosaurs in protest of the “up to age 8” rule).
(Alex and Ryan inspect the bones).
After dinosaurs, we chilled out for a bit in a dollhouse (owned by my friend Drew). Drew and her significant other were not home, but hid us a key and it was all so quaint with the fireplace. We read for a while, hid the key again (so as not to lose it) and went out to dinner with friends. When we returned (careful not to break a hip on the sheer ice sidewalk), I flipped over the container that the key was under. Not there. I panicked for a second before realizing the key was just stuck underneath. Before I could grab it, the key unstuck itself and slid through the tiny porch cracks. Great. Now it was dark and icy and I had to crawl under the porch. Nope. The porch was contained with boards all the way around. There was only a small hole, and the key was far away from that opening. I removed a pink flamingo’s legs (a lawn ornament in case you are concerned), but they were not long enough. We figured the only way to retrieve the key was to take apart Drew’s entire porch…The key was officially gone.
Plan B. We could tell one of the windows was not latched from the inside. Ryan pryed apart the outside window pane with an ice scraper and he pushed up the inside pane. We stared at each other awkwardly as the neighbor’s porch light flicked on and Saturday night folks walked past on the road. We waited for no people and I crawled in (limbo style) to the bathtub. Right. So then Ryan couldn’t get the outside pane back in and we decided to leave that for the morning. We waited for about 30 minutes until we were sure (or optimistic) that the cops were not, in fact, going to show up.
The next AM it took about 20 minutes to replaced the outside pane and a guy with a soul patch on a bike commented that “this looks like some suspicious activity.” We left wine and a sympathy card for Drew and got out of the neighborhood before anyone else came questioning.
Then we drove to Billings through “gusty crosswinds” (no joke). Spent a lovely day with Ryan’s grandparents (I love grandparents). We ended the evening by playing “Uncle Wiggly” which is this fabulous 60s/darker-than-Candyland game with rhyming cards. Spent the next morning with a good friend (very pregnant) walking around on more ice in the sunshine (which is probably not safe, especially if you are very pregnant). We gave her toddlers dinosaur tattoos, but they were temporary so she did not mind. (I think).
Then we got off to an “early start” in the afternoon so I could get back for a work thing the next day. Right.
We were just driving along and listening to a Snap Judgement podcast when all of a sudden the engine started to rev. Ryan slowed down and figured the transmission went out…so the (usually loyal) Subaru was only able to struggle along in second gear max. It also made a grating, scratching sound as we crawled along at 30 mph on the highway. Of course, being in Montana, we also happened to be in the middle of fucking nowhere. We turned on the hazard lights and made it to a town that I will not name. I will not name the town because it is now on my shit list. I really, really needed to pee and the bathroom was “out of order.” The store employee/owner/likely the mayor of the town did not offer any solutions to that problem. We also asked to use the phone and he stared at us like outlaws. We explained our situation and he responded, “Ain’t you got a phone?” Well, of course. But since we were in the middle of fucking nowhere…there was obviously no service. He obliged with a heavy sigh.
Ryan contacted his step-dad (a mechanic) and figured out logistics. We scratched along to another small town (although bigger and friendlier than the last). It took an hour. I finally found a place to pee. Usually you can pull over to the side of the road and find bushes, but this middle of nowhere did not seem to even have trees.
(Tense change). Because I can.
After cruising the small drag of the small town, we find a bar. Small towns are reliable like that. It ain’t a town if it doesn’t have a bar (and maybe a post office). I call work to report the car trouble. I always think “car trouble” sounds suspect for a “fake” “sick” call. I try to be specific about the transmission so I sound more legit.
Everyone stares when you walk in the door of a bar in a small town. “You ain’t from around here.” I really want herbal tea, but the bartender looks like she might smack me in the mouth if I ask for tea. Ryan asks what beer is on tap. No tap beer. Budweiser. (Seriously. Forget the fucking tea). Gin and tonic is always a safe bet, so we order that. We also order fried-whatever on the menu. She offers “lettuce” on a fish sandwich, but I figure the lettuce cannot be trusted. I rarely trust uncooked bar vegetables.
The place has a stained ceiling with missing ceiling panels. There are TVs set up for races and betting. Before the smoking ban, I’m sure this place was unbearable. There is a row of bearded guys wearing plaid shirts (not hipsters) and mud boots. There is a woman in the corner seat with a camo hat. She appears to be waiting for someone. At first I notice that there are no animal heads or pelts (common in small town bars), but there are some little plastic animal heads on closer inspection. One of the working guys has a smartphone. It looks especially out of place here.
Ryan points toward an ugly gray sweater balled up on the end of the bar. It is balled up inside half a pizza box. We realize this is a cat. The cat is curled in the pizza box and has an old work glove as a pillow. It is near a space heater, but the space heater is not plugged in. I ask permission to pet the thing. The guy at the bar tells me “She is 192 years-old.” She stinks. My fingers touch rough patches as I pet her choppy fur. She squeals as a meow. She stares at the space heater for a while, willing it to turn on. A cat of my own heart. Then she gives up and curls back into her pizza box.
(Weirdly enough, this is not my first bar-cat encounter. The last bar-cat I met was at Charlie’s in Babb. Maybe bar-cats are popular).
We end up spending at least 3 hours at this bar before Ryan’s stepdad is able to come get us after work. Our breaking point occurs when the music playing ends up being pop-country and Nickelback. Then we are less “this is an adventure!” and more “please get us out of here.”
At least it isn’t snowing. At least we are not 300 miles away. In the end it takes us about 10 hours to get from Billings, MT to Helena, MT (usually a 3.5 hour-ish drive/weather dependent).
We sleep for a long time.
Then we go home.
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