I have two homes. One is Seattle, which I am hopelessly in love with. Even when I bitch because it’s too hot too cold too gray too wet too liberal and too crowded. My other home is less obvious, the one I’ll only tell you about if I like you. People’s preconceived notions of the place have made me realize that not everyone feels the same way I do.
Montana seems like an unlikely choice. Or maybe not, most people I tell have never been, “but would love to go.” I think it’s the romanticized version of the place that they got from A River Runs Through It. There’s definitely that part to it, but there is so much more. Every time I go, my eyes are opened to the little things that make Montana an amazing place. People like to think that it’s a little backwater state where everyone carries guns and wears cowboy boots. Those people are sort of right, but it’s like saying all Seattleites listen to NPR and drive VW’s. It’s only part of the story; and not the most important part.
Over my life I’ve made no less than twelve trips out to Montana, I’ve actually lost count. The very first time I went, I “drank the kool-aid”. I even considered transferring to Montana State University, I loved it that much. Driving through the state from Seattle on our way to Bozeman I was like a kid, my nose pressed to the car window, staring at the scenery as it passed. Seeing something you’ve never seen for the first time is bound to make an impression. Up to that point my trips had been mostly urban: London, Paris and San Francisco were my top visits. But as we drove across the vast state, through valleys and mountains with a sky even bigger than they say, I couldn’t help but get lost in the vastness of it.
But that’s only half of Montana’s charm. Beyond the mind blowing natural beauty, is that of the people I’ve met from my repeated trips there. Nowhere else have I been where people come up and want to know why they don’t know you. Not because they’re busybodies, but because they’re genuinely concerned that somehow they’ve failed to become friends with you. Never mind the fact you’ve only been there 15 minutes, and 5 of those have been in line for the bathroom.
One of my favorite examples of how amazing the people are, is from my second trip there. We had driven to Butte, for St Patrick’s Day; and as three college kids we were STOKED. Apparently this was the place to be if you couldn’t make it to Boston, and we were ready to take the town by storm. Storm it we did, we dropped off our stuff at the hotel and hit the streets. Uptown is closed to car traffic, people wandered the streets with open containers, kegs chained to dollies, and more Montana style food carts than you could dream of. (Montana meaning potato and apple sausages and meat pasties, yum!) It was amazing. Sometime during the day, we stopped to take a bathroom break and hit the port-a-potties. Shortly after, I realized I lost my wallet. IN the port-a-potty. There was nowhere else it could be. I was screwed, it was the beginning of our road trip and that wallet had nearly everything in it, save my ID. Naturally, it ruined my night, I had no cash, and even though my friends were more than willing to pay for my cover and drinks, it took the wind out of my sails, and I called it a night fairly early.
The next morning, I woke up to a missed call, and listening to the message I COULD NOT believe what I heard. The woman was from the company who owned the port-a-potties, and this morning they had picked up the toilets, and found my wallet. It had fallen into a small crack at the bottom of the floor, and landed on the ground underneath. She’d grabbed it, and using my student id, looked me up on the student directory, found my number and called. When I called her back, she decided to bring my wallet TO ME. She wouldn’t hear of me coming to find her, wouldn’t take a reward and was just happy she could help. I still, to this day can’t believe how out of her way she went to make sure I got my wallet back. That act of kindness made me realize how lucky we are to have places like that that still exist. People that still value a golden sort of rule and have a kind word or smile for a stranger. It’s a lost commodity in today’s society and that I think that’s part of the reason why I identify so strongly with Montana. We need that positive influence to help keep us afloat in a world of snark and cynicism.
Over the subsequent trips back, my feelings have only solidified about Montana. Going back and forth as many times as I have has afforded me the opportunity to observe what the place is really like. Like anything, you take the good with the bad. But every time I go, I can’t help but leave a little bit more of myself there.