Monday, February 15, 2016

Mermaid Strike

Of all sad words heard from some bum, the saddest are these, "What might have swum." Photo by Rob
After a day in Hanford and Spokane that was both eventful and fraught, Rob, Watson, and I followed up with what I think was a classic Byways day. First things first, off to Frank's Diner for ice grapefruit juice, then scrambled eggs and link sausage! Actually, I think there was more corned beef hash and pie than was good for any of us, but heavens it was all tasty. Frank's is an top-notch exemplar of the train-car-diner genre—right up there with the Silver Palm and quite possibly better than Mickey's. Yeah, I said it.

Frank's Diner, outside...
...and in. Photo by Rob
From there we drove through the Coeur d'Alene and Lolo National Forests, heading back into the Mountain Time Zone. We detoured across the Flathead Reservation to visit the Garden of a Thousand Buddhas, which was more serene that the now-demolished Garden of a Thousand Stone-Face Killas (I think I have that right) outside Houston. This was such a lovely, quiet place, I wouldn't rule out coming back as a volunteer. Decades ago, I was considering spending a summer vacation at a Buddhist retreat in upstate New York. I don't remember why I didn't go through with it. Possibly because I had different existential crisis around that time. Anyway, places like this make me aware of time, space, and mortality, and not in a bad way. All things must pass.

photo by Rob
A few of the thousands
I've seen it raining fire in the sky.
And, indeed, our time at the Garden had to pass as well. We headed into Missoula, where on the recommendation of locals we sought out Charlie B's, said to be one of the great dive bars in America. I think it was a little too clean for that, but it was a great bar nonetheless. We sampled some Big Sky beers and ordered up more or less Cajun food from the Dinosaur Cafe, which is stuffed into the back of the bar. We met up briefly with our vacationing Chicago friend the Viper, who was to join us, along with his extended relations, at the Osprey / Rockies game that evening, to which we soon repaired. (Why is that verb used that way? Were we broken before? Perhaps not yet, but had we stayed at Charlie B's the entire night, surely we would have been.)

C'mon, people, they're working. Photo by Rob
We were also joined by Watson's old college pal The Painter, who lives in Missoula, so we had quite a posse rolling into the Osprey stadium, which sits just off the south bank of the Clark Fork River, across from downtown. As everyone will tell you, it has an actual osprey nest beyond the outfield wall. Which is pretty cool.

A momentary pause in the osprey action
The game was congenial, the weather was cooperative, and we were lightly buzzed by both Buddhism and beer. What more do you want from an outing like this? Oh, you want to catch a foul ball? Done!
The Viper strikes! (Please don't tell him it was tossed by a coach and was intended for a kid. He's still a kid at heart, doesn't that count?)
Afterward, the Painter suggested we return to Charlie B's, and we saw no reason to object. Here's a look at a number of the regulars there, immortalized on the walls in all their... glory?

Photo by Rob
The next morning saw us at The Shack for another high-quality breakfast. (Try the trout.) Then we were off to a tour of the Missoula Smokejumpers Base, which was much in the news at the time—indeed, there were few smokejumpers to be seen, since they were all out jumping into smoke.

Parachute gear in repose. Photo by Rob
In case it's not clear from the term alone, smokejumping is some crazy shit. These are the guys who hurl themselves out of airplanes and into the wilderness with huge packs of equipment, hiking dozens of miles to dig trenches and otherwise try to control wildfires. There's a letter in the visitors center from some federal official or another saying, in essence, "Don't blame me for anything that happens out here—these guys are crazy." But they're manifestly brave, and they do incredible, difficult work that they seem to love. Your tax dollars truly at work! We learned a lot from the tour, which was led by a woman whose husband was out in the field as she spoke. In fact, it might have been the best federal tour we've ever been on.

"Evening jump on the Perry Canyon Fire"
by mlanthony7 via Instagram
You can read a good book or two about these guys, if you want.

"The Castle Fire erupts and all resources retreat..."
by benouthere via Instagram
From Missoula we went on to Great Falls, for a visit to the Paris Gibson Square Museum, home of various tree people:

Self-portrait by Rob
And then a first-rate Montana steakhouse dinner at the Bar-S Lounge and Supper Club, which was recommended by a onetime local of Watson's long acquaintance—how does she know so many Montanans? There was a baseball game, too, with the Great Falls Voyagers hosting the Orem Owlz. Is there a team name in baseball that is aging worse than the echt '90s Owlz?

Again with the net. Enough!
So, a good day, right? Right? WRONG!!!!!!! Sadly, we were denied the pleasure of one of the principal highlights of Great Falls: the mermaids of the Sip N Dip Lounge, upstairs in the O'Haire Motor Lodge. (Wow, just typing that I get chills at the possibilities—though really, how do you live up to the hype?) We stayed at the Inn specifically for proximity to the tiki bar at which said mermaids regularly cavort in an enormous tank behind the bar. Yet as we checked in that afternoon, we were warned that one mermaid was sick, and another had run off to get married—whether to a man or a fish was unclear. That evening, after the baseball game, our worst fears were realized: there were no substitute mermaids to be found. I blame the Chicago White Sox, parent club of the Voyagers, which clearly hasn't invested in developing more mermaid talent at the lower levels of the organization.

We stifled our disappointment and prepared to go our separate ways. The next day, Rob flew west before dawn, en route to family and a Eugene Emeralds games, while Watson and I went to breakfast at Crooked Teeth Coffee and then on to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which was excellent. We drove down to Helena and went to Last Chance Gulch, which is arguably the most successful pedestrian mall I've seen lately—and I love a pedestrian mall.

And then it was time to leave Montana, so we did.

No comments:

Post a Comment