I just want to write down this story to ensure that I never forget it.
Yesterday, Charlie, Michael, Katherine, and I went on a hike in the Bitterroot Valley. This is about an hour south of Missoula, where Montana goes from being a semi-metropolitan, liberal college town, to a collection of farmers, ranchers, oil workers, and the descendants of Billie the Kid.
After our hike (which was lovely and everyone seemed to enjoy very much) we drove a bit further, down into Stevensville, a town of 1800 people with a nice little main street.
We just got out of the car and started walking, looking over menus pasted on doors, but most of the restaurants were closed. Then I spied a little ice-cream shop tacked onto the side of a drug store. I realized how very wonderful a rootbeer float sounded at that moment, so I led us in.
As we entered, every one of the six or so people in the place STOPPED TALKING AND STARED AT US. Katherine, out loud and well within ear shot of everyone in the place “So when you walk into a place and everyone just stares at you, that’s weird, right?” Michael later remarked that he could “almost hear the saloon doors slapping together behind us.” Since we couldn’t very well just run away (which is what I felt like doing) we just intently looked up at the menu on the wall and waited for the woman behind the ice cream bar to finish her conversation with the regulars and come take our order.
That didn’t take long, and she was nice enough. In her 30s with signs of having been in direct sunlight for most her her life, with too much blue eye shadow and thick western charm. I told her I was thinking about a root beer float, but it wasn’t on the menu. And she seemed nonplussed like “Why would we need to put root beer floats on the menu.”
Michael got one as well, while Katherine and Charlie sat down. Charlie, apparently, concentrating very hard on not letting these people know that he was British.
Michael pulled out his credit card to pay, but the lady behind the counter indicated that they didn’t have that “fancy technology.” I pulled out a ten and paid, remarking that Michael now owed me “even more money” which the other people in the small room (who were all listening intently) found hilarious.
Those other people consisted of someone who was (judging by his clothes) very proud of being in the air force, a guy and a girl wearing the sort of cowboy boots that actual cowboys wear, another employee folding cloth (the store also sold lots of cloth, because local Mennonites make all of their own clothes) and a 93 year old man.
I know that this guy was 93 because after we got our floats, he shouted over to us to ask if we were attending the local high school. We said, from our seats 10 feet away, that we were all long-graduated from high school. He said “I don’t hear so well” so I went over to tell him that I was, in fact, 31 years old. He said “I don’t hear so well.” So now I’m screaming at this dude, “WE ALL GRADUATED YEARS AGO! WE CAME DOWN FROM MISSOULA FOR A HIKE!”
Now I’ve broadcasted to all of these Stevi regulars that we’re from Missoula, and so, in addition to not wearing boots, I am also probably a communist, but they handle it well enough. The guy says “Oh well, everyone thinks I look younger than I am, I’m 93.” I act suitably surprised.
Then he asks me if I play any sports and I’m like “Uhhh…no.” And he says…I shit you not “There are a lot of paths in this world.” And he shakes my hand and I walk away.
So we’re half way through our drinks when 93 year old guy leaves. And, not 2 minutes later, another ancient looking guy, this one carrying an oxygen tank, walks in.
At this point, I feel like maybe I’ve walked in on some improv prank, because the young waitress refers to him as “my boyfriend” and gives him a hug. We’re trying to have our own conversation at our table, but with the place being about 20 square feet, it was awful hard not to eavesdrop.
The thing that shuts us all up and ends any chance at conversation though, is when the waitress asks the old dude (whose picture, by the way, is framed on the wall) “What were the conditions of me shooting that bear up by your place?”
“That you kill the god damned thing.”
She replies “Oh, I think there was more to it than that.”
Begrudgingly, he’s like “Oh all right, I was gonna have her pose nude on the rug. You can’t blame a guy.”
By this time we’re pretty much done with our floats. I remark that Michael has excellent root beer float technique, and he says that it’s his 10,000th, so he’s had practice. A family has come in with their kids, everyone knows all of their names, and they’re all busily talking about what business is opening when and other Stevensville matters of note. We bus our tables and head out onto the street.
Charlie turns to me and says “Can we leave this place now?” So we do.