July 10, 2002

With full intentions of leaving at noon, Pat and I faced the typical delays and didn’t lift off the ground until 4:45. We endured the usual summer heat in Auburn, California as we prepared the plane. 109 degrees is exactly as hot as it sounds. That’s not a temperature that you can mess around with. Ask any number of old people who died that day…or don’t ask ’em.  Of course there isn’t any humidity. That’s what all Californians are supposed to say about the weather. We collected treats, filled a cooler with beverages and made some final phone calls before starting toward Montana. Once we got into the air, we basked in the 70 degree weather of 10,500 feet.This will be Pat’s first real look at America. His eagerness to visit places he’s never seen before energizes our efforts. I’m excited to be able to show him some of the places that I have called home. The sudden decision to join this trip adds a number of interesting twists. In effect, we haven’t had much time to plan, which can be both good and bad.  I’m not certain if we’ll meet the hospitality of a friend who has been eagerly awaiting your arrival for sometime. Many of them will be bogged down by work and prior engagements. In some cases, I may be intruding to some end.


I suspect I’ll also become the primary tour guide in the areas that I am most familiar with (that should be a scary concept for my travelling buddies). Being a tour guide can have its ups and downs. I’ll hope for the best and try to seize the opportunity.


The flight to Montana was relatively effortless. Reno and vicinity gave us our only taste of bad air and the skies were clear and blue for the duration. The landscapes vary incredibly over the course of just a few hours of flying. What an interesting country we live in. The familiar views of the majestic Sierra Mountains and gorgeous lakes and rivers of northern California maintain their luster…only to be abruptly flattened and browned through Nevada. Nothing was so awesome as Montana’s landscape however. We happened to make our way through the Rocky Mountain with about and hour of sunlight remaining. On our right, the western portion of Yellow Stone National Park dazzled us. Shear ancient rock standing 10,000 feet tall in baffling shapes and sizes. Yet another seemingly annual fire was ravaging Yellow Stone. The smoke nearly covered the whole of the state. Fortunately the winds were in our favor so our view remained untainted. As we cleared the tallest peak an abrupt, endless plain stretched out beyond our view and revealed the lights of Billings, Montana. Our wheels safely touched the ground after nearly four hours and an entire tank of fuel.  It was dark by the time we tied the plane down and began to empty our things from the back.


Shawn, the third member of our party, had not yet arrived and neither of our phones worked so we found ourselves in a minor dilemma. After a brief moment of searching for a pay phone, we were approached by a beat up American truck driven by a local guy wearing the appropriate small town mesh hat. His name was Randy and, as we later found out, he was the local airplane cleaner/janitor for the airport. He lived right next to it in his camper and came to check up on the two mischievous boys tromping around his back yard. He was quick to tell us some of Billing’s fast facts, a population of 150,000 (1/7th the population of the entire state) and then proceeded to declare his views on the consistency of said population. Fortunately, he was not a representation of the rest of the state. He was, however, nice enough to let us use his phone. We made a desperate call to Shawn for an immediate rescue.


While we waited, Pat and I sat in the black of night and ate the chicken we’d picked up in Auburn. In the meantime, I doubled as a main course for some of Montana’s famous mosquitoes. Shawn arrived about 40 minutes later as we finished cleaning and packing up for the night. We promptly headed to into Billings where he lives between the two major universities housed there, Montana State University and the Rocky Mountain College. Shawn’s house was the typical male display of sanitation and order for six college aged guys living under the same roof. I don’t miss that part of college anymore…but it was fun at the time. To epitomize the situation, let me just say that Shawn’s room was in the utility closet with the washer, dryer and water heater. God damn I was impressed! And I’ve seen some seriously jacked up living quarters. Congratulations Shawn. He pays $180 a month for that (by the way).  I flipped through their extensive collection of porno mags and Pat checked his skin for blemishes while we waited for their friends to show up.


We then did our best to keep up with the Japanese and Croatian rally team as they sped through Billings in a Mazda GLA (1970’s). Apparently the car has been passed down from one student to the next for the last couple of years. It’s some sort of an honor. There are rules: The car is not to be insured, repaired, or reported stolen. Once the school year is over the car is to be handed down to the next honored student. No questions, just good stories. I missed the safety of the turbulence over Reno at 10,500 feet.


Unfortunately Wednesday night is not a huge moment in the state of Montana (well probably in the whole of the world) so we made our best attempt at a night out by having a local beer at one of the more populated bars (7 people). We then sped back home for two hours of Tiger Woods Golf and 3 hours of sleep on some sort of pull out couch/bed from hell. Good times, noodles salad.