Thursday, August 27, 2009

Iron Pine Club

I was up early Saturday. It was August 15. Nice thing about not getting wasted in bars is you can live a normal life the next day. That is why I observe strict limits on my alcohol intake. A gibbous moon was hanging in the Eastern sky, dogged by a giant planet. It was fairly clear but later the clouds rolled in again and it rained. But, hey! It's Saturday. I am on vacation and there are lots of opportunities to pursue. I wanted to make something new happen and I knew how to do it.

I was putting on some socks the other day and it happens that when I undid the pair from their little stuff bundle they were both wrong-side out. This never happens and it made me think. How many times did I have to perform this operation to get an unexpected result? A great many. What if I accelerated the process, spent all day every day folding and unfolding? What kind of population of socks would I have to look at to find an anomaly? It is like growing maize you see. Drive down a country road and look at the maize fields. Millions of plants, all uniform. Except every now and then, maybe one in 500,000, you will see a mutant. These can be much taller than their peers; that's one way to identify them. My mission on this trip has been to create such a population of events that something unexpected will happen. After all why seed the heavens with 100 billion galaxies if you weren't looking for the unexpected? This principle runs through it all. So, that's why I went so far out of my way to engage people. Sometimes I don't do this being satisfied to be a rock, an island. The song says a rock feels no pain, an island never cries. Well, of course they do, though it might just be as a potentiality. It is still there. I had this conversation in the car with Gary and Pat on our way up to Fort Benton yesterday and from their reaction I am sure that I needed to just shut up and keep my own counsel close to myself, so to speak, where it is appreciated. Smile. So, with that in mind, when evening came, though I was a little tired, I mounted my iron steed and set out yet again for parts unknown in down-town Great Falls, Montana.

I rode around a bit after getting there. It was somewhat cold at 7:30 P.M., but there were a few people around. I pulled up next to a guy crossing the street and asked him whether there might be a decent bar in the neighbourhood. He directed me over a block and back towards the river a couple more to the Iron Pine Club.

As I was parking the bike, speaking of the unexpected, my son called to check up on me and to remind me that his baby was due in two days. We talked for a few minutes while I went inside and took off my riding coat and helmet. Then, I went to the bar and took a seat next to a couple of guys. The bar was not at all busy and wouldn't be anything like the experience I had the previous evening at the Sip and Dip.

These two guys were talking about being stopped by police and how to resist when they wanted to search the vehicle. Since I have some experience, from the law enforcement side, of this kind of scenario it was easy to join the conversation. The guy on my immediate left and I quickly settled that issue and launched into a far ranging discussion of topics from battle space monitored by satellite communications to the readiness of our nuclear deterrent. There are a lot of missiles in silos in Montana and his job had to do with their readiness. He was Air Force, and about to get out and go back to his home in one of the Carolinas. I really liked him, and he me. He said he'd never met anyone like me before. Couldn't believe that I knew so much about almost everything. Wouldn't let me go, so I had one extra drink. Off on the subject of women, he is married, he wanted to hook me up with a Shanna or Holley who worked in a "massage" parlour a couple of blocks away. Gave me their phone number, told me how to get to the place, and even tried to call them himself, but got a voice mail, of which I was glad. I didn't want to hurt his feelings but no way I was going to use a hooker. There are better ways to get something unexpected, if you take my meaning. Anyhow, he said I'd be in like flint if I would just tell them Scott sent me. This was an interesting counterpoint to what had gone before to say the least. I didn't elicit this offering. It just sprang up. I guess it was an instance of necessity being the mother of invention. You figure it out. At any rate, in a very few days, I would truly strike pure gold. But so sadly, alas, a fortelling, I could not stake a claim, though I tried. I tried hard....

Some of my exchange with Scott needed illustration and I kept the napkin with our doodles on it as a keepsake. It has the Star of David on it. We talked about religion. It has a "battle space" on it with a satellite high overhead. It has the gibbous moon being dogged by a star, because he didn't know what dogging the moon meant. It has the name of the massage parlor, the girls names, the phone numbers, and a bunch of other stuff, front and back. When it came time for me to really go he gave me a pass to Glacier National Park he said he wouldn't be needing, and when I went to shake his hand he pulled me into an embrace. It felt right. Two human beings, a random encounter, souls mixed, we part feeling like we somehow in the space of time it takes to drink two or three scotch and sodas, probably twice that many for Scott, came as two people and left as one. Sad I will never see him again. He was really hungry for the kind of exchange we had and I felt very good about having opened my heart and soul to him. A question springs to mind. What IS going on here? I do see a pattern emerging, but I daren't touch to heavily for fear it will dissolve.

Once again, on my way out, I took some pictures. The one at the top is the bartender. His name is Kyle Vogel. He didn't know that Vogel meant bird in German. I looked at him real hard and asked him who he looked like that I might know, an actor, I said. He said Leonardo DiCaprio. I said, yes! That's it, you really do. He smiled real proud. I told him I didn't particularly care for the guy but that he was a decent actor. He agreed he didn't like him much either. I said that I'd bet the girls hung off him like ornaments. He laughed, then I shook his hand as the picture was taken. I think he overheard a lot of Scott's conversation with me and I regret as I write this not having brought him into the discussion.

This picture is of the guy who was concerned about getting his car searched. I took it because of the ear thing, which he pulled out and reinserted for me. Cute.

And this is his sister. She is married, but nice and friendly and didn't flinch a bit when I kissed her as her brother took the picture. I got her email and sent her a copy, but she hasn't written me back. Sad but expected. But, hey! I am just planting seeds here. The surprise will have to come later. The population is not nearly big enough yet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sip and Dip Tavern

Well, it's been a long day. Time to unwind. I asked around back at camp where a good local watering hole could be found. The camp host marked a spot on the map for me. It was down-town, in the O'Haire Motor Inn. The Sip and Dip.

The main bar faces two large glass windows which look in on the Inn's swimming pool. I am told one or two swimmers will appear in awhile wearing some kind of mermaid costume. I want pictures.

There is a guy and his wife to my right. I pick up conversation with them. They are from South Carolina. He used to live here and says, no kidding, that he has seen people, guests of the hotel, have sex right there in front of the crowd in the bar. It seems that, at that time at least, people in the pool didn't know they were being watched. I guess they didn't notice the large glass panels in the wall of the pool. Anyhow, I take this with a grain of salt, but he was dead serious and I even heard him repeat it to a couple of other people that came and went. One of these was a guy in coveralls fresh in from his job. He walked up to the bar next to me and asked in a very Southern accent whether this was the world famous Sip and Dip club. I announced it was and momentarily passed him off to my expert friend on the right. Turns out this new fellow was from Louisiana and was living up here working as a welder for awhile.

The bar got very crowded. It was loud and the air buzzed with conversations. Only one mermaid showed up. It wasn't a disappointment. The real show was on the floor of the bar.

That is Beckie. I heard some guy address her as a he. I wasn't similarly confused. She has a very sweet, high pitched voice. I got her to sign a book of matches for a souvenir for me. She wrote, "Best Wishes, Beckie". I asked her about the guy that misjudged her gender and she said it happens once in awhile but that it doesn't bother her. I'll bet this fellow was embarassed when he heard her speak. I said she did look like she could hurt me and she laughed and the other bartender who overheard this exchange said she was a sweetheart and wouldn't harm a fly.

This is what was pushing me from behind. I got friendly with these belly dancers as I was leaving. I'd had my allotted three scotches at about $3.00 each, and no cover either. You gotta love that, for less than $20 I had this great evening. Anyhow belly dancers and I kidded around a few minutes, especially me and the one on my right arm. I teased her mercilessly about how her boobs were about to pop out. She lapped it up. Real hungry. Ended up she did a little belly dance for me. We had a great laugh.

And this fine lady plays the piano while at the same time with her feet she plays an organ. She is 80 years old.

When I arrived at the Sip and Dip it had been raining. And it was probably in the 50s with a North wind. Leaving it was still wet, but barely drizzling. I had a lot of fun at the club in spite of the somewhat inclement weather for a biker. But the best fun was showing these pictures to my brother the next morning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fort Benton, Montana

Friday morning, August 14, we drove a few miles north to Montana's birthplace, Fort Benton.

Here is what the river looks like just down stream from the fort. I saw paintings of Indians standing on bluffs overlooking the river at a similar place taking shots at steamboats passing by.

This is the Grand Union Hotel. It was built in 1882 and restored in 1999. I sure wanted to stay here but that will have to wait till the next trip.

This is the lobby.

This picture hangs next to the desk. It is Chief Plenty Coups. He was named chief of the Mountain Crow at age 28. At this time I had met Emily, the desk clerk, and my quip to her was that the haircut was still popular.

This is the hotel bar. That is Emily. She told me the original bar has been removed to a bar in Missoula, Montana.

Emily is Emily Bley pronounced Bligh. She said she had a famous last name but couldn't tell me who the original Bligh was. I recall a certain Capt. Bligh, but couldn't relate the history to her. Emily signed her name to a hotel business card for me. She was very nice and since the hotel was anything but busy gave me a walking tour of the ground floor. On a personal note she told me, and my brother and his wife, who had been shopping across the street at a kiosk run by some local Hetterites, about a proposal of marriage she received from a sixteen year old from this "clan". She was of an age with the boy and was manning a stall her dad had set up selling wares from his operation, I don't recall what exactly. The Hetterites are like the Amish. They wear distinctive dress and the like. So, he walks up to her booth and asks if he could please see her father. She asked why and he said he would like to ask for her hand in marriage. When she refused him the interview with her father the boy went away but came back a little later with his father, to strengthen his suit. I noted that this is exactly how such a transacton would have taken place in the 1700s.

Here is a frontal shot of the original (restored) Ft. Benton. Note the rifle slits.

I wish this had come out better.

The bull stands almost six feet at the shoulders and would have weighed about 2200 pounds. This grouping was originally gathered by the great conservationist William T. Hornady and were originally displayed in the Smithsonian in 1887 when it was feared the great bison would soon be extinct. We saw bison on this trip, grazing alongside the road near Glacier Nat'l Park.

A grizzly. Seems intent on something.

This is what he is concerned about, but not too much, I expect.

We visited a couple of old churches.

Our trip ended with a ride across the Missouri river on a ferry. We took the back roads back to Great Falls passing section after section of wheat stubble with an occasional uncut field in between.

No mention of Fort Benton, Montana would be complete without bringing in the story of the world famous dog, Shep. A Sheepherder's body was shipped back East for burial back in August, 1936. His dog witnessed this and every train arrival for five years till Shep himself was killed by a train saw him watching and waiting for the return of his master. It is a profoundly sad story, of course. Though I had heard of Shep, I didn't realise I was at the source of the story till I got there. An old guy I met on the bridge there over the Missouri river, now for walking only, made reference to it. His name is Gail, funny name for a man, he agreed (I asked him if it was spelled Gayle because one of my best high-school friends carried that name). Gail used to be superintendent of schools in Fort Benton. I wanted to share this sentimental and profound testament to love, to awakening spiritual awareness. It speaks volumes that a dog would display sentiments that we arrogate exclusively to ourselves as humans. And obviously, if you are inclined to such musings, it fills in a blank space in that template we might all be trying to grasp that could it be seen clearly would carry the meaning and purpose of life itself.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Great Falls Montana

I was glad to finally end my ride and my brother and his wife feted me with leftover chicken casserole which set very well as I had been living off snack food all day. This is the Malstrom Air Force Base RV park and would serve as home for the next few days. I didn't do anything the first evening, just relaxed and enjoyed visiting with my family.

These are the great falls for which the city is named. I imagine this rages wildly with snow melt if seen at the right time of year. They do have it damned up here and they use the surplus runoff to generate electricity at this damn.

This tells how in 1805 Lewis and Clark made a portage around these falls.

We visited this Veteran's Memorial nearby. It was a beautiful place.

I was taken with this statue. The doves being released reminded me of a funeral service I participated in a while back in which white doves were released by the next of kin of a serviceman killed in Iraq. He is holding several dog tags in his right hand that you can't see in this picture. I found this very touching.

Cheyenne to Great Falls

It is now Thursday, August 13. Yesterday it was in the 90s. Last night and this morning it was much cooler. I put on my heavy coat for this ride and before the day was out I was fully suited up for wet and cold weather. The dry Texas summer was far behind me and it felt real good to plunge heedlessly without a care into the infinite asphalt and steel ribbon before me, the road north to Great Falls, Montana. That is 682 miles.

I-25 was just outside my door so it was a fast getaway out of Cheyenne. The bike screamed at the distance and it melted in submission to the dauntless intrepidity of this bike and rider. I was the can-do kid this morning, ready for whatever this day had to offer up. It was bright and sunny all the way north through Wyoming. I shed the coat about 10 a.m. Not far after I took this picture I was passing through Hardin, Montana. The Battle of Little Big Horn, also known as, Custer's Last Stand, took place near here. You can see the grave markers from the highway. I stopped at a nearby rest area and when I came out of the rest room an Indian man of an age with me had laid out his display of Indian jewelry on the grass. I picked out a nice necklace. He was Navajo and we talked for a minute about his work and about my travels. He was a real nice man and I liked him. I thought his work pretty nice. I picked this up for fifteen dollars. When I got home Kristi was quite taken with it. She is very parsimonious about handing me compliments, but I got one for my good taste for this selection.

Here I am at the border.

Click on this to view larger image and note the stickers people have climbed up here to apply. You can see this sign has been shot up a little with a rifle and a shotgun. A couple of the rounds seemed to have come in from a great angle indicating the shooter was probably way off to the east somewhere.

When I got to Billings I left the interstate to take a hundred mile shorter route to Great Falls through Lewiston. After Lewiston there was a construction zone, the worst one of the trip. There was a lot of deep very loose gravel and an occasional fist sized or larger rock. Not fun at all to ride through. It was about this time that it clouded over and I ran smack into a cold front. So, it's in the upper 40s, it's raining, the wind is blowing, the road is slick and muddy, and, on top of all that, it is like rush hour traffic in Dallas on this two lane road. Am I having fun yet? But, you know, if you want fine highways you have to take the occasional construction zone. We are blessed to have these paths. Like any other path, I intend to see where it leads.

This picture's subject is the green fields. That yellowish field on the right is winter wheat, still not ready for harvest, though by and large most of the wheat fields I saw had been harvested.

I just wanted to get this picture of the clouds rolling in. That is a pretty big mountain in the distance, it's peaks shrouded in the cloud layer. It is really a lot darker than it seems from this rendition. It was serious gloaming out that afternoon.

This is the view west where I stopped to put on my cold/wet weather gear. It started raining almost immediately and continued till, well, for the next few days, off and on. I got my left hand in the frame here. That is not a pink cloud bank, or at least that is not how I recall it.

The photo does not do this justice. Click to enlarge. That inner rainbow actually went across the whole sky, horizon to horizon.

Wichita to Cheyenne

Interstate 80 here has a 75 MPH speed limit. Kansas is 70. You would think that 5 miles per hour would make little difference but it does. The bike and I want to go much faster anyhow, at least a hundred, but I think I can get away with about 78 so that is what I set it on. The traffic is moderate and I park it in the left lane for the most part because the right lane is more or less owned by the truckers whom I pass by the hundreds. I only know of one time that I got clocked by a state trooper. Construction zones came up a few times but were not too much of trouble. It is 609 miles from Wichita to Cheyenne. That is a pretty fair ride and it was in the mid 90s I guess. The wind was strong out of the south making the bike tack a little to the left as I attacked the distance. My brother and his wife were camping in their RV in Cheyenne I thought and it was my intention to visit them. They didn't know I was coming so when I got to Sidney, Nebraska I stopped for gas and called to let them know my intentions. They had moved that day to Helena, Montana. I was pretty tired so I thought I would just stay in Sidney so I checked out a few places but they wanted more than I was willing to pay. Motel six was about a hundred dollars. No way was I going to do that. Sidney is where Cabella's outfitters has their headquarters. I think that is why the rooms are so expensive. So I mounted up again after wasting an hour in a fruitless search and headed again into the westering sun.

Arriving in Cheyenne about four in the afternoon I cruised the main drag looking for a good place to overnight and eventually ended up at the Roadway Inn near I-25 on the west side of town. Here again as I was checking in I asked the desk clerk about a good place to have a drink that evening. She told me I should check out the Outlaw saloon just south of I-80 near down-town. After taking a shower and working a little on my equipment and gear I headed out at sunset for the Outlaw Saloon.

The Outlaw bar is country/western and there too I found some motorcycles. Parking next to these you could hear and see a band with the volume cranked way up. There was a patio there and an indoor/outdoor bar where I ordered a scotch and soda from the very tall and stout female bartender. The club was almost empty and what people there were were concentrated on the patio which was fairly pleasant in the early evening air. The best part about it was the music was at a little distance. It was too loud. Four ladies shared the bar with me. They were maybe in their late fifties. As I walked across the patio I locked eyes with an attractive brunette who was maybe 35 or so. I caught her looking at me. We exchanged greetings and she went to her table where she joined a small group. I took a place at the end of the bar leaving a space between me and the ladies.

Once I got served I walked around the patio, checking things out. A lone dancer, a guy, was whirling and jumping on the dance floor in something he no doubt thought was a dance. I thought it was the dance equivalent of the visual artist who is unconscious of the fact that his rendering of his profound vision is tantamount to a baby discovering he can play in the stuff in his diaper.

I turned away from the music putting my back to the bar. About that time a guy approached me from my right. I could see a name tag on his shirt that said "staff". He asked me if I knew the time saying he didn't have a watch. I had my left hand in my pocket. His time query was just a ruse so he could see the back of my left hand because when I pulled it out he said, glancing at my hand that I needed a stamp there. This bar had a cover charge. He said I needed to go pay so and so lady across the way five bucks. I said no thanks, that I would just leave instead. I didn't like the way he handled me. I didn't know there was a cover but, never mind. I didn't particularly like the place anyhow.

I rode the mile or so down town and parked in front of the Plains hotel. I love this place. It is a 1911 period piece. I walked through the lobby following the path of all those people who came before. There weren't but a couple of people around the lobby besides the doorman and a lone desk clerk. I wanted to go to the bar but I was also interested in staying the night at some point so I got the price. About $100. The bar was pretty active with a lot of people eating at their tables. There were two women at one end and a guy with the biggest black felt cow boy hat one is likely to run across. The bar was a beautiful piece of sculpted wood. It was dark coloured, but not too dark. You just wanted to touch it, rub on it. I sat down leaving one seat between me and the guy in the big hat. No sooner did I settle down than he warmly introduced himself as Don. I said my name is John. He said Don John. That's easy to remember. I laughed. I ordered my second scotch and soda for the evening at the same time greeting the bartender. He was pretty nice. His name was Artie and he drove a Budweiser beer truck for his day job. I commented on how many pounds he lifted per day and his retort was that it was tons not pounds. I thought he might be working his way through college but he said he wasn't in school at the time.

Meanwhile Don and I are talking too. He is actually a frequent guest of the hotel. Works for Makita, the tool people. He is of an age with me and we hit it off pretty well because he was also a fan of BMW motorcycles. He used to have an R90/6, he said. A 1974. I have a 76. These are fine machines. He said he made a twenty thousand dollar bet with a guy once on a race to New York City. His friend was a Harley guy. He lost. His bike broke down several times on the trek, but not the Beemer

We had a pretty good little party. I also talked a little across the bar to the two women on the end, when I could interject a quip, and the girl to my right, when her boy friend would absent himself for a moment, I engaged also. I thought they left once and when they came back she told me they had gone out to smoke. This gave me a chance to loudly declaim that the world must be truly changing because I was sure that the smoking Nazis would never find success in Wyoming of all places.

I turned over 100,000 miles today.

Cool picture of bike from my balcony. I took this the morning of my departure for Great Falls.