It’s immediately obvious why eastern Montana is referred to as Big Sky Country (MT license plate). From one spot, you see more sky here than anywhere; and road; and land. It is beautiful landscape, but it must be hard living here. I’ve heard of winter time temps below -30, and about animals and people freezing to death. Riding through made me wonder how and why people settled here and remain.
“I was born and raised in Denmark, worked in Las Vegas for 10 years, then moved here with my husband who I met in Vegas,” Inge said to me while sitting on a bench outside the laundry mat in Havre, MT (I wondered, but didn’t ask, what she did in Vegas).
I rolled into Havre after a long ride from Glacier National Park. I was wearing my last set of clothes, and even I could tell they were a bit ripe. That is the signal for a motel room and laundry. As luck would have it, the Siesta Motel (photo) had an IGA deli on one side and a self serve laundry on the other.
Of course, it was a one load operation, blue jeans and all. Inge managed this laundry and another down the street. With a hard face, and not returning my cheerful hello, she gave me quarters for the machines and soap dispenser, but she was helpful nonetheless. She saw me standing for minutes studying the 10 choices for soap, then she volunteered:
“Just use Tide; that’s what I always use.”
“Perfect,” I said, “I can’t imagine why anyone needs 10 choices anyway when just one would do.”
Sitting on the bench outside the laundry with my Apple laptop after starting the washer, I sensed this was a “hard” town. Three diesel locomotives were idling loudly next to a large grain elevator across the street. The local boys were running their F-250 pickup trucks and Harleys, with little or no engine noise suppression, up and down the street past the laundry.
Inge stepped out the door, picked up a half-smoked cigarette from the ground next to the bench, sat down beside me, lit up, and blew smoke in my direction.
Blinking through the smoke: “Seems like a nice town, Havre,” I said.
“It’s not what you think; there are lots of drugs in this town. Not as bad as Vegas, but bad. As far as I know, my kids aren’t doing drugs, but they aren’t doing much else either. My 14-year-old is still in school, my 16-year-old works part time at the IGA over there, my 17-year-old son does odd jobs, and my 18-year-old daughter has a 9-month-old baby and lives with her boyfriend. She is discovering that a baby is no picnic.”
“Must be nice to have a grand baby,” I said.
“Yeah, but she is already spoiled.
“At 9 months? It is surely too early for her to be spoiled,” I suggested.
“Oh no its not, the other grandma picks her up every time she whimpers; I never did that with any of my kids,” she said.
“So, from Denmark, to Vegas, to Havre; You like it here?”, I asked.
“I like it well enough,” she said, as she returned inside to help a customer.
That’s Bill with his back turned (photo), smoking a cigarette next to his pickup truck, after he started his washing machine. Not 5 minutes after Inge got up from the bench, Bill walked from his pickup with his laundry bag and asked: “Are you on the internets?”
“Not at the moments,” I replied.
“I’ve never been on the internets, but I tried yesterday at KFC down the street with my new HP laptop; couldn’t figure it out. Can you show me how?” he asked.
I showed Bill how I would do it if this were a hot spot and encouraged him to give it another try at KFC.
Bill, age 70, was at an RV park a couple of blocks away. He just completed a stint at the Northern Montana Fair selling jewelry and clothing items from his booth. In a couple of days he was headed a few miles down the road to a Blackfoot PowWow where he said he will make even bigger bucks than at the fair. And then to another, and another—-.
“Where are you from,” I asked.
“I’m not really from anywhere. I spend most of my time traveling to fairs and PowWows around the west, then in the winter to Florida where my daughter lives. “It’s a good life; I like it well enough.”
After thinking about my conversations with Inge and Bill, I wondered to what degree their life was determined by design versus fate. Then I wondered about my own: I was born in a house without plumbing; now I live in a house with plumbing. In the interim, whether by design or fate, it has been interesting. “I like it well enough.”