Spring has sprung in my hometown of Missoula, Montana. Or, at least, that was the case when I left yesterday. Given the schizophrenic tendencies of the current climate, Missoula might be buried in snow by now. But at the time I boarded the plane, it was definitely spring. This pleases me to no end.
I moved to Missoula about six years ago (grad school), moved away three years later (job), then moved back (boyfriend). Missoula is a healthy, apple-cheeked kind of town. Everyone bikes and hikes and skis and camps. I don't do any of these things, and sometimes I look around at all the polar fleece and North Face and I feel sort of inadequate. I keep waiting to catch the bug, like any day now I'll walk outside, look up at the mountains, and feel some deep, primal need to scale to the top, then shoot down on skis.
So far: no.
The only real excitement I've had with nature since I've moved here was when I saw a mountain lion skulking across my neighbor's back yard. The excitement was short-lived, as the lion, on closer inspection, actually turned out to be a big housecat. Of course, I only learned this after alerting neighbors and waving a few small children back into their homes.
To be fair, it was a really big cat.
I love Missoula. It's adorable, charming, etc. The old church where Norman Maclean's father preached is still standing (I walk by it every time I go to the Big Dipper for ice cream). In the summertime, people ride their bicycles along the river and drink beer outside under red-striped awnings. I'm not kidding; it's cute.
But like all adorable, charming, etc. towns across our beloved country, it has its problems:
1) The Pony Express
I don't care when you need it where, how much you're willing to pay, who you're willing to bribe: if you live in Missoula and you are sending it today, it will not get there tomorrow. Period.
I don't understand. We have an airport. Our roads are paved. But there you have it. However important it is, it's just going to have to wait until the day after tomorrow.
2) The Getting To and Departing From
Flying in and out, as anyone who lives here can attest, is a bitch.
Forget for a moment that we live in a valley, which makes both take-offs and landings occur at angles and speeds that defy human understanding. Forget for a moment that only wee, tiny, tinker-toy airplanes fly here ? I'm talking planes without restrooms, planes in which the co-pilot, who usually looks about seventeen years old, constitutes the "crew." These are hardly worth mentioning when one considers the fog.
Fog, you say, I know fog. No, friends! You do not know fog. Not as we, the people of Missoula, Montana, know fog. Ours is not a good-natured, likeable fog which rolls off the sea or plains. Ours is a dangerous, flesh-eating-type of fog that packs like a slab of concrete between town and sky and makes (here is where my rant comes full-circle) a small airplane filled with twelve-or-so increasingly anxious passengers, a pubescent co-pilot, and a silent/stoic captain utterly impossible to land. Instead, the plane circles for an hour, then lands in Helena. Helena is a lovely place. But it is a two-hour's drive from my house, my cats, my beloved bathtub, and last ? but clearly not least ? my car, which waits like an obedient dog at the Missoula Airport.
"Beauty must suffer," my grandmother always said. Missoula is really pretty.
3) The Winter
Yes, if you like to ski, it's just fine. For the rest of us (me) it can feel at times, well, a tad bit oppressive. Call it my desert-upbringing: I can only go so many, many months without seeing the sun. Unending stretches of slate-gray sky make me feel like the terrorists have won. Like finding out that after all this time, they really did just hate our freedom.
But if you should find yourself in my neck of the woods, here are a few things that must not be missed:
1) The Orange Street Food Farm
My neighborhood grocery store, and perhaps the strangest place on earth. The head cashier is named Mad Dog (he has it tattooed across the back of his neck, lest one forgets). He's speedy and friendly and knows all the produce codes by heart. Last Halloween, he somehow managed to get his front teeth knocked out. I keep wanting to ask for the story, but I worry it might be rude.
2) The Oxford Bar
It's open all night. You can still smoke inside. The cash register is behind a caged window. And they serve brains. Honest to god brains. You can also buy cheese by the slice (it's that yellow, individually-wrapped-in-plastic kind of cheese). Just in case you're ever wandering around Missoula at three in the morning and find yourself with a quarter in your pocket and a sudden hankering for a slice of cheese.
3) The New Skate Park
It will probably not come as a surprise that I, myself, do not ride a skateboard. Even so, the New Skate Park (it has a real name, too) is one of my favorite additions to Missoula; others include the New Play Wave and the New Wine Bar.
The New Skate Park has brought so much joy to the youth of Missoula that it's impossible not to love it. Drive by on a sunny day and they're all out there, sitting, skating, drinking their Big Gulp sodas. To kick off the era of the New Skate Park, Tony Hawk came to town with his million dollar vert ramp. I was out of town that weekend and have no idea what a million dollar vert ramp is, but it was, as legend goes, impressive.
Of course, these are just a few of Missoula's minor draws. There's also all the skiing, camping, hiking, and biking. If you're into that.