Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bars are the thing in Montana ...

Going through some old papers at home recently, I came across a page torn from a magazine long ago. The page contained an essay called "Moving Through America," written by a travel author named Caskie Stinnett. The piece described a cross-country trip on Amtrak, including a day spent trundling through northern Montana on the Empire Builder. I'm guessing that the page came from a 1980 issue of The Atlantic, though I don't know for sure.
Beyond Wolf Point there was only sky and sagebrush, and I began to realize the tremendous size of this country. As a game, I decided to time the distance between human beings; fourteen minutes elapsed between a boy standing beside a lonely ranchhouse and a man working on an oil derrick in what I assumed was the Williston Basin oilfield. Bars are the thing in Montana towns. On the main street of Glasgow I saw the Stockmen's Bar, the Mountain Bar, Starr's Bar, the Mint Bar, and Johnny's Cafe and Bar. Aside from a dry goods store, there was nothing else on the street. At Havre, Montana, where we stopped for twenty minutes, I dashed out for a bloody mary. The bar was like a stock setting from a western movie, the only incongruous note being a woman bartender. Cowboys, all wearing western hats, sat at the bar, and two young men were playing pool. "I don't know what I've done with the celery salt," the lady bartender said. "Leave it out," I said. "I haven't much time." She looked at me severely. "Don't come in here asking me to cut corners," she told me. When she finished making the drink I asked her to pour it into a paper cup, and I sped back to the train. "You've got one minute to spare," the conductor warned, glancing at his watch. "We're moving right on schedule, and I'd hate to have left you."

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