Butte Burgers

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Thursday, July 15, 2010

       DAY TWENTY-TWO: We arise with the copper smell of spilled beer caught in the air from the night's previous.  Jasmine and Greyson rise early and on the box below me are nothing but a pair of jeans by the time I’m awake to see.  We’re remaning in Butte to see the world cup final, which starts at 12:30, and so are in no hurry to see the day, but in about face of the laziness, the aforementioned super couple head off to procure some breakfast along with an especially amped version of Cornbread, who is giddy for the game.  Meanwhile, rising out of my glum slumber, I’m peering at a crusty bus with crustier eyes, and find myself again asking Shmark to clean his week-old vomit from the side of the bus.  Though it dates back to July 4th and covers the windows and the roof, too, he rolls his eyes, taking me for irrational and uptight.  Maybe I am, but I shove him a rag and some cleaner anyway and, after a bit of shmark and a staredown, he gets to it.  I feel guilty for having to be nagging and he continues to mock me for such, but then he’s also being completely unreasonable and anyway it’s my bus.  It’s also my journal, old chap, and so I write the history, and may do so in a bitter, contemptuous manner that makes me seem over-thinking and babyish.  Woo-hoo!

            We (the rest of us) head blindly to the nearest café to find our friends, and settle on a café that was once the oldest jail in this mining city.  I get nothing there, but use their toilet twice (oops) and charge my phone while The Beard uses their Internet. I should note again that Navin had left us a week ago, near Banff, to pursue his dream of free-climbing the infamous Via Ferrata, a gorge some 1,000 feet below the iron rungs that were hammered into the face.  We hadn’t heard from him, though I’d called a few times, and I’d begun to fret and worry that he’d met his risk, head-on.  Well, come angel, come all my freshly-charged phone (thanks again, Jailhouse Coffee) receives a ring from someone who isn’t my father for once (thanks though, dad), and it’s an ecstatic Navin.  "Hee-yow, I’m in Butte, and the Navintrain’s a’ comin’ to yer door!"  I tell the others, and the coffee house simply erupts with delight; even Shmark is beaming.

            Eventually we meet Cornbread in town at a big pub, a converted bank, where our waitress is beautiful and stressed, likely having never seen so many customers at once in her life.  He’s got us a big table in front of the plasma screen, but though the match is exciting and heart-wrenching, so are Navin’s stories, and everyone can’t shift their focus from him.  How did he hitchhike over eight hours and two countries in an evening?  How did he climb a mountain in only torn canvas sneakers over four days with but three days of granola in his rucksack?  And how did he find us in this backroom at the bar?  I try to keep my composure, and yet I can’t help but be impressed.

            After they take in a gypsy jazz concert, Jasmine and Greyson meet with us at the pub for the last part of the Dutch loss, and then walk us back to the bus for a difficult goodbye (particularly because the shirtless slobs, otherwise busy flopping tar onto a nearby roof, keep yelling, “how you doin’,” at Jasmine, grabbing their crotches in mock-Jersey stereotype style).  Our Montanans, however, couldn’t have been kinder or more fun, and I’m excited to see them again in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

            After they leave us, it begins to rain, and while The Beard tries to fiddle with Pearl, Tristan, Navin and I head to a local bookstore, where I’m shaking with pleasure, completely overwhelmed.  There’s a Thomas Hardy in the bargain bin outside, but things are so cheap inside, too, at such abundance, that I might as well take my pick.  Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There is $1.50, so I urge a compliant Tristan to buy it (the genius film version by Hal Ashby, with Peter Sellers, is randomly available at a truck stop later in the day, a coincidence that blows my mind).  He also gets a old book on economics (E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful) while Navin picks Still Life With Woodpecker from Tom Robbins who, incidentally, is our mutual favorite author.  I, finally, pick up two by John Barth – The Floating Opera and The End of The Road – as well as Thomas Pynchon’s V, an abundance of books that belies the actual amount of reading I do.  In addition to a marvelous collection of old, occasionally used,, postcards from the early part of the last century (“Dear Mammy, Happy Christmas 1912!  Love, Delila”)here’s a novel called The Salt of the Earth, old and leatherbound, whose author is curiously listed as “Mrs. John So-and-So”, which is so weird and archaic that I almost drop twelve dollars on it.  All told, even for an occasional reader like myself, used bookshops are indeed the salt of the earth, and I tell the curly-haired, cottage-armed proprietor, and, noting the dying state of Butte, she regrets that not everyone feels the same way.  Good old Doris.

            The rest of the day is on the road and mostly uneventful.  I’m exhausted and trail off into a sour mood by night’s end, though not before a stop at Livingston’s Mark’s In & Out, where we all get burgers and chocolate shakes while marveling at the 1954 neon and the waitresses delivering food to cars, constantly falling from rolling skates onto their respective asses, food flying, laughing all the while.  Captain Bobby Mango Filigree meanwhile decides he must head back home for his new job at Stanford, so the burger place kindly lets him use their Internet to buy a flight out of Billings.  We sup on our mushroom-bacon-Swiss and chat about the future; Cornbread dreams of starting a bus conversion service, or of driving around Anthony Bourdain for an episode on the Travel Channel.  None bad dreams, I must say: none more black; you can’t really dust for vomit, this one goes to eleven.

            We finally drive to a truck stop/strip club just outside of Billings.  The whole town smells like the nearby oil refinery and again, I’m feeling like crap.  I warn everyone not to talk to me for dear of saying something swayed by mood, and I drift into silent worry.  Pearl is showing signs of wear – our auxiliary power is down, so no lights, fridge, laptop/cellphone, or music – while the transmission is feeling weird, and above all that, we’re losing our primary bus cleaner and ever-ready source of mirth.  In a matter of three weeks locked up with him, I see only the consistently good-natured generosity and humor that The Captain Mango has to offer, and, so sad to see him go, we all fall asleep knowing how good the experience has been thanks to him, and thank Cornbread for inviting him along without anyone’s permission.  Master Captain Antonio Bobby Mango, June 20-July 12, dead at twenty-two days: R.I.P., buddy.
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