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Leaving Missoula

It’s almost time to depart Missoula for the long road leading to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.   “Goodbye to Old Missoula,” one of the best songs in an absolutely classic 1972 album by Willis Alan Ramsey, threads through my mind now and then as I think about leaving.

Much as I want to see my kids and grandchild back in Charlottesville, I do hate to leave.  It’s been a summer and fall mixed up between being in Missoula and short working trips up to the Hi-Line country; not as much Missoula time as I’d have preferred and not much time at all for trips to other parts of the state to explore a bit.  A few get togethers now and then with writer friends at small parties or in rest stops like the Depot and the Kettle House.  While Ani was in Peru I probably ingested more fried egg sandwiches on Birdman bread breakfasting at the Hob Nob than is possibly good for one’s arteries.  And, of course, that wonderful Cold Smoke Scotch Ale on tap at the Kettle House on most afternoons.

On a Friday afternoon a few weeks back I’m in the Kettle House and the sunlight coming in through the windows facing Myrtle Street is at it’s brilliantly best.  I watch for perhaps a half-hour, forty-five minutes, at the golden light spilling out on the bar, crawling along southbound with time as the sun lowers. Good music is filling the place, not some of that hard rock that sounds life rifle shots ricocheting off some rocky canyon walls.  I remember when I first came in back in June, Al Pils spotted me and put on the Band’s “Don’t Leave Me Alone in the Twilight,” a favorite of both of us, I guess.  But Al leaves early on Fridays and it isn’t the Band playing right now.

Friday is the day of days to a lot of people.  An afternoon that will play out into a wonderful night for some, maybe a let down evening for others, but Friday always comes at least with the possibility of promise. The line for filling growlers is stretched from the bar to the doorway. IDs are being scrutinized.  There is good music, good light and interestingly attractive women of all ages, well, maybe not all ages.  I have to have 20 to 30 years on the next oldest person of either sex in the pub this afternoon.  But do I care?  Not really.  I’m here to observe.  It being fall, the women are mostly in jackets or sweaters or vests and the tattoos I’m sure many of them carry are not on display.  Sometimes I think there is no woman under 50 in all of Missoula that doesn’t have a tattoo, or, as a woman once said to me, “Well, if they don’t have one—they’re considering it.”

Those of us who are photographers watch the light because we can’t help it; we’re drawn to the soft glow of amber showering the face of a beautiful woman as much as a moth is attracted to the brilliance of a flame or to the beacon of a solitary porch light in the night. The sunlight cutting through the panel of Kettle House windows has narrowed now, no less of a blessing but thinner, kind of slowly sliding along the varnished bar top like some barroom goddess that’s thinking to leave, says well, maybe she’ll stay for one more but then, when I look away, involved in some thought for a few minutes and turn back to look, she’s gone, her bar tab seemingly paid in full.  As much as I’d wanted her to stay, she didn’t need me and she won’t be back, at least not tonight.  She’s still out there somewhere.  I can see her through the overhead door where the forklift goes and she’s gracing the faces of those standing in social clusters just outside but that’s not where I want to go so I stay here inside, part of the darkening column of those hunkered on their tattered bar stools, and I listen to the music.

This morning the temperature was on the edge of freezing and a gray scrim of frost fogged the windshield of the car.  I sat, the motor idling as the defroster sent a blast of air up into the glass, helping the wipers bring visibility.  Soon it will take a scrapper to hasten the process.  This afternoon it’s apparent the knit caps of wool or whatever material, are out on both the guys and the girls.  It strikes me that they tend to look so much better on the females, how the caps pulled low frame and bring color to their faces in such a charming way.  Some of the guys wear those Peruvian Andes type wool caps with the earflaps that droop down and dangle strings of yarn that terminate with little round buttons of wool or maybe tassels and when a couple of those guys stand together I’m reminded of the comedy act that used to appear on the old Johnny Carson show, the two guys that stood kind of vacant-faced, dressed in northern exposure clothes with those heavy wool caps and only one of them would speak:

“Hi, my name is Dayrle,” he’d say.  “And this is my brother, Dayrle.  Our parents were good friends.  And cousins.”

At least that’s how I remember it and maybe it’s just the caps, maybe the Cold Smoke, but some of these guys remind me of the brothers, Dayrle and Dayrle.

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5 Responses to Leaving Missoula

  1. Al Pils says:

    …the funny thing about that day in June is that I’d just called Skylar to see if you were back in town…I thought that a little Levon would be a respectable tip of my cap…Al

  2. Bob Travis says:

    Another truly magical piece of fine writing, Bill! It *will* be good to have you back here…. :-) Safe traveling! /bob

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