Friday, February 16, 2007


Hungry Horse

If I'd wanted to see a bear, apparently I could have just gone across the river to Maplewood, New Jersey. And now we return you to the fictionalized present of the blog.

My intent is to find a hotel near West Glacier, which is a commercial center of sorts just outside the park itself, the better not to be whizzing past scenery in the dark. I pass a billboard for a brand new Super 8 a little further down the road, and after a day of hiking after a night of camping, itself preceded by a night in the Element, and no showers in between, a brand new Super 8 hotel sounds pretty good. But the clerk at the Super 8 gives fairly sneers at me when I ask if there are rooms. So I turn around and drive back to a town called Hungry Horse.

I hate to disillusion you, but Hungry Horse is not quite as charming and rustic as you or I would like it to be. It is, in truth, surrounded by spectacular pine forests covering steep mountainsides. No wooden sidewalks are to be found, however, and although there are saloons they do not seem to have piano players and dancing girls in petticoats. No gunfights break out on the main street , which is also the only street, while I am there, and I see no horses, whether hungry or fully satisfied. In fact, this pretty much sums up what I see in Hungry Horse, except that I do not see the Tamarack Lodge, and I end up driving across the town line into Coram to spend the night.

In Coram I pull up to one little motel and ring the bell, and when the clerk comes to the door he reminds me of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining," only without the mustache and all that mental stability. So when he says "Just a minute," I decide to use the time wisely by getting back in the car and driving rapidly out of the parking lot and up to the next little set of tourist cabins up the road.

The door there is opened by a woman so impossibly sweet and slow that I realize I've locked myself into this place before the words "Do you have any rooms?" can come out of my mouth. She does have rooms, and invites me into a tiny reception area, lit by one table lamp, where every inch of wall space and flat surface overflows with Christian imagery or iconography or proselytizing pamphlets. It takes her about a minute and a half to find the registration form and enter the date, during which time I study the stack of bibles on the counter. Am I meant to take one with me back to my room? Will she tell me to be sure to take one? Will there be trouble if I don't?

She asks for my identification and credit card, and I hand her my license, and she comments of course on how far from home I am. She also notes that my name is Christopher. "What a nice name," she says. "My son-in-law is named Christopher - " she says this sweetly and in a pace so unhurried that it can only have been a choice, a choice made long, long ago that she could never now reverse - "and he's such a wonderful boy that if you're anything like him, I would have given you the room for free." She pauses for an eternity during which it is nevertheless clear that there is another thought coming. "I ought to give you the room for free anyway." She does not do so.

The room is in a little pre-fab building across the parking lot, and it's bone cold, with an ancient heater that promises plenty of carbon monoxide if it by some miracle doesn't burn the place down. A bible is sitting on the side table, relieving me of any worries that I've committed a faux pas by not taking one from the stack in the office.

The bed functions, though. In the morning, the shower functions, mostly. I check out and head down the road to a place that the sweet, slow woman claims has the best breakfasts.

It does not. It's attached to a Sinclair gas station, and it has an adequate breakfast with weak bacon and service whose forgetfulness strikes me as a form of hostility. I read the paper from Great Falls, where there is so little local sports news that the agate page lists transactions in professional lacrosse.

There's a phone outside, and I call the 52nd Street Project and talk to Carol, whose reaction to my whereabouts in Hungry Horse can best be described as amusement devoid of envy.

I talk to Reggie for the first time in a few days. I'm told that everyone is asking about me. They want to know what I'm doing out here. Am I finding myself?

I don't answer this. I'm not sure he's looking for an answer, but I don't answer partly because I react to the question the same way I react to the service at the cafe in the Sinclair station, which itself is probably because I don't have any idea what the answer to that question is. I'm in this wide spot in the road in Montana because for as long as I can remember I've wanted to start driving west and just keep going until I hit an ocean. I'm here because I was called here. Or I'm here because I had cousins one place, and then another place, and then way led on to way, and I spent too long on the Swiftcurrent Trail, and Jack Torrance's idiot half-twin answered the door at the first motel.

This hasn't at all been what I expected it to be, except that I keep feeling feeling obedient to some strange spell urging me onward. And all I can tell you is that maybe I'm driving across the country to find out why I've always wanted to drive across the country. Get your own damn Hungry Horse.

That's what I remember feeling anyway. Back here at the Flying Saucer, I might be remembering it wrong.

Element days is probably my favorite blog to date, always funny, thoughtful, informative, and generally envy-producing.

One link you could have provided but forgot to is in the next to last paragraph of Hungry Horse where you use the phrase "way led on to way" without providing attribution to Robert Frost.

Here's hoping that the series continues throughout the rest of the country
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