Saturday, January 16, 2010

Leaving Missoula: 1990

I think it was by late spring in 1990 that Fru and I decided we'd leave Montana. We were poor in Missoula, I'd already quit the writing program there and was working full time as a janitor (at the university, no less), it had been a long winter and we were thinking of Portland, Oregon or Seattle as places to go. We ended up going back to Champaign.
We were living in our little "doll house" home on Rollins Street, a cottage to be exact. Fru got a job offer as controller back in Champaign, at her old bank, and her pay seemed like a lot of money to us (it wasn't, but it seemed like it at the time: as said, we were poor) and since I had a good time in Champaign back in '88, I said, "Okay." So we did the move back in two installments.
First we packed some stuff and drove back in her little brown Honda Civic. We took M.R. the cat with us then. We went to her father's house and she started her job and then I went back to the empty cottage on Rollins to do the final move.
Now, getting back wasn't too simple. I wanted to save money and have a bit of an adventure, so I got a ride from Margaret (I think, maybe I took the bus) to Sioux City. In Sioux City I hung with Matt and I contacted Bill Brown--a pal of mine from Missoula who had moved back to Minnesota--Mankato/Medelia--and he agreed to drive me back out to Missoula and help me out. Ah. But that wasn't so simple either.
If I remember right, Matt took me up into Minnesota where I met Bill. I do remember Bill Brown and I traipsing around that part of the state, southwestern MN. We spent some time in small towns like Pipestone and Blue Earth, we went to Madelia. We went into Mankato. I was there for a few days and in those days Bill lived with Barb (about twenty years his junior) and we all got along well. Oh, we went to New Ulm as well. But then Bill and I set out for Montana, driving through North Dakota and when we got to eastern Montana we stopped in the little town of Forsyth, just west of Miles City. Bill had spent a week or two or a month in Forsyth a year or two ago when his car broke down on his escape from Missoula. So, we settled in to a bar and we talked to people in the bar--the bar that had been Bill's hangout when he was stuck in Forsyth with major car trouble--and we got drunk.
It si happened that there was a duck race going on in that little western town. Now this duck race was simply a load of yellow plastic rubber duckies that they released in the river. The Yellowstone River. People bought ducks in the stores and schools and bars for the race. So, Bill and I each plunked down some money and each bought a duck and we stuck around for the race. We--drunk--went down to the riverbank where the race ended, watched the ducks float in, thought about what we'd do if we won--which was maybe a five grand pot--and watched as they selected a winner. It was not us. But the problem was, those ducks kept coming down the Yellowstone and someone had to scoop them up so that they didn't simply become yellow duckie pollution. It was a haphazard effort, this clean up, consisting of locals with small boats buzzing around in the river with scoop nets and netting the little plastic buggers. Bill and I found a guy who was buy himself with his boat. We offered to help and he said, "Okay". So, Bill and I--when I was supposed to getting back to Missoula and packing a UHaul and getting my butt back to Champaign, IL--were out on the yellowstone scooping up plastic ducks. We actually found the ducks we had bought at the bar (they had our numbers written on their bottoms in permanent marker--I think I still have that duck somewhere), so we kept them and went back to the bar in town.
The sensible thing would have been to get a room and some sleep, but no, we were cheap. So, off we drove into the twilight and got tired and stopped along the lonely Montana road and slept in the car--except Bill snores like a jet plane. I didn't get any sleep and began to drive again because I had nothing better to do. I almost fell asleep at the wheel, but did make it into Missoula by daybreak or so.
I still had our place in Missoula, so we stayed there. We met up with the usual suspects--Ken, Steve, others(John had graduated and moved to Portland OR by then)--and maybe needless to say we went around to the bars, to Charlie B's, and got drunk again. Ho. But the next day or two I got around to packing and renting a UHaul with a car tote to tote my red Custom Deluxe pickup truck behind the UHaul truck. I got'er done. I even trough in Jack, the neighborhood cat (who looked a lot like M.R.) who had been living with Fru and I for the last year or so (more on Jack some other time, perhaps). So the deal was, I'd drive the UHaul full of belongings while towing my pickup and Bill would follow in his little car. And so off we went.
It was south of Billings where Bill and I lost each other. It was at the Little Bighorn Monument park, or whathaveyou, and Bill wanted to go in but I turned around because it was crowded and I had my big truck with smaller truck in tow. This was before cell phones and we had no walkie talkies, but he said he'd catch up with me.
To tell the truth, I was a wee tired of Bill by that time. He's a great, smart guy, but can also be a monologuist. I really doubted that he'd catch up with me. I drove deep into South Dakota before calling it a night.
I was in my cheap roadside motel room, talking to Fru on the phone, joking and both of us laughing about Bill and how I'd lost him, when there was a knock on my door.
It was Bill.
I laughed some more and, as I thought about, was glad to see him. It turned out that he'd been stopping at every exit in South Dakota, tooling around the parking lots of the numerous motels, looking for my truck. Okay. Well the, It was the me and Bill show, back on again.
The next day we drove and parted ways by Sioux Falls--Bill back to Madelia, MN, me onward to my parents house in Des Moines--and it was a semi-emotional good bye (as far as guy good byes go) because Bill and I had been through a lot and had had a good time.
I did stop in Des Moines. Spent a day with my parents, Then it was the six hours to Champaign and the life that awaited me--us, Fru and I--there.
I didn't get real emotional about leaving Missoula, but in many ways Fru and wished that we hadn't. I often had dreams about that city, often about being in that house and that little house was empty and I was alone, often about the city and in the dreams Missoula is this wild and fantastical town and I want to be there again. I often think we shouldn't have left. Often wished we had gone on to Portland or Seattle. But in the long run, Champaign served Fru and I well.
But we both talk of Missoula, of Montana. We both miss it.

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