A Long Time

Small town life…I has it.

It’s been a while for me, I have to admit, since I lived in a truly small town.  It’s been a long while, but the old memories — and the old skills — they’re still there.

I grew up in what, at the time, I considered a small town.  A small town, yeah right.  65,000 people (at the time), smack-dab in the middle of the LA-metroplex.*

*A relatively small geographic area, I might remind you, that holds better than 10% of the entire US population.

That was not small town life.  Hell, my high school graduating class alone had more folks in it than the entire town I live in now!

My life back east, however…

Back east, I went to college in a town with one stoplight…and that’s pretty much it.  There honestly wasn’t much of anything else.  We didn’t even have a freaking McDonalds, for fuck’s sake!  Hell, “going to the city” meant driving half-an-hour to a town less than half the size of the suburb in which I grew up.

Of course, I’ve lately been spending a big chunk of my life inside Yellowstone, but…

But…

…but, in the 6 months of the tourist-season inside the park, it most definitely is no “small town.”  Better than 4 million people a year visit Yellowstone in those six months.  Even if only a couple thousand of us actually live (and work) inside the park, the daily crowds of visitors make the place feel anything but empty and quiet.

But that’s the summer…

Then you get to the off-season.  The off-season in Gardiner, Montana.  At this time of year, there are 3 (dive-ish) restaurants, 2 stores, and a coffee shop…and that’s it.  The sidewalks are officially rolled up, the tourist-shops closed, the town shut-down, deserted and empty…

I went out for lunch today.  It’s my day-off, and cooking didn’t sound all that fun, so I went to one of the dive-ish bars for a burger and a beer.  Now, the Two Bit is most definitely not an LA kind of place.  Nosirree, not in Gardiner, not in winter.  The Two Bit is the kind of place where your feet stick to the floor; the kind of place where you can taste the cigarette smoke in your food.  It’s the kind of place where 50-cents-a-game pool is a way of life, and teeth are optional.  It’s the kind of place, when you get right down to it, that I used to love to frequent in my old “back east days.”

It was right about 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) today, so I sat outside.  I sat outside and chatted with the staff when they came out for their smoke breaks.  Crap, I was a bartender in my “back east days,” so I know full-well the dynamics of this stuff.  I know, but it’s been a long time since I lived it.

It’s been a long time since the jokes about bar fights and STDs and the stupid shit that late night drunks get up to.  A long time since your own — my own — stories of parties starting at 3:00am, of greeting the rising sun with a world-class drunk on.  A long time since needing the boss to give you a loan because rent and utilities took your whole check.  A long time since the sharing of pain meds, of “borrowing” Vicodin and Oxycodone and Percocet and all the other “wonders” of modern pharmacology from whoever happened to have a current prescription.

It’s been a long time…

A big part of me enjoyed my brief re-immersion in the reality of small town life, enjoyed my dip back inside the lives and world of the locals that the tourists and visitors cannot even begin to imagine.  A little part, however…

A little part was screaming in terror at the memories of my own experiences.

I like small town life, I really do, but holy shit do I not want to dive that far back in.  As a writer, I love the characters you get in a place like this.  I love the dynamics that can inspire you, the reality that can be a basis for so much pure story, but as a person…as a person I want — I need — to keep all that at arm’s length.

A couple of drinks, a game of pool or two — with my feet sticking to the floor — and that’s about it.  That’s all I can take.  As for the rest?  For the rest, the Two Bit can keep the drugs and the STDs and all the bitter regrets…

One of the topics of conversation — a joke more than a topic, really — was a song.  A song that is at least as bad — and as enduring! — as most of the STDs lying in wait on that floor.  Take a listen to that song and let it roll around in your head for the next…oh, weeks, probably…

Welcome to my personal hell.

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