I was going to write something light-hearted today, something about an incident here in town. It was going to be something similar to a joking post I wrote a few years about “terrorism coming to Yellowstone.”
Then I drove by the incident and started to think about it. I mean really think.
Even with all the tourist traffic, Gardiner, Montana is a small town. It doesn’t take a lot to really hit this town. More importantly, it doesn’t take a lot to really hit the people of this town.
COVID hit us pretty hard to start things off. Although the worst of the isolation and quarantines happened before the Yellowstone season kicked off, we were still pushing 80-90% unemployment for several months. Even now, even with the numbers of park visitors picking up — to about 50-60% of normal — we still are pushing a 20%+ unemployment rate.
Then the incident…
Y’all know I like dive bars. Y’all know because I’ve written about it often enough. Well, one of my favorite dive spots here in town — you know the one, the dive with the crazy locals and the sticky floor — caught fire last night. Now, I was going to write a joke about the place finally cleaning up. I was going to write about the Nero school of “urban renewal.”
Then I drove by.
Half a block burned. Half a block of businesses that employ locals. Half of block of places that keep this town alive. The only thing that kept it down to that half a block, by the way, was the fire department — all-volunteer, and all people I know and like — using a bulldozer to knock down a restaurant in order to finally stop the spread.
I drove by today and it’s still smoldering and burning.
All the blood, sweat and tears of those who built those businesses are burning.
All the jobs are burning.
I hesitate to say it, but after this past winter and spring it feels like hope itself is burning.