Originally Published 11/14/2011
Photo Source: Peter Marlow
“God, should we? That’s a lot of driving, either way. I don’t want to wear you out.” Mick was at the wheel, at the intersection of 287 and 200 and the decision between Great Falls or Butte. He and Hannah, flush with an inheritance from her grandmother and winging their way across the map, had started the day nearly eight hours earlier in Moses Lake, WA, and were debating continuing on to Great Falls and then back to Glacier, or pushing on to Miles City and, the next day, Little Big Horn, North Dakota, the Badlands and the Continental Divide. Butte to Miles City looked on the atlas to be about another six hours, as did Butte to Kalispell. Either way, another half day on the road.
Hannah ran her hand up and down Mick’s forearm. She was so happy to be able to give him this trip, to see his kid-with-a-new-toy exuberance, to traverse landscape so ingrained in her DNA from growing up in Missoula. She was so happy to give all this she would have driven on to Boston if Mick had wanted to. “I’m game for whatever you are, hon. It’s your midlife crisis! And how often are we going to have a chance to do this?”
Mick thought about it, playing eenie-meenie with all the places he had dreamed of while growing up in Boston and devouring every book he could find about Custer, Louis & Clark and the West in general. Going to college and then staying in Seattle was probably, subliminally, partly due to proximity to the land of the pioneers. And now here he was, living it, breathing it…
Losing gram was, obviously, not the best way to make money. But Hannah hadn’t seen her in over twenty years, and she was, frankly, shocked to even be remembered. She and Mick were finally doing okay, finally self-sufficient with her photography and his film production, after all those years getting their souls sucked in corporate Cubes and building the dream nights and weekends. She knew how hard Mick had worked to make it happen, how much he sacrificed and how freaked out he was about money and about pushing 40. So she was going to surprise him with an extremely modest mid-life crisis trip anyway. Having that inheritance payoff gave them serious extra flexibility. It was the greatest gift she had ever received and the greatest gift she could ever give.
It seemed like ages that they sat at that intersection, staring at the vast prairie ahead. Mick was lost in thought. He saw himself at ten, reading through all 26 leather-bound volumes of the Time Life “The Old West” set; at eighteen, skipping class at U Dub to soak in the history of Pioneer Square and Underground Seattle; at twenty-three, practically memorizing Ken Burns: Lewis & Clark and Thomas Jefferson; and now, almost forty, finally clean, an in-demand film producer, and scared shitless about missing out on life, never seeing all those landmarks he had envisioned all those years…And now it was happening, and he could pick-and-choose what to see. Turn left, and it’s Glacier. Turn right, and it’s Little Big Horn and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Jesus…
The Montana landscape was other-worldly, spectral and incomprehensible. Nothing but prairie and mountain, wheat and rock. At least on this side it was, having passed through the Bitterroots and the surprisingly verdant western flank earlier. They had lunch at a Perkins in Missoula, with a hot wind coming down from a mountain monogrammed with a big “M”. And Mick and Hannah both realized how out of place they were for not sporting a cowboy hat. It was a totally different world, and they both dived into the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to subsume themselves into the foreign and recontextualize their lives and work after the fact. They would never be the same, and they were so much the better for it.
Mick was almost scared to continue either way, being so overwhelmed at the fact that his lifelong dreams were finally being realized. He was thankful every day, but today, with his rock and better half at his side, his newfound sobriety, his independence after all those years of bending over for the man….it was almost too much. So many convergences at one intersection in the middle of fucking nowhere Montana! And he won no matter which way they went.
“So, Tiger, what do you think?” Hanna smiled over at Mick with all the love and support in the world. This was a new world for Mick, and he was never happier. “Well,” he said “let’s see where the road goes!” He turned the car and they headed for the next dream-come-true…