Sunday, April 30, 2017

Philipsburg, Montana

I park in front of an unassuming bar on Broadway, with its red brick facade and neat blue paneled window frames. I step off the car and I’m greeted by the bar watchdog, a greyhound by the name of Jessie, who looks more like a mini antelope. I punch open the swinging art deco chrome doors, under the blinking neon sign. I’m met by the noisy and bustling scene inside and by the smell of wholesome home-cooking which wafts around the spacious, fluorescent-lit joint. It’s impossible to escape the incredible potpourri of sports memorabilia scattered around the bar’s green paneled walls. I sit at the end of the long wooden bar which bends into a small formica lunch-counter. Local Duck Dynasty lookalikes, on their umpteenth drink, wear their long hair under baseball caps and sport goatee beards as tasteless as their T-shirts. At one corner, some are trying their luck in the Keno and Poker video gambling machines. Others are drowning their sorrows at the bar. These larger than life characters all look like they just walked out of a casting for a new art-house movie. I get the impression that they all might as well have spent the last month here. Stuck to a barstool with a beer in one hand and a chaser in the other. Their aim to look as neglected as possible and to say as little as possible. The waitress can hardly keep up, rushing back and forth clanking her heels on the wooden plank floor. In one poor-lit corner of the bar is the “Hall of Fame”, a collection of pictures of old timers who have passed. I hop off my chair and head to take a closer look. There must be close to one hundred pictures hanging in the wall, each one with a small inscription or saying beneath the picture. “It’s not how fast you run or how strong you are, but how well you bounce”, it reads in one of the pictures. “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on”, reads another. “The measure of a man is when he does the right thing even if no one is watching.” I cannot smile in approval at this tribute to those who have gone. At the top of the “Hall of Fame” is the picture of a tall and lanky old man with azure blue eyes. A white shock of hair flattened beneath an Irish cloth cap and a mischievous grin on his face. I take a closer look at the inscription underneath. “The car that brought me here doesn’t run anymore”. I cannot help but laugh at the use of a line, slightly changed, from “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” as a kind of epitaph. Looking around the bar, the atmosphere becomes contagious and the laughter is infectious. I might as well be stuck inside a Richard Hugo poem for all I care, so I linger for awhile. The car that brought me here still running for all I know. 

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