Chapter 20: From Cody

August 6, 2011

[Giant Sand – “Sucker In A Cage” MP3]

Yesterday, in Billings, I strolled up and down Grand Avenue, the main stretch of local businesses in this city. After visiting a record store (whose facade touted the availability of tie-dyed t-shirts—what a novelty!), I found a liquor store called “Brews.” Expecting to find some local beer, I was greeted by a selection of booze which consisted solely of wine. Upon walking through the door, a voice behind me boomed.

“Hello, there.”

“Oh, hi” I responded.

“I kind of snuck in behind you.” The man was old with white hair, and very thin. He was holding a clipboard. He asked, “Are you here for the wine tasting?”

“N- Well…is the wine tasting today?”

“Yes, it sure is.”

So I lied. I said I was there for the tasting and I sampled six or seven local wines Brews was touting. When I had completed my chores as a taster, I wanted to leave as surreptitiously as possible. The clipboard guy was following me, though. He even called for Kevin, one of his employees, to box-up whatever bottles I wanted to take home with me. There was no way in hell I was going to buy any wine, so I needed to figure out how I to leave empty handed. After fifteen minutes, I dug my hand into the pocket of my jeans and fumbled around with my phone. I dialed Ilya’s number and waited two seconds. Then I yanked the phone out and answered, “Hello?”

I was talking to a dial tone, but I started babbling anyway. When Ilya picked up, I asked him kindly to “say something that’ll take, like, fifteen seconds.” He mumbled something and I looked at the clipboard guy with a puzzled look on my face. I held up my index finger, the international sign for “one minute please, I’m having a hard time hearing,” and I walked out the door. Then I ran to my car and away I sped.

By 6:00, everything in Billings was closed. The residents had all vanished. I went to a coffee shop to watch a three-piece jazz group perform. I had a bagel and some coffee. After thinking about retiring to my room for the night, I went to a bar called The Grand Stand and drank while talking to some townies about baseball. We decided, over many bottles of Guinness and Keystone Light, that Pete Rose–-even if he bet on baseball—is more worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame than someone who used steroids. The rationale seemed to be (I think) that since he didn’t blatantly mismanage his team into losing, any bets he placed had no effect on a game’s outcome.

In a perfect world, this cross-country trek would be comprised solely of local roads, not interstates. That way, I’d be gifted the opportunity to drive through many more little towns like Belfry, Montana on MT-72, where children play in fenced in yards and folks volunteer to spend a perfect summer day repainting St. John’s Lutheran Church. To enter Wyoming is to slip across a border. There are no big signs welcoming you. One farm is in Montana, another is in Wyoming, and the road suddenly changes to WY-120.

Cody is rodeo. You drive down Sheridan Avenue and the Wild West is all around you. The spirit of Buffalo Bill is everywhere. The souls of displaced or long-deceased Native Americans are shadows stalking visitors. Cody arrives out of nowhere, in a valley at the base of a mountain chain. On Sheridan, you’ll find a majority of what Cody has to offer travelers. Old fashioned saloons, staged gun fights at high noon, stores touting relics from the mythical olden days, BBQ, and, of course, the Cody Stampede. Every night in June, July and August, Cody hosts a rodeo. The grandstands fill with tourists and locals looking for entertainment. The spectacle begins with the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, a prayer to Holy Father so that everyone in attendance will go safely at the end of the evening, and a prayer for our troops overseas. Bronco riding, steer roping and bull riding are the main attractions. The crowd cheers wildly for each and every contestant. They eat pulled-pork and chicken sandwiches, chew popcorn or cotton candy, and hope (silently) for a mauling. Nobody was gored tonight. I enjoyed seeing the children stare in abject horror when that first steer was hooked around the neck and yanked to the ground, bound and left there like a lump of coal. When the rodeo ends, there’s nothing left to do but stop at every saloon you pass on the way back to your motel. I quite enjoyed the Red Lodge Wiezen, the Seasonal pints at the Silver Dollar Bar, and all the female coeds on summer vacation.

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