Friday, February 20, 2015

What Do You Want, I'll Give You What We Have.





You'd think from the lack of posting here that my life has been one unbroken boulevard of comfortable moments.

But oh no. What it's been is one unbroken boulevard of overwhelm alternating with laziness, a hearty helping of awkwardness sprinkled liberally throughout.

The exchange I want to tell you about took place recently in Glendive, Montana, about 220 miles outside Billings. There had been an oil spill into the Yellowstone River, which provides drinking water for the town.

It had been a long day covering the spill. No proper meal. The progression from Billings, roughly: wolfed-down chafer eggs, Garmin fail, hasty turn in rental car, cop lights, verbal warning from said cop, three hours of driving through wondrous sky sky sky land land land beige beige beige cattle horses coal trains, and finally muddy riverside tours of the spill scene with people who had been working far rougher hours with far fewer proper meals.

We just wanted food. And possibly an alcoholic beverage. My companion for the evening was a photographer and native Montanan who knew Glendive. There was a good Mexican place, she said. We drove to the main commercial strip, which sat in the shadow of a parked coal train on the railroad tracks. I entertained visions of melted cheese.



Mexico Lindo, as it turned out, wasn't open on Monday nights. Not much was, from the looks of it. The Beer Jug, however, had the lights on. We parked on the empty street.

The Beer Jug carried not exactly warmth, but an impression of warmth, though the pool table was empty and the only patrons were clustered almost out of sight at the end of the bar. It was cafeteria-like and bright, the bar backlit by refrigerator cases. The bartender asked what we wanted.

Now, I've been the chick who tries to order the fancy drink at the dive bar before. In another life. I knew better than to order anything that comes in a martini glass, even if I'd been inclined to. I knew to order a straight, bottled pour. That's it. "I'll have a glass of white wine, a Chardonnay if you have one," I said. Even saying "Chardonnay" was pushing it, I knew.




The bartender froze. "Um, we have like a pink zinfandel, but I don't know if you want that," she said. She had short blonde hair and appeared to be less than half my age, but she was plenty wise enough to know that I sure as hell did not want a pink zinfandel.

"This is the Beer Jug, after all," I acknowledged. Sadly, I don't love beer. "No problem, I'll just have a club soda," I said.

The bartender remained immobile. "Um," she said. "What's that."

She didn't wait for the answer and walked toward the refrigerated cases full of cans silhouetted in fluorescent light.

"We have beer, and we have pop."

Maybe it was the fatigue, or maybe just simple, blind hope, that made us somehow continue ignoring the options, which were blazingly clear at this point. "I'll have a vodka soda," the photographer said. Another stare. "We don't have hard liquor," the bartender said.

Unbelievably, we kept going. "What about a cider?" I said. My friend nodded supportively as the bartender continued to stare at us. "Yeah! Like a hard cider?"she urged me on.

The bartender continued to watch us, waiting it out. The slow-turning gear in my head finally clicked in. "You know what? I'll just take a beer. What beer do you like?" Tell me, blonde bartender, please tell me. I don't care as long as it is a potable beverage.

She poured a stout for me and an ale for the photographer. We ordered sandwiches and popcorn, which the bartender popped on a burner in front of us. "Can we also have some water? I asked.

Here, unexpectedly, choices: The bartender lowered her chin. "Do you want tap, or bottled water?" The tap water had been declared okay to drink just a few days ago after benzene contamination from the oil spill.

There were not two people in Glendive more enthusiastic about trying the local tap water at that point than us. "Tap water is fine with me! Fuck it! Yeah let's try the tap water! WHY NOT."

So we did. It didn't taste very good, but according to the people we talked to, the water in Glendive had never tasted very good, spill or no spill. It's chlorinated to hell and back because, among other things, "animals die in the Yellowstone River," as the bartender mentioned.

Still, I wanted to finish the water, to show somehow that I wasn't a hopelessly fussy outsider (why does it still occur to me even a little bit to care what a random stranger thinks of me or my beverage preferences?). Couldn't do it. Didn't really do justice to my BLT, either. That's OK. I'm not too fussy to have a beer and popcorn for dinner.



Music: "Go Back Home"

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