August 8, 2015 – Rain, 65 degrees
Miles Today: 30
Miles to Date: 5,382
States to Date: 21
Today was short on miles and long on mental conundrums. Yesterday afternoon I was in downtown Livingston on a sunny afternoon enjoying the vibe of skinny young people serving up local food, creating art, and taping Bernie Sanders posters in storefront windows. This morning I pedaled to the truck stop on the outskirts of town for breakfast before climbing Bozeman Pass. I settled into a platter of giant pancakes, crispy bacon and sunny side eggs; a fly on the wall with big ears. All around me heavyset guys in big hats and booming voices complained and slandered with discomforting assurance. “Who elects these fools in Washington?” “Hillary is a crook, she should be in jail, not the White House.” “Obama hates Jews, at least he does one thing right.” “The Japs are about to invade Australia.” “My gun license prohibits buying guns out of state. Why the hell is that?”
For the first time on my trip, I shied away from joining a conversation and asking my question. The two loudest old men eventually shuffled out to a vintage Lincoln and sped down the highway. I engaged with two women who came in later, personable even as they said Obama is the antichrist and we are entering the end of times. For them, every sign that people of the world are coming together is proof that the end is upon us.
For 23 miles in the rain my legs pumped as my mind wondered how to make sense of my truck stop experience. I want to find reason and value in every person I meet, but I just don’t understand people who thrive in obstinacy and faultfinding.
The rain cleared. Bozeman was celebrating its Sweet Peas Festival. Hundreds of people lined Main Street for the parade and then trekked to the parks to see art, hear music and eat international food. It was exactly as the truck stop patrons predicted: the world coming together. Yet it seemed less like the end of times than very good times. I took a break in Bozeman’s gorgeous new library, a place to come together if ever there was one. The building has large windows that overlooked the park and festival. The world is so much more positive than my breakfast companions allow.
I don’t want to dismiss people whose primary occupation is maligning and complaining, but since they never offer solutions, I can’t figure out what they want. I almost hope they find satisfaction naysaying; otherwise they’d be mighty unhappy. Regardless, common ground is difficult to find.
I have been in two Montana cities that strike an interesting mix of tradition and progress. In between I found an isolated truck stop where people cock sure of everything wrong congregate. I like to think they will be welcome back to the center of things if they ever realize that living together in peace is something we should embrace rather than fear.