Scarlett’s Letter September 17 – 20, 2013

Greetings from Glasgow, Montana.

I feel like I’m living in a Prairie Home Companion episode, or the 1950’s, or both; everyone here knows each other, and, usually, are related through marriage, if not directly. There is a mild distrust of anyone obviously not a part of “the clan”. Like me. And all of the “oil people”. The town without a Wal Mart (link). I mean, Michigan City, Indiana has a Wal Mart, and I bitched about that! Glasgow, Montana. Life seems a little simpler here, for those accustomed to it. Unless you need something from a large retailer. I, personally, am struggling.

The view from my hotel room.
The view from my hotel room.

But, first, let’s talk about trust. With much effort, tenacity and perseverance, I managed to find a car to rent in this town. I Googled and Googled and Googled. I eventually found a rental agency, online, that rented cars in “rural Montana”. I carefully selected a car and filled out the reservation form. There were “safe” and “secure” transaction badges all over the site and the name of the agency even sounded vaguely familiar. But, after entering all of my information, there was an error message that the transaction couldn’t be processed, though no reason was given. Five minutes later American Express calls and tells me my card has been hacked and was used at a Home Depot in New York City. Hello? If you’re going to hack a card with no credit limit, really? Home Depot? For a hundred bucks? Were you desperate for light switch plate covers and masking tape? Tiffany, Barney’s, Louis Vuitton and Cartier are right around the corner, loser. Back to trust. I picked up the phone and called a real person at the hotel I made reservations at. A real person answered, no recorded phone maze and I didn’t have to press anything for English. Amazing. The nice lady at the hotel gave me two phone numbers for folks she has known her entire life, that might just have car for rent the week I’m going to be in town. How nice. One is a Ford dealership, the other a Buick dealership. I call the Ford one. I’ve owned a 1966 Ford Mustang and a 1992 Ford Bronco; I am a Ford girl. But, sadly, they don’t rent cars anymore. I call Andy at the Buick dealership. They still make Buicks? Whatever.  Andy is very nice, but, all three of his rental cars are spoken for. He will talk to the boss (his dad) and, maybe, they can “buy” another car for me. Alright then. Nobody’s ever bought me a car before. He’ll call me back. And he does!!!! I am blown away! Whoever calls back when they say they’re going to? “I’ll call you back” normally translates to “I can’t help you, I don’t want to help you, I want off the phone, now, and you’ll never hear from me again.” Andy called back and had a car for me! Wow. Amazeballs.

Andy instructed me thusly; when my flight arrives in Glasgow (link), the car will be in the parking lot, unlocked, with the keys tucked behind the visor. There will be a bright orange piece of paper hanging from the rear view mirror with my name on it. This is trust. Or naivety. Andy, obviously, has never tried to reserve a car in Glasgow, Montana online. Andy has, obviously, never had his car stereo and the contents of his trunk stolen from him in the dead of night, from his locked car, parked in his own driveway in the “best part of town”. Andy, obviously, doesn’t shop at Wal Mart often, because it’s three and a half hours away. How cool to live in a world where you can leave a car at the airport, unlocked, with the keys within and a sign that says everything but, “steal me”. There must be a catch. There is.

There is no AT&T cell service for miles, from what I’ve been told. Having arrived very late at night after my epic flight and non-flight, I sort of tumbled into bed, hoping it was clean, and I slept, I might have actually passed into death, briefly. I was tired. I didn’t glance at my phone as I readied for bed, other than to set the alarms for morning. When I arrived at my clients’ office, and, at break, went to send my Sweetie my customary “Good morning, Love” text message, I found “No Signal” where the bars should’ve been. My first thought was that my service had been cut off due to some gross bookkeeping error in some remote third world country where AT&T has outsourced their accounting function. I tried calling myself from my Verizon phone. I know. Geek. I tried texting myself, back and forth, to no avail. I finally worked up the gumption to ask the twenty something attendees in my class about cell reception. I was told that AT&T only comes in from the middle of the lake. I don’t happen to have a boat with me. Nice. Maybe Andy has a boat I can rent.

There are places I go, routinely, where there is little or no cell reception, and I am fine. Work is not one of them. When I am travelling for work, I really, really, really want to communicate with everyone in my life. It keeps me sane. Nearly. I could feel a mild state of hysteria overcome me as I tried to work out, in my mind, how I was going to manage communication without a cell signal. My Verizon phone is for “work purposes only”. I even had to sign a mile long “contract”, after watching an online slideshow/movie/presentation thing (for people in our company who can’t read, I guess), as to what is business and what is personal use of the phone and that, under penalty of death, we would not use our work iPhones for personal purposes. I’m totally fine with that. Until now. I have full reception on my work (Verizon) phone. There is a world out there I need to contact at random points throughout the day and night. This I must I do. Shit.

All day long I am thinking and planning and scheming on how, exactly, I’m going to communicate with everyone. And get away with it. I figure out that with my Verizon MiFi, which is mine, all mine, and, yes, seemed like an extravagant $50 bill every month, until now, I can turn it on and use my AT&T phone to reach part of my world; my kids via iMessage and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare. That is pretty much the whole world, except my Sweetie, who, in the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, though without Internet or Wi-Fi, is actually in a more civilized and amenity filled world than Glasgow, Montana.

My only solution to that, then, is to use my “work” phone to call my Sweetie. Sssshhh. But, gosh darnit, when you’re a thousand miles from home, alone, because of work, I’m pretty much thinking that being able to connect with your loved ones then becomes a business necessity. So. Fire me. Please.

I went out to dinner with several folks from the firm I’m working with this week. We had a lovely dinner at the one pretty good restaurant in town. I strategically seized a seat in the “middle” of the long, rectangular table, thinking I’d be able to hear everyone, and soft spoken as I am, would be able to project to all. I ended up playing conversational Ping-Pong. The folks on the left of me are all talking about hunting and fishing and epic adventures, the people to the right of me are all talking about travel, shopping, wine and dining out. My interests are divided, normally, but usually I can juggle them. This is just cruel, I am forced to decide, or be an idiot and keep trying to participate effectively in both conversations. I just swivel my head left, then right, left then right, and try to participate in both conversations. I order another beer and, with my MiFi on in my purse, I manage to check in from on all my social media, complete with pictures. After dinner, I head back to my hotel room. I pull out the useless weight in my purse, which happens to be the iPhone 5 I lusted after for months, I notice a sign of life, a faint pulse. A faint glimmer of life, of utility. There is a signal. Like, two and a half bars. I try to place a call, to no avail. I try to text, to no avail. So, it’s alive, but in a coma. And still, a useless weight, a lying, cheating, misleading useless weight. Bars imply functionality. Liar. Liar. Liar.

Dinner at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Dinner at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Shared dessert at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Shared dessert at Durum in Glasgow Montana

I eventually come to terms with my inability to easily communicate with people in the civilized world. People with a Wal Mart closer than three and a half hours away. Not that I, by any stretch of the imagination, consider Wal Mart an indication of civility, culture or even domestication. Still, there is a certain calm that comes with the acceptance of being so remote you no longer exist to the social media world. This is why I thoroughly enjoy backpacking as often as I can. This is why I find my visits to Alaska so grounding, so centering, so nutritive. I know I’m a junkie, a technological, social media needia junky. I’ve written about a trip to Alaska where I learned to overcome my six-shooter Google App for iPhone reflexes and remembered how to use dictionaries and other anthropologically important methods to find information, in order to prove my point, that I was right, or, in rare cases, to educate myself when I was lacking knowledge. I jest, of course. Of course.

It is often observed, in the Bible and in other historical accounts, that when things are the darkest, light ensues. After the floods, the sun on the fringe of the clouds and the rainbow, blardy blar, as an example. Somewhere, at some point, I decided, maybe decided is too strong of a word, I succumb to the fact that I was here, social media and decent cell service were not, and I could not do simple things, like Open Table, Foodspot or Yelp for restaurants, bank from an app on my phone, check in for flights and pay for bags from an app on my phone, or, even hold a simple conversation on my cell phone, text or talk. With acceptance, however unwilling, of these facts, the rainbow appeared and I decided to embrace a certain simplicity. To simplify in a way, or two, that may even leave a mark on my data enriched, or perhaps, data inundated, lifestyle back home. Besides, I was getting menacing emails from my Verizon MiFi data plan about approaching my limit for the month and the cost of overages. And I’m only ten days in to my plan month. Crap.

Does it mean something when your almost brand new iPhone 5 battery only lasts 2/3 of the day before requiring life support? With each new iPhone, I was pretty sure, the battery life was supposed to improve. Oh, wait, but so does the quantity and quality of all the apps for the iPhone. It’s like heroine. We start with an app or two, then ten or twenty, then a hundred or two hundred. Before long, we can’t get out of bed or measure the quality of our sleep without an app. Or two. The more apps we use to simply exist, obviously, the more battery life we consume in an ordinary day. I have lots of apps. I used to know I was an app junkie by the crazy number of notifications in the upper right hand corner of the “App Store” icon. I was normally in the triple digits. Embarrassing. I know. But, thankfully, I am oblivious to my addiction once again. With the iOS7 upgrade, my phone now automatically updates all my apps and I never see an update push notification. Since this marvel I have probably downloaded two-dozen more apps. It doesn’t help that apps are advertised on Facebook for iPhone. I fall for it. I click through, read the description, read the reviews and download the app. Free apps are offered on other apps I use, like the Starbucks app and EasilyDo. I even downloaded two apps while at the airport after watching popular media on TV. Shoot me. I have discovered some cool apps this way; Evernote and Dashlane, for example. I couldn’t survive ten minutes without either one of these apps on every one of my devices; phones, macs, PCs. Seamless. Unless, of course, I’m in Glasgow, Montana.

I’m quite certain one of the reasons my iPhone battery drains so quickly is because of the volume of crap emails I get. For the record, I hate email. Loathe, despise and hate, with a capital H-A-T-E. And I’m old enough to remember when email was the cool thing and not everyone had it, only the totally in the know, cutting edge, Avant-garde people had an email address. I remember the lengths I went to to have an email address of my own. I had a personal email long before I had work email. Alas, I have always been this way. Sigh. And for this; email hell. Every business I do business with, which for me, is lots, including every store I shop at, every social networking site I affiliate with and every app I have to register for, which is pretty much all of them, I get regular emails. And by regular I mean hourly. I spend more time deleting emails in a twenty-four hour period than I do sleeping, which is just wrong.

And what is the proper etiquette? My daughter was in a youth group for several years but has not been, now, for a couple of years. The daughter of a now deceased youth advisor for the same youth group has an MLM and, God help me, I’m on her list. I will never buy any of the shit she sells, even if I knew what it was, nor will I become a representative for any of the shit she sells, in fact, I find her quite tiresome not only in email format but on Facebook, as well. Can I “unsubscribe” and “unfriend”, or is that “uncool”? And with that guilty thought came a revelation. I’m fucking unsubscribing from everything. Today will be “Fucking Unsubscribing from Everything Day”. I’m going to the National Calendar Day page and requesting this as an official day! They may go for it, but I’m guessing they’ll edit the name a little. By the way, they need an app of their own. They don’t have one. I checked. Yesterday.

I made progress, while I was within range and within budget, on Wi-Fi. I couldn’t help but delete all the garbage emails as they came in, but then, in my free time, which I have lots of, since I can’t actually communicate with anyone in the outside world, the real world, the internet, only by email, I’ve been going through my email trash folder and systematically unsubscribing to everything. This is so liberating! I can’t wait until tomorrow morning when I have like, zero emails! I’m genuinely excited. I haven’t unsubscribed from shit in almost five years! I think I may even weigh less as a result! I’m going shopping for size fours! Wait. No I’m not. I’m in Glasgow, Montana AND I can’t reach MissMe.com. Fudge.

Irony. I tried to unsubscribe from the MLM youth group connection lady. The “unsubscribe” link resulted in an error, all forty seven times I’ve tried. My penance. Well, hell.

As the week progresses, I continue to opportunistically unsubscribe to all the emails I’ve been receiving, daily now, for years. I really do feel leaner, lighter, freer. I highly recommend this. How much time and energy do you spend every day mindlessly deleting email after email after email?

Are there other things in our life that drain us like unwanted emails drain our phone battery life? Think about it. Are there things we do, or things we endure, that make life more cumbersome? Poor health, an unhappy relationship, a job we don’t love. Is there something in life you dread as much as seeing a push notification for twenty-five new emails you know are all junk? Is it time to unsubscribe? Is it time to sleep more, and to sleep better, having put all this waste behind us. Like a juice-cleanse for the soul? Think about it. Then take action. Unsubscribe from all those unwanted emails, then unsubscribe from the unnecessary and tedious things in life that fill you with the same feeling of dread and trepidation as hundreds of crap emails. Be free.

I have actually been enjoying my evenings, here, in Glasgow, Montana. I’ve been eating well, in spite of the fact I haven’t been able to see how many stars or spoons a restaurant has earned from adoring fans. I have been receiving restaurant recommendations via “word of mouth”. It is so retro it’s almost cool again. This is how it works; someone ate somewhere and liked the food and they tell you, in person, and even suggest a menu selection. I know. Right? So you drive to the restaurant, and, thank goodness the Garmin still works here, because they’re all, like, fifteen miles from town, but totally worth the ten-minute drive (speed limits are pretty high around here once you get three feet out of town). And the local beer? Wow. Who knew? The only place in town that didn’t have an admirable local beer list, or any beer list, for that matter, was the pizza place. I didn’t know you could eat pizza without beer. It can be done, and, yes, the pizza was good … but. I ate a slice or two in the restaurant, had the rest boxed, bought beer at the market, and went back to my hotel to enjoy the rest, though sans people watching, at least, with a decent beer.

Lunch at Sam's Supper Club Glasgow Montana
Lunch at Sam’s Supper Club Glasgow Montana
Eugene's Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene’s Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene's Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene’s Pizza, Glasgow Montana

The other place, out of town fifteen miles, that didn’t have a decent beer menu, may have, in fact, had a decent beer menu. Am I missing it? Is there some rule or law or code somewhere that says females only ever drink, or should only ever drink, shitty, pale, piss-water-beer? I don’t. I won’t. Example. I went to the hotel bar with a couple of the partners from the firm I’m working with. I asked about the beer menu. I could see about thirty different varieties, in bottles, in the cooler behind the bar. I was salivating. The bartender started naming off “beers” like Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite. I asked her “what’s the darkest beer you have?” She told me there was a Bakken Bock, but it was “dark” and I wouldn’t like it. I told her I would. She insisted, as in, argued, I wouldn’t like it. I politely insisted that I would, in fact like it, meaning, I’d enjoy it and bring me a goddam glass, please. She tried to suggest, again, that I really wouldn’t like it. I loved it. I had two. I went back another night and had two more. I want one now.

My last day with the client. We finish our session a little early, by design, because everyone in the office is going to the High School Homecoming parade. I time the conclusion of the materials and exercises expertly, they all walk out the door and down the street. I gather my things and get in Andy’s rental car, the Buick, which is quite nice, if you wanted to know. By now, however, the streets are all blocked off for the parade, the sidewalks on both sides are lined with people, all wearing read. Go Scotties. Woof. I try, unsuccessfully, for the next thirty minutes, to find a way around the parade route. The train tracks parallel the main streets “downtown”, the highway in and out of town are on the other side of the street, and the only track crossing is an underpass which is, clearly, part of the parade route, as evidenced by the cop car parked askance across the intersection in order to thwart unpatriotic out-of-towners like me from getting mixed up with the marching band and the floats. The parade route zigzags up one street and down another, I find, totaling, I’m sure, about eight miles in all and covering every bit of pavement the town has, with the exception of the highway, on the other side of the tracks. The tracks I cannot cross, the highway I now, desperately wish to be upon. At one point I get too close to the parade route and can’t turn around because I’ve run out of side streets and all the driveways are blocked by onlookers. I just drive my red Buick LaCrosse down the street. All the onlookers wave excitedly at my red car as they peer in to see who, exactly is driving. Their smiles all fade when they at last conclude that I’m just a dumb out-of-towner that got mixed up in their parade route. I exit the fan-lined street as quickly as I can. At long last, having now driven in circles, squares and up and down every street to find only dead ends and farm equipment impeding my escape, I approach the cop car at the intersection of the parade route and the underpass to freedom. The cop politely smiles and waves me on, under the train tracks and to freedom! So, I’ve been driving around like an idiot, crisscrossing the parade route multiple times, for nearly an hour. I’m a little embarrassed. I hope no one from the firm has seen me make a spectacle of myself.

Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
BBQ pulled pork wrap at Bergie's in Nashua Montana
BBQ pulled pork wrap at Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
Ice Cream made at Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Ice Cream made at Bergie’s in Nashua Montana

So, on my last night, I went to a restaurant out by the lake. You know, the lake where AT&T has service. In the middle of. I don’t believe it. I am seated and a very nice though somewhat awkward, and, dare I say, backward, young waitress greets me. There is a vibrant bar with all kinds of “Montana-like” people at the bar, stout, swarthy men, stout, swarthy women. I’m thinking they’ve got to have stout swarthy brew! I implore. I am given the usual, “oh, you’re a girl, and not a particularly swarthy, stout one, so you must want a light beer, but only because our wine list sucks, otherwise you’d order a Chardonnay”. Wrong, on every count.  I don’t want a Bud Light, I don’t want a Coors Light, I don’t ever want Chardonnay. I want real beer, that tastes like beer, made from malt and barley and hops and maybe something exotic like chocolate or oatmeal. Or both. I settle on a Sam Adams because my waitress is dumbfounded and can only point at the bottles in the cooler behind the bar. She actually suggests Smirnoff Ice as a “beer” selection. I am trying to be tolerant, accepting and kind. I manage. Meanwhile, I see other people in the vicinity with beer that has color, like maybe an amber, even. Sigh. The waitress reads the specials to me, with labor, chicken “cord on balloon”, I have a visual, but she then describes the ingredients, in gruesome detail. I’m sorry, doesn’t everyone know what chicken cordon bleu is? I let it pass. She then goes on to tell me that the chicken “cord on balloon” is served with hhhhhhhhhherb mashed potatoes. She pronounced the “h”, with emphasis. Oh dear. My heart breaks a little for her, poor child. She doesn’t know what real beer is and she, obviously is under the impression that someone is serving chicken with balloons tied to it with cords. I tip her 20%, hoping she puts it to good use and gets out of Montana long enough to learn what cordon bleu means and that real women often drink real beer.

Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
My favorite Montana brew, the Bakken Bock, enjoyed at Cottonwood Hotel.
My favorite Montana brew, the Bakken Bock, enjoyed at Cottonwood Hotel.

I’m ready to go home. In so many ways. I get back in Andy’s Buick and head for the hotel, where I stop in at the bar for one more Bakken Bock before I ready to leave for home, and civilization and cell service, briefly, tomorrow.

Montana scenery
Montana scenery
Lake at Fort Peck Montana
Lake at Fort Peck Montana

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