Notes from the road — the P(x) digital diaries
Day 14: Friday, August 27th
After having some time to ourselves to reflect and gain perspective (if a couple of hours can give you that) we decided to have a little powwow over breakfast. Actually it was more like a directors notes session to discuss our focus for the next couple of days and some technical direction which was very helpful in clarifying some details and expectations. Better now than never. The great thing is the early footage we hot was pretty darn good and the halfway footage was even better. Imagine what these last few days will look like? If only we had two more weeks and $10,000! To dream ...
Saying goodbye to Bozeman we were hoping to receive a sendoff and plug from the MSU radio station DJ, one of Kelli's new friends from the night before. Tuning in we found a girl named Heather on the air. Unless this guy's voice had changed drastically the DJ on the air was no the guy we had talked to. Did he mean 9pm? Or was he just pulling our legs? Guess we will never know.
After several attempts at finding farmers on their tractors in their fields for interviews and one case of nonaggressively chasing a farm worker on a motorbike trying to ask him where we could find farmers on tractors, Chris decided to stop in a small town surrounded by grain fields. Maybe we could find a farmer or two in town?
Chris' post office fetish took us to the Twin Bridges Post Office conveninently located next to the only Bar/Diner in town. I say Bar/Diner because that's what it was, one business divided by a wall. If you walked in and out of each entrance you'd notice that the bartender bore a striking resemblence to the diner waitress. Probably because they were one and the same. Peeking in and out of the door in the middle she would serve everyone in both establishments. The bar/diner also shared common restrooms labeled Mare and Stud. I don't think I want to know what these folks do for fun.
After a couple of interviews with retired farmers over 70 in the café and a young spelunker in the bar, Chris finds us a sweet middle-aged farmer to talk to. Jerry. He is a soft-spoken, ultra-friendly, smiling from ear to ear, cowboy hat and boot wearing, real live farmer who is petrified of cameras and thought he had nothing important to say. Chris knows he would be a great interview (amoung other things) and gently cajoled him into talking while April and Kelli in stealth fashion powered up George and Oscar and without the aid of the viewfinder captured the moment. Jerry was on to us the while time commenting on the flashing lights on George and the odd angles they were holding the cameras. By the time Chris had talked to him for 10 minutes and engaged him in deep conversation he became comfortable with the cameras and agreed to sign a release form.
A fascinating character Jerry was. A fourth generation farmer with a collection of stagecoaches in his barn. That's a new one on me. Chris continued talking with Jerry while April, Kelli and I headed back into the diner for more interviews. Our first encounter was an older couple who guaranteed us that we didn't want to hear what they had to say. As I said before — these are exactly the kind of people we love to talk to. April prepped while I distracted them with chit-chat and forgetting about the camera they let go. From their perspective the problem lay in the small growers not being able to compete because the market value of grain was so low. Why is the market value so low? I asked. "Have you seen all the trucks on the road coming from Canada?" the farmer responded. "No," inquisitively. "Well if you look at all the license plates on these big tracks you'll see they're from Canada and they're flooding the market making grain too cheap to grow. And then they drive down to Mexico." I wasn't able to make the mental leap to connecting Mexico to the equation. Perhaps I need to see the movie to better understand? Or maybe the din in my head of stick figures singing "Blame Canada, Blame Canada" was too loud. Yet another movie to see.
What I did glean from this conversation is that the American perspective is broad — very broad — or should I say, far reaching.
Squeezing all we could out of the Bar/Diner we took a lead from Jerry to talk with the guy who ran the local museum.
Walking down a block we step up onto a wooden porch and into an older two-room building with high ceilings. The first room intrigued me. The walls were lined with hundred-year-old quilts, old black and white photos of the first generation farmers of Twin Bridges. The ancestors of the folks we just finished interviewing. Many of the families still maintained the family business right where they were born and raised. Resting on settes and vanities were old boots and crossstitches made with human hair and a momento to a lover.
The second room I was advised not to enter. From where I stood all eyes were on me. All eyes from the wildlife that hung on the wall. I heeded the warning and turned to walk away.
The gentleman running the museum was an avid environmentalist-hater and spoke of how they were the ones ruining the land with their laws and conservation practices. Under normal circumstance I would have been outraged by these statements debating the topic long into the night, bringing up pesticides and grazing practices. However, that was not what we were there to do. For once I found it nice to be able to listen without feeling compelled to debate and defend my ideals. We were there to get people to think, not tell them how to think. In turn it allowed me more time to think and to really hear what he had to say.
By this time we had all of the interviews we needed and Chris was fiending for some naked water romping. Asking Jerry to join her ... no just kidding. Asking Jerry for a tip on good water holes we were told of a local stream where the high school kids were known to hang out. He offered to show us the spot, but said he had work to do back at the farm and couldn't stick around. What hospitality! Caustiously we followed his truck out to the site, making certain it wasn't too far off the main road. April and I filmed the angst-ridden goodbye between the cowboy and citygirl lover that were never to be.
As Jerry's truck pulled away Chris sighed and surveryed the river. There were people nearby and not enough water to truly submerge a naked body. Saving her energy for another moment Chris led us on to another more inspirational river in Lima, MT.
Lima wasn't really a town. Or it shouldn't have been. The houses were so old the wood was sunbleached and crumbling to powder. The only sign of life was a blond boy riding his bike up and down the dirt road. In fact all the roads were dirt and the RIVER on the map was a barely detectable trickle tickling the underbelly of a boulder.
The only thing Lima had going for it was a funky playgroung next to the trickle with a rocking horse, push merry-go-round and see-saw. However, there were all labeled with signs reading "For children 10 and under only" What is up with that?
Boycotting cheese sandwiches the crew decides we will eat at local greasy spoon/gift shop with an almost naked Native American man painted on the front wall. He is shaking hands with a fur lined pilgrim. How PC.
Welcome to Idaho. I know plenty of super un-PC jokes about the name of this state. However, I will refrain. I've probably alrady offended half of the US by now. I may be needing the other half as allies to protect me.
I would really love to say something about the state of Idaho at this point. But, there really isn't much to describe. The most exciting thing we saw for 150 miles was the "Welcome to Idaho" sign and that was way at the beginning of the state. You think they'd space the excitement out a little better. After 150 miles we saw a healthy young male running shirtless through a field of grain. After 150 miles of nothing that would have caught anyone's attention, not just the attention of 4 single girls.
Does Idaho sounds like it would be a flat state? I didn't think so, but it is. IIIIIIIIIIIII duh ho, I think it sounds mountainous. Well smack dab in the middle of the state is Idaho Falls, an island of urban sprawl in the midst of a sea of grain. On the outskirts of town are the Budweiser and General Mills plants. (So that's where all the pesticide-laden cheerios come from!) The Budweiser plant won my vote for best presentation of a mass-produced product on the side of a metal grain silo. If you stand at the base you would see looming above you a dozen gray silos, each painted with a different letter, spelling out the beverage name BUDWEISER in bright red and blue letters. With land that flat I bet you could see BUDWEISER from one end of the state to the other. How comforting, don't you think?
The original plan was to set up camp in Idaho Falls, grab interviews and head on to Salt Lake City UT the next morning. As you may have already noticed on this trip nothing really happens by the plan. Please prepare yourself for the rollercoaster I'm about to take you on.
Idaho Falls doesn't have much going for it. It is flat, sprawling and oddly designed mix of residential and industrial buildings clustered together — was I just describing Los Angeles?? There goes another couple million potential allies. It has a huge golf course with an interesting totem-like statue in front. Driving in a big loop through the city we are at a loss to find a happenin' place. A place where you can find more than one or two people hanging out. Is everyone at a Wal-Mart? Have th alien colonies established a Wal-Mart and assimiliated this entire city, folding them into the hive without the rest of the country noticing?
Stopping at a local gas station/mini-mart, I can't remember if it was a "Come & Go" gas-mart or a "Fast-Gas" gas-mart — either way they both need new marketing agents, we reassessed our plan.
Reassessing our plan involved everyone going pee, Kelli grabbing a smoke, Cynthia and April grabbing popsicles, Chris looking at the map, April filming the car grill while picking off whole dead bugs and storing them in a small white box and all of us moaning, groaning and chit-chatting. What does that equal? A whole lot of dicking around or better known as just "dicking." With Oscar rolling and focused on Kelli you can hear Chris ask, "Kelli, are we dicking?" "Yup, we're dicking," Kelli sighs. Cigarette out, bugs tucked in, map folded and popsicles consumed we are on our way out of Idaho Falls, which by the way look like a manmade waterfall.
So where are we going now?
Somewhere along the line April had been given a tip that the place where everyone was going to escape the end of the world by God and Y2K was Pocatello, ID. Somehow they were exempt from the wrath of God and technology. The technology I can understand, but how did they manage to cut a deal with God?
We prepared for the worst — or most interesting — interviews of the trip. What we found is much what people find when they pray. You can pray to God to give you what you want but it isn't always given to you in the way you expect.
Pulling into Pocatello at dusk we quickly check into an Econolodge not far from a university. What luck, a college town on a Friday night!! (The partying on this trip isnt over yet.) While checking in April and Chris collect party-down info from the motel manager. Apparently a few blocks away at Charlies we can find the only gay bar in Pocatello. Get out! Two weeks ago I would have professed it was the only gay bar in all of Idaho, but after the trip we've had so far I'm beginning to think the general impression most folks have of Idaho is all wrong.
In disbelief we cleaned up, prepped the boys and loaded into the cab of the truck. This was the first and last time you would see all of us in the front cab of the truck — is this significant to the story you might ask. No. Is there a reason why I mention it? Yes. Am I going to tell you? Uh ... ...no.
Arriving at Charlie's, giddy as school girls, we scope out the scene. At first it seemed as if it was a women's-only bar with a mix of tough-looking gals smoking with a pack of barbies. Chris found herself a little shy and feeling out of her element. "Would it be okay if I just let you talk to the management?" she asked. Getting closer we realized that the barbies were much teller than they had seemed from a distance. Either we were at a supermodel bar or they are ... no they cant be ... not in Idaho ... they really are ... DRAG QUEENS!!! Oh my god, Drag Queens smoking on the sidewalk in Pocatello, Idaho.
Cynthia is overjoyed and gladly takes the lead in flashing her Kinkos documentary badge to the burly bouncer at the door. One never knows what to expect in times like these, especially under the unusual circumstances we found ourselves in. But never in our wildest dreams did we expect to be whisked backstage to interview 5 masculine beauties while they primped, preened and adjusted their large silicon breasts. And yet, that is where we found ourselves talking with glittering and glamorous men in three-inch heels about the environment, population and where are we going.
The excitement of the evening was two-fold for both us and them. Not only were we in a drag bar, did I mention, Idaho, and they were being interviewed on an expensive camera — this was a special celebration commemorating their one-year anniversary as a drag club. The place was packed with a wide variety of people and our bouncer friend found a spot for April and George to perch up above the crowd. Kelli and I shared a table with a local woman, originally from Palo Alto, her husband and some of their friends. A guy in his early 20s was there with his sister and friends celebrating his birthday and a couple of ladies out of town took front-row seats so that they could actively participate in the show.
We stayed for the first hour of the show and had a great laugh at the costumes and the routines. Have you even seen a 300-lb Drag Queen in a skin-tight leotard with Velcro on form Barbie clothes?
Well we have!
During the intermission we slipped backstage for quick goodbyes, then outside for a few more interviews. You'd think from here it couldn't get much better, but wait until you see the interview with the gay Mormon club owner who has 6 kids with his best friend from high school. They got married hoping his desire for men would change. Well it didn't, now they've divorced and very happy as friends and co-parents. Even after this synopsis the interview is a must see.
Interviewing the couple from the table Kelli and I were at and a few more people who literally insisted we interview them, we wandered back to the motel to finish our day's work. While Chris and April logged the day's footage, Kelli and I went on a wild goose chase for an open Taco Bell. After driving and driving and driving we managed to find the fast-food strip of Pocatello. Loading up on burritos and making a quick stop at Arby's for jamocha shakes we decided to dig in early. Kelli sampled her bean burrito — no cheese first, commenting on how great it tasted. Initially I thought she was commenting on having food of any kind at thie late hour. Then I tasted my 7-layer burrito — WOW!
It was the BEST Taco Bell I have EVER had in my 25 years of fast-food consumption. Back at the motel Chris and April chowed down, agreeing between bits that this was the greatest Taco Bell in all the US and let me tell you, the 4 of us have become quite the connoiseurs over the past 2 weeks eating Taco Bell at least once if not twice a day and even for breakfast ealy on in the trip. I don't know what the Pocatello Taco Bell is doing, but please share your secret with the rest of the chain.