4. Road Trip 2008, Day 3: Home of the Brave

Somewhere in between this ocean and mountainside
I have this dream I think of it still sometimes
I know it’s just the season
I sense no time or reason
The sky falls down; it’s evening
The feeling goes; it’s leaving

The Dodos “The Season”

We returned to downtown Spearfish around 8 a.m. and headed to Alpine Coffee. As I was ordering up a grande Mocha, the girl behind the counter commented, “I love your shirt. Two Gallants are awesome.” The cute little red head in horn-rimmed glasses smiled and went off to make my drink. While waiting, I decided Spearfish would be a great place to live: a great micro-brew, the limitless possibilities the canyon offered, and beautiful women who appreciate quality beer and good music. My July 4th was off to a great start, and I knew it would only get better with The Dodos playing at the end of our day’s journey.

Once I had my coffee and Paul his bagel, we returned to the road, heading north toward Montana. We thought about backtracking for a couple hours to see Mount Rushmore, but we knew Bozeman sat 500 miles away. With Paul at the wheel, I began perusing our collection of Black Hills brochures. While reading a short article about Mount Rushmore’s construction, it mentioned that many questioned the addition of Theodore Roosevelt. It made sense; Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington are legendary presidents while Roosevelt was just some dude who had a moustache. Teddy is like the Ringo Starr of Rushmore – the untalented guy lucky to be standing awkwardly behind the rest of the other three geniuses.

Mount Fab-Four

With Paul being a history major, I decided to bring this point up to him. He of course disagreed with me. “Roosevelt is probably my favorite president.”

Figuring he had the wrong Roosevelt, I responded, “You mean FDR right?” (My favorite president).

“No! Teddy was the man. He used to have boxing matches in the White House. When McKinley died, a lot of people hated him because he was this uncivilized cowboy. He didn’t give a shit what anybody said.”

“Like Bush…”

Paul went on to explain how Teddy was nothing “like Bush.” He talked about how Teddy was a huge conservationist, setting aside 16 million acres of land for national parks, which also pissed people off. He was in charge of the Panama Canal, was the first president to ride in a submarine, and often took expeditions to Africa to hunt elephant. Paul continued rambling off strange tidbits about Roosevelt, and after 10 minutes, I was questioning whether FDR was even my favorite Roosevelt.

I decided I wasn’t going to give up on my argument just yet. “Okay, okay, Roosevelt sounds like a rebel, but he still doesn’t deserve to be on Rushmore. The other three are legends.” Paul then spent another 10 minutes discrediting the American mythology of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. I tried to defend Lincoln, but my lack of knowledge left me with little to shield the bearded fellow. I had to give it to Paul; I hated history in school, but his unique perspective on these presidents’ legacies had my full attention. I could tell he was fascinated by the subject matter, and for the first time I got a glimpse of the great teacher Paul would be in the classroom.

This oldey time cartoon forgot to include "Bad Ass".

As we rolled into Belle Fourche, South Dakota, we noticed people in lawn chairs lining the sidewalks. We deducted that we had just beat the start of the Belle Fourche 4th of July Parade. Paul slowed the vehicle, rolled the windows down, and commenced waving to the perplexed Belle Fourch-ians. I grabbed our plastic American hats (bought during our shopping spree) and threw them on our heads, giving our float a patriotic flair. The looks we received were a combination of annoyance, disgust, and confusion. They must have been wondering, “Who are these Texans riding in a strange orange box car?” I would have felt like more of an ass if it weren’t for the little kids waving back; they thought we were the start of the parade – the grand marshals.

"Look kids! They let the special kids drive the short bus this year!"

After getting us through Wyoming and into Montana, Paul seceded his driving duty so he could take a nap. Despite my 5 a.m. cow wake up call, I was full of energy from either the excitement of seeing The Dodos or the mocha I slurped down in 15 minutes. With Mission of Burma’s “Vs.” blaring, I flew through the endless green hills of Eastern Montana, crossing multiple Indian reservations. I actually had the opportunity to see Mission of Burma in Denver with Paul – it was one of his many failed attempts at getting me to head west. I don’t regret missing the elderly band, who are pushing 60. They are still releasing great albums 25 years after “Vs.”, but I’ve already had bad experiences with seeing great artists in the twilight of their career. (Paul and I saw Bob Dylan mumble through an hour set at the 2001 Iowa State Fair. The night would have been a complete wash if it weren’t for us spending the majority of the show trying to sneak past the security guards.)

Seeing Mission of  Burma back in 83′ is a different story:

When “Vs.” finally finished, we pulled over for a quick roadside lunch of cold ham sandwiches and Doritos. It was a nice relaxing meal, out in the middle of Montana without a house in sight, just miles and miles of hills and mountains. We cut our lunch short when a swarm of bees decided to join us. Paul took over driving. My two hours of rest in the land of screaming monkeys had finally caught up with me. I instantly fell into a deep sleep, but it lasted about 10 minutes. This was due to Paul’s music choice, Albert Ayler, a guy he claims is jazz music. The honking saxophone over the endless drum roll sounded nothing like the smooth jazz of Charlie Parker that I grew up on. The album contained two 20 minutes songs, both lacking any semblance of a melody. I have no doubt that my four year old niece could sit down with a saxophone and sound better than this garbage. I tried blocking out the music, but the racket continued jolting me from the brink of slumber.

"Hello Mr. Ayler. I challenge you to a saxophone duel!"

Here’s one of Albert’s “short” songs:

Being both grumpy and exhausted, I finally spoke up. “This has to be the worst excuse for jazz I’ve ever heard.” Paul ignored my comment, although he seemed irritated, and continued listening to what resembled a 5th grade marching band. Paul has always preferred noise over harmony. He likes early Animal Collective – I like their newer, more melodic stuff. When he heard the new Deerhoof, which I adore, he commented, “Why’d they have to start writing songs?”

Here’s the era of Animal Collective that I enjoy most:

…and here’s the era of Animal Collective Paul enjoys most:

With Ayler blaring away, I remained sleepless all the way to Billings. We pulled into downtown to check out our first brewery of the day, Billings Brewing Company. The city streets resembled a ghost town, with only an occasional homeless person stumbling down the street. By the time we found the brewery, we already knew it would be closed. We were right. Disappointed by our first failure of the day, and with both of us thirsty for a 4th of July beer, we decided to take a southern detour to Red Lodge so we could visit Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company. The scenic drive lightened my spirits. The curving, hilly path led us along the edge of The Big Slide Mountain. What I thought were mountains earlier in the drive didn’t compare to the peaks surrounding Red Lodge. The contrast of the gray mountains and the bright green hills encapsulated us with the kind of vivid colors that would give a kid epileptic seizures.

Nature's version of the NES game "Monster in My Pocket"

Red Lodge reminded me of any small town you see in Iowa, only that it was surrounded by mountains instead of corn fields. We drove down one of the few paved roads in town, leading us directly to a faded yellow machine shed with a sign reading “Red Lodge Ales”. It didn’t look like much, but we decided to check it out. Inside, we found a bar packed with people of all ages, ranchers in cowboy hats, elderly in their 4th of July best, and young hippies in hemp gear. I couldn’t believe how many people were in this little brewery. Red Lodge is only a town of 2,500. In Billings, population 90,000, not a creature was stirring, but in this little village everyone came out to enjoy a locally brewed beer for the holiday. After waiting in line to get our first brews of the day, we sat on the back patio and enjoyed the view of hazy mountains in the distance, Yellowstone stood right before us.

Machine shed or brewery?

I came to the conclusion that the quality of their beers hadn’t drawn all the business. Not that they tasted horrible, but they also didn’t have anything spectacular on tap (their best beer had to be the 10 year aged bock with a surprisingly sweet finish). I began to think about whether my hometown could support a brewery. Currently, if you want a tap beer in Estherville your choices are Bud Light and Bud Light. Would these Midwesterners break away from their light beer disillusionment and enjoy a lager packed with flavor (and alcohol content)? I doubted it. Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel fortunate to be here with these small town folk celebrating the 4th of July in their local brewery.

Walking back to the car, Paul was already feeling a bit tipsy, so I took up the driving once again. When I noticed him trying to sleep, I decided it was time for a little revenge. No, I wasn’t going to find noise to play – he’d enjoy it too much. I scoured my i-POD for an album jam-packed with infectious melodies. And there it was, the perfect poison to piss off Paul: Vampire Weekend.

Paul’s poison:

30 seconds into “Mansford Roof” Paul’s eyes popped open. “What the hell is this?”

I ignored him, singing along to “I see a Mansford roof through the trees, I see a salty message written in the eaves.”

“Damn it, what the hell is this?”

“The ground beneath my feet, The hot garbage and concrete, and now the tops of buildings, I can see them too!” I sang at the top of my lungs.

“This is Vampire Weekend isn’t it?…Isn’t it!?” He grabbed the i-POD and looked in disgust.

I slyly smiled at him and continued singing along to the upbeat music. He laid back down for a bit, but by album’s end, he was sitting up at full attention. I wasn’t sure if he enjoyed the music or not. As “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” came to an end, he gave his final diagnosis. “Tracks two and three were amazing…the rest of the album sounds too much like Paul Simon’s African crap.” I agreed with him, although I’ve never found fault in Simon’s “African crap”.

Next we stopped in Livingston to check out Neptune’s Brewery. When we pulled up, it looked nothing like a brewery but more like a townie bar. The same vibe continued as we walked through the door. Maybe we were at the wrong place?

“Uh, is this the brewery?” I asked the girl behind the bar.

“Well, it’s just a bar first, but we do serve Neptune Beers.” I was confused. Is it a brewery or not? She went on to explain that a brew master rents out the back room to brew his beers. The bar serves his creations on tap, although not exclusively. We ordered a couple burgers and began sampling the drinks they had to offer. We were disappointed to say the least: the Bavarian was unusually dark and strange tasting, the Belgian resembled cheap rum, and the IPA was a mix of Pine Sol and gin. We had one beer left to sample: Toad’s Back Boch.

“This is Neptune’s most popular beer,” she said handing me my pint. I lifted the brown concoction to my nose and quickly pulled away due to the pond water stank wafting from the glass. I held my breath and took a swig. The name was fitting. It tasted exactly like a toad’s back, or at least what I would suspect. The syrupy texture hit my palette like a nuke, overpowering my taste buds with its mixture of rotted corpse and old people’s homes, finishing off with a bitter, dusty dry aftertaste. I couldn’t help but squint my eyes and wrinkle my brow at what, to this day, is the worst beer I’ve ever tasted.

When the bartender saw my sour look, she giggled and said,” I never said it was my favorite beer. I don’t like any of the beers he makes.”

Like licking a toad's back, minus the hallucinations.

We put the horrible Neptune experience behind us and drove the final leg of our day’s drive. Once in Bozeman, we zig-zagged through the streets for 20 minutes searching for both the VFW and a possible camping spot. We didn’t find any place to set up the tent, but we did finally come upon the VFW – a tin red garage, set back 20 feet from the road.

When we entered the bar it was pretty empty, except a girl sitting at the bar and a group of guys playing pool. While I made a bathroom run, Paul asked the bartender if he knew a place we could camp for free. The pony tailed metal band reject told Paul we were more than welcome to set up our tent behind his house. Upon hearing this option I felt uneasy. I didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a serial killer’s backyard. We decided to wait and see what the night would bring, keeping in mind we always had the scary looking bartender’s lawn as an option.

We sat down at the bar next to one of the only other patrons, a middle aged woman dressed like an orphan flower child. Her freckled face smiled at Paul, and she jumped straight into a conversation. She definitely wasn’t shy. I became instantly annoyed. When she found out we were from out of town, she began regaling stories of all her run-ins with the Bozeman police force, with each story ending in the statement, “You don’t mess with a Montana woman.” When I noticed the long-haired bartender glaring at her, I knew I wasn’t alone in my disdain. I couldn’t stand her yapping any longer, so I stood up, hoping Paul would catch my drift to escape from the rambling wreck. But Paul didn’t budge; he actually seemed to be enjoying her company (or he was trying to score some old lady ass).

Paul taking a moment to appreciate our freedom in front of the Bozeman VFW.

With people starting to arrive, I strolled casually around the VFW trying to entertain myself. I’d glance over at the bar occasionally to find the woman’s mouth still chattering endlessly. When th opening act started – some fat sweaty dude playing Elliot Smith covers – I made the conscious decision to get shit-faced in order to enjoy my seclusion/boredom. I chugged one Olympia beer after another, occasionally rejoining Paul and his new friend, the yammering mess. The conversation had moved on from the Bozeman police to the local tourist destinations we should check out. Her new catch-phrase was, “I should know, I’ve lived here for 25 years.” When I heard her say this for the third time, I echoed drunkenly,” How long have you lived here?” Followed by, “So would you describe yourself as a Montana woman?” She didn’t get my sarcasm, nor did she sense how much I loathed her.

I filed outside with the other patrons to check the fireworks being shot off at the local rodeo. I sat down at a picnic table behind the bar and watched the bursting colors in the Montana night sky. I began thinking about how exactly a year ago I watched fireworks in Lake Havasu, Arizona with my buddy Justin LeSieuer. I hadn’t talked to him for a couple months, but he seemed to be doing fine, still living with his girlfriend and her daughter. The year before he dreamed of getting out of the place he referred to as hell, but now it seemed like those aspirations had settled like the firework ashes falling from the sky.

Midway through the fireworks, Paul came out and sat next to me. He joked about the annoying woman as we looked on at the night sky.  When the display came to a close, the crowd began scattering back into the bar to hear another local artist do his best Tom Waits impression. All that remained outside were the three pool playing guys, now sitting in the grass, and Paul and I on the picnic table. While Paul was lighting up a cigar, the three guys stood and began screaming the National Anthem, waving their arms around maniacally at the mountains silhouetted by the moon. When they reached the line “which so proudly we hail” Paul joined in on their mini-drunken choir. Soon the five of us were howling the anthem up toward the starry sky, feeling the cool Montana breeze wash over us. After screaming, “AND THE HOOOOOME OF THAAAAAAA BRAAAAAAVE!” the three guys fell to the grass in laughter.

One of them turned back toward us and yelled,” Nice singing boys!”

It was then that I realized, who our choirmates had been: The Dodos. The same band we’d driven two days straight to see.  Instead of being a fanboy, lauding them with my love of their music, I calmly replied, “Thanks!” and then turned to Paul whispering, “That’s the Dodos.” He nodded his head and smiled as cigar smoke rolled out of his mouth and upward, congealing with the settling firework smoke. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my 4th of July: watching fireworks behind a VFW in Montana, and singing the national anthem with the Dodos. Teddy Roosevelt would be proud.

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