We live in an over populated planet, I’ve been to Mumbai, I’ve lived in London, New York and Los Angeles, but this is not a problem that will bother Idaho of Montana any time soon. I saw the falls created by the hydro electrical experiment in Idaho Falls, I was expecting Niagra and got something resembling a slow dripping tap. And where to dine in this fine town? Well, yep fish and chips again was the healthiest thing I could find as I continue to avoid meat and small American towns avoid anything that contains a vegetable.
I arrived at the club, which was a way below freezing 2 minute walk from my room. I was warned not to lick my lips as I wondered outside across the car park in case the moisture forced them to crack.
Inside, I was greeted by a smokey atmosphere that appeared to be Idaho’s replication of the industrial revolution in Britain. Within minutes my throat was tightening and my lungs were full to capacity. I noted that the gentlemen who were attired in cowboy boots and hats had dispensed with ordering pints of beer in favour of yards of ale and the ladies were drinking cocktails the colour of toilet I had to use on the Greyhound bus – electric blue, and I watched with awe as a myriad of different alcoholic beverages were generously poured into their vimto mix.
The other comic, Vince Martin, who I had worked with in Winnemucca, NV, was engaging in a text war with his ex fiance at the bar and becoming increasingly anxious. The host introduced me, “let’s here it for David Conolly, he is the co-host of the iPod, Narcissistic News”, I presume he meant podcast, but it was close enough. I had fun and got through most of the audience’s first yard, but when Vince hit the stage, they were well into their second and trouble lay ahead. It started when a young fella decided he wanted a turn with the mic to espouse his views on America the great. Vince did everything he could as the gig descended into comedy hell. The audience had lost interest in jokes from the stage and had turned to concentrating on more important issues at hand like who to fight with and who was up for fornication.
Vince did his hour, came off stage, grabbed a drink and came to the back of the showroom, “that was horrible”, said Vince in his Oklahoma drawl, “got a long drive tomorrow, but they’re a good crowd in Billings, I’ve had some of my best nights there”
I felt for Vince, we’ve all been through the comic’s nightmare, literally marking your time in front of an audience that couldn’t care less, wishing you were somewhere else.
We aimed to be on the road between eight and nine am, but due to some late night post gig analysis aided by comedy juice in a glass, we didn’t get onto the asphalt until just before noon. Shit!!! Not that traffic was going to be a problem, but snow was threatening to raise it’s beautiful but dangerous head.
We shared the journey with Vince’s two dogs. Vince explained how he was driving home in a thunderstorm and dog ran out in front of him, petrified with and injured leg. He took the dog in, then to the pound hoping the owner would be ringing around looking for it. A few days later, the pound rang up to say there were no takers and that to be honest, the vet had discovered a myriad of problems, so to be honest, it was probably best that….Vince didn’t hear the next bit apparently, he was out of the door and that dog several years was licking his life saving hero as he drove.
Yellowstone was stunning in the snow. Remote, but stunning. We whiled away the hours of exchanging comedy war stories, Vince had done battle in towns where the hotel warned of fines for urine or blood stains, which I know would be some people’s bizarre erotic fantasy, but I don’t think that’s how it was intended. Then we were hungry. One problem, nothing in Yellowstone was open until….May.
We came across a civilization – snow mobiles and closed stores and eventually something that was open, a generic Subway. Ah well. Waiting inside was a young guy in his twenties and a slightly older man who may have been the grandfather of ZZ Top, sporting a long grey beard pretty much to the floor. The young guy prepared for me, I have to say, the best looking sub I’ve ever seen. I complimented him, “you’re good at your job”
“I love this job, been doing it for six years now and three more part time before that. I love making great sandwiches.” I realized that this may have been the most fulfilled human being I have ever met. Rather than allowing me to buy the coca cola sponsored purified water he directed me to drink from the tap “that’s from the mountain streams – you’ll never taste water as pure as that”. And he was right. Delicious.
As we continued on our journey there were signs “beware of bears” we didn’t see any, nor did we see any Buffalo, but we did see some deer and lots of white crosses sticking out of the snow which we came to understand were symbols of motorists losing their lives at that point and sadly the road bereft of cars had a tragically large amount of crosses.
We passed through a Native American reservation. Desolate. Poor. Sporadic trailers exposed to the elements, outside sat broken down cars, presumably driven until they cold drive no more and then abandoned like carcasses from which I imagine parts could be scavenged. I did not envy these people their lifestyle, how they survived in these bleak elements is a mystery to me.
Billings, Montana. Thankfully, a much more luxurious hotel than the “vintage” establishment we experience in Idaho. The opener was local and his schtick was impressions of the neigbourhood dentist – they loved it. Wow! How to follow that. I’d never been to Montana before and hadn’t had time to study the local celebrities, if I’d have known, I would have spent many years perfecting my mimic of everyone’s favourite gas station attendant. Ah well, the cowboys would have to make do with my comedy via the lens of an Englishman in America. Again, fine. And Vince, back on stage 24 hours after a tough crowd in Idaho had one of the finest sets I’ve ever witnessed. Everything hit. He was on fire.
Tonight’s post gig analysis was a little more joyous. We were joined by a young cowboy, who looked and sounded like Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. “So what’s life like in Billings?”
“I ain’t from around here, I live about 200 miles away on my own. People bring me bad horses. I break ’em in, then I bring ’em ere and make ’em someone else’s problem. I dunno though, this mare I got, she’s tough. I reckon if I get her round the ring once tomorrow, someone might take her, but I might just be takin’ her back home. Maybe I’ll have to go and find a ranch and do some cattle work this summer. Loved your jokes. Funny. I’m just a dumb cowboy, I know, but I loved your jokes. Thank you”. If the ten year old boy could see where I was right now!
Another day, another town. Miles City. Miles from anywhere. We stopped off on the way to see Little Bighorn, and the sight of Custor’s last stand. I remember at junior school in England studying this piece of history and all these years later I was looking out at the battlefields and grave yards of the fallen. Now, as I presume then, wide open space as far as the eye could see. Had to ask myself, they were fighting over this? What was Custor hoping to achieve? A luxury hotel? A new shopping mall? There was literally nothing there!
I was thrilled to arrive at the next location to bare witness to the Montana Taxidermist’s convention. What a treat to see a an expert so skillfully stuff a deer’s head. The image will linger with me for many years to come. The town was about the size of the village where I grew up in England, the main difference being the cowboy saloons and the rodeo ring – don’t know why they didn’t have them in Fulbourn, I always thought that was an oversight.
My trip finished more or less where I started, Las Vegas. My wife, Hannah, joined me for the welcome back to the wilderness and we managed to get a deal (isn’t there always a deal in Vegas?!!) at the Wynn, perhaps one of the most opulent hotels I have ever stayed in. Every now and again, I do manage somehow to taste a little bit of luxury, but you know what, I do envy that subway sandwich guy in Yellowstone, somehow he’d worked out the meaning of life, I’m still looking.