Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Butte Montana 29 Sept
It was pretty awful last night. Over the road from the hotel was an Irish themed bar. I nursed a beer for 20 minutes or so, watching the baseball before I asked the bartender if there was anyone local in the bar. He pointed me in the direction of two pretty unsavoury types, Jim and Trevor. They were working in construction on the roads, for the federal government, having had their own business fold 18 months ago. They didn’t really want to talk to me. It was pretty depressing stuff. Jim lives 180 miles away in Bozeman and works on a bridge repair project 5 days a week before travelling home at the weekend. Trevor lives In Missoula and Jim says with him before going home at the weekends. You can imagine it. Deeply critical of the government, Democrat voters but disillusioned with Obama and both pretty scarred. Jim’s kids are 7 and 5 and he is not happy about being in the position of having to travel to work where the government highways agency tells him to go. Apart from a brief rundown of the basic rules of baseball, there wasn’t a lot that could be described a forthcoming about either, so I finished my beer and retired to the hotel.
I did sleep well. Having been on the road early for the last couple of mornings, I didn’t leave until after 9.00, having availed myself of breakfast, which was mostly sweet stuff, including doughnuts and syrupy tinned fruit.
I did something I have not done for 30+ years on the way out and picked up a hiker by the name of Will. His story is even more sad. He is 41 years old and living rough. He was after a lift to the next town. He smelt pretty ordinary. He is on the run from a drug offence in Washington state, having left home four months ago. His father abused him physically when he was young and also ‘beat up on his Mom’, who left home some time back and has no contact with either father nor son. There is, apparently, a huge underclass of such people, who do not receive state benefit unless they can be sectioned under the equivalent of the Mental Health Act, which Will is keen to be. He is currently not doing stuff but is shipping in some industrial quantities of alcohol, which partially explains the smell. He lived with his Dad for some years after his mother left but, and he was a bit cagey about this, seems to have finally driven his Dad to kick him out, having worked in the family welding business and, probably, spent any money he had on booze and drugs. His Dad had been withholding his wages for a couple of months, which was another contributory factor. It was not a comfortable conversation but it did get easier when we started talking heavy metal. His knowledge is gazetteer in its extent and he indentified every track on the heavy metal station he had tuned to on the car radio by hearing a few bars of introduction. His aim is to get to the east coast and then, he hopes, to Europe. I didn’t have the heart to explain that he would need a bit more than just a desire to get there. Small items like a passport and entry visa seemed to be a million miles away. Anyhow, I dropped him in Butte and left him on the exit road, a sad and very forlorn figure. The American dream in reverse.
I wanted to see Butte, pronounced as in ‘beaut’. I thought that most words ending vowel ‘t’ ‘t’ had short syllables but I suppose it is just as well Butte isn’t pronounced that way. And then I thought of Miss Bardot, cafe latte and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. Butte expanded rapidly in the 1890s when copper was discovered and by 1910 it was producing 40% of the world’s ore. It has kept the facades to many of the buildings that were constructed during the boom and still has the feel of frontier about it. One of the buildings has a faded sign announcing that it offered ‘booths and ladies’.  The last mine closed about 40 years ago but the old winches and spoil have been preserved and the old mine workings dominate the town. It is not a wealthy place but, as a keen student of industrial history, it most certainly has a charm in my book. Quite what the present population do for employment, I don’t know. The girl in Starbucks says that unemployment is very high here. I suspect in the UK much more would have been made about the history of mining and museums and period costume would be established to attract visitors. Not so here. It looks rather as though the last miner walked out of the workings 40 years ago and everything has just been lefdt as it was.

The best news is that Palace got a point at Cardiff, even if it was not enough to prevent them dropping into the bottom 3. Another long season awaits.

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