Who likes road trip comedies? We do!
Photo credit: Mary Randlett
Today Team Demo Hugo sets off on a special shoot! We (Frances, Ryan, Ian, Lisa, and Cali) are piling into a van with Frances's elderly black lab Ida and heading on the road to Montana. We'll be visiting Hugo's friends Lois Welch, Annick Smith, and Bill Kittredge . We'll also spend a day exploring Philipsburg and gathering B-roll and inspiration for some very special visual effects. You'll have to wait for the final cut for those, but for now enjoy my (Cali's) in-the-moment updates from the road. I'll be updating here and on our Twitter.
Update Tuesday, March 23rd, 8:32 Montana time.
Sorry not to have updated until just now. We've been in the mountains and phone reception has been scarce. I've been livetweeting whenever possible, but it took us a while to get the wifi at our Airbnb figured out. Here's a rough timeline for the last two days:
8 a.m. Tuesday: Frances picks me up at my house.
8:45: Frances and I get pastries from Volunteer Park Cafe.
9:15: Frances, Ryan, Ian, and I head to Bellevue to get our rental car. There's a mix-up. We panic because "Kia Sedona" sounds small, but then the agent gets us a Chrysler Town & Country. It's hella fancy. Like, DVD screen and USB ports and lumbar massage function and prostate massage function fancy.
Frances's dog Ida is along for the ride! I rode in the back with her.
12:00 p.m. After packing up the car and making a Stumptown run, we head out. I start reading Frances's essay from the Georgia Review, "Dreaming Richard Hugo." Despite having known her for almost three years, despite having met her in the context of Richard Hugo scholarship, despite being shoulders-deep in this project, this essay is where I get my best, deepest, and most bewitching sense of just why and how Frances got so caught up with the poet. There are so many moments of uncanniness in this essay. Essay: Frances imagines what it means to meet Hugo; Frances takes Ida on a road trip to meet Hugo's friends; Frances tries to navigate the literature-of-the-West royalty; Frances sees Hugo's old haunts, even Hugo's old car. Trip: we imagine what it means to be "Hugo," what we mean when we associate things with him; we pile Ida into the backseat on a road trip to meet Hugo's friends; Frances gives us tips on navigating the literature-of-the-West royalty; Frances points out for us Hugo's old haunts. I'm sitting in the backseat next to Ida, and somehow that is what most does it for me. It comes shakingly home that we're making the same pilgrimage that Frances has made before. This projection onto place by Hugo, onto Hugo by others, it's become a cycle and a ritual. And now we're all participating.
~2:00: Lunch at a taco stand. I didn't know what sopes were. Lisa and Ryan switched burritos. Frances treated herself with a Diet Coke. I text our archivist Jack Chelgren with travel updates.
~3:30: Crew drives out of reception.
~4:12-6:15: No data to report. I took asleep, despite having done absolutely nothing all day.
~6:45: Beer in Wallace, Idaho at the City Limits Pub. A river ran right under the bar.
~8:30: Gas station stop to get a corndog for Ida.
~10:00: Arrive at Airbnb. Crash immediately.
Inside the car: Beatles, John Prine, gypsy swing, election talk, weed talk, stories about the places we were passing.
Outside the car: (Mercifully) obscured view of the Sammamish Plateau; fields, fields, superstores, mountains, elk, gas stations, winding roads, clear cuts, rivers, snow, mountains, boarded-up bars, moutains, snow, METH: NOT EVEN ONCE sign, fields, Albertson's, pink condos, mountains.
8 a.m. Wednesday: Frances, Ryan, and I go on a run up Rattlesnake Creek. Frances points out landmarks: a rail trail; a hill that we'll be driving around later; Lois Welch's house; Richard Hugo's house; a house that's been for sale for years; a house that she's always wanted, one that looks like it belongs in Maine; Mount Jumbo; the saddle where Frances wants to take us hiking; Bill Bevis, author of Ten Tough Trips, who lives in the neighborhood and still plays hockey; the trail where she once saw a bear with Ripley Hugo; a turnaround point that she and Ripley once walked past, only to have nearby property owners shoot Ripley's dog's jaw off for trespassing; the route back, over slushy bridges, past German shepherds, suburbs, hills, and a wooden fence mounted with an animal skull and a sign reading CARCASS CORNER.
~10:15: Team converges over breakfast to plan the day and brainstorm questions for Bill Kittredge. Frances calls her credit card company because they saw the Montana charges and shut her Team Demo Hugo card down for suspicious activity the night before. She is very firm. She will take no more trouble from them.
~10:45: Head out for coffee and Bill Kittredge's. Travel time: <10 mins.
11:00: Arrive at Bill Kittredge's. He greets Frances at the door by saying he has to be in town for lunch at 1:30. He and Frances chat while Ryan and Luke set up the cameras. Frances talks about loving his novel The Willow Field and he talks about writing a novel that all of his friends hated. He talks about the new memoir that he was working on when we showed up. Frances talks about her troubles with her own novel. He talks about responsive vs. nonresponsive dialogue. Responsive: "Could you pick up the eggs?" "Yes." Nonresponsive: "Do you still love me?" "No." He talks about giving Jim Welch advice about the novel that would become Winter in the Blood. It was at that time titled The Only Good Indian, which Kittredge described as "a bummer title." He marked the manuscript up and Welch went away to Italy. He spent six weeks of his three-month stay completely rewriting it. The New York Times Book Review splashed it across their first page as "a nearly flawless novel." Lisa started to sketch the folks in the room. Kittredge puffed on a cigarette. And then we interviewed him.
12:35: We leave Bill Kittredge's head to the Good Food Store, what Frances affectionately calls a "food museum." It is absolutely mesmerising. They have Hemp Plus bulk granola, gluten-free olive feta pizza, mushroom sausage chowder, rosemary-encrusted cheese, and a sampler six-pack of Montana beer. We grab salad, bread, and cheese to bring to Annick Smith's house and stumble back onto the street. Frances's card is again shut down for suspicious activity.
~2:15 We wander up the backroads of Bonner, creeping up Bear Creek Road wary of deep potholes and a right turn that Annick Smith has warned us in all caps not to take. We spot wild turkeys and breathtaking views. We double back and travel the right way up a different fork.
~2:35: Arrive at Annick Smith's house. Her cabin looks like it was just off-camera of Maria's rendition of the title track in The Sound of Music. The homestead was taken from a development site where it was about to be torn down and reassembled log by log into the house that's there now.
Annick tells Frances that she's redone the pumphouse and Frances can come up and write during the summer. She's warm, if cautious, showing us around her sun-soaked cabin. Her dog Lulu wears a neon red-orange collar and looks like a scaled-up version of Ida. At one point both dogs walk up to their respective owners in sync, walk a half-circle around them in sync, and sit down in sync. It starts to snow outside. It stops. Ryan clambers up to the window behind Annick's chair to put up some paper to block out the sun. We rearrange the chairs and Lisa begins sketching. It starts to hail. The interview starts. Afterwards, we walk around her grounds. The ground is marshy with spring runoff. There are crusted cowpies and the dogs are rolling ecstatically in the dry grass. Frances and Annick walk ahead side by side, laughing about friends who they haven't seen in a while and friends who wont see each other. Annick points out some new buttercup. "This means spring in Montana," she says, pointing. There's a big heap of stones that the Swedish settlers collected so that they could have clear fields for tilling. It's strewn with rusted metal and splintered planks. Ida walks up with the knob of a leg bone. Lisa jokes that the metal has a good heft to it, that you could kill someone if you needed to. I point out that living in the middle of a meadow is perfect for seeing anyone approaching. We agree that the property is strategically sound. We walk into the old barn, recently refurbished with a new roof but otherwise dating back to the 1800s. We stand in the loft with a couple of broken bird nests and the sun shines through the cracks in the planks. We clamber down, then pass a defunct 1968 Ford Timberlane and a new outhouse with a picture window. We tour the pumphouse, newly furnished with brightly painted purple and blue wooden chairs and red leather chairs salvaged from a movie set. We back out and Frances and Lisa climb up to the cold cellar to touch a drift of snow somehow flying under spring's radar just so they can say they touched it. We climb over cement where Annick's sons blew up an old chicken coop. We realize that Ida's paw is slightly hurt. We head back to the house. Frances declares that nothing looks too wrong with the paw. Lisa and Ryan have to chase after Ida with paper towels to wipe up the little sponge-prints of blood she's leaving on the floor. We eat the fancy salad, bread, and cheese. We drink Prosecco. Annick tells us stories about her sons, and about the graveyard where her husband Dave and so many of the old writers-of-the-West crowd are buried now. We talk about the election. We talk about the Milltown bar, which looks to be closed. We talk about Hugo's line "Eat stone and go on." Kittredge said he hated the line, couldn't make sense out of it. Frances is frustrated by it too. Annick loves it. She says, "Haven't we all done that? Haven't we all eaten stone and gone on?" She looks at me. "Haven't you done that?" I'm not totally sure how much of this is rhetorical so I quirk my eyebrow. She looks away, says, "Maybe you're too young." Too late, I want to say, I have, I have eaten stone. I am going on. Or maybe: I'm trying. I'm really trying to get that stone down.
~7:20: Driving back through the mountains, we finally reenter the land of cell reception. Everyone cringes at the thought of the messages awaiting them. Frances finds out Lois Welch, back in the wee hours of that morning from an international trip, is down with a fever. We decide to give her an extra day to recover.
~8:30: Ryan and Ian want hot dogs. I have been haunted all day by the thought of the chocolate-covered fruits and nuts at the Good Food Store. Frances wants to walk Lois Welch's dog for her. I leave off writing this post. Frances, Lisa, and I make an outing. We take Lois's dog Cassie, an A+ poodle mix, up and down the street for a brief jaunt. The dog is easygoing, a total sweetheart, but not so friendly that she overwhelms you. Regal, Frances puts it. Just like Lois Welch, Frances puts it. We go to the Good Food Store with a list of pick-me-ups for Lois added to our mission. Along the way, Frances remembers a nearby ice cream shop where Molly Moon studied. After driving down the main drag of Missoula, she is deeply saddeneed when Lisa has to ask Siri for directions to it. It turns out we'd driven past it and had just been looking the wrong way. Her card is again declined.
~10:00: Our archivist Jack texts Frances, telling us not to party too hard. She texts him back: "New phone. Who dis?" The crew embarks on a junk food second dinner as we look over the footage from the day. This is the first time Ryan has gotten to use a new camera and it is clearly movie-quality. It is gorgeous. He and Ian talk about one moment in the Bill Kittredge interview where Frances is leaning forward, talking about what the movie will be, and Kittredge's face is turned. Ian remembers having a great profile on the camera we're not looking at for that moment. We make plans to travel to Philipsburg the next day. Frances makes a pile of receipts for me on the kitchen table. Because the bank has been suspicious about her Montana purchases, she's had to scatter expenses around on cash and other cards. We'll have to piece it all together as we go. While Ryan and Ian are clearly here to film and Lisa is clearly here to gather animation material and Frances is clearly here to interview and guide, this is clearly - finally - where I come in. It's a funny, sobering counterpoint to the glamorized images of road trips, of film crews, of the literary royalty of the West we've been talking to. Humming in the background is the logistics. The stretches of silence on the car ride. The dumb jokes. The bottom lines of color timing and budget-balancing and working around sudden flus. At 11:29 Montana time, I decide to go to bed.
~8:30 Thursday: I get a call from the Granite County Museum & Cultural Center, where I'd left a message earlier. They say they're closed for the season but they can let us in later today. We set up an appointment for 4:30.
~9:30: Frances tells everyone to pack extra layers because we're going to Philipsburg, and if we hike up to the deserted mining town over the mill it'll be even colder. Do you have your snow jacket? Do you have gloves? A hat? A hat do go over your hat? A backup snow jacket? A blow-up igloo? Frances, who has a manifest addiction to hiking paraphernalia, went around stuffing various thermal contraptions into tote while the rest of the crew shuffled around the kitchen making their lunches and sipping coffee. Ryan finally asked: "Wait, so do you think we'll need gloves?"
10:00: Bundled to the nines, we pile into the van. To get ourselves into the mood, we play Wayne Horvitz's Some Days Are Forever Afternoon, an album inspired by Hugo's poetry - down to the song titles. It'll be the film's soundtrack, and we've all put in time listening to it, so it was an odd experience on several levels. On one level, hearing how place leached into Hugo's sensibilities and Hugo's sensibilities leached into the music and the music leached into us. On another level, as we roll through the Montana countryside snapping photos, the music that will lead viewers a year from now from shot to shot is leading us moment by moment through landscapes.
10:45: Despite being on an empty Montana backroad on a wintry midweek midmorning, we run into some traffic: a barn on the move.
11:25: We stop in Hall, Montana for some coffee. Pat's Hall has, in one room, a store with about three aisles. There's a decent selection but, bizarrely, only one or two of each item: one box of Rice-a-Roni, one box of Tide, two boxes of Raisinettes, one bag of coconut flakes. It's a bit like being in a war zone or a post-apocalyptic trading post. Even more bizarrely, in the other room is a meeting/dining hall. The woman who runs the store tells us that she made all of the cinnamon rolls and sticky buns in the case herself, and all of the pies in the refrigerator, too. She's just put in a key lime pie to set. We all get coffee, and a cinnamon roll to share, all for the grand total of about six dollars. While we eat, in that big cafeteria-style room lit only from the bleak light filtering through the window shades, a couple of late-middle-aged local men come in for their own cinnamon rolls. The walls are hung with quilts made by other Hallites. In one of the back corners, quilted bags are rolled and stacked and bouqueted. Frances runs her hands over the biggest quilt, a geometric red-and-black number that takes up a whole wall. Ryan buys a purple-and-cream bag for his daughter. By the time we're getting ready to leave, the woman at the store has given Frances the number of the quilter, and even brought out a bag of other quilts. Frances is flopping one out across one of the aisles of the store, getting second opinions from the crew and trying to guess if it'll be big enough. Could we come back and get it? Frances asks. The store would be closed by 2, the woman says. She gets in at 4:30 in the morning and since the store is just her, it closes up pretty early. BUT, she says, she lives a whole two miles away. So she gives Frances her number and tells her that if she's decided on getting it by the time she passes back through, to give a call and they'll open the store for her. It's stunningly nice of her. A sort of stern hospitality that puts you off balance - she has a gruff sense of humor, almost scolding, but then she's so so very kind. The whole scene reminds me of something I'd see in the small towns I floated around back on the Olympic Peninsula. Lived and ad-hoc and filled with that Cheers-y knowledge of everyone's name.
~12:30 p.m.: We arrive in Philipsburg, of "Degrees of Gray" fame. Lisa, Ryan, Ian, and I walk into the Sweet Palace, a candy shop that Annick Smith had dismissed as touristy but that was truly glorious. The walls are lined with jars of taffy and hard candies and odd configurations of chocolate and caramel and pretzels and maple, old candies, quaint candies, candies in strange shapes with thematic foil covers and niche audiences. Ryan gets a big bag of candies from his childhood. I get a bag of chocolate covering various other foods. Lisa gets a bag of coconut-flavored things and yogurt-covered pretzels and root beer drops. The place even gives free samples from their huge bricks of fudge. By the time we wander out, practically vibrating from just the thought of all the sugar, Frances is finally making her way back up the sidewalk. She'd gone in search of a map of the nearby hiking routes and had found an adventure, apparently. She'd gone into the outdoor supply store, which was unlit but unlocked. She'd peeked around for a map until a man came in. "Thank god you're here," she'd said. "Why? Oh, no, I don't work here either," he said. She felt like someone needed to know that this place was untended, so the guy sent her to go talk to someone named Sandy at a nearby coffee shop, but she got there and no one looked secure enough in their local knowledge to be Sandy. So then she'd gone back out onto the sidewalk and run into the sheriff. He said he'd go handle it, but didn't seem too concerned. When she asked him about the best routes up around the old mill and the old mining town, he reminded her that it was private property and asked if she had permission to go there. Yes, she said. Of course.
~1:15: Lisa and I eat hummus sandwiches in the back of the van while Ryan and Ian talk about shots. We shoot. Frances reads a poem. She tears up. Her voice echoes across a wide space. Ida rattles around the background sniffing at bricks.
1:38: We park the van at the bottom of a road. There's a silver van abandoned nearby with dented doors. Up the path, patches of snow thicken into sheets as the altitude increases towards the top of the mountain and, somewhere out of view, the ghost town of Granite. It had been a packed mining town until one day around the turn of the century the Silver Bill was repealed and the entire population mounted an overnight exodus to towns and cities with even so many as two elements to the local industry. We hike up, Ida darting hyperactively forward and behind sniffing and nuzzling the snow; Lisa and Ian trailing and taking pictures; and Ryan, Frances, and I forging at a quick trot towards the summit. We are all wearing our snow jackets, our gloves, our hats, our extra hats, our inflatable igloos.
2:14: We discover an explanatory plaque and the top chute of the wooden flume that runs all the way down the mountain. Ian admits he's tired and ready to turn back. Lisa says she'll linger and take a few more photos but turn back soon. Frances, Ryan, and I decide to press on for a bit more and see how far we can make it.
2:35: The air is thin. The red-mud road has given way completely to snow at this altitude. We spot a sign that says "Granite in 30 minutes." We try to figure out if that's supposed to be by car or on foot. We're about ready to turn back, but decide we'll go on to 3:00 and see if we can make it to the town.
2:48: Our phones clear the mountain interference and suddenly have full bars.
2:51: My phone, still with 60% visible battery, abruptly dies. Some technological equivalent of hypothermia, apparently.
2:56: An SUV from Idaho carrying a family we'd seen in the Sweet Palace rolls by us. As they wind a bend in the track and temporarily face back toward us, they roll down the window and shout something inaudible.
3:05: Ryan's phone says we're just around the bend from Granite. The SUV scrapes back down past us. The folks inside roll their window down and say the snow ahead is too thick to pass. We turn around. We edge down the slick ice under the snow. I, rash, juggernauting youth that I am, fall on my ass several times. But the Philipsburg Valley opens beneath us and I'm surrounded by snow and we're talking about the history of Hugo House and the nature of mentorship and the arts and I cannot believe how lucky I am to be here, just a rash, juggernauting kid who burst somehow into the right place at the right time.
~4:00: Frances, Ryan, and I reach the van. Lisa and Ian are munching on candy from the Sweet Palace. The car rumbles back to life and we head back into Philipsburg proper.
4:30: Lisa and I head into the Granite County Museum & Cultural Center. The number we're given to get in takes us to someone who's handling an emergency, and the number they give us takes us to someone who has no idea about the appointment and has to drive from their home to let us in. The woman, who pulls up in a white pickup, takes a few minutes to turn on the lights. She warns us that there's no heat until they open for the season, so it'll be cold. Lisa and I are still wearing our snow jackets and gloves. We make our way through rooms with old mining equipment; mineral samples; photos of town founders and city planners; and even a musty, clay-walled, absolutely haunting replica of a mining shaft. Two candles. That's the light a miner got for a ten-hour shift. Two candles against the dark and the despair and the 600 minutes.
5:45: Lisa and I emerge from the Granite County Museum & Cultural Center. The others have gone off in search of the Hugo experience: a bar encounter with the locals. We know we want to go into the White Front, a whitewashed brick structure with an outline of Montana outside. Still, for good measure we make stop at the other two bars sharing the intersection. Sure enough, though, when we get into the White Front we see our folks sitting at the end of the bar. The place is big, long. There are slot machines that Ryan has apparently already made money on. There's a pool table where Frances beats Ryan and Lisa and I play a flagrantly terrible game. The "White Front" sign on the wall is a beer stein with the bar's name on the overflowing white foam. The menu includes the snack-sized packages of Cheetos and jerky and a three-dollar burrito that I don't bother to ask about. Beside the snacks, a Bota box of white wine leans out over the edge of the countertop. There are not one but two confederate flags on the ceiling, along with a couple of others I don't recognize. Still, when I sit down the barmaid is insisting to someone that some sort of gay black ghostbuster who comes in there is has just as much right to come in and hang out as anyone. I have no idea what I'm hearing, but soon she comes up and she's friendly and she brings us a free snack or drink with every order. Apparently the folks in the bar have told the others plenty. There's a man named Raw Meat who holds down the local mining history but doesn't like to meet with strangers. There's another man nearby who gets drunk and helicopters down the main drag, shining a spotlight in the bar as a hello to the barmaid. There's a man who goes by Doug whose real name is Rugged. Ryan proposes to the barmaid, whose hair isn't red but who tells him that if he comes back later she'll meet him outside the bar. Lisa and I, starving, head out onto the street to grab dinner - everyone else has already gone to the barbecue joint. By the time our orders are ready, the tabs our closed, the new friends are farewelled, and the whole crew is back in the van.
7:40: Frances, driving the van, takes us on a last tour of Philipsburg - the church that's "kept up," the hospital that for now is lasting, the twists of dirt road that Hugo saw as "laid out by the insane." This journey back, we don't stop for quilts and we don't listen to our own soundtrack, but we do listen to Leon Bridges and we wonder how it's only been one day and we shiver at how close we've come to Hugo.
~8:30: By now, the boys are ready for their second dinner, so we stop once again at Five Guys so they can get hot dogs, and at the Big Dipper so they can have their own experience of walking up to the little stand. We get back to the Airbnb at about 9:15 and we all fall finally down.
8:07 a.m. Friday: I come downstairs to find Frances and Ryan drinking coffee and preparing to head out. They're going to Bob Ward's, a local sport equipment store that they later tell me tries to put on a corporate-level sheen of professionalism but is unmistakably local and personal. I go for a run.
9:38: Lisa, Ian, and I eat breakfast and putter around our own business. Ian is working some mysterious editorial magic on his computer; Lisa is doing crossword puzzles; I'm catching up on emails from my other job. We call Frances and Ryan to pick us up.
~11:00: The whole crew heads to downtown Missoula. We start off at the local bookstore, Fact & Fiction. They've got several prominent shelves at the front housing local authors. Frances, wearing her new boots from Bob Ward's, continues to "drop the local dollar." Lisa points out that they have Frances's book, The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs. Ian and Ryan curl up in chairs at the front of the store poring over potential purchases. We decide to split up for the time being. I walk down Higgins, the main drag, towards the Wilma, Missoula's main performance venue. I thread my way methodically in and out of shops, some filled with nice stationary, some with fancy wineglasses or kitchen implements, some with huckleberry-tinged souvenir foods, some with nice clothes, almost all outside my price range. Exploring a side street, I pass the Missoula Club. Frances has told us about this on the drive over. Frances said that if you ask for the menu, they scoff and say "we've got hamburgers and we've got cheeseburgers." At this point it's just past noon and I've got lots of time to kill, so I pass by and walk back the other way on Higgins. As I reach the other end of the main drag, I get bored and start skipping stores. Turning back to loop towards the bookstore, I run into Lisa. We both have more exploring to do but we're both starting to get hungry. We decide to wander into a nearby thrift shop together on the way to the Missoula Club. The thrift shop is literally packed to the rafters. Furniture stacked on furniture, dishware stacked on furniture, instruments and watches and posters and beer steins backed on shelves until you have to crane your neck to see the tarnished bowling trophy eight feet up. I find a squat white mug with some black etching of savannah animals on it. Lisa flips through the records and finds one of Joni Mitchell reading/singing poems. We get a text from Frances that she and the crew are heading to the Missoula club. We check out and walk over to meet them.
~1:30: The Missoula Club's menu has expanded: now the hamburgers and cheeseburgers come in singles, doubles, and triples. You can get extras like bacon. If you get a cheeseburger, you have a choice of cheddar, Swiss, pepperjack, or horseradish. I regret not getting the horseradish cheese, though I'm not sure how it would even work. There are three bottles of condiments on the table, one of which seems like it might be horseradish. I squirt it liberally on the inside of my bun and, after biting down, find out that I am both right and a little in over my head. As we chew our burgers, we agree that we are tired. We are tuckered out. We all want naps. We pay in cash for our food and head to the Good Food Store to get supplies for Lois Welch.
~2:15: Lois Welch, Frances informs us as she reads from her phone, would like Chocolate. Chip cookies. And sorbet. No macaroni and cheese. We split up, gathering salad, meat, desserts, and road trip snacks. Lisa and I raid the bulk food section again for rice crackers, peanut butter pretzels, and banana chips. Ian and Ryan wander the store with huge slabs of meat tucked into their elbows. If shopping at Pat's Hall was like shopping at a post-apocalyptic outpost, this is like shopping for our last night on earth. I've crunched the budget and reported somehow we haven't quite blown *all* of our trip budget so far. So Ian finds a carton of fancy olives and peppers. Lisa and I wonder if Lois Welch likes milk or dark chocolate and decide to get both.
3:31: We arrive back at the Airbnb. We decide none of the food needs to be refrigerated right away, so without our usual frantic caravan of unloading, we flop out of the van and let ourselves back inside for some naps.
4:45: I flick with varying levels of wakefulness between tabs with news, budget spreadsheets, and Doge2048. Ryan knocks on my door. Lois wants us by around 5, so it's time to pack up.
5:02: We arrive at Lois Welch's house. I peer through the door to her garage at her game refrigerator. Frances has told us that there are bears around, and that one broke in and swiped at the door of the fridge, leaving claw scores. I don't see anything. Lois Welch greets us at the door. She has been described to us as precise, formidable, sweet, regal. She is the only person I've ever met to live up to the term "regal." She's tall, wearing a dark sweater and red flat shoes. She shows us around the house, every wall filled with artwork. In a corner by the front door is a mural of canvases stitched together, elements of background and foreground spilling over unevenly from panel to panel. It's beautiful. Her dog Cassie pads up to us, friendly but not overbearing. Her cat is small, soft, and unreservedly sweet. I fall in love with her immediately. We decide we'll film Lois outside, so Ryan and Ian head out to the yard to let down the picnic table that's been upended for the snow season and set up their tripods. Lisa and I help out where we can, popping open beers, slicing bread and cheese, and fetching spare equipment. Lois Welch decides that if she's going to be outside, she's going to change into her lime-green parka. She tells us that after she got it, for months that'd be the first thing anyone said to her. I love that parka, they'd say. It's so striking. When she reappears, we see why. It's beautiful, with a metallic sheen to mute the brightness. She's wearing matching earrings. She looks the part of the star. She and Frances reminisce while Ian and Ryan are setting up, and Lisa and I just keep looking at each other sidelong as if to say, She really is regal! When the late-afternoon sun is finally slanting just right, Frances and Lois settle down at the picnic table in the backyard. Between them is the plate of bread and cheese and olives. Lisa and I are camped out on a bench off-camera so we can watch and Lisa can sketch. Ida and Cassie mill around, rattling their collars and chewing on sticks. As Frances and Lois launch into big questions about the West, about Richard Hugo's white privilege, about James Welch's rise to stardom, about the future of the arts, the rest of the crew is frantically trying to get these dogs to calm down. Lisa sketches Lois Welch in a green marker that matches the parka and earrings. Finally, as dusk gathers, Frances stands up and tells Lois that Ryan's just going to ask a few more questions. I don't remember how he phrased it, but I do remember that Lois talked about how, passing over the Continental Divide, you felt yourself suddenly very small - she corrected the "shrinking" sentiment - you felt yourself your proper size amidst something much much bigger. Everyone off-camera got chills. After Ian and Ryan turned off the cameras, she shrugged an apology that she hadn't ended with a bigger bang.
~7:30: Ian fires up the grill for steak and salmon. Frances has already put together a salad, and everything else is ready, so she urges Lois to take us all on a tour. We climb single file up a staircase into James Welch's study. We see pictures of Jim Tate and the Hugos. We see posters for French versions of Winter in the Blood and The Death of Jim Lonely ("he was very popular in France," Lois tells us). We see Frances's first book, The Stenographer's Breakfast, on the bookshelf by the little bed in the corner. Did Jim sleep on this bed when he wanted a break from work? we ask. It was more of a table, Lois tells us. He mostly stacked books on it. But Frances explains that she slept there when she came through Missoula with the photographer Mary Randlett. Randlett, a spry woman in her late seventies at the time, woke up hours before Frances and would come into the room to pace. Mary, what are you doing? Frances would ask. Mary, why don't you go take some photos? Mary Randlett would leave, walk up the Rattlesnake, and come back an hour or two later announcing that she was all done taking photos. Frances sighed, still clearly bemused by how hard she'd been driven on the road trip. Lois Welch chuckled. We looked out the window from the study and saw that Ian was no longer standing over the grill. We hurried downstairs to dig in.
~8:00: As we eat, cookies are baking in the oven. We're reaching over and under each other for salad and meat and bread. We're drinking wine and toasting the end of the trip. Frances and Lois's friend Ginny, who works in the mayor's office and prognosticates the condition of the city based on her boss's weight (he's down 270 pounds!). Once Frances, Lois, and Ginny start catching up, the dinner takes off. Dessert comes out. Lois welch breaks out Jim Beam
and a bottle of Wild Turkey that Ivan Doig brought her twenty years ago. It's so old that apparently it doesn't even have the current label. After that the confusion only increases. Ginny, Frances, and Lois talk about Doig's death. Ginny, Lois, and I bond over punctuation. I ask what it had been like for Lois to teach Ginny and quickly me and Frances start geeking out with them over English studies (Lois was a badass who not only paved the way for women to break into the University of Montana academics, but did so with the notoriously undervalued and hard-to-teach subject of humor. "I figured if tragedy deserves serious study..." Lois explains; as we talk over the syllabus, Frances makes the most English major-y joke I've ever heard: "Surprise! They don't get married at the end!" *hysterical laughter*). We circle back to some of the things she talked about during the interview. Ryan asks about how Lois had fallen in love with Jim Welch, how much had been the poetry versus the person. We ask about the fame. Lois asks Lisa and I about feminism, about how we view it, how we view our responsibilities as women. (Answer: we take it for granted that feminism is good and we want in on it; the question becomes how to articulate it for the haterz and how to find our own way to promote and enact it.) It is without a doubt one of the coolest, most surreal, most pleasurable nights of my life. We go home after one in the morning. Lois has drunk Ryan under the table.
1:37 a.m. Saturday: We stumble around the Airbnb, packing up for the next morning.
~7:45 Saturday: The crew grumbles to life. I make the last of the eggs and spinach into a scramble, something that for some reason I'd volunteered to do the night before. Frances and Ian seem somehow fairly spry. Lisa is anxious to get on the road to get to an event. Ryan is near death.
~9:00: We run one last eye over the Airbnb. We look over the floors to make sure we've sponged up all of the spots of blood that Ida left from the cut in her paw earlier in the week. Frances has had to do some questionable googling for the stain removal. We've played luggage Tetris in the trunk, but somehow everything is in and everyone is accounted for. We head out. Ian is our intrepid driver.
~10:00: We stop at the 50,000 Silver $ gift shop, a massive place selling, among other things, huckleberry candies, Montana T-shirts, knives, fairy figurines with light-up movable wings... Frances buys some coffee. Ryan buys some Pepto Bismol. As we head out, Frances exclaims that she'd like it if we could make it to Spokane by 11:00. Or even 11:30 would be great, she corrects herself. We gain an hour going back towards Washington, so it's very possible. Soundtrack in the car: Hawaiian slide guitar; obscure 80s jamz; "America!" by Bill Callahan.
11:12 PST: We pass by Spokane.
~11:30: We pause at the rest stop near Sprague so Ida can stretch her legs and go to the bathroom. Ryan, feeling better now, helps some Korean road trippers plot their route to Crater Lake. Lisa investigates the free coffee-ish substance being given out in the central building. Then, disaster strikes: the driver from the car parked next to us points out that we have a flat tire.
Ian and Lisa investigate the flat. Ida (background) stares off into the middle distance, no doubt playing "The Sound of Silence" in her doggie head.
We had been making SUCH. GOOD. TIME. Frances calls AAA, then the rental agency. We loaf around the rest stop, eating our bulk snacks and making Richard Hugo jokes about how the car that brought us here *technically* still runs. Spirits aren't too low. Over the next two hours, the rental agency sends a tow truck, the drivers of which luckily don't tow us. They put on the spare, which is dangerously low on air, and tell us where the nearest air pump and Les Schwab is. We make our way to Sprague and then to Ritzville. On the way, Lisa (who, let's remember, has an event to get to back in Seattle) allows herself one non-whiny-whine: "I don't want to be in Sprague right now!" We need to buy a new tire, and then they need to put it on. We wait in the rubber-fumed garage. We wander around the parking lot. Ian picks his way to the John Deere dealership across the street and takes pictures.
2:32: We head finally out.
3:17: Ryan driving now, we stop in at a Carl's Junior so he can get some fast food to settle his stomach. We fill the car with burgers, bacon cheese fries, jalapeño poppers, and fried zucchini.
6:08: We pull up to Frances's house. Lisa rushes her stuff into her car to get to her event. Frances and I divvy up the leftover snacks. Ian and Ryan talk over how the mountain of equipment is going to make its way home. Frances and Ryan, blessed souls, make plans to clean the van of its five (& dog) muddy passengers' traces and return it early the next morning. It's a wrap.