Monday, October 24, 2011

Bozeman Backpackers' Hostel: Part 1

Bozeman, Montana. A place most people (at least those I associate with) have not heard of, let alone visited.


"Bozeman, Montana. Because I've heard it's a really cool place. "

This was usually the extent of the conversations. I often did not confess the person I heard it from. Probably because I didn't actually hear that. Nor was it even said. That I know of. 

Bozeman, Montana.

I read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" over the summer following my senior year of college, including during my time spent in teacher boot camp ("Institute" for those TFA people out there). The book was life changing. By that I mean it elicited countless epiphanies about myself, the way I perceived reality and the ways I lived my life. The context of my life at the time I read the book, the person I was, and the content of the book meshed. It just makes sense, in retrospect. You can never know these things in the moment though. The greatest paradigm-shift influencing events aren't usually billing themselves as such. They happen, we react and interact, changing in the process. Or as others, espousing Disney philosophy, may say:  "everything happens for a reason".

Phenomenological arguments aside, the book left a smaller impression on me that wouldn't realize the entirety of its fruitfulness until this epic trip. In the book, the narrator and his son visit friends in Bozeman. The narrator is based on the writer, Robert Pirsig, who taught at Montana State and developed many of his philosophical ideas there. The friends that he visits are based on artists from Bozeman, Bob and Gennie DeWeese. The book made such an impact on me that I decided while I was reading it that if/when I visited Montana, I must go to Bozeman. Upon laying out my ideas for the trip and the subsequent plans, I threw out Bozeman as a planned destination because of this reason. Through my research for the trip, I found out there was a hostel in Bozeman.  Done deal.  This entry is one of four parts that detail my Bozeman, Montana experience.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I arrived at the Bozeman Backpackers' Hostel on Friday September 2 after spending three nights camping out in remote South Dakota. The trip was in its infancy at that point; I was only 5 days and 1,600 miles removed from my childhood home in Ohio. Upon walking up to the two story wooden house, I found a middle aged man sitting on a 1970s era couch. He was strumming a guitar, though with no apparent desire to  make music. A condensation-soaked Budweiser sat obediently on the table next to him. "So this is what hostels are like after all", I thought to myself. It seemed to fit the image I had in my mind of what a hostel experience should be like.  Not that I had specifically pictured a guy my father's age plucking the strings of the most cliche instrument, drinking the most ubiquitous beer; but the scene displayed the symbolism I had anticipated in my mind.  Random. "Hippie". Not "normal". Just plain strange.

This was the first hostel experience in my life.  I looked around at my new surroundings, unsure of what to do next. With zero previous experience to guide me, I had no knowledge if there was hostel protocol, let alone what that may be if it existed. I slowly walked up three wooden steps, holding tight to the straps of my backpack.

"Can I help ya with somethin?" the guitar guy gruffly asked me. 

"Umm yeah, I am staying at the hostel." I nodded my head toward the house.

"Alright. Me too."

"Oh, cool...soooo do I go inside and talk with someone about paying?" I inquired.

I struggled to grease the social axle and find an automated conversation format that would enable me to secure my room and avoid self-conscious awkwardness. I was forced to remain there feeling stripped bare without the comfort provided by the smoothness of etiquette.

"Nope. Ya talk to me."

Creases in my skin diffused across my face in confusion.

I suppose my body language and facial expression were enough to goad him on as he reluctantly continued. 

"Yeah, I stay here and help out during the day, so I'll take care of ya. Come on, I guess I'll show ya around." He eased himself off the couch and guided his six foot four frame my way and on into the house. The door slammed shut, but without creating the sense of intentional anger. He looked back, barely askance, for a brief moment, as if remembering as well as telling me without words that "Oh yeah, watch the door, it slams shut if you don't keep hold of it".

The feelings of uncertainty that tend to produce awkward interactions were at full display in me. Freshmen year of high school all over again. Having no clue what to expect. Just a desire for everything to be as great and fulfilling as you are told and without the gawky stumbling over yourself. But here I was, grown up, feeling as if I had a rash breakout of acne and unable to form sentences or perform actions without the upperclassmen looking down with that masked disdain and disapproval, which actually felt worse to receive or perceive, than outright disgust and dismissal. At least you know where you stand with the latter.

I peered around the inside of the dining room and adjacent living room as my host searched the registration book. Leftist stickers on the door, windows, and walls. "Free Tibet" I am silently told. A bookshelf with various travel guides to exotic and known worlds and Bukowski. A record player on the floor with a pile of records next to it in a milk crate. Above was a radio softly pumping out the Doors with a hint of static.  I am in for an experience, indeed, I concluded to myself.

"I'm sorry, but we don't have ya on here. When did you make the reservations again?"

I am jolted away from my much welcomed private thoughts. "Huh?"

"Yeah, when did you make 'em?"

"Last week."

"Who did ya talk with?"

"I didn't talk with anyone. You're the first person I have talked with here."


Silence. Standing and looking at one another, then around.

"Well..." He drew in air, pursing his lips while his eyebrows lifted upwards, forming upside down U's that, combined with the crow's feet below, framed pale blue eyes. "I don't know. Your name's not in here", he concluded, and rather nonchalantly I thought accusingly in my mind.

"Umm...well what can I do? I mean, I need a place to stay. I don't know anyone in Bozeman. I've traveled here from all the way across the country and I'm on a budget, I can't afford a hotel. I came here because of this hostel!"

"Oh, well you could just pay cash here, now. We have plenty of space." The visions of being stranded in Bozeman, Montana, not knowing a soul and having zero plans for the next three days slammed into a brick wall of relief. I stood dumbfounded from the force of the blow. That sort of feeling that comes after someone makes a terrible joke that you completely buy into. Those kind that suck the cool out of you. And you feel foolish inwardly while trying like hell to maintain an outward appearance of cool, which only makes you more self-conscious and shoves you off the edge of the stage of trying to keep your act together. That's where I was. (These are the moments that are best for us.)

After money was squared away (2 nights for a truly cool sum of $48), I received a formal introduction. The Bud-heavy swigging, guitar plucking giant of a man was called "Scott".

"Yeah, I stay out back in the tipi in exchange for tendin' to the place. Come on. I'll show ya around."

 I am in for an experience, indeed, I concluded to myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment