Friday, August 22, 2008

Car Trouble in Butte, Montana—“Tap ‘er light!”

Known as "Big Sky Country" for obvious reasons, Montana offers 147,000 square miles of terrain and about 69,000 miles of public highways and roads to explore, including some of the most breathtaking scenery in North America (e.g., Beartooth Highway, Glacial National Park and Going to the Sun Road: West Glacier to Saint Mary's Lake, West Yellowstone, Madison River Country, the Bitteroot Valley, just to name a few).

Well, my delay in Montana had less to do with the weather than with my own neglect (I let the oil dwindle to nothing); although the heat may have conspired in my longer than intended stay in Montana. After lingering longer than I should have in Bozeman, I stopped in Butte for the night.
Butte was once considered the “richest hill on Earth”; it came into existence because of gold and is still an active mining community of copper, manganese and zinc as well as gold and silver. “You can see it in the smooth, worn streets, and the billboard images ghosted on brick hotels,” says the town’s visitor’s guide. The people who live and work in this worn-down but friendly town are proud of their mining history and culture. As a result of its mining heritage, Butte has even developed its own unique vernacular: mine-speak, which Kevin Shannon and Jim Edwards have documented in their book, Memories of a Mining Camp. For instance, instead of saying, “Take it easy” they say “Tap ‘er light,”, an old expression that goes back to hand drilling the holes for the dynamite in the mines. One guy would hold the steel and turn it while the other would pound it to bore the hole. The guy holding the steel would constantly worry about getting his hand whacked. Ouch!

The following morning, Chelsea, my trusty 1988 Plymouth Acclaim—after serving me for close to 9,000 km (5,592 miles) across America—refused to start.
I suppose I should have thanked God that she hadn’t died in the middle of the Idaho mountains. She had the mechanics puzzled and I ended up staying another night at a reduced rate courtesy of the Comfort Inn’s “stranded car” policy. The shuttle driver of the inn blithely informed me that he’d gotten stranded here five years ago and never left. That had me worried.

I guess I was feeling a little sorry for myself as I aimlessly walked out of the motel in search of food. There were only fast food places within walking distance and I no longer had a car at my disposal. I spotted a nearby mini-mart and wandered in. I bought some trail mix (the kind with chocolate) and a case of Salmon Fly Honey Rye brewed by the Madison River Brewing Company. At the last minute, I thought to purchase a bottle-opener key chain souvenir of Montana. Then I found a place to sit outside in the motel parking lot and proceeded to get pleasantly drunk.

That’s when I met John.

John is a Nebraskan biker, who was taking his lady up to Glacier National Park on his Triumph motorcycle. I’d noticed the gray-haired couple before as they came to the motel. I offered John one of my beers and we got to talking. John had biked pretty well all his life. He had his first motorbike—a Chief— at age ten and has since purchased dozens more. The lady he was with had never been out of state until John recently put her on his motorcycle—also a first for her—and took her through Yellowstone Park. Now hooked, she is his constant touring companion. They intend to loop back from Glacier National Park over to Sturgis, the international bikers rally near Rapid City in early August. I was moved by their story and particularly impressed with John’s spunky companion; at their advanced age they were realizing the American dream. And what a way to do it!

Follow your dream and take it easy…er, I mean, tap ‘er light!

Oh, I obviously made it home, after the mechanics sorted out the over $400 problem the next day and sent me on my way. I didn't stop driving until I got home, some 1,300 km later!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Bobbi said...

Great photos!

I have yet to go on a vacation where I didn't have some sort of car trouble! I think I'm jinxed!

sfgirl said...

Woo.... maybe it's your car, not you...I must say this was my first time with car trouble in many road trips I've taken... but to give my car its due credit, it behaved for most of the 10,000 km of the trip... not bad for an 18-year old car!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It looks like Chelsea had a lot of hard work to do and refused to do any more!

sfgirl said...

So, true, Jean-luc! She was a good car, a trouper, going through heat and hail and over hill and dale... LOL! I can't complain, really... Toulouse, on the other hand... well, HE wasn't impressed! It was a good trip. And, ya, America, you're beautiful! I'd do it again in a flash and WITH Chelsea!

Baby Brie said...

Loving your travel blogs, sfgirl! Takes me back to our road trips! Great times! We will have to do another road trip in the near future!

sfgirl said...

Definitely, Baby Brie! I'd sure like that! Those road trips were so cool.

Anonymous said...

That's an INDIAN cycle, not a Triumph! DOH!

SF Girl said...

LOL! You caught me,, yee of discerning eyes...HAR! I missed taking a shot of John's cycle so I used this one... :)