The drive through Northern Idaho and into Montana was beautiful. Hills full of green and smatters of purple, mauve, violent, and the occasional splash of bright yellow. For lunch, I had two boiled eggs and some fruit. The rest stop smelled like pine and apple tobacco, thanks to a kid sitting on the lawn with his friend, smoking a pipe. Their license plate said they were from Texas. At the stop I walked six laps around the grounds, interrupting some ground squirrels. Baseball games kept me occupied for the rest of the drive, when there was radio reception. When there wasn’t, I thought about Mohammed Ali’s eulogies I listened to on Friday and how quickly the Orlando tragedy happened after that. Friday I was full of hope that upon a great man’s passing there were so many speeches about love and respect for diversity. Two days later, hate prevailed. I looked out at the beautiful landscape, the snow-capped mountains and quiet, abandoned barns, and wondered how a country so breathtaking could sustain so much ugliness. I get to my hotel room just in time to watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks lost, despite me wearing my lucky earrings.
Haps Bar & Depot Laundromat is only a mile away, so I walk. I go through residential areas of trailers and manufactured homes. It’s after 8 on a Sunday, and many are still out and about, mowing or watering lawns. I get to the bar and see Sydney Crosby hoisting the Cup in victory. I don’t feel like singing today. Apparently no one else does either, for though I arrive well after the established start-time, nothing is going on.
The KJ worries her left eyebrow, then goes over to swap stories with the local bartender. When she gets back to her station, I put my song in and we chat. Her best friend died from cancer yesterday. I ask what she’s doing here and she explained that this is a small town, and there isn’t anyone available to sub, and a lot of people pay good money to drink in order to sing, not just shoot pool. Then I let her know that I understand – the same thing happened to me in February. She says she feels like she’s in a daze. Of course she is.
The singing starts at 9:20. The KJ says “I appreciate everyone’s patience today,” before singing Journey’s “Lights” (“Well my friend, I’m lonely too”). It’s clear she’s in the beginning stages of grief, or perhaps I’m just extra sensitive to it. A pair of 20-somethings sing “I Love Rock and Roll” together while holding their pool cues and giggling. Then I sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and a couple of people come up to me while I’m singing to tell me how much they love that song. An elderly man follows me with “Pink Carnation.”
The bartender asks what brings me here, and I tell her about my 48-state karaoke goal. She shares her goal of driving around Montana to try the top 20 pie slices in the state. The KJ hands her the mic, and she stays behind the bar to pour two stiff Jack and Cokes while singing “Blame it on Your Heart” by Patty Loveless. I like this place a lot.
Part of me wants to stay, but I’m learning that I need to pace myself. It’s after 11 and a pretty big crowd comes in. On my walk home I pass three different people working on their cars and a small group of deer grazing. All of them go about their business as I walk by.
- Location: Haps Bar & Depot Laundromat, Helena, Montana
- Miles traveled: 315
- Songs sung: Dreams (Fleetwood Mac); No Souvenirs (Melissa Etheridge)