A Stranger in a Strange Town

Ramona Mead

As I’ve traveled from town to town in the U.S. during the past several weeks, I’ve noticed a few things. While every community is a little different, they’re all pretty much the same. There’s an Applebee’s, a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot. One morning I walked my dog outside my hotel, staring out at the vast Sam’s Club parking lot and beyond to a strip mall behind a busy intersection, and for a moment, groggy before I had any coffee, I actually forgot where I was for a moment. There were no distinguishing characteristics!

I’m sure people who live in these places would disagree with me. I know each town has its own history and appealing qualities. I found one Ohio suburb particularly charming after noticing an abundance of repurposed buildings. I browsed in a book store that used to be a church and two Starbucks that used to be banks, one of which still features a vault! I saw a liquor store that used to be a church and a Christian academy topped with a giant lighthouse, which I’m guessing was previously something seafood related!

In each chain restaurant sits a familiar cast of characters, the hung-over college kids having breakfast at IHOP, the elderly couple having a 4 pm dinner at Bob Evans, blue collar men in grease stained Carharts having beers at the restaurant bar. People complain about the weather or politics, they cheer the local sports team playing on the flat-screen TVs.

For the most part, people are friendly, if maybe a bit cautious. A waitress who asked to see my ID wanted to know what brought me from Montana to an O’Charley’s in Ohio on a Tuesday night at 10 pm in the snow!

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game, to root for the away team, the Philadelphia Flyers. I felt a little guilty, wearing my bright orange and cheering against the home team but since I grew up outside of Philadelphia, I couldn’t help it! I was pleasantly surprised to discover I wasn’t the only one there in orange! When a group of Philly fans started a chant of “Let’s go Flyers!” the twenty-something guy seated in front of me (who gave me a nice view of his hairy butt crack each time he stood, despite the fact that he was wearing a belt) returned the cheer in the same tune with “You live in Ohio!” It struck me that he assumed every single one of the several thousand hockey fans in the arena must live nearby. I don’t live in Ohio and I was there. I think it’s interesting to see how some people aren’t able to see much past their own personal bubble.

As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed that people’s opinions are based on their own life experience. And if they don’t have much of that, they tend to go with what they’ve seen or been told while growing up. That young guy at the hockey game probably couldn’t yet imagine a life where he traveled to a different city to see his favorite team play. Just like the people who didn’t support me going on this adventure probably haven’t ever had the opportunity or desire to take bold action, to demand change in life and shake things up.

There are things I miss about home: my purple comforter, my sweet little Boston Terrier, homemade food, having a daily routine. And there are things I certainly don’t miss: housework, obligatory dinner parties, shoveling snow. It’s nice to go to the hotel desk when I need more toilet paper, trash bags, and even coffee. There’s a part of me that could maintain this lifestyle indefinitely and another part that’s just really tired. Not having a place to settle is fun and appealing. It’s not as scary as I thought it might be. One of the mot frustrating parts has simply been figuring out how to operate a new shower/faucet every few days! But I’m also constantly reminded that I don’t have a home base right now, which can sometimes leave a gal feeling a bit disconnected.

The exciting thing is I’ve learned some truly incredible things about myself in the weeks since I’ve left Montana, and about the people I love. I’ve learned who my real friends are and what parts of the country I’ll choose to bypass in the future! I’ve realized how important adventure is to me, experiencing new places and things. I’ve seen my toughness and my weak spots. And although I already knew it I’ve realized how important and amazing my dog, Charlie, is. He’s made more friends on this adventure than I have!

I know I still have a lot to learn about myself and about life. In the near future, I will face a lot more unknowns. They’re intimidating. I don’t know exactly where I’m going next. That’s exhilarating and terrifying both at the same time, which is the evidence that I need to push ahead.

If you’re new to Bozeman, or just traveling through, you may be experiencing some of the things I’ve mentioned. Cruise around town and you’ll find the Applebee’s, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot. There’s even a restaurant that used to be a train station! Perhaps I’m biased because I called Bozeman home for eight years, but I’ve always known it was different than other similar towns across the country (I’ve jokingly called it The Bozeman Bubble!) and now I’m seeing that first hand. I’ve yet to visit a Wal-Mart with a breathtaking view of a mountain range (I guess I do miss The Bridgers too…)! At first glance, Bozeman may seem like a tourist town with most of the trappings of Anytown, USA but I can assure you it has a spirit that can’t be found anywhere else.    

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Ramona Mead

Ramona Mead is a freelance writer and jack of all trades. She is passionate about books, music, pets and living life to the fullest here in Montana. Her blog can be found at http://benicefollowrules.blogspot.com

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