Let me start by saying I’ve only been in Bozeman for a day, yet I’m already in love with it. No, I’m not working for Bozeman Tourism or trying to sell something, I just like this place. It’s a funky little city with a quaint small town feel. On the outskirts of the city, there are all your standard chain stores, but they have decidedly nonstandard appearances. The Home Depot looks a bit like an upscale hunting store, and the hunting and outdoor stores looked like art shops. I stopped in one of those outdoor’s stores to pick up some new hiking shoes and bear spray (more about that later). As I walked into the store, I see there are upper-end designer shoes and hats for women, ranging in prices from 100-300.00, but the walls and display stands were made with rough cut wood and decorated with stuffed or taxidermied animals. Then, in the back of the store, you could get hunting and camping supplies. I could have walked out of that store looking like a very fashionable bear from San Francisco and armed well enough to kill an actual bear, cook it and eat it. All from the same store.
Bozeman is a place of beautiful inconsistencies. At least, inconsistent to my suburban East Coast mind. You very quickly start to appreciate and understand those inconsistencies when you walk around in it. Breathe it in. Let it get into your blood. Little moments begin to clue you into all these wonderful discordances of the established order, like on my trek back home, not even a mile away from those upscale stores, I passed a pawn shop where I could avail myself of any number of snowshoes, shotguns, kayaks, ninja stars or any taxidermied animal you could want. Just outside of this pawn depot I saw a beautiful flowering thistle, some daisies, and a motherf-ing prairie dog. Not a squirrel or chipmunk, a m-find prairie dog*
An animal that is synonymous in my mind with open expanses of land, long hikes, and golden wheat (I don’t know why they make me think of wheat, they just do), yet this animal of America’s Heartland has set up shop next to a place that is synonymous with cheap guns, desperation, and stolen jewelry. Why? Because of Bozeman.
There are some interesting social peculiarities as well here. Bozeman is a place where when I entered the city limits, the census bureau was notified of the jump in minorities. It is easily the whitest place I’ve been too, and in my hometown, I could count the number of brown people on two hands and a foot, three of whom were in my family. In fact, according to the latest Census Bureau information, it’s a little over 93% white, but the fantastic thing is I’ve yet to feel out-of-place here. Well, because of my skin color anyway. People here are warm, talkative, and welcoming. Not that people aren’t back home, it’s just of a different quality and there are some places I’ve been made to feel like I don’t quite fit in. The only reason I do feel out of place here is that of the one thing Bozeman has less of than brown people: chubby ones. Bozeman is a place where the main food groups are tacos, bison, BBQ, and beer, yet it’s filled with fit, skinny people. Bozeman is like that friend that says, “I try to gain weight, but no matter what I eat, it just comes right off. Tee Hee!” It doesn’t take long to figure out why this is, though. We ate at the Montana Ale Works restaurant downtown and there were no less than three bike racks outside. Who bikes to an ale house? Bozemanites, that’s who. Apparently, they bike everywhere because there is a bike rack outside of most stores and restaurants and my chubby ass walked past no less than four bike shops on my 1.8-mile hike back to the hotel. But despite the color of my skin or the sheer amount of it, I feel wonderfully welcome here. At least until the subject of bears come up. (Again, you’ll just have to wait)
But that’s Bozeman for you. It’s a place where you can eat at a trendy gastropub, travel less than half an hour in any direction and you could conceivably run into mamma bear, or a moose like my wife and I did. Not likely, but possible. Whereas if you traveled half an hour away from Baltimore you’re still in the suburbs and the only thing you have to worry about running into are overpriced crabs and Zika carrying mosquitos. Yet in Baltimore, a place of more diversity, of more “culture,” there is more racism and violence, and people do not act as cultured as the people do in this small city do, a city that many would consider being just a hick, mountain town. And they would be wrong. That, and so many other reasons are why I’m getting a Rocky Mountain high here. Of course, I’ve only been in Bozeman for one day, yet I could see spending a lot more time out here. Does anyone need a spare token, Y’all?
* I have since been informed that what I saw is probably a Damn Ground Squirrel, however, I maintain it’s a M-fing Prairie Dog. Mostly due to editing reasons.
This post was originally published by Stupid Optimism and is republished with permission from the author.
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