So long, GNP. It was a great couple of days. We’ll be back!
Now we’re eastbound and down, heading into the prairie zone of north-central Montana, and then we’ll turn south toward Helena. I’ve seen a bit of Montana, east of the divide. Though I’m partial to the west side, there are many gorgeous areas out here: the mountains around Bozeman; the ranchland and prairie of Crow territory near Billings; Lewistown and surroundings; the Missouri River, especially between Great Falls and Helena, and a few more spots I’ve been to, but this stretch between GNP and Great Falls seems a little bleak. OK, it’s no fair to judge only from the highway on an overcast, cold day in early November in the dim light of the early evening, but I’m just saying, some of the towns we passed by did look a little desert-outpost, trailer parky. With the tumbleweeds and overgrown brown grass along the fences, Steinbeck would be right at home describing the dreariness of these places. There seemed to be no shortage of houses with acreage dotted with the classic American blight of rusting old cars in need of new transmissions since 25 years ago. At least when I was a kid, out on a Sunday drive in the country, somewhere around Enumclaw let’s say, you’d see the odd ‘46 Ford pickup or a ‘59 LeSabre in the rarely-mowed grass of the front yard. Now we have to look at broken-down Chevy S-10s and ‘93 Camries. But of course, no offense to anyone living out here. Someone has to do the farming and ranching and work the gas station/mini-mart/casinos.
After we’d left the park an hour or so behind us, there was no way to tell if we were traveling through God’s Country or Eyesore City as it was dark. Lukas took it upon himself to navigate as well as drive; he likes to run the show when he’s driving, which is fine as long as he doesn’t have the iphone in one hand, dripping double-deluxe-cheeseburger in the other, and lead foot on the accelerator. His system for navigation is a bit odd for me- don’t get me wrong, Luke is a capable dude and can manage his way around anywhere - but what he likes to do is get the map off the net and have it on his smart phone, then turn off connectivity by toggling airplane mode.
D- Why bother with the phone if you’re gonna turn off the internet anyway? May as well grab the road atlas from the back seat and ditch the fondle stick. Screen-free freedom baby!
L- I like using the phone, but I don’t like the radiation. When you’re in normal mode, your phone is always searching for a tower, and that puts out tons of electromagnetic radiation fields. So I put the phone on airplane mode.
Luke was saying this as it was pitch black and we were trying to find our way out in the prairie, on dirt roads, passing the odd ranch and coming across Ys in the road with no signage. There’s really only two decent ways to get to Sloan’s place from GNP- either you take the state highway directly south and turn east before Lincoln (Kazinski’s turf), or head east a ways and go down the I-15. The blessed phone put us on a middle route through American Gothic land, dirt roads and all. As Lukas was making a u-turn to get back to a turnoff we’d apparently missed, I was thinking, “For crying out loud, if we’re going to trust this smart phone’s choice of route, may as well go whole hog, turn on connectivity and let Siri tell us where to turn. We’re gonna keep Sloan and Katrina waiting at the roadhouse!”
Instead of that, I gently suggested, “Maybe we otta click the ‘directions’ button on the map app.”
But you know how it is, challenge a youngin in their directional capabilities and you’re gonna run into a stubborn defense. So we kept up with this half-baked method of using the phone, but not really using the phone, out in the dark middle of Nowhere, Montana. At least the roads were dry and it was about sixty degrees warmer than early November last year. I just let Lukas do his thing and let my thoughts wander. I playfully imagined how I might express a similar situation if I were in Japan with one of my surfing buddies, trying to find a new break on Shikoku island.
ばかじゃないの？こんな中途半端なシステムじゃ、絶対にとどかないよ（Baka janai no? Kon'na chūtohanpana shisutemu ja, zettai ni todokanai yo!) [Are you nuts? We’ll never get anywhere with this half-baked system!]
Japanese speakers like my kids will have a laugh at that. Frustration and a little anger always brings out the substandard, comical Japanese in me. And the above I had a chance to think about- in the heat of the moment it’s much more goofy.
I use the word chuutohanpa (中途半端) a lot in Japan. Literally it means halfway and odd, so half-baked. Somehow it rolls off the tongue nicely. You know how when you learn a foreign language, some words and phrases sound nice to you and you overuse them? When I was in Costa Rica opening up an import business, my partner, who was learning Spanish, constantly said, “Es la ventaja que tenemos,” which means “It’s the advantage we have.” He loved that expression, but I got a little tired of it. Some of my favorite Japanese words/phrases are:
chuuto hanpa- half assed, halfway, half baked, only partially done
iinda…sono mama- as is (as in, “That’s fine as is.. Just leave it.”)
juubun- good enough. That’ll do.
and my favorite: tekitou- perfunctory; half-minded; sloppy; lazy; careless; noncommittal; unreliable; irresponsible; haphazard
As a gaijin in Japan, living under somewhat reduced expectations, you really need these in your verbal quiver. These words will come in handy if I open up a pond business in Japan, though I’d wager they’re not often used at the Toyota factory.
In any case, Lukas knew we were running late, and that we would have done better on the highway or the interstate, but he was out to prove his system worked, so he drove like a rally driver on the Paris-Dakar. I prayed we wouldn’t hit a stray cow on some blind corner.
I must credit young Luke and his goofy system, because we arrived at the roadhouse along the Missouri only a few minutes late. The road rally added a little grey and took a few hours off my lifespan but all was well when a beaming Sloan Youngblood got up from his corner booth and gave us a big old bear hug. Sloan said, “You came THAT WAY?!” and he and Katrina let out a big laugh.
We had a great dinner of burgers and chili and good conversation, and then followed Sloan back to his Missouri River redoubt, to spend the night before heading on to Helena. We would have planned to stay longer, but Sloan had to pick up a load in Kalispell early the next morning. I had visited Sloan and Katrina in September, and we keep in touch with the occasional phone call and email, so at the diner I mostly listened while Sloan got all caught up with Lukas and his adventures over the months since Lukas left Montana back in early spring. Those two have known each other for about a year, but I’ve known Sloan since the winter of 2020.
Here’s a pic from out on Sloan’s boat in September:
Sloan and I first met at the Grizzly Inn, where Ed and Annie Haynes, mutual friends of mine and Sloan’s, held their Monday-night patriots meeting. Sloan learned about my involvement with kla.tv and that I was toying with the idea of some kind of local media and was very interested. A few days later I met Sloan and Katrina at the Sunrise Café and we discussed the possibility of a radio station in the Bitterroot. I wasn’t the first to consider local radio, and Sloan already had years of broadcasting experience under his belt. Among other things, he worked a number of years as the top-time-slot DJ at a Missoula station playing pop hits. He has the perfect, deep pitch and fast, catchy delivery for radio, and he’s graciously offered to do the “name branding” I think he calls it, for BBR. I can’t wait to hear Sloan’s smooth rendition of something like, “All the news you can use, from Sula to Missoula. This is KBBR- Bitterroot Beacon Radio!”
Sloan is like a bunch of my friends here in Montana. Strong, tough, resilient, capable, independent, and don’t take no guff. Big Joe, Lars, Ed (and Annie!), Rick, and others fit that bill. But long ago Sloan took his fast living and rebellious, no holds barred attitude a bit far and found himself on the wrong side of the law one too many times and ended up behind bars in the local jail, facing a very long sentence. I don’t know the whole story, but according to Sloan, by the grace of God he was spared years of time in the pen and made it out much sooner than he’d anticipated. He also ran into Pastor John, who worked as the chaplain of the jail and with his unique program brought Sloan up from rock-bottom and helped him get his soul and life sorted out. Since that experience many years ago with Pastor John’s jail ministry, Sloan has been doing his best to keep on the straight and narrow. When I first started going to Pastor John’s church, after an invite from Ed and Annie Haynes, Sloan always took his spot in the front, left pew. A busy dude, he’d sometimes come in just a bit late, greet the congregation, then sit himself so that he was turned toward Pastor John and the other congregants; John’s sermon is totally interactive and often seems more like a conversation than a sermon. During winter Sloan leaves his wool work hat and big parka on and it’s a joy hearing his deep, booming voice when he takes part in the discussion. With his scripture-splattered Kenworth, and his bigger than life persona, he’s the real-deal trucker evangelist. When I think of Sloan and his Kenworth, I think of that Neil Diamond tune, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.
I’m glad Sloan and Katrina have made a happy home for themselves up north along the Missouri, but I miss them at the fellowship, as Pastor John calls it.
One of my most memorable days with Sloan came last April. He’d asked me to take him to the airport. He was driving his old ‘96 Accord heading toward Missoula when I got a phone call. It was from my brother in Seattle. I had a pretty good idea what the message was and I think Sloan did too, based on the tone of my voice, even when all I said was, “Hey Tom. What’s up?”
Tom cut right to the chase and told me our dad had died. Tom made sure to tell me when it happened, the fact that he was there with dad, and that dad was asleep when he passed. I couldn’t think of anything to say and didn’t want to spend time on the phone trying to say ‘the right thing’ so I just said, “OK, I’ll call you later.”
There was a moment of silence in the car. I just stared at the glove compartment. I could tell Sloan was looking over at me. “Was that your brother?”
-Was he calling about your dad?
-Yep. He’s gone.
Another silent pause. Overthinking as usual, instead of just thinking about my pop I started looking at the situation as an observer sort of and asking myself dumb questions: What am I supposed to feel? Do I just say nothing and stare at the road? Shouldn’t I feel some kind of shock and deeper remorse right now? Wouldn’t I prefer to be alone? Is Sloan the guy I want next to me when my dad dies? Am I supposed to say something to Sloan so he doesn’t feel uncomfortable here? What should I say? Should I just be silent?
I packed all those questions into a very short time frame and it was probably only a few seconds of silence before Sloan reached over, squeezed my shoulder and patted me behind my neck and said, “I’m sorry brother. I’m so sorry.”
Sloan wears his heart on his sleeve and you know he’s sincere and not just trying to say the right words. That little squeeze came naturally and quickly. I remember when Rebecca, my step-mother’s mother died. My dad had to go out in the garden and tell my step-mom. Before running outside he came downstairs and said, “Go up and comfort Raymond (my step uncle). He’s in there with Rebecca.” I bolted upstairs and down the hall and there was old Rebecca, dead with her mouth open and looking very small in the middle of the big four-poster of the guest room. Raymond, a giant of a man, and a logger and a trucker himself, didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do either, but anyone with a brain, like my dad, or Sloan Youngblood, knew what you do is you go over there and give big ol’ Raymond a long hug. I just stood with him and stared at his mom Rebecca until my dad and my anguished step-mother came into the room, and went straight to her brother and hugged him.
Sloan’s gesture of affection and words brought my thoughts back to where they should be- on my dad. Then I broke down and cried. I was a little embarrassed and said, “Sorry, Sloan.”
He said, “It’s OK, brother. It’s OK,” and he gave me another hug with his free arm.
We didn’t say much on our way into Missoula. As we got about halfway up Reserve St., Sloan said, “Well, whattya say we get a little lunch? I’ve got time before my flight. How about a burger or something?”
-That sounds good.
-Well let’s see. You want a burger? A taco? We could get chicken at Popeye’s. Burger King? McDonalds?
-Anything’s OK, Sloan.
-Um. OK, why don’t we just do Micky D’s then.
-That sounds good.
It was good to focus on something different, if only for a moment, and if only the focus was a menu next to the intercom in the drive-through at McDonald’s. Everybody knows the menu already and I knew what I wanted anyway, but I liked looking at that menu.
Good ol’ Sloan never misses a chance to spread the Word and after he ordered his chicken sandwich set and I my Big Mac set, and paid, he whipped out one of his business cards with his one-man-ministry website and held it out, before the teenager in the McDonald’s cap could slide the window closed. Sloan said, “Here’s something for you, brother.”
The fat kid gave a little, polite forced smile and said, “Oh, thank you.”
-Now brother, if you will, just go to the website on that card and have a look at the main page. Won’t take you a sec. You’re gonna see some stuff that just might blow your mind.
-Um. OK. Thanks.
-Whether you know Jesus already or not, there’s going to be some content there that you can really use. Amazing stuff. Just take a look. Won’t take five minutes of your time, brother.
-All right, thank you sir.
Sloan was just about to say another mouthful, but the kid got the sliding window closed before Sloan could get it out. Sloan looked over at me and said, “Dude thinks I’m insane.”
I had to laugh at that. Then I said, “Thank you for the card. I’ll just get your order now and be right back with you, Mr. Psycho.”
Then it was Sloan’s turn to laugh.
Then the window opened back up and the kid handed Sloan our food. Sloan again tried another line on the kid but the window slowly slid shut as the kid said, “Thank you sir, have a nice day!”
We parked in the lot to eat our burgers. I said, Sloan, did you like how that window sort of seemed to slowly close on its own while the kid wished us a nice day?
And then, in mock-teen high voice, Sloan said, “Thank you sir, have a nice day!” with his hand passing slowly in front of his face, like the window in front of the McDonald’s kid. Sloan had this shocked, frozen, glazed expression with a nervous smile that said, “Please leave, Mr. Axe murderer customer Sir.” With his hand doing the window thing, it was hilarious and we both busted out laughing. It might have been the first time my tears of sorrow were mixed with tears of laughter, and spilled french fries.
We talked about my dad a little the rest of the way to the airport, now without the initial shock that had me tongue-tied. It felt good to share my thoughts with Sloan. I’m glad I wasn’t alone when my brother sent me the news.
Another thing about Sloan. He and Pastor John are my two biggest fans when it comes to getting the Beacon going, or other projects like the travel company or the school. They have far more faith in me than I have in myself. If this thing gets off the ground and moving, I’ll have them to thank for keeping my mind away from the crushing self-doubt (and laziness) that destroys 98% of my other pie-in-sky projects.
The next morning Sloan was up early to get the Kenworth warmed up.
He didn’t want to leave home. He would have preferred to hang around a while and chew the fat with us, and then stay home with his lovely “Kat”, as he calls Katrina. She’s a calming influence on Sloan.
There are another two songs that remind me of Sloan. One is a good ol’ Ralph Stanley tune that comes to mind when I think of where Sloan might have ended up without Pastor John’s intervention.
Too much beer and wine
Too many good times
The lure of the honkey tonk wrecked her young life
And I’m reminded of the other song when Sloan talks about his beloved Kat. He may be saved by Grace but I’ll tell you what, he’s still got a little of the devil inside him. Katrina’s good at keeping him in line.
Big Bad Bill don’t fight any more,
Doing the dishes, mopping up that floor
Well he used to go out drinking,
Looking for a fight,
Now he gotta see that woman, every night,
Big Bad Bill is sweet William now.