May 6, 2007

As soon as I found out I was going to Montana, I had a feeling of dread. Not because of the assignment. I immediately Googled "Spiders in Montana" and discovered there are poisonous ones and less poisonous ones. They looked the same to me.

Nevertheless, being the professional that I am, I persevered. So instead I focused on the more important issue: where to stay. Someone suggested I should go camping. Obviously this was someone who did not know me well. I've never understood the appeal of sleeping on the wet, soggy ground when there is the option of sleeping in a hotel nearby. I enjoy things like electricity and heat. I like a socket nearby and a lock on the door. If I want to see nature, I can look out a window. Or even better - turn on the television.

When I got there, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Driving along an empty road surrounded by snowcapped mountains and blue skies, I opened the window and breathed in the fresh air. Breathing is a popular activity in Montana. So is marvelling. I don't do a lot of marvelling and found that I can only do it for so long. I'd inhaled, I'd marvelled, I was ready to go. If you've seen one snowcapped mountain, you've seen them all.

It was quite a remote part of Montana and once I found a place to stay, I worried about the coffee, because I run on caffeine. I assumed there wouldn't be a Starbucks for miles, but was it possible there wouldn't be a single espresso machine in the village? I imagined myself standing around someone's campfire with a tin cup.

The woman who ran the inn I stayed in refused to say when, if indeed ever, anyone had died from a spider bite.

But she gladly pointed me to a shop in the village where I could get a latte.

I was the only customer there. There was nobody on the street, nobody in the shop, and yet when I asked the shopkeeper how she was, her reply was: "Stressed." I later figured out it was probably me who stressed her out. Do you have semi-skimmed? Can you make it extra-hot? A double shot? I asked her more questions in five minutes than she'd been asked all year.

A few days later I returned to Manhattan wearing my new favourite item: a navy-blue hoodie with "Montana" written on it. Everywhere I went, men would comment. On the street they would yell out: "Hey, Montana!" - or they would wink. With the amount of attention it generated you'd think it said: "Free Sex".

I wore it to the gym too. I was buying a bottle of water when a trainer came over to me. "Are you from Montana?" he asked. I stared at him. "Uh, do I look like I'm from Montana?"

He thought about it and said: "No, not really." Then, uninvited, he told a story about when he was "on tour" in Montana and waited for me to respond. I didn't. I knew "on tour" was code for: "Ask me about my band." I was silent.

He didn't give up, and continued talking about when he was in Wyoming playing "a gig" - still nothing. While we were standing there, a different man passed by, pointed at my sweatshirt, and shouted: "Go! Grizzlies!"

The following day I wore a T-shirt that said, "I don't care about your stupid band", just in case I ran into the trainer. After that, he didn't talk to me.