I’m not a good traveling companion. I get up too early, skip breakfast, and the sights I set out to see are not the touristy kind you find in glossy brochures.
I like to prowl back alleys with dimly lit doorways and let the spirit of a place wash over me. If you don’t get mugged, you’ll learn something.
This summer I’m burrowing deep into a small town (pop. @7000) on the Yellowstone River: Livingston, Montana.
Originally a trading post, Livingston today has evolved into a small art haven, filming location (A River Runs Through It, The Horse Whisperer, Rancho Deluxe), fishing destination, railroad town, and writers’ and actors’ colony.
Downtown, a 3-4 block area with perpendicular parking, is laced with the obligatory bars and gift shops – but also amateur drama venues and funky cafes, fitness centers and consignment stores.
Some brick walls have a character & personality all their own, some don’t. You decide…
Even my ‘happy hour’ outdoor tikki bar has whiskey-colored bricks looming over your every sip.
Joe, the bartender, is from Miami, just a few miles from Naples, my former residence. And so is Byrnie, the waitress, who also just happens to have a CEO of a brother down there whom I once heard give a Commencement Address at my college.
Joe maintains a Southern flavor to this place, with painted surfboards over the bar swaying to Bob Marley tunes and gaudy plastic pink flamingos stuck in the garden. I suppose that excites those for whom half the year is blisteringly cold but to me this is just a nice place to sit outside and pretend to read a book while eavesdropping on the locals.
But, like I say, back alleys is where it’s at. No, you won’t get mugged in Livingston. (I look suspiciously like the homeless person that I am and we only get bothered by cops.) But if you’re even half-alert you will find sights to delight the eye. And if you define “art” as “significant form” in terms of lines, shapes, patterns & textures – well, you might even find that too.
Do you see what I see?
What, no people in Livingston, you ask? Small unknown mountain town as it is, a Google search nevertheless turns up the following notables:
Actors Peter Fonda, Margot Kidder, as well as Saturday Night Live alumnus Rich Hall, musician Ron Strykert, novelist Walter Kirn, and poet Jim Harrison live in the city. Jimmy Buffett mentions Livingston in multiple songs.
Other Internet sources list:
• Ed Bouchee, major league baseball first baseman
• Tim Cahill, travel writer
• Calamity Jane, calvary scout, western heroine
• Russell Chatham, landscape artist
• Michael Dahlquist, drummer for the band Silkworm
• Al Feldstein, comic artist and painter
• Mayhew Foster, World War II pilot who transported Hermann Göering
• Jim Harrison, poet and author of “Legends of the Fall”
• Torey Hayden, psychologist and author
• Margot Kidder, actress
• Scott McMillion, author of Mark of the Grizzly
• Pete Lovely, American race car driver
• Ken Niles, radio actor
• James F. O’Connor, United States Representative from Montana
• Lester Thurow, economist, author, and Rhodes Scholar
• Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance Cycle
• Thomas Goltz, journalist and author of Georgia Diary, Assassinating Shakespeare
• Sam Peckinpah, director. Resided at the Murray Hotel from 1979–1984.
Most recently rumored by the locals = John Mayer
And then there’s this young upstart gunslinger of questionable motives said to be asking for the sheriff.
Of course, I befriend nobodies, not notables. And the great lie I wish to expose is that there is no such thing as a ‘nobody’. Everybody is a somebody with a life full of love and loss and enough twists and turns to warrant a chapter in a novel.
Livingston is chock full of interesting characters.
But all this is just a sneak preview to another blog hopefully in the near future. Toward that end I am interviewing and eavesdropping and snapping candids fast & furiously in order to capture the human side of this brick town, Livingston.
Thanks for visiting