In Missoula

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The outskirts of Spokane, Washington. Yup, we are very much in the USA.

The outskirts of Spokane, Washington. Yup, we are very much in the USA.

I have always wondered who those people are who rush onto a plane, sweating and panting, just before the doors close. What’s their story and why are they running so late. Little short stories float through my head explaining their fluster and general chaos. We were those people on Saturday morning. We got to Heathrow at 6:20 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m flight. Yet somehow those three hours and forty minutes were only just enough to check in, get through customs and buy a bottle of water. I wondered if this was a sign of the rest of our trip – that our preparations would somehow always be lacking. Our taxi from Seattle airport to the Kings Inn downtown was also held up. Just as we got to a major intersection, flashing lights appeared, a bunch of cops showed up and  road blocks set up. We sat and waited. Then a convoy of soldiers in souped up school buses and tanks lashed to the backs of flatbed trucks the size of small houses passed before us. We were absolutely in the US.

Our hotel was great: an old-school motel surrounded by glass and steel yuppie condos. We found a 24-hour diner, The Hurricane, which alternated death metal with Frank Sinatra and served 12-egg omelettes. But as is the case in so many cities, the good things are closing down to make way for corporate ugliness: The Hurricane is closing on New Year’s Eve 2014 as the forces of high real estate prices win out over charm and character. As our waiter said, ‘History doesn’t make money the way money does.’ I was disappointed in Seattle. It seemed shiny and soulless. Even the more artsy neighbourhoods felt studied and stuck up. I had imagined it to be grungy based on my teenage image of musicians shooting up in dive bars. There is some decent signage in Seattle which harkens back to times when things were maybe a bit more fun and somewhat gritty:

Some amazing signage in Downtown Seattle. I wonder ho much longer it will survive.

I wonder how much longer Cinerama will survive.

Seattle boasts some great signage that hints at a funkier past

This sort of signage feels very much at odds with the luxury lofts going up in Downtown Seattle.

We did the ten-hour drive from Seattle to Missoula yesterday which took us through dense coniferous forests and scrubby creosote-lined deserts. We stopped in Spokane which has an amazing bookshop and a modernist car park. Two reasons to love it. Seattle also has a wonderful bookshop but, from my brief time in both cities, Spokane wins out. And not just for the car park but for the vibe and the people.

Spokane's gorgeous and brutal Modernist car park.

Spokane’s gorgeous and brutal Modernist car park.

Just before 9 p.m (which was actually 10:00 pm Montana time) we arrived in Missoula. It was just getting dark. I was trying to focus on what I was feeling as we drove into town – my first sighting of where we would be living for the next year. I was so tired and hot and hungry, I was finding it hard to concentrate on what I was seeing. My first impressions of Missoula were distinctly positive. After spending a day here, I am finding it oddly charming. The people we are meeting are interested in our story and why we are here. I feel most of the people we are meeting have tales of why they ended up here. New York or L.A or even Portland and Austin seem obvious choices, but Missoula is off the map. Over the next year, I have no doubt that I will be hearing tales of crossing the country and falling in love with this place or getting stuck here for work or love or the wilderness that surrounds it. We drove to E’s school, and as we parked up, I couldn’t help notice the sign. I thought it was a joke at first and then quickly realised it was for real:

Missoula

The sign outside E’s school. It is not a joke.

It is things like this that simultaneously make me feel totally foreign and also intrigued to unpick this place. To get under its skin and become even temporarily very much part of its fabric. The one thing you do notice immediately about Missoula is the beauty surrounding it: the massive sky, the mountains, the river running through it. The woman who owns the house we will be renting told me that debates around nature and conservation are very much alive here. In a few days we will be striking out from Missoula and heading out under this immense bowl of blue into the wilderness.

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