Every time the heavy glass door swung open and rattled closed again on its metal frame it was clear another person had entered the restaurant. Like a pair of timber saloon doors in an old hall in the Wild West, slamming or creaking open to mark the grand or meek entrance of the next customer. Upon entry every new patron is greeted by a slight hushing of the old western piano and a cessation of verbal violence across the saloon as games are held and evaluations are completed.
Most times life goes back to normal, most times.
So too at the Chinese restaurant in Great Falls Montana this afternoon. The Wild West is a bit of a stretch, although we are out in the west and at times it does get a little wild out here. The 'New Peaking Garden' is not a western saloon of the 1800s. The creaking floor boards, rowdy atmosphere and burnt black steaks have been replaced by industrial easy clean carpet, popular PG music mixed with family conversation and moderately over sauced vegetables and tofu. The plants are synthetic, the wontons are packed to bursting with cream cheese and the waitress used up all of her best material hours ago.
Dave, Debi and I came in after the lunch rush and were expecting a nice quiet meal in the near vacant restaurant. Only two other tables were occupied and the restaurant provided a gentle and cool respite from the baking and dusty summer day. We'd been riding all day, our horses were dry and our saddles were sore.
On most days and in most States a lunch at the local Chinese would climax with a full belly and questionable fortune, I'm still waiting for my "important email", I checked right away like it said. Not this day, not in this State. Immediately after a large plate of fried wontons crackled down on our table the familiar sound struck clearly. The front door opened firmly and blew back like the wind on the prairie.
Restaurant life stilled just slightly as a new man in town entered the New Peaking Garden and Wild West saloon. A lone man, a hard man, the kind of man you wouldn't want to rustled up a posse and have to ride out after. A man of few compromises, who knows what's right and that he is it, a man who doesn't wait in line, unless there is a sale on camoflague back packs.
Hard ridin', eye squintin', pink lemonade drinking. A baby faced bandit with a heart of gold. When he sits down to eat, he already knows what he wants, when he stands up to leave he just needs one hitch on his jeans. A legend in his own lifetime, thirty winters hard and thirty summers soft, a free man in a wild world.
As he strode through the entryway he was behind my back and not in my view. Dave game me the look, the head nod, and the sly grin. I knew I was in for a classic Montana sight. It could have been anything, a family all wearing overalls, a woman carrying two dogs, four punks, four hats, all backwards. My mind raced and I inclined my head in anticipation.
Blue jeans: fit - slightly baggy
Hat: baseball cap - camo
Shirt: T - slogan, "same shirt, different day"
Flip flops - oh you better believe it
Belt - Knife on one side
Pistol - Six barrel revolver
I've lived a fairly sheltered life with only a few dicey situations, perhaps I'm being naive. When I get to the point that I think I need to bring a Dirty Harry style revolver into a semi deserted Chinese restaurant at 2:30pm on a monday afternoon then perhaps things have gotten a little out of hand.
Dave and I asked ourselves if we were feeling lucky, and as it turns out we were so the pistol jokes flew through the air above our small cups of hot Chinese tea and the world seemed like a slightly crazy but also pretty fun place.
Lunchtime in Montana, the west is alive, classic.