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Tag: west

The ghost signs of Butte

Here’s my theory: The more ghost signs a town has, the more ghosts it probably has, too.

Butte, Montana, it should come as no surprise, has plenty. Of both.

Here are some of the ones that, during just 30 minutes of driving around town one day this week, we came across  – touting  cigars, beer and hotels that have all been long outlived by their hand-painted advertisements.

Flor de Baltimore was a cigar brand that appears to go back at least a century or so. I’m not sure if its named after Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland, or the city. I’m guessing Flor means flower, which isn’t the first thing that Baltimore brings to my mind, but maybe the imagery the city evoked was different back then.

Most of the signs are for hotels — long since gone, but luxurious in their day, and even fireproof, which was a good thing considering all the mining executives who were probably lighting up Flor de Baltimores in their beds.

Those were the glory days, though — back when the copper mines were thriving and Butte was a rollicking city of 100,000.

Now, only about a third as many people live here. Mining, though it still goes on, is nowhere near what it once was. You can’t find a good whorehouse when you need one (and they say the defunct one is haunted). And nobody’s drinking Butte Special Beer. It was brewed by a company that, more than 100 years old, closed in 1963.

There’s a big difference between what was in Butte and what is in Butte. Some look at Butte and see a depressing town; some see a fight-hardened survivor, a town that’s testament to man’s resiliency. Some see only its rough edges; some see its rich and colorful history, faded over time.

The New Tait hotel is not only not new anymore; it’s non-existent, but the old sign remains, as does the building, since converted into apartments.

Butte is the hometown of Evel Knievel. One of its tops tourist draws is a huge mine pit, part of a Superfund site that encompasses the historic district as well. If towns can be eccentric, Butte is — and quite proudly so.

But it’s also haunting — a place where the sun and clouds cast shadows that crawl, tarantula like, up and down its high hills; where mining has left poisons lurking, zombie like, beneath the surface.

Today, Butte is equal parts defunct and funky; gritty and, if you look hard, graceful. The ghost signs bring back memories of the freewheeling greatness that was; but they also are reminders to Butte that, in some ways, it’s a has-been.

But has-beens — and I know some, personally – seem to love regressing to the glory days, recalling better times. When the present’s not so great, the past seems more worth revisiting.

The trick is to not get stuck there — to appreciate what was, but keep looking at what could be … all, of course, while not forgetting to appreciate what is.

Before it fades away.

Trying to score some grass in Flagstaff

Ace, while enjoying the wide-open West, seems less than pleased with one of its characteristics. He — and I could be wrongly reading his mind now — is tired of the blistering hot pavement and the pebbles, large and small, that most folks around here opt for when landscaping.

He was longing last night — again I’m mind reading — for a soft green carpet to do his business, which is what led me to approach my Motel 6 neighbors two doors down after seeing they had a dog. They appeared to have been there for a while, based on the clutter in their room, so I figured they knew the ropes.

Ace and I were headed out for a walk, when I spotted them. Not wanting to alarm them or trigger a bad reaction in their dog, I shouted my question from a distance.

“Do you know where I could find some grass around here?”

“What?” the neighbor responded, not able to hear me over the traffic. I shouted louder:

“Do you know where I could find some grass around here?”

The second time I said it,  the double meaning dawned on me. Fortunately, no police cars were passing by, though, who knows, the moment could have been captured for posterity by a security camera. Big Brother is pretty much everywhere these days — from Motel 6 to your more classy joints, like Howard Johnson’s.

Fortunately, too, my motel neighbor took my question with the intended meaning and pointed us down the road, past four more motels, to the Cracker Barrel.

“Cracker Barrel’s got some good grass,” she said.

She was right. Ace sniffed it for 30 minutes, watered it three times, and gently dropped a load (subsequently scooped) upon it. By then, I was ready to get back to the room, but he lay down in it, knowing it would be more hot pavement and pebbles on the way back.

I gave him a couple more minutes, for he was right, as dogs usually are when they make us slow down. There was no hurry. We lingered a bit, inhaled a few more times.

It was good stuff.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)

Iran cleric discourages dogs as pets

Dogs are “unclean” and should not be kept as pets, a senior Iranian cleric has decreed.

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued the fatwa, or religious ruling, to send a message that the trend toward “western-style” pet ownership must stop, Reuters reported.

Dogs are considered “unclean” under Islam and have traditionally not been kept as pets — although there are signs that is changing.

“Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West,” the cleric was quoted as saying in Javan daily. “There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.”

Guard dogs and sheep dogs are considered acceptable under Islamic law but Iranians who carry dogs in their cars or take them to public parks can be stopped by police and fined.

The Koran does not explicitly prohibit contact with dogs, Shirazi said, but Islamic tradition showed it to be so. “We have lots of narrations in Islam that say dogs are unclean.”

My awesome, and intimidating, one-sided tan

One side benefit of my new gypsy lifestyle — in which the dog and I have given up our housing to spend some time exploring America — is that I am now a bronzed God.

Not all of me, mind you, just my left arm, which has been resting out the open car window as we make our way west.

I like driving with the window down. Ace, being wiser, prefers the air conditioning. So we compromise: window down, AC on, and the vents aimed in his direction — until, at least, it gets so hot that I come around to his point of view.

As a result of all that arm resting out the window, though, my left arm has a tan to die for — not a farmer tan, more of a truck driver tan.

With my pasty stay at home days behind me, the open road ahead, I’m digging my left arm, which may be making the rest of my body jealous. I think my left arm is almost ready to go out in public, perhaps check out the dating scene, maybe start hitting the gym, so it can be as toned as it is tanned.

The rest of me will probably stay home — oh yeah, we don’t have one, make that inside — but my left arm, I think, wants to go out and hoist a few.

Of course, all this leaves me uneven, a split personality, dermatologically speaking — and it will continue to get more pronounced unless I spend some time on the passenger side, which, as I’m traveling only with my dog, is probably not advisable.

I’ll just have to cope with being a two-toned human being, and let the two sides fight it out.

John’s left arm: Dude, c’mon, let’s go out.

Pasty John: No, I want to watch this Law & Order I’ve previously viewed five times.

John’s left arm: C’mon, let’s go climb a mountain or do some river rafting. How about we at least check out the motel pool?

Pasty John: No! Might I remind you that, despite your extremely awesome tan, you are the weaker of the two arms. You’re not in charge here. Now quit flexing.

John’s left arm: Can I at least work the remote?

Pasty John: No, I don’t trust you.

The contrast between my arms is only likely to get worse in the days ahead. We still have to cross the rest of New Mexico and half of Arizona, where I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if my left arm is required to show proof of citizenship.

“Are you two together?” the Border Patrol agent will ask.

“Never seen him before in my life,” my pasty side will answer.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” click here.)