It's A Small Town
A Generous Act Can Bring Trouble

Marcia McGreevy Lewis

© Copyright 2021 by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

To say that my partner never met a stranger is an understatement. He chats easily with many generations and has found his way across the globe by doing what he calls a “shout out.” People are always happy to give him directions, and the response he gets is heartwarming. He talks to nurses, barbers, uber drivers, bellmen and food servers. Board chairs, tech geniuses and doctors--no problem. He truly cares about getting to know people, and they pick up on his genuine interest by rewarding him with gratifying interactions.

My guy is a fly fisherman who has fished many rivers abundant with trout, but he favors the Bitterroot River in Montana. He flies to Missoula from Seattle several times a year and has always used the same guide, stays in the same motel and eats at the same restaurant. This pattern has served him well, landing him cutthroat and rainbows, big and small, in freezing weather, dripping rain or blistering sunshine. He takes with him his children or a bevy of friends. Everyone loves fishing with him.

There is no reason to change the travel plans each time. They work, so my fisherman and a friend made reservations to return to the Bitterroot again last summer. No problem. It was a non-stop flight, the guide was happy to have them and–what? The car rental was going to cost what? The routine is to rent a car to take him from Missoula to Hamilton, MT, where they spend five days fishing.

There was no other transportation. He needed a car, but the price was outrageous. The rental companies sold many of their cars during the pandemic because there was little business, and now they had a shortage. The demand was up, the supply was low, and the price was high—too high.

Cancel the trip? Canceling was not a viable option for a seasoned fly fisherman in search of the wily cutthroat. What to do? This is where never meeting a stranger comes into play. He has chatted up fishing in Hamilton over the years, making many friends. The idea hit him that a friend may have a spare car he might rent. My beau had no reservations about contacting these friends. He dived into making phone calls, not waiting for a response before he placed the next call.

 Nothing seemed to be working, and then he had the brainstorm to call the motel where he stays. He wasn’t quite sure he knew the owner, but that was no obstacle. He renewed his acquaintance anyway, asked him if he might have access to a car and learned that he does have a spare car. The car is a stick, and he didn’t think my city slicker boyfriend could drive it. It had been a few years, but my fisherman had learned to drive on a stick. That didn’t convince the motel owner, though, so he offered to survey his employees--only to discover that they either bike or walk to work. That was a disappointment, but it didn’t stop my resourceful man. Next he had the inspiration to call the owner of the Coffee Cup diner that he has patronized for years.

Again he wasn’t sure the owner of the Coffee Cup would know who he was, but Cheryl greeted him warmly. She may or may not have recognized him, but she passed on word among her servers that these daft fishermen from Seattle needed a car and hoped that at least one server had an extra one. Well, yes. One did. It belonged to a server whom my guy knows (or thought he did, and that was good enough), so he called her immediately. They struck a deal. She liked the price they negotiated for her to leave her 2017 black Buick sedan at the airport, and she agreed to text him the stall number.

The fishermen arrived in Missoula to find a clean, spacious, four-door car right where it should have been. They drove it to Hamilton, founded by copper king Marcus Daly in the later 19th century, that has a population under 5,000. They checked into the motel and headed to the Coffee Cup for dinner. The restaurant, a local favorite, is time-worn, but boasts an all-day breakfast menu and the occasional scrumptious huckleberry pie. The car then served them well for five days, though it stayed at the motel during the daytime because the fishing guide picked them up there.

The men caught and released about 25 cutthroats and rainbows with an average length from 14-19 inches each day. With mid-70s weather and variable winds of about 5-15 mph, the biggest challenge was matching the hatch. In non-fly fisherman talk, that means choosing the right fly to cast for whatever bug is hatching. The men were happy campers as they drove to the Coffee Cup for dinner each night after a pleasant float down the river where the small bugs cavorting around on the surface of the water were unaware of how alluring they were to the trout. The fishermen knew, however, and were grateful for an abundant hatch of hoppers. That’s grasshoppers in non-fly fishermen talk.

The fishermen had a rewarding week, and when they were ready to return to Seattle, they drove to the restaurant to pay the server. My partner gave her a hug, surreptitiously slipped her the cash, and said, “This was a wonderful week. Thank you for making it happen.” Then he became aware that many customers had eyebrows lifted as they observed the exchange. He lifted the brim of his “Trout Unlimited” baseball cap and apologized to the server for putting her in this compromising position. She responded with, “This is nothing compared to questions I get about my car being at the motel all day.”

The Seattleites have another deal in the making. My beau will rent the car again when he returns to the Bitterroot shortly. The car will be at the motel all day again, and it’s a small town . . .

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