By Duncan, Part II: What to do Now?

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Whether you have or haven’t read the previous tale, this story begins at the explosive scene of an automobile accident. I’m standing in the middle of a very dark road in the middle of Nowhere, Montana, after hitting a large animal with my 1998 Plymouth Voyager van. Sadly, he or she is dead in the ditch by the side of the road. Or it sure looks that way to me. I’m not a veterinarian, but common sense tells me the animal is dead. Looking at the front of the van, I’m thinking, being hit by a high-speed automobile and flying through the air, landing in the ditch; the animal is more than likely DOA. As is the van.

Death on Highway 43.

It’s plain to me not being an auto mechanic; the van is incapacitated. In other words, the red liquid of transmission fluid dripping from under the vehicle’s front-wheel drive is a clear giveaway. Boomer and I are stuck. After a four-hour wait, the tow truck comes and picks up my vehicle.

Boomer and I hop into the cab of the tow truck. Our tow truck driver is short on charming chit-chat and will take my vehicle to his salvage yard first. Then we will figure out what to do about a room for the night.

It’s 3:30 in the morning. The van, now custom by crunch, is unloaded into a fenced-in area with other crash vehicles. Now begins the process of paying the man for the service.

Snake (yes, the tow truck driver’s nickname is Snake) pulls out his trusty clipboard and begins the paperwork. I felt compelled to ask Snake how he got his nickname. He looks up from his clipboard and says, “My first wife gave me that name.”

“Is there a reason she called you “Snake?”

She said something about, “You ******* Snake in the grass, go back and live under the rock you came from.”

“I see, and … and are you are married now?” I asked.

“I don’t do good with women. I’m on number 4.”

I decided I would leave well enough alone.

I discovered looking over his shoulder that the Montana Highway Patrol had called A&A Technical Repair Inc. in Anaconda, Montana, to come and get us.

His paperwork states —


Pick up by request of MHP (Montana Highway Patrol). State Road 43 at mile marker 33.7

Wreck: Check

Tow: Check

Flat Bed Truck: Check

Towing Charge: $75.00

Road Service Charge: $375.00

TOTAL: $450.00

Now picture this: We are in the mountains of Montana after an accident with a large animal. We have been picked up in the dark of night by a tow truck driver with the nickname of “Snake,” who is married to his fourth wife.” And he has presented us with a tow bill of $450.00. It is 3:30 in the morning. I’m in a salvage yard in Anaconda, Montana. Boomer and I do not have a vehicle or a motel room to stay in the rest of the night. What would you do at this moment? We pay the bill.

We ask if he will allow for “two charge cards.” He agrees. Boomer and I divide the cost.

Now that the van is locked up in a fenced-in pen with other crash vehicles, we ask Snake if he can take us to a motel. Anaconda is a mining community. And a little on the rustic side. We drive around Anaconda (population 9,000) at close to 4:00 in the morning. All of the Anaconda motels have No Vacancies.

Then Snake says, “Well, maybe you can stay at my place.” Boomer and I instantly look at each other and speak with our eyes, “I don’t think so!”

For whatever reason, Snake thinks better of the idea himself. Maybe wife number four crossed his mind. We head for Butte, Montana. We call all the motels in Butte on the way to Butte, and they too are full.

Days Inn, Super 8, Holiday Inn Express, Best Western, Motel 6, Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn, La Quinta, and Quality Inn — all full. We pull off the highway, and there before our eyes is a Red Lion Inn. We make a fast phone call and they say they have “one room left.”


The blonde Grandma sitting behind the front desk at Red Lion Inn was more interested in talking than setting us up with a room. She told us about her daughter, who had an accident with a deer. She told us every single detail; she left nothing out of her story. It seemed her daughter was with her boyfriend, and they were fooling around in the car playing grab-ass and not paying close attention to the road. When out of nowhere … Boomer asked her politely, “Is the room a single bed or a double?”

You see, Boomer did not ask that question when he was on the phone; he just said, “We will take it!” 

Blonde Grandma had to call a very sleepy man to the front desk computer to get our reservation in the computer. He was not happy. He never made eye contact with us at all. It took a least a half-hour to get from the front desk to the room.


Boomer and I sat on the beds looking at each other. Yes, there were two beds. There was this pregnant pause when we were alone in a room, sitting on our beds, looking at each other. I had to decide if I would kill Boomer now or later for running my van into a moose. I decide to hold my tongue.

Okay, we have a room for the night in beautiful Butte, Montana. We have no vehicle, no transportation. So here are the options; We can grab a taxi to the Butte Airport and fly home or we can rent a car and continue as if nothing has happened. Boomer looked at me and asked, “What do you want to do, Duncan?”

The thought of tossing the cards in the pot and calling it quits didn’t have a sweet ring to it. Boomer had expectations, and I had expectations, too. My thoughts have always been when you are invited to go someplace you have never been before, walk through the door of life and see what is on the other side. Well, this trip will be a story to remember and we’ve only been on the road for a few days. What could go wrong now?! I could not wrap my mind around calling it quits. Rent a car. It’s as simple as that. Boomer and I  turned off the lights and tried to get as much sleep as possible.

The next morning, Boomer is shaking me and saying he has been calling car rental places. Boomer remembered he had an AVIS PREFERRED CUSTOMER CARD from an employer he worked for years ago. He was not sure if the card was still good. So, he gave it a try. He called the Avis deck at the Butte, Montana Airport. They processed his card and they told him they will have a car for us. Boomer said, “We will take it!” All we need to do now is get to the Butte Airport.


We called a taxi and a very stern fast-talking woman who answered the phone said, “Twenty-one dollars from the Butte Red Lion Inn to the Airport. That will be cash, no charge cards, no checks. Do you want the cab or not?”

“Okay.” The pick-up time is set.

We made it downstairs, and Boomer stopped at the Red Lion front desk to get a receipt. I moved the luggage outside close to the taxi pick-up point. The cab came around the corner. The woman behind the wheel of the cab is a no smoking, no joking businesswoman. She got out of the SUV and started to load the luggage into the back.

I stopped her and said, “I’m sorry, I come from another generation. Please allow me to load my luggage.”

She then commanded me to sit in the back seat.

Let’s call that a tit or a tat! Tit for tat is giving back as much as you got, especially in retaliation for something harmful. I didn’t consider me lifting my luggage as being disrespectful or retaliation, or toxic. Just chivalrous and courteous. Me, a man being chivalrous to a woman. So, I dutifully opened the vehicle’s back door and found my place in the back seat. I chalked her attitude up to dealing with the public daily. Boomer was still inside and it was taking him forever at the front desk. Boomer asked for a receipt and when the receipt was printed the owner said, “We not charged you enough. I charge you more.”

Of course, we had no idea what the charge was last night. The paperwork printed this morning said $92.00. The owner said it should have been $139.00. Boomer mentioned that their website said the rooms were $89.00. I guess Boomer got into a heated discussion. Boomer came to the taxi frustrated with the Red Lion Inn experience.

On the way to the airport, the cab driver said no flights were scheduled out of Butte today. “Why are you going to the airport?”

“We are going to the airport to get a rental car.”

“A rental car? You’ve got to be kidding. There are no rental cars available right now. You are wasting your time. No one can get a rental car; some people have been renting U-Haul Trucks for transportation. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET A RENTAL CAR AT THIS AIRPORT. You will be calling me to take you back to the motel in an hour.”

I looked over at Boomer. He looked forward and thanked her for the information. We pulled into the entrance of the Bert Mooney Airport.

I asked the cab driver, “Who is or was Bert Mooney?”

“Bert Mooney is the first pilot to fly mail into the Yellowstone National Park in 1935. The airport is not a big place. The Airport has an average of 65 passengers a day that fly out of Bert Mooney.”

When she said 65 people a day fly out, I put a little math to the number. Out of 65 flying out, let’s assume 65 are arriving. And out of 65 people coming in, about 20% need a rental vehicle. And there are three car rental companies at the airport. A rental car still might be tough to get. I hope Boomer knows what he is doing.

Bert Mooney Airport.

The place was dark on the inside of the airport. We walked to the rental car area. Budget, Hertz, and Avis were the only car rental counters. Boomer approached the Avis counter, and a guy with a baseball cap came out from the back room. The conversation began. About fifteen minutes into the discussion, Boomer wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk with me. He walked away from the counter.

“Here’s the problem. If we rent a car for a week and bring it back HERE, it’s $130.00 a week. If we take it to another drop-off, like Indianapolis, they will charge us 25 cents a mile. Plus, the $130.00 a week. We could put on over 2,000 miles before this is all over. That comes to $529.25 for mileage and then the other fees they add. What do you want to do?”

“What are the other fees?” I asked.

Weekly Rental: $130.00
Customer Facility charge: $4.00
Tax: $26.53
10% Concession Recover Fee: $65.93
Vehicle Recoup Fee: $14.00
Mileage: $529.25

TOTAL $769.71

Well, this is turning into an expensive trip. “What is the cost of an airplane ride home tomorrow?” I wonder aloud.

A quick walk to the Delta counter yields an answer: Two stops and $557.00 later, and we’re home.

Boomer went back to the Avis Customer Service Counter and filled out the paperwork. Boomer agrees to handle the mileage from today until he gets on a plane in Billings. I would take the mileage from Billings, Montana, to Indianapolis.

We walked to the parking lot, and there before our very eyes was our rental vehicle.

On the road again!

Click here for part I, Death on Highway 43

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