Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Elizabeth and Greene

The city commission meets today to discuss how to handle the money making events next month that typically attract thousands of people to crowd downtown for ten long days. It is fashionable among locals (and if you plan to become one you must adopt this attitude immediately) to deplore Fantasy fest in all its crassness.
Key West
I felt the crude displays of witless stupidity reached a nadir and have been pleased to see an attempt to create a more witty, costume driven event. I don't mind Fantasy fest particularly as I live outside Key West and crowds of near naked people are at best peripheral to my life unless I choose to walk among them. The part I like about the holiday is the very fact of a purely local holiday in the middle of a normal part of the year for the rest of country. Its like having a private carnival. Every obligation gets put off till "after Fantasy Fest" which restores some of that much missed island time of yore.
Key West Bight before dawn
Last year there was no Fantasy fest of course and this year there is talk of  Covid tests and hand sanitizers and best of all, "social distancing." Which sounds ludicrous to me. Covid exhaustion is obvious across Florida including in the Keys and I don't think Fantasy Fest will much care about masks, vaccinations, Covid tests or being a  super spreader. They have canceled the Grand Parade and the Locals March on Friday night is up in the air. The Zombie Bike Ride is also off this year. But no doubt people will keep coming to the private parties that are still scheduled and will no doubt spill over in the street. It's a compromise decision  and as always mixed suggestions produce mixed results.
I don't see the avalanche stopping at this late stage. Paying lip service to the virus is one thing but turning paying customers away is quite another and Key West has been doing well by virtue of diminished international travel. The organizers faced no good choices so I suppose this mixed bag is the best they could come up with. The city commission's response may be interesting.
Key West, Florida
Recently a Federal investigation into illegal hiring practices ended up with a contract labor company being shut down with the principals facing long jail terms for using foreign visitors unauthorized temporary employees. I'm surprised it took them that long to figure it out because Key West has a massive population of eastern Europeans, as evidenced by the reduced labor force in the city now.
I have no doubt a solution will appear somewhere or other and things will lurch back to an uneven normal but the search for employees is as bad in Key West as anywhere in the country.  The problem is a question of math as usual. If you can barely live while working three jobs, what's the point? You can slice it any way you like but that's the nub of the problem. The other side of the coin is that corporations that can do more don't pay enough and small businesses already struggling can't pay enough.
Norberg Thompson
The city commission can meet till the cows come home, they can pay consultants all they want but the problem is simply mathematical. The numbers don't add up. Two of the great things I will enjoy when I retire is not hearing the tone to alert rescue to a call for help, and the other will be not listening to pious proclamations about affordable housing. I've heard it ad nauseam with never a solution. If you need housing for workers the only way to solve the problem is to build it.
Schooner Wharf
From the Citizen, August 28th:

In the past week, 386 Monroe County residents tested positive, which is an average of 55 cases per day, according to the Florida Department of Health. The positivity rate is 15.8%.

Also in the past week, 717 people were vaccinated that week. The cumulative percent of Monroe County residents age 12 and older who are vaccinated is at 76%, according to the local health department.

Lower Keys Medical Center is caring for 30 patients who are COVID-19 positive. Seven are in the intensive care unit and five are receiving ventilator care, according to the hospital. In the past week, Lower Keys Medical Center moved from a green status to yellow.

“Yellow is an indicator that we require some additional resources, in this case, additional staffing, which we are in the process of obtaining,” hospital CEO David Clay said. “We occasionally bring in temporary staff to supplement our teams when the hospital is busier than usual, such as in season.”

Of course it is worth noting that this is the very low season and the idea that the hospital needs extra staff should have everyone up on their hind legs but there we are.  

I have noticed that governments are now talking about us learning to live with Covid as just one more manageable disease which I will  be happy to be vaccinated for annually just like the 'flu.

The police department is riddled with unvaccinated employees and that leaves me sitting at my desk all day wearing a  mask which is tedious but I see no way around it until my wife can get vaccinated successfully. She saw me on a  ventilator at the hospital and is completely aware of the agony of breathing through a  machine so she has a huge incentive to avoid the plague. 
Key West
I find myself resigned to living among people who have always exhibited a preference for short term gain over long term rewards. Even at work my young colleagues look at me jealously as I inch toward my last day. I'm twenty years older than you I say and they ignore me. Do you have a plan to retire I insist and they stare back at me balefully. I came to work at 911 for the pension.  I was always clear on that and I wonder why they prefer to buy expensive cars and daily lunches than look into their own futures and figure it out for themselves. They don't wear masks and hope for the best. I don't want to screw up after months of avoiding the plague for want of a little self discipline. 
I was talking with Rachel a few weeks ago and she told me how one either retiree who moved to Georgia sends her emails occasionally and asks how dispatch is getting on without him. " You aren't going toc are are you?" she asked looking thoughtful. I told her I've given it my all for 17 years and I've got other fish to fry now. She nodded. I plan to slip silently away and move on. I have no tell all confessions or snarky revenge memos to publish. I'm grateful for the career and the benefits and from time to time the companionship but the chapter has already ended for me.
Layne and I were having an outdoor breakfast with a friend at the Galley Grill in Summerland Key when a group of Sheriff's deputies strolled in. I recognized one as a former police department colleague. He drove a lot of dispatchers crazy with his low volume radio traffic but I loved working with Kevin. He got the job done with no fuss and cleared his calls and moved on to the next job with no wasting time. I trusted him to call for back up or to know when he could handle a situation alone and dispatching the shift was always easy when he was working. My wife was astonished to see him back in uniform. He loves his children I said and he has lots of them. Besides, what else would he do? He has health benefits and a second pension to work for on a solid salaried union job. That's the life that many would find very appealing and I get it. But I also get its not for me. 
Historic Seaport Key West Florida
Sitting back and watching the world go by...another way to live!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Catastrophe August 31st 2018

Three years ago a woman with a child in the back of her white Sebring pulled out of Cutthroat Drive across from the Square Grouper restaurant a mile from my home. She and her husband had no assets as they were already under a quarter million dollar court judgment and she carried ten thousand dollars of third party insurance, the bare minimum under Florida law. I was following a large pick up truck on my Suzuki Burgman 200 and ploughed at 40 miles per hour into the front wheel well of her car which stopped in front of me after it tried to dart through commuter traffic to get across the highway. I had full insurance coverage with a $4,000 deductible  from my job with the city and I was wearing my crash helmet which was the first in a series of fortunate steps that saved my life.
I remember the white car wheeling in my vision as my pelvis crunched into the handlebars then my head and shoulder hit the windshield scratching my helmet and breaking my shoulder, before I cartwheeled again. a massive kaleidoscope in slow motion in my head  as I hit the ground on my feet further damaging my pelvis and breaking my right thigh bone in two places. I was conscious the entire time and found myself lying on back looking up at a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. 
I lay there unable to move and I could feel my right leg felt spongy as though sticking up in the air and I wondered if I had amputated it. A man appeared looking freaked out and i asked him if my leg was in place. He looked down and stuttered it looked okay ( I was wearing long pants) and I saw over his shoulder a  woman holding her hands to her face.

You've fucking killed me I said looking into her eyes and she backed away. Does anyone know where we are I called out from my prone position on the road. Someone said yes so I told them to call 911. It seems absurd now but this sort of accident was my job and I suppose I had an automatic response. I yelled out my wife's phone number and told someone to call her. She was actually in Miami on a trip and ended up with a  short drive to the hospital. Lying in the road immobile I was really worried about being late for work, because when one dispatcher doesn't show up another one can't go home. Such are the thoughts of a dying man.
I knew I was dying, I could feel myself getting cold and I had the frequently described out of body experience floating up to the clouds and away from the noise and the commotion of the rather spectacular accident scene I had left behind. It went quiet and I rather hoped I was going to meet the dogs of my life who had gone before me. You may have seen that meme of a circle of dogs looking down through a  hole in the clouds and I wondered if I would get to see Bobby and Sandy and Emma and Debs and Cheyenne again. The prospect pleased me. What I didn't know was a woman had knelt down beside me and was holding my hand talking to me apparently. She wrote to me later and told me. My peaceful ascent was stopped by a paramedic who had arrived and woke me back up. Someone gave me my cellphone which survived the wreck perfectly in it's Otter case and which I only recently traded in for a new iPhone. I took the selfie  (above) as I lay on the backboard. I only had the use of my right arm (I'm left handed) and that phone held over my face was my only entertainment for the next few weeks.  I wanted my wife to have a last picture of me, and looking back I was disappointed I wasn't smiling. The surgeon said he'd never seen someone take a selfie at their crash site before so I suppose the badly angled picture of me staring away has some historical value! 
They put me into an ambulance and drove me a couple of miles to the airstrip on Summerland because I was lucky Trauma Star was available and the weather was good for flying. The nearby ambulance station on Cudjoe and the helicopter were the next steps in keeping me alive that day.  The flight was horrible, and as the shock wore off I felt every blow of the rotors overhead shaking my pulverized bones. I lay on the slab in the middle of the tiny cabin counting the rivets claustrophobically as we flew. My condition was deteriorating so instead of flying to the main hospital further north they took me to Jackson South and they kindly called my wife on my phone so she could get there quickly. I was wheeled out onto the roof landing pad and I could see the sun and the blue sky behind the doctor's flapping white coat as he walked alongside the stretcher. 
The MRI was funny as I couldn't move anyway and all I had to do was stop breathing  when they asked. I don't mind the confines of the tube but I couldn't stop giggling inside as I thought how this was the perfect condition to be encased in an x-ray tube unable to even twitch. I dare say I was quite off my head at this point. I didn't know it but my wife and a friend were in the waiting room to hear what was going on. Even before Covid I wasn't allowed visitors I guess as she only saw a glimpse of me being wheeled about as they figured out how bad my injuries were. The nurse told her I had a fifty fifty chance of living through the night which didn't do much to cheer her up. I had no idea. Apparently all your nerves and arteries are bundled through your pelvis and any small tear can cause fatal hemorrhaging before you know it.
The pain in my leg was excruciating and I guess they decided to do something about it. In a photo above I took a picture as the on duty surgeon came to my room with his team and a drill apparently at 12 minutes after eleven that night (!) and he drilled a hole in my leg. The sensation of the skin being torn by the drill is very vivid in my mind still but the pain of my misaligned thigh bone broken into three pieces overruled all other pain. They lined the bones up, put me in traction pulling the bones apart and settling them back in their places, and miraculously the pain went away.  I came to love Dilaudid a powerful narcotic pain killer which has the unfortunate side effect of bloating you and constipating you in spectacular style. Based on my limited experience drug addiction must be an extremely inconvenient way to live given the problems these very useful drugs bring in their wake.
Of course I worried about Rusty who I did not get to see for three weeks until I was transferred to the rehab hospital but Layne had called friends and Wayne and Chuck made sure he was okay while I was away trying to stay alive. He took all the weirdness as it came and was never a bother. A remarkable dog.
I had four surgeries, one lasting seven hours to rebuild my broken bones and they only started after my condition settled down and they figured I had a chance to live. I got eighty stitches and through it all I spent a day on a ventilator which I had to keep down my throat after I woke up from the pelvic rebuild. 
I spend a great deal of time wondering how Covid patients go for days and weeks on that infernal machine. My wife said she never saw me so angry in the hospital as when I woke up with the tube down my throat. If you think dying of Covid is the only measure of misery that disease brings, think again.
This story had a happy ending for me. My wife suffered in many ways a great deal more trauma than me. I can say that as creepy as it looks from the outside being in a hospital bed and struggling to stay alive is a relatively simple proposition. She was worrying about everything, dealing with the staff managing the bureaucracy handling the expectations. All I had to do was lie in bed, reassure anyone who asked how I was doing  and call the nurse's aide when I thought I might have taken a shit. You really can't feel anything in this condition unfortunately. I couldn't even wear a diaper at first owing to my injuries. That's a pretty basic struggle for anyone who is used to managing their life functions easily and on their own.
Sean my first Physical Therapist got me going right away. He sat me up in bed like a giant doll unable to hold myself up. He lifted me into a wheelchair and supported my head as my neck muscles tired after a few minutes and my head flopped around like a cartoon character. My broken leg I called my dead sheep as it was wrapped in some scratchy material and held straight by a brace. A nurses aide had to support it whenever I was maneuvering in and out of my chair and when I was in bed my legs, which I couldn't move had an annoying habit of slipping out and I had to get help to put them back in bed. Oh the indignity!  Nowadays aside from having no feeling in my thighs I walk pretty much as normal. My wife says I roll a bit when I'm tired and sometimes I drag a foot, hopefully when no one is looking. But I can walk and almost keep up with Rusty.
I promised the surgeon before they put me to sleep that if I lived, and no blame to him if I didn't, I would do my best to live a life worthy of his efforts. Three years after all this drama I now want to put it behind me and get on with that very phase of the program.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Caroline Street

I haven't been downtown lately, it's hot, Covid is in the air and I don't find the empty store fronts and for rent signs energizing.
I let Rusty lead the way after I parked the car, just before five in the morning. Amazingly enough there was a man striding along with loaded shopping bags in each hand, just visibile below to the right. 
I don't know much about the red shuttered building above but I used to work across the street in a  warehouse and I listened every day when the Conch Train came by but I cannot for the life of me remember what the story was. I know they didn't point out the historic building's history as a bordello. 
I don't really know how to differentiate between vaccinated and not so I suppose it's the honor system. I get the feeling, purely subjective, that most masked people are also vaccinated. I don't pretend to understand anything anymore about my neighbors. For a populace so scared of death most people won't mention it by name the refusal to use free available vaccines strikes me as bizarre.
My wife and I hope to spend time in tropical South America if things work out, and that is not at all certain these days. On the off chance borders re-open in our life times, we are arranging the usual tropical vaccinations and boosters and I've never really given them much thought. I was inoculated against yellow fever forty four years ago and I still have a "vaccine passport" issued by the World Health Organization. In Africa you used to show and may still for all I know, the little yellow booklet with your passport. And you felt privileged to be inoculated against a  killer disease. Nowadays I live in a  different world and I am having trouble adjusting.
All my life I have been privileged, well fed housed employed and inoculated. Even when I got knocked down on my motorcycle I got fabulous medical care. If I were in that situation today I have a powerful feeling I would not survive with the crush of demands on the medical professionals today. My nurses were heroes as I lay in bed unable to do the least thing for myself. I cannot stand the thought of what they are being put through today.
Rusty knows privilege when he sees it. He no longer has to scrounge prey to kill and eat bloody and raw. I can tell you he doesn't enjoy it. He gets kibbles and roast chicken and when he comes across discarded human food he looks at it and walks away, never mind roadkill which he ignores.  He is also inoculated against rabies and all those other diseases. Maybe some opponents of vaccination want rabies back in the general dog population? I haven't seen anyone die of rabies but I am told it is horrible torture. Yet, here we are, walking alone at night to avoid people, wearing a mask at my desk all day and wondering why anyone would want to drive us back to the Middle Ages. I have no answer. Maybe the Taliban has?


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Blimp Road

I am very ready for new horizons even though these old familiar ones do not decrease in beauty even as the time passes. Blimp Road for an easy morning walk with Rusty yields spectacular beauty.
As you drive past the Kickin' Back convenience store on Cudjoe Key a road off to the north drives two miles as straight as the proverbial arrow through the mangroves to a boat ramp. To turn off Highway One to come here at sunrise or sunset especially in summer with all the clouds and humidity is to see stuff like this:
Every side road in the Keys dead ends, often into water. The story is told of a young tourist who drive off the end of Blimp Road a couple of years ago and spent the night in her car filled with water as she was scared to step out into the darkness lest she drown. The car was sitting on the bottom in knee deep water. They have added red reflectors at the end of the road to point out the reality of the longstanding signage:
The boat ramp, like all roadside public ramps in the Keys is free for anyone to use (at their own risk doofus!) but if you prefer to have services and help to hand use a marina which will charge a fee and hopefully help prevent you from launching your truck. 
The large airborne object is operated by the US Air Force to monitor boat and  air traffic in the Straits of Florida. Smuggling has always been a business in the Keys since before prohibition. Nowadays they pay big money to get their relatives out of Cuba and fast boats are less than three hours from a  Cuban Beach. 
The driver of the blimp sits on the ground and monitors windspeed and direction. Standing at the end of Blimp Road you can hear the directional motor running on the blimp. It sounds like a distant monotone blender.
A still summer morning will take your mind off the vagaries of the Blimp. There was a second one for a while sending TV signals to Cuba but the Cuban government blocked the propaganda easily and TV Marti was dropped. 
The blimp points into the wind if you need to know whence blows the breeze and they bring it down in the event of windy weather forecasts. If the Blimp is down either they are maintaining it or  the weather is predicted to get blustrous. Otherwise it flies day and night.

There have been occasions of the blimp getting off the tether and flying away. Once the blimp landed in the water next to a rather startled fishermen who called it from his boat.
It's well lit at night with red blinking lights and I am told it is clearly marked on aviation charts, yet it has happened that a small private plane flew into it. That happened one night years ago and I look up and wonder how it was possible. Perhaps in the flatlands the pilot didn't think to check for obstacles. No one survived.
That's the trouble with living here along time, in a place where not everyone does. I find myself remembering stuff at work no one else remembers or cares about. I feel like a fossil surrounded by late arrivals and newcomers and all with a  forward view down the road. I can't imagine how it feels to be a Conch with generations at your back. I fled Europe to escape that uncomfortable pressure.
They also talked years ago about handing Fat Albert (the blimp) over to the weather service and their budget but that didn't seem to happen. You can't get close to the blimp because there's a fence and guard house and trespassers are decidedly not welcome. Partiers on Duval don't seem to remember this is actually a frontier town with real responsibilities. No matter how short your stay.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Key West In Montana

All to often we get that terrible tendency to personalize everything going on around us and to think we are the only ones with a particular problem. Gentrification in Key West has been an issue for sixty years, such that residents from the 60s look at Key West nowadays and ask themselves what happened. I do the same with much less longevity. It turns out Montana is in the same boat apparently. It's an interesting read, and I should point out I would be interested to know if the influx of wealthy residents is seasonal or year round. They didn't say.

 Who can afford to live in the American west?

The region, which long had the lowest rate of income inequality in the US, is shifting to one of haves and have-nots – and it’s happening fast

by  in Butte, Montana

I’ve long been accustomed to people outside the American west knowing next to nothing about my home state of Montana. Real things people have said to me over the years: is it part of Canada? Overrun with nothing but meth? A mythical place with big skies and nobody but macho cowfolk?

Of course, none of those statements are true. But in the last couple of years, Montana has become a destination among both the traveling and remote-work class – and my home is changing as fast as in any previous western land rush.

Take a walk in Bozeman, and you are now more likely to find outdoorsy and stylish visitors wearing Lululemon than anything resembling the old wild west.

On Main Street, visitors can find upscale Thai food and new, high-end hotels – gone are the ski bums and cowboys of yesteryear. A building that houses the funky old record store is up for sale, as is one of the city’s last legendary dive bars. An hour up the road, millionaires hide away at the Big Sky resort and the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club, where membership costs hundreds of thousands – plus the purchase of a multimillion-dollar home.

But drive a few minutes to the outskirts of town, and you will find a different picture – one that tells the darker story of a fast and ferocious wave of gentrification.

Tucked away in a quiet street, service workers are living in their trucks and trailers, sometimes even pitching tents in the grass. They’re the picture of displacement out west, the collateral victims of an affordability crisis created by Montana’s booming popularity as a place for people with money.

In June, the median sale price for a single-family home in Bozeman – a county of 115,000 inhabitants – was $720,000, up 49% from the same month a year earlier, according to a local realtors’ association. The US census reports the county gained 30,000 new people in the last decade, as the sprawl of new homes and condos for miles can attest. Local wages simply can’t compete in a market flooded with all-cash offers.

Renters are not faring any better. Average rent on a two-bedroom in Bozeman rose above $2,000 earlier this year. Between 2012 and 2019, the city says the price of rental properties increased by 35-40% – and that’s before the pandemic rush to Montana overwhelmed a community already under strain.

Most of the wider Rocky Mountain west is undergoing similar upheaval. From Missoula to Moab to Boise, housing prices are off the charts, and the rush inward is forcing people out. A plethora of news stories has focused on wealthy paradise seekers, while ignoring who and what is being lost, trampled over and forgotten.

The region, which long had the lowest rate of income inequality in the country, is shifting to one of haves and have-nots – and it’s happening fast.

In Bozeman, parking can be hard to come by at trail heads even during the “shoulder” seasons. An influx of newcomers has created more traffic than usual.
In Bozeman, parking can be hard to come by at trail heads even during the “shoulder” seasons. An influx of newcomers has created more traffic than usual. Photograph: Janie Osborne

Michael Schmidt moved to Bozeman 20 years ago from Oregon, drawn by the wide-open spaces, the friendly laid-back community, and the affordable lifestyle.

For the past eight years, he’s worked full-time as a cook at Ihop and with overtime, he’ll probably earn $50,000 this year – an income slightly above the median for Montana workers. Even with this salary, he couldn’t afford to stay in his apartment last year when his landlord raised the rent.

Saving up thousands for a deposit, first and last month’s rent on a new place is proving to be a struggle for Schmidt. Instead, he and a buddy moved into a fifth-wheel camp trailer and parked it behind the lumber store. Hunkered down in what amounts to temporary housing, Schmidt works and watches the community he fell in love with splinter. Labor shortages amid the pandemic have given him more hours at work, but it hasn’t changed the larger problem. “A lot of people have left,” he says. “I had a lot of friends leave because the cost of living is tremendous.”

Schmidt jokes that “low-income” in Bozeman now means anyone who makes less than $70,000 a year. As the city’s unhoused population rises and workers both blue and white collar flee to cheaper towns and other states, it’s hard to not see his logic.

“For the longest time, we referred to Jackson, Wyoming – a draw for decades for the wealthy seeking a piece of the west – as the cautionary tale, and now I feel like Bozeman is the cautionary tale,” says Brian Guyer, the city’s affordable housing coordinator.

In many ways, this state is weathering gentrification that’s already consumed places like Jackson, or Vail and Aspen in Colorado. The catch is that in Montana, there’s little opportunity to move to a different town with jobs that pay enough to sustain the cost of living.

Frank Hilton, who came to Bozeman from Washington state, stands in front of a Walmart sign offering new employees $20.50 an hour.
Frank Hilton, who came to Bozeman from Washington state, stands in front of a Walmart sign offering new employees $20.50 an hour. Photograph: Janie Osborne

Guyer says the number of unhoused people in Bozeman who use the city’s shelter – a warehouse full of tidy cots, donated clothes and food – has doubled to more than 100 in the last year. The city is scrambling to build tiny houses, but the displacement isn’t slowing.

“Every week we have calls from people who have been on a month-to-month lease on a property here in Bozeman, and the landlord informs them that they will not be renewing it,” says Guyer. “Those people are finding alternatives, like sleeping in their car. We’re seeing a big increase in the number of urban campers.”

Inside the shelter, an older woman soaks her feet in a tub of hot water while scrolling through her phone. Donna, who didn’t want to give her full name, is turning 65 in a couple of months and lives in her car. She works nights as a janitor and comes to the shelter during the day for some relief from the aches of working on her feet. She lost her apartment to rent hikes and hopes to save up enough money to go live with her kids in another state.

Bozeman, she says, has become a much colder, less hospitable place in recent years – and it’s time to leave.

By most standards, Sean Hawksford, a construction business owner, should not have struggled to buy a house. He had a budget of $600,000 and humble ambitions: he wanted a home for his growing family. He barely made it happen.

Several months ago, a friend sent me a photo of Hawksford standing on a street corner in downtown Bozeman holding up a sign that said: “Please sell me a home.” Hawksford and his wife, Jessica, who grew up in Bozeman, were preparing for the arrival of their first child and had saved up a big down payment. They were undercut by cash offers at every turn.

Hawksford’s story went viral and he got a steady stream of emails about his ordeal, along with a few insults he took in stride. On the 20th offer, after a search of more than six months, he and Jessica finally found a house a little further from downtown than they had hoped. The owner, sympathetic to their plight, wanted to sell it to his family for less than it was worth. Their little boy was born on the fourth of July and their house is big enough to accommodate a family of visitors, but his tactic isn’t possible for most people.

Sean Hawksford hangs the signs he used to find someone willing to sell him a house.
Sean Hawksford hangs the signs he used to find someone willing to sell him a house. Photograph: Janie Osborne

Justin Farrell, who grew up in Wyoming and is now a sociologist at Yale, documented the lives of the ultra-wealthy who move to the rural west in his book, Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West.

His research lends insight into why many of the people moving in simply don’t see the seething chaos of rising inequality. Wealthy people are often trying to “undergo a personal transformation of sorts” when they move west, but they don’t consider how that transforms communities.

“First when very wealthy people move into a place, they bring with them the culture and lifestyle they have. There’s a bar for what they expect in terms of services,” says Farrell.

Thus, a city like Bozeman gets a better variety of restaurants and bars, some better hiking trails and other perks, but when residents are priced out, who can afford to live there and enjoy the amenities? “The underlying structural issues are getting worse and a lot of that is caused by their presence,” says Farrell.

Bogert Pool, Bozeman’s public outdoor pool, has been closed on the weekends due to a shortage of employees. Many businesses in the area are facing employee shortages because of rising housing costs.
Bogert Pool, Bozeman’s public outdoor pool, has been closed on the weekends due to a shortage of employees. Many businesses in the area are facing employee shortages because of rising housing costs. Photograph: Janie Osborne

It’s a blindness that often leads to resentment. Without acknowledging the root of the problem, it is misdirected in reflexive ways, like insulting “Californians”. With little acknowledgement of growing inequality or how to deal with it, the conversation instead becomes a misguided game of finger-pointing, in which “Californian” or “Texan” is code for people who have more money than working Montanans.

The resentment can manifest in strange ways, like the election last year of Governor Greg Gianforte, a far-right Republican in a historically politically moderate state, formerly the wealthiest member of Congress, who made his money by selling a tech company he built in Bozeman. Gianforte moved to Montana from the East Coast and made his new political career by leaning hard into the white macho man trope – one who illegally hunts for wolves and once assaulted a former Guardian reporter – while promising to revitalize the state’s economy and cater to businesses.

When you drill down, the anger has rarely anything to do about the place newcomers come from. It’s nearly always about the growing wealth gap.

My own family arrived in Montana on that wave in the late 1890s from Ireland, but I grew up in Butte when the mining empire was collapsing in the 1980s. Then, Bozeman was mostly a conservative but fun college and cow town, just beginning to rise as a popular place for an outdoor-oriented class looking for cheap living and access to prime and uncrowded lands.

When Montana’s mining and timber industries collapsed, the state made a deliberate and often-criticized hard turn toward the tourism and service economy.

Many have compared the recent shift in power dynamics - immense wealth concentration and legions of underpaid workers - to the era of the Copper Kings a century ago, when mining tycoons battled over a copper empire. Then, a flood of struggling immigrants flooded into Butte and other places, onto lands violently stolen from their original inhabitants, where jobs were plentiful even if working conditions were abysmal. While it might seem everyone is moving to Montana, the rush was comparatively larger 100 years ago.

Ryanne Pilegram, like me, lived through the early waves of western gentrification as a child. She grew up on a ranch near Gold Creek, outside Missoula, and her family lost the property to the farm crisis in the 1980s. They moved to Missoula, where her dad couldn’t find work and her mom started a catering business.

A few years ago, Pilegram, now a sociologist at the University of Idaho, returned to Missoula for a work conference and stopped in a downtown coffee shop where she saw her family’s cattle brand was hanging on the wall.

Construction worker Dan Reed works on a new house in the Lakes at Valley West, a new residential construction area in Bozeman.
Construction worker Dan Reed works on a new house in the Lakes at Valley West, a new residential construction area in Bozeman. Photograph: Janie Osborne

Her family’s story, one that included so much pain and loss, had become a cutesy cowboy decoration for people who knew nothing of its history.

To Pilegram, whose book Pushed Out: Contested Development and Rural Gentrification in the US West documents the crisis through the lens of the town of Dover, Idaho, the question of rural west gentrification is one of inequality.

“Why do we want the brand on the wall, but we don’t want the ranches?” she asks.

After years of researching and living through rural gentrification, Pilegram believes the solution is to plan for it before it happens. Small towns need to ask difficult questions and be skeptical of growth. Until now, developers have had the upper hand and the result has been fractured and resentful communities.

“To me the question our communities need to grapple with is trying to get the community to have a plan and a vision for what they want, before someone comes in and tells them what that vision is,” she says. “The way we allow development to happen is developers come in with plans that get approved by the city. What if, instead, we asked all the people who make minimum wage ‘what do you want your community to look like?’

“We’ve taken at face value the system we have. At some level it’s about stepping back and saying ‘why do we have to accept the way things are?’”

Yet Montana appears to be doing the opposite. The state government has done nothing to address it, and the erasure of working-class families and their struggle to stay is not solely a trick of Republican politics. During the 2020 election, even as housing prices soared, the issue registered barely a blip from either party.

Earlier this year, the state legislature blocked cities and towns from requiring affordable housing in new developments, and this spring, the Gianforte administration launched a “Come Home to Montana” campaign. It touts the possibilities of remote work, featuring photos and videos of smiling white families in parades, having barbecues and rafting the rivers.

“No matter how long you’ve been away, now is the time to come back to Montana. Bring your remote job to one of our many growing, community-focused towns,” the campaign urges.

Nowhere does it mention the difficulty of living in Montana on local wages.

After spending much of my adult life away, I did come back to Montana a few years ago, first to Missoula, and found a state changing quickly from the one I knew. A year ago, with housing prices soaring and the town growing less recognizable, I returned to Butte, where a giant Superfund site left by the mining industry seems to have kept most big-moneyed buyers away.

I’ve found the same old classism, but with some weird new twists. Today, that’s a dispersed art exhibit about Butte’s toxic mining sites showing in galleries and art museums in Bozeman, Missoula and elsewhere, but skipping entirely the communities where the damage was wrought.

Amid all this growing disconnect, absent solutions or plans, many Montanans are simply waiting to see what comes next. In Bozeman, Brian Guyer braces for things to get worse before they improve. The city’s affordable housing coordinator himself had to move out of town, 25 miles away to Livingston, when his landlord jacked up his rent.