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The Bergen Record


By Tina Traster

August 16, 1998 -- Forget Big Sky country. Montana is "Big Guy" country, a place where men fish and golf and dance the two-step. This is a land where a man extends a rough, leathery hand, whisks you onto the dance floor, and teaches you to waltz in 15 minutes. Who needs Arthur Murray? Men out here say "Yes, ma'am," even when they're having impolite thoughts. And hiking and rafting guides look suspiciously like Brad Pitt.

In the northwestern corner of Montana, in a town called Whitefish, which is about 45 minutes from Glacier National Park, men from Canada
and Seattle and Oregon come in bands for a boys weekend. Many are married. But they don't act like they are.

A four-day stay in Montana was the perfect jaunt for a Hamptons-weary New Yorker and a single Fort Lee woman tired of the exhausting singles scene in the area.

In Whitefish, it's all pretty much right there in the Great Northern Bar & Grill on Central Avenue, the main drag. It's an unremarkable bar with rustic furniture and honky-tonk bands. The lights aren't too low. Drinks are served in plastic cups. And men are as plentiful as women seem to be back home.

This is the kind of place where men make two sweaty women just back from a five-mile hike feel like beauty queens. They smile, tip their hats, and beg you to tell them whether all that stuff they see on "NYPD Blue" and "Seinfeld" is true.

It seems impossible to stand idle for even a few moments without being asked for a dance or offered a drink. In Montana, this is as much a sport as boating or golfing; they are just as eager to reel you in and show off to their friends as they would be in a trout stream. The bar culture fosters good old banter and flattery. It's not necessarily the resume-swapping experience we have back home.

A silver-haired man in apres-golf attire asks how you putted that day. A ruddy-faced guy wants to chat about cutthroat trout; unfortunately, all you know about are cutthroat attorneys.

On our first night at the Great Northern, we met a pack of men from Calgary. There were 16 of them on an annual golfing pilgrimage to Whitefish. They were flirtatious, boorish, and several were married, though not a wedding band was in sight. The ringleader, Max, struck up conversation with us, and his friends circled like frontier wagons in a new town. "From New York? No. We don't believe it. What are two young ladies from New York and New Jersey doing in Montana? In Whitefish, no less?" Try to explain to a bunch of boys on a golf outing that two women have flown seven hours in search of some good copy. Fuhgetaboutit... as we say here, but they don't there. So we moved on. Max was guzzling his beer and singing as loud as a barbershop quartet. In between gulps, he asked if I wanted to dance. No, I told him. I don't dance with married men. He dropped to his knees, his arms flew open, and he begged. In one of those only-in-Montana-moments, a more handsome, and single, man escorted me to the dance floor.

The next night, my friend and I ventured to the Blue Moon, what locals say is the only cowboy bar for miles. The bar was a wall of men peering out from under their Stetsons, and the dance room was filled with twirling couples. Standing at the edge of the dance floor, I said, I thought, under my breath, "Gosh, I really need ballroom dancing lessons." A man handed his beer bottle to his friend, grabbed my hand, and made me feel like Ginger Rogers pretty darn quick.

His hands were rough and ragged, his breath reeked of beer. He pulled me close, but said he hoped I didn't think he was making a pass.

He taught me to waltz and two-step. And he taught me how pleasurable it can be to dance with a man who's name I'd rather not know.

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