Beartooth Bob

29 07 2013

In the middle of our training, I met Bob. We were both assigned to Old Faithful and agreed to become roommates once we left “Camp Mammoth.” We instantly hit it off. Bob’s politics aligned with mine and actually made me look quite conservative. A Vietnam vet (there were three in our original group of 10) who could be gruff at times, Bob made a living through the lens of photography and was taking a break from his ranch in southwest Texas to explore Yellowstone.

Bob, right, with Terry and Don at the Mammoth Corrals.

Bob, right, with Terry and Don at the Mammoth Corrals.

Like a lot of folks out here, Bob had worked in Yellowstone before — during his youth before shipping off to fight communism. He vividly recalled fly fishing spots along the Madison River and bar brawls in West Yellowstone. He liked to smoke cigars and spoke fluent Mexican-Spanish. During our training, Bob would usually ask the questions most of us were thinking, but afraid to ask and, best of all, he never minced words.

He sized me up right away.

“You’re a poor boy, Johnny,” Bob said on one of our many drives through the park in his lime green Ford Escape, a vehicle he playfully called “Kermit.” I offered to pitch in for gas money, but Bob refused. I told him my story of leaving journalism to strike out on my own and the consequences of such a move during a perilous time economically.

On Memorial Day, Bob finally relented and let me buy him a cup of coffee at the West Yellowstone McDonald’s before we toured the gateway city as guests of the chamber of commerce. Later that day, Bob recalled the brawl which made national news in the summer of 1964 and resulted in the calling out of the National Guard to restore order. Sure enough, Bob was right in the middle of it.

“It was Yellowstone workers against the local hicks, cowboys and anybody punchable,” he recalled. “Me and my bloodied roommate, a burley guy who we nicknamed ‘Garbage,’ got out of town when the fighting took to the streets.”

About a month into our service, Bob decided it was time for him to get out of Yellowstone. I pleaded with him to stick it out a little while longer, but his mind was already made up. He had some friends he wanted to see in New Mexico and he missed the love of his lady friend back in Texas. Before he left we made one last trip into West Yellowstone where Bob practically opened one of the local eateries. It was a style I had grown accustomed to seeing from him and one that I admired greatly. Simply put, Bob had no fear of rejection.

He insisted on being customer ‘Numero Uno’ at the Slippery Otter Pub, buying us a pizza and himself a Slippery Otter ball cap which he had all the employees sign. Bob was in a really good mood that day. Looking back, I think he was happy to be calling in quits. I certainly wasn’t in a good mood that day and Bob could tell.

“You’re pissed off, Johnny,” he said.

Truth be told, my Yellowstone experience has not been this great life changing journey that so many people said it would be. I’m not a 21-year-old college student and I am not a baby boomer supplementing my retirement. I have very few, if any, contemporaries here and I yearn for the newsroom life of a journalist again. These sentiments are what I was brooding over when Bob and I shared our last meal together at the Slippery Otter. Would I ever work again as a professional journalist? It has been five years now… is my career over?

Before I could whine any more, Bob cut in with the required dose of reality. “Just be damn glad you’re not in your 50s and 60s and looking for a job because that, my friend, is no bueno.”

I learned so much from Bob during our short time together. He introduced me to the writing of the New Yorker’s John McPhee, taught me how to cast a fly fishing rod and demonstrated an assertiveness I can only hope to acquire one day.

Not long after he left Yellowstone, I received an email from Bob about his travels along the legendary Beartooth Highway, a stretch of road near the park’s northeast entrance that the late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt deemed, “the most beautiful drive in America.”

Like Kuralt, Bob was mesmerized.

“One of the most stunning road trips I’ve ever taken,” he wrote. “If you can possibly scrounge a ride, do this memorable trip.”

I haven’t done the Beartooth yet, but have moved on from Old Faithful — working now out of the Canyon location with seven weeks left on my contract…. still hoping the forest will soon appear through all these trees.




3 responses

29 07 2013

Ahhh….! Johnny, I’m really touched with all the sentiments, remembrances (some right, some not). You’re a good man and I will re-concentrate on trying to help you find something post Yellastone. And, I must say, you are also missed!

Sent from my iPad

29 07 2013

Another great post John. Your charecturs are alive on the page.

4 08 2013
Rosie Delgado

John, many thanks for sharing such wonderful stories. I love your blog and what you say.

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