TABLOID NEWS SERVICES, INC.
Land of the Free, Home of the Safe and Prudent
Wherein Barney goes to Montana, meets crazy people, and gets investigated by the FBI and military intelligence ...
Mr. Greinke is an ordinary citizen currently taking a few months' vacation to drive around the USA on a rather unordinary historical tour: a tour of the Cold War. His objective is to visit the many "Battlefields of World War III" that lie scattered across our great land. These "battlefields" include anything and everything related to the Cold War and the long-promised nuclear Armageddon that never happened.
[Sept. 15, 1998] -- There is a speed limit sign when you enter Montana. They only show it to you once, right at the border. It reads: "Daytime -- Safe and Prudent."
"What does it mean, this, 'Safe and Prudent?'" I asked the waitress at the pizza joint in West Yellowstone.
"Whatever you want it to mean," she replied pleasantly. Thinking on that for another second, she added, "Whatever you think you can get away with."
"Whatever I think I can get away with?"
"Honey, this," she explained, "is Montana."
Land of the Free
If you're like me, almost everything you know about Montana comes from television. And as far as I know, television has never used the words "Montana," "Safe," and "Prudent" in the same sentence. To me, Montana is that place where every home comes equipped with a machine gun and a rocket launcher, a bunker in the basement, and an FBI sniper out in the yard. Montana is the wacky land where Ted "UNABOMBER" Kaczynski lives just down the road from the gun nut who decided to practice his marksmanship up on Capitol Hill a few months back. Montana is that rugged northern state packed full of grizzly bears and rattlesnakes, Aryan Nation wackos and heavily armed IRS agents, tar-paper manifesto factories and nuclear missile silos.
And, lemme tell you, television is not entirely wrong.
I arrived in Great Falls on Friday looking for a cheap place to stay. I'd been sleeping in the back of my Isuzu Trooper for the last week, mostly out in the Idaho desert, and things were getting a little bit ... ripe. Dirt roads and 90-degree days had combined to form a layer of dust, sweat and grime on the surface of my body that you could scoop off by the spoonful. I wanted a shower and a shave. Desperately.
It wasn't just some personal hygiene barrier I'd crossed, either. It was also absolutely crucial to my mission here that I get clean-shaven and smelling respectable. If you're gonna be driving around the Minuteman missile fields trying to take a picture or two of a nuclear missile silo, it's best to look somewhat presentable.
First I cruised to the Holiday Inn. I don't know why. I knew it wouldn't be cheap. But sometimes, compared to California, everything seems cheap. Not this time. Seventy-one dollars for the night. Ouch. No way. Do I look that desperate? Do I smell that desperate? Probably. I was sure I could do better, though. I drove around a bit more and found a place for $24, but it wasn't in what one might call the "kindler, gentler" part of town. Finally, I found a nice, clean, centrally located motel for cheap. The manager seemed to like me the moment I walked in.
He even cut me a deal:
"You're commercial, right? You want the Commercial Rate (wink wink), right?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm, uh, here on business." And I was. In a way.
"I can give you a room for $34.95, tax included. Fill this out. Non Smoking? Room 101. It's not quiet, but we're right next to the road, none of the rooms are quiet. Credit card? We like credit cards. Cal-if-ornia, huh? On your way to Glacier? It's beautiful up there. Lotta grizzlies, though."
The manager was a short, old white guy. Wiry and weathered, with slicked-back silver hair and an untrusting look in his eye. Exactly the kind of guy who should be running a small motel, or a dive bar, or maybe a dirty book store. He looked like the kind of guy who kept a shotgun under the counter and looked forward to the day he'd get an opportunity to use it. He was a Safe and Prudent kinda guy, I could tell.
"I only got three hours of sleep last night," he told me as I continued to sign in.
"That's rough. I know what that's like."
"I only got three hours every night this week."
"Ouch. That is rough. You running this place by yourself or something?"
"Yup. I only got about three hours for about the last 6 years. You try doing that," he said.
I began to say something, but his mouth had picked up momentum now, and he talked right on through me. He could talk for a long time without taking a breath.
"Usually, on about 2 a.m., I go lie down for a couple of hours. But then, by five, I can't sleep anymore. I just can't do it. I'll tell ya'. But don't you even think of bothering me during my three hours, though. I might hav'ta kill ya. There's only two things I might hav'ta kill ya for: messing with my woman, and trying to wake me up from my three hours."
"I like to sleep. I sleep recreationally," I managed to interject, sliding him the finished motel slip.
"Rrrrrrrng! Rrrrrrrnng!" I nearly jumped at the sound. "Jeezus fuck!" I almost blurted out. My Safe and Prudent motel manager had the loudest telephone ringer on planet fucking earth.
"Hold on, lemme get that," he said in between rings.
"Hello? Yeah. Yes, ABC Motel. Yes, we can do that. Yeah. Let's see. No. No. I told you. $49 a night plus tax. OK. The 23rd. OK, I got it. Goodbye."
Not exactly Mr. Friendly when taking reservations on the phone, I noticed. But from what I could tell, it sounded like he really had given me a deal on the room, especially considering that it was Labor Day weekend.
"Here's your key," he said. He was ready to start talking again, I could tell.
"Thanks," I said, and turned to leave. It was a little rude, but I really wanted to shower.
I took the key and turned to walk out. I reached the open doorway and was just about to exit when I realized that this was a perfect opportunity to ask a local about visiting missile silos. I'd been doing the math on the drive into Great Falls. There were hundreds of missile silos around here, but being spaced at roughly 5-mile intervals, I could potentially drive around all day and not happen to find one.
I stopped in the doorway and turned back around.
"Oh, one more thing," I said. "I wanna go look at some missile silos." I explained my Cold War Tour. "You wouldn't happen to know if they have any tours or anything, would you? Over at the base, maybe? I really want to visit one."
This must have been the funniest thing he'd heard in a long time. And by the look on his face I could tell that I was about to get an earful.
"Hey Theo," he called to his friend, who was hanging out on the porch, "You know what this guy wants to do? This guy wants to go visit the missile silos! He wants to call Malmstrom and ask for a tour!"
His friend -- a fit, slightly younger man with a drink in his hand -- hopped up and came into the office.
"He wants to call and ask for a tour?!"
"Yup, a tour!"
The two of them laughed at this for several seconds while I tried to figure out what was so amusing.
"Buddy," the motel manager said, "You know what'll happen if you call up and ask to see some missile silos? Why, those OSI boys will be down here bangin' on your door in about three minutes. And you know what? They won't be polite, either. I hope you got insurance, 'cuz you can just about write that room off when they're done with it."
"Uh, really," I said, not believing him a bit.
"The minute you call that base, your phone number will be up on their screens. They'll know where you're calling from, too. They'll even know who you are. Then they'll come down here and ... and that's it for you. They're gonna take you away. Maybe for a few hours. Maybe for a few days. Maybe ... maybe you ain't coming back. Hey Theo, you know someone up in Leavenworth, right?"
"Yup. Makin' big ones into little ones, then takin' the little ones and gluing 'em back together into big ones," replied Theo.
"Uh, huh," I said sarcastically. "I don't believe it."
"You think you're living in a free country, son? You think you have freedom?"
Oh yeah. I was in Montana now.
"Sure," I said, "This is pretty much a free country."
"Hah! This ain't no free country. You think you're free? You think you can say anything you want?"
"Sure. Basically. You know, First Amendment. What can't I say?"
"First Amendment! Hah! Did you know that it's illegal to criticize the President of the United States? Illegal! It's considered a threat on his life."
"That's right," Theo chimed in.
Uh-oh, I thought. These two have been listening to a bit too much talk radio. Who's that radio conspiracy guy my Mom listens to every night? Art Bell?
"Nah. I don't believe it," I said.
"It's true. You ever been harassed by the government, son?"
"No. Not really."
"Well I have. Goddamn IRS been after me for years. Bastards! I don't even use my real name anymore. Now when I go somewhere and someone asks me my name, I tell 'em 'None of your goddamn business.' That's what I tell 'em."
"Uh, I see," I said.
"You listen to me, this ain't no free country. There ain't no damn Constitution anymore. We haven't had a Constitution since 1960-something ... for at least 30 years now."
OK. Was it time to hear about JFK now? We had moved out onto the porch and into the 90-degree heat, and I was afraid that rivers of black sweaty dirt would start flowing down my arms, legs and forehead. I decided I could humor these two just a little bit longer to see where this went.
"Some people would say it started with Roosevelt," I said.
"I was in Veee-et-nam," exclaimed the motel manager. "This ain't no free country. You know what we did over there if someone like you came around, wantin' to see things, askin' too many questions?"
I shook my head, not bothering to ask him why he was talking about Vietnam all of a sudden.
"Schhhhrrrrk," he said, drawing his finger across his neck. "We killed 'em. No trial. Nothin'. We killed 'em. Took 'em out on patrol and didn't bring 'em back. No trial. No con-sti-tooo-shun.
"There was this reporter once, 'started askin' me how many men I killed. I just took my M16, pointed it into his mouth like this, and told him 'I can always add one more to my list.'"
The motel manager moved in close, pointing a phantom M16 at me. He looked me dead in the eye and grinned a big shit-eating grin; the kind of grin that you only see when vets start telling their war stories and they can tell that you're not quite sure whether to believe them or not. The look in his eyes told me I should probably believe him.
"I can always add one more to my list," he repeated, with a slight melody in his voice. He must've told the story before and liked the sound of that part.
I knew we were playing a game now; a game I'd played before. It's called "Scare the Civilian."
"There was this general once," he started up again, "Playin' both sides. What you'd call a double agent. We didn't give him no trial. He just got in his jeep one day and, well, those things do have fuel line leaks sometimes. Haha. Let ... me ... tell ... you! The hole under that jeep was 20 feet deep, and you couldn't find enough of him to fill an aspirin bottle. Like I said to that reporter, 'I can always add one more to my list.'"
He paused for a moment, still grinning that strange grin, and brought his phantom M16 to bear once again. He was trying to scare me, provoke a reaction. But his story was good, and I like this game. I kept my pokerface, stood there, and waited for more.
"Once you've killed a man," said the motel manager, "one more don't mean nothin.' And I know how to kill a man."
"You still think you're free, huh?" It was Theo's turn now. "Then tell me what's on the back of your drivers license."
I pulled out my license and looked down at the brown magnetic strip.
"They can track you with that. They're trackin' everybody with those. They know you're here right now." He paused. "Satellites."
"It's true," added the motel manager. "They know you're here right now." He looked me dead in the eyes once more, still trying to spook me, still playing the game. "And if they wanted to, there'd be a car here in 60 seconds. And it wouldn't be marked, either. And the guys getting out of it, they wouldn't be wearing uniforms. Or, if they were wearing uniforms, 'cuz they needed the Kevlar, they wouldn't have no insignia on 'em. They'd just tell you to get in the car. And you wouldn't have no choice. You'd be in that car. And when you got in that car, you don't know if you're gonna be gone for two hours, two days, or two years."
"No one might ever see you again," said Theo. "They could make you disappear." Theo was playing the game too.
"Go ahead. Call 'em. Call that missile base. I wanna see what happens," said the motel manager. "I wanna see how long it takes the car to get here. I wanna watch."
"I don't wanna be around if he's gonna call that base," said Theo. He was serious. "Don't call that base. You call that base, I'm leaving."
The game had gone on a bit too long, and now Theo had even freaked himself out just a little bit. I could see him looking around, evaluating his escape routes. And I knew then that these guys had believed every word they had said.
"Well, I'm gonna go unload the Trooper now," I said. I walked off the porch, and this time I did not turn back.
I went over to the Trooper and started grabbing my bags. As I did this, I noticed Theo leaving the motel out the back way, through the alley, walking fast. Maybe he had somewhere to be. Or maybe he thought I was gonna make that call right away.
I started rummaging through my equipment, and the motel manager came over to talk a bit longer.
"So, how do you know we're not OSI?" he asked.
"I guess I really don't know," I answered, turning to look at him closely. All their talk had been a bit paranoid, but paranoia is contagious, and my brain began to spin this idea around. Did this guy look OSI? What did OSI look like?
"So, you aren't worried about going into the missile fields now?" he asked.
"No," I replied. "I have nothing to hide."
"They won't care if you have nothing to hide," he said. "How do you know they won't come get you?"
"Well," I thought for a second. "They won't come get me then, because I pose no threat."
He just looked at me.
"Watch out for those helicopters," he said, and turned away.
I watched him walk back to the motel office.
I took my things from the Trooper and dumped them on the floor of my room. I locked every lock on the door, stripped out of my sweaty clothes, grabbed a razor and started my shower. Thirty seconds later I got out of the shower, grabbed the only thing I had resembling a weapon, a pocket knife, and put it next to the shampoo where it'd be handy. Paranoia is contagious. It was best to be Safe and Prudent.
Next: Barney gets to see a missile silo ... and gets a special visit by the intelligence community. Write to the Nuke Tourist at:
||Also in this issue:
Stab Spree Killer Ends Bloody Night With Suicide by Truck!
BARNEY GREINKE: Cold War Tourist
Children's Fund Used for Kickbacks and Porn, Sez Attorney General
North Korea's New Complaint: Cow Sabotage!
Filthy Ira the Killer Hippie Is Arrested Again!
© 1998 Tabloid News Services, Inc. Portions © 1998 AFP.
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