The Merge Lane
Updated: Jul 11
Boy, has it been wild ride since the pandemic hit. It feels like people are flooding from where they are, to live the dream in the Rockies, and it’s creating a tense atmosphere in northwest Montana. Our normally quiet, laid back towns are buzzing with activity, dealing with increased traffic, struggling to find enough labor to support the addition of thousands of new residents and tourists, and figuring out how to deal with a marked change in the friendliness of our state.
While driving down the road the other day, I began to think how newcomers converge into Montana and assimilate into our population is akin to how we merge into traffic on a highway. Here’s what I mean…
Any wise, considerate driver knows the correct way to merge when you’re the one merging into traffic, is to first understand that the existing traffic already on the highway has the right of way, and it’s the “merger’s” responsibility to be considerate of the current traffic, making concessions in order to smoothly transition into that traffic. When the “merger" is thoughtful of the needs of the current people who are happily cruising along “their” highway…such as gaining or losing speed to fit into an empty spot, using blinkers to give a heads-up about your intentions, and giving a thankful wave to the kind person who makes room for you to slip in during heavy traffic… happy merging makes all parties welcome the merger with open arms. If not, there’s road rage, yelling, swerving, middle fingers, and not much pleasantness. Think about that for a moment.
Here in Montana, I’ve seen a lot of nasty behavior lately that I had heard others complain about for months. I’m an eternal optimist, and when friends mentioned these incidents, I countered with “Maybe they were having a bad day”, or “It was probably just a misunderstanding”, to which my friends explained wasn’t likely. In the last several days I’ve witnessed things that have convinced me they’re right. The Whitefish State Park boat launch is usually a friendly place, where locals help each other out, chat with visitors to help them during their stay, and in my 13 years in Montana I’ve rarely heard a harsh word there. I pulled into Dog Bay on July 3rd to get in line to take out my boat, and in matter of minutes, I witnessed tourists being completely rude, oblivious, and downright mean. It was disheartening. A swimmer fell off his paddle board and was obviously drowning, yet none of the park visitors paddle boarding around him lifted a finger to help. A local man dove in, got him safely to shore, and all ended well. If someone on one of those rented boards had simply paddled to the distressed man, he would have had a huge lifeline to grab onto, instead of wondering if he was going to drown amid all those people. The lack of concern for another human being saddened me. When that was out of the way, I noticed tourists who had rented boats were blocking the boat launch, dropping their stuff right in the path of trucks backing down the ramp to retrieve their vessels, and getting belligerent when asked to move their stuff to the side. Even the park officials were weary, and said it had been like that all day. What a shame. It didn’t get better from there, and by the time I drove out of the park, I had to take a deep breath and just shake my head. Over the past few days, more nastiness has surfaced. On my way home the other day, I had to stop on Central Avenue, to wait for two guys to get done arguing in the street about a parking spot…they were not locals, as defined by their out of state plates, and as the photo in this blog shows, some out-of-staters can’t even respect how to park on the right side of the street! I’ve seen our rivers, lakes and camp grounds become trash receptacles, our trails become riddled with people talking on their phones and playing loud music with no regards to others (Montanans live here to get away from all that, and get back to nature, so be aware of that and use your headphones please), and our local businesses get berated by outsiders who feel entitled to better service, lower prices, longer hours, etc. Yeesh! This is not the Montana way.
So, here’s the gist of this all…
Locals: Please be patient. For the ignorant know not what they do. Have compassion for their ignorance, be kind, but respectfully hold your ground if your compelled to. If you feel the need, kindly remind them to quiet down, clean up, and be respectful in return. This too shall pass.
Newcomers and visitors to our beautiful state: Remember you are guests here. This is our highway, and we’ve driving smoothly along, willing to let you in if you’re considerate. Whether you buy property here or not, you are newcomers and visitors who need to be respectful of our people, our ways, and our wilderness. Be considerate of all. Clean up after yourself. Don’t bring your issues here, leave them at the place you’re escaping from, and please, please, please, have patience for businesses who are suffering lack of supplies/labor due to the pandemic. They’re doing the best they can and a little kindness goes a long way. Be a wise, considerate “merger”… and Montana will welcome you with open arms.
Broker / Owner
Touchstone Real Estate