27 Jul 2009. Montana, a majestic state and majestic campus with a majestic mascot, required a majestic souvenir. I had to splurge a little bit, but for now the Grizzly Growler (fine, it's a stein) is the crown jewel of the collection.
Persephone Evelyn Bumbaugh lifted off her sleeping mask and noise-canceling headphones. She felt refreshed and energized; hundreds of business trips had acclimated her to sleeping on planes.
Persephone looked out the window. There were no lion statues or buildings over four stories high.
She spoke to the triple-paned window, "S...Singapore? Ohhh, right, Seattle connection." But everyone else looked dismayed.
She asked her seat neighbor, a portly Hawaiian-looking man, "What's going on?"
"Didn't you hear? Some lady went into labor and we had to land in Missoula."
She clicked on her Blackberry.
"Russ, hi...No, no, I'm not...I've been grounded by a fetus."
Despite its impressive name, Missoula International Airport was not used to accommodating 747s. The ramp staff had to jury-rig a custom sized fuel nozzle from some coffee cans. That killed a couple hours, killing Persephone's chances of catching her connecting flight at SeaTac. The next flight to Seattle was in twelve hours. The decision was made: she would not be joining her competitors in Singapore.
"Russ, without my participation, our project will never gain any traction."
"I'm sorry, Persephone, but being late is more offensive to them than spitting on their grandmother. Unless our digital proposal absolutely floors them, we'll have to move to Plan B. Considering our competition, we are basically out of the running. Yeah, it's a punch in the gut, but as of now we're looking elsewhere."
She was put up at the GallatInn for the night, scheduled to fly back to Philadelphia the next afternoon.
She could not get Russ' word unless out of her mind. It meant to her there was still a chance, no matter how farfetched.
Stuck in Big Sky Country for the morning, the unless started driving her up the wall. She needed to burn off some steam. She changed into a t-shirt and workout shorts, tied back her blonde curls, and found the exercise room. All the treadmills were taken. She went to the front desk.
"Excuse me, any good running trails around here?"
"Running trails? Let's see, there's Mt. Sentinel but most people usually hike it, not run it." The front desk manager pointed to an imposing hill. Persephone was surprised she had not noticed it from her hotel room window. A big white M crowned the mountain.
Persephone said out loud to no one in particular, "M for Missoula."
"More like Murder," said the front desk lady. "If you only knew how much illegal trapping goes on up there. They've arrested half a dozen poachers this year alone, and that's only the ones they caught. If you can imagine how many poor widdle wabbits - "
"Okay, Mt. Sentinel, thank you!"
Persephone jogged away.
Persephone instantly felt better breathing in the clean, cool air. She admired the maroon brick buildings and the trimmed lawns on U of M's campus. Once on the trail, she ascended the inclined switchbacks in several minutes.
That's it? I bet that wasn't even a mile.
She sat down on the concrete M and pulled out a Luna bar. She read the label: Heavenly Honey & Pomegranate, Loaded with Folate for a Healthy Fetus!
Ugh. There's marketing, and then there's pandering.
After taking a bite, she heard a grumble behind her. Reminded her of an old man emerging from an unplanned nap. She thought it was odd - she saw nobody on the run up.
A hairy, meaty grizzly bear sauntered out from the brush. Persephone froze. She tried to dig from her brain any bear survival tips. Nothing useful, only the old joke where a hiker has to only outrun his friend, not the bear itself. It wasn't very humorous at the moment since there was nobody around to outrun. There was something good about the old joke though: Persephone knew that bears can easily outrun humans.
She started backing down the trail slowly.
It took all her mental discipline not to turn and bolt. And she was about to find out how long she could maintain that 100% resolve.
The bear began to follow her down the trail.
Not too closely and not too fast, but enough to torture her for 3/4ths of a mile.
A few hikers on the way up turned tail and ran. Persephone dearly wanted to join them, as well as throttle them for not getting help. Her breathing grew fast. Her heart couldn't beat any faster without popping out of her chest.
How long is this bear going to follow me??
At the bottom of the trail, she spotted a cab on the other side of the campus quad. She couldn't hold back anymore. She sprinted for her life. The bear picked up the pace of pursuit.
Passing a lifesize grizzly sculpture, she saluted it with a big chosen finger.
She reached the cab and slammed on the passenger side window.
"Let me in! Get me out of here!"
"No more fares, crazy pretty lady. I'm headed to the car wash then I'm off the clock."
"Please! There's a freakin' bear after me!"
"Huh?" The cabdriver saw the gallopin' griz.
"Great Canadian Ballet! Get in!" He unlocked the doors. She buckled in and the cab peeled out.
"Were you teasing the bears, Miss?"
"That is...not...appreciated...right now. Thanks." Persephone was still gasping.
"You don't mind if I stop through the car wash? It's on the way to the GallatInn."
"I don't care."
"Good. It's a mess now. What did you smear all over the window anyway?"
"What? Oh, I guess the rest of my energy bar. Sorry."
"That's all right." The cab driver sniffed. "What was it, raspberry?"
"Pomegranate and honey I think."
"Clark my Fork! The only thing grizzlies love more than honey is pomegranates. No wonder she was after you! We need to clean this car, now!"
"You're saying if I just dropped the bar then he would have left me alone?"
"Hmmm. Hard to say, but yes, definitely."
The cab driver was glad to see no one in line at the car wash. He rolled down his window, put in the coins, rolled the window up again, and pulled forward.
There was a loud SLAM. The passenger window spidered with cracks. Persephone screamed.
The bear was back and now he was licking crumbs from his paw. The bear followed the cab into the car wash and proceeded to contentedly scratch and lick the cracks. Shards fell into the cab. Persephone clambered into the backseat behind the driver.
"Where's the damn water?"
"I'm trying to trigger it! These things all always so sensitive."
The green light flashed red and turned green again.
"Dang! Too far. I gotta reverse it now."
The light turned red. It stayed red.
"Got it!" The driver switched into P and pulled the handbrake. "Mind if I join you in hiding? This water can get hot." He piled in the backseat next to Persephone.
"You know, I've made a lot of car insurance claims but never one from bear attack."
"Car insurance? We might need life insurance!"
"Hold on now, did you know bears hate hot water? They're already baking under all that fur. Watch."
The water pumps whirred to action and flooded the car wash with a hot mist. The bear squealed and shook its face. Giant blue fabric flaps dropped from the ceiling and slid from bumper to bumper, herding the bear back. After a few rounds of the flaps, the bear gave up and ran away. Soaked, Persephone and the driver looked back.
"He actually looks kind of funny all wet. A little scrawnier."
"See? She wasn't trying to eat you, just your pomegranate and honey."
"How can you tell it was a she?"
"By the backside! You're not from here, are you?"
"No, I'm from Philadelphia."
"What are you doing in Missoula?"
Persephone rubbed her temples. "It was a horrible, horrible mistake."
"Hey. We like it here."
Persephone was back at Missoula International Airport, this time at the boarding lounge. A fresh set of clothes and a hot meal later, she was in high spirits again.
"Russ, hi...No, I'm way past that...Listen, is it too late to change our digital proposal?...Axe the man in a business suit. It needs to be a bear in a car wash...destroying a car and driving out with it...Trust me, it'll draw them in...Yes!...Thank you, Russ...See you then."
Persephone's proposal drew additional interest from the Singapore group. It did not win the full bid, but was accepted as limited promotional material for a chauffeur services firm. The tagline read, "Driving Is A Bear."