XO MSO

One of my jobs requires that I spend some time booking airline tickets. The person for whom I book these tickets travels a lot and he’s reached diamond status, the highest possible status, with a large airline.

Sometimes his trips are complicated and require a call to said airline. When you call the VIP line for diamond status travelers, the nicest human beings answer the phone. It’s nothing like when I call to book my own tickets a few times a year. No, oh no, these people are paid to be as accommodating as possible. They are all, “yes, Jennifer, let me see if we can work that out Jennifer…it’s complimentary, of course…with his status, there’s no charge…” It’s interesting really, booking tickets to places I hope to go one day for someone who travels months out of the year and who’s seen many times the cities I book him through. Nairobi, Amsterdam, London.

Recently I booked a particularly complicated ticket and called the airline to work it out. There were vouchers involved and multiple credit cards to which to bill tickets. When we’d gotten to the end of a two-hour conversation, the woman on the other end of the line shyly asked if she could clarify something. Sure, I said since I talked to her longer that day than I’d talked to my own father in a month.

“Where exactly is MSO,” she asked using Missoula’s airport code. “I mean I know it’s Missoula but I don’t really know anything about it or where it is?”

“It’s in Western Montana,” I said. “Close to the Idaho border, sort of. Not too far from Canada. It’s a great little town. In the mountains…”

“You had an avalanche,” she said. “The people there seem amazing.”

“Yeah,” I said. “They are.”

We got off the phone and I felt like I hadn’t done justice to Missoula in my description. Maybe I should have said Missoula’s where I live because I’ve never found a better place. Even though it means I have to use phrases like “one of my jobs” I still choose it over some many other towns.

It is a place where when an avalanche takes out a house and buries three people, neighbors run to, not from the tragedy. In biting cold and driving snow, they dug for hours until they found all three people. And the next day, even though the temperature did not rise, the snow did not stop, they dug; still, to recover some of the belongings, precious things, of the people who’d been buried.

That’s where Missoula is.

It’s at the crossroads of this is where I want to be and we’re in this together. It’s getting a friend’s kid off the bus after a scary day in the news. It’s changing her baby’s diaper and walking him home with a bottle of milk. It’s taking her tacos the day after her surgery and watching a little Bridget Jones before returning to work. It’s taking four kids to the movie because you know your neighbor needs a break. It’s that same neighbor taking your kids for a walk because you need one too.

It’s everyone knowing your name, and sometimes your struggle. It’s walking by the trains, then up the mountain, then back into your neighborhood and you were only gone an hour. It’s coming together for a public meeting about an industrial clean up and telling the DEQ their plan isn’t good enough. It’s we are the Northside. It’s spending two hours on the phone with an airline because trying to get someone from Missoula to Africa is almost as hard as getting them to the dark side of the moon.

But what I know and what the woman from the airline doesn’t yet is that a lot of us came to Missoula by chance but we stay by choice. It’s hard to get here and it’s even harder to leave but that’s hard to tell from three little letters on a flight map.

We all know its takes a village, and I’m so glad Missoula is mine.