8 quick impressions of Billings from the new guy

This one is for you, Billings. The rest of you are free to see our literature in the lobby.

Photo from wardtog.com

It’s been a week, and the new guy needs just a moment. Pretend I’m standing on stage at MetraPark.

You see I’m new to town, barely here more than a week. I’m the one driving down Grand Avenue like your grandma on leave from the nursing home. That used to be me searching desperately on my GPS for the right road, hoping one of Billings finest doesn’t spot me. It’s not you guys driving bad. It’s me whipping into the proper lane at the last moment to make my turn into Costco.

Pleasure to make your acquaintance. You see, I left Oregon to be a writer for Kinetic Marketing on the third floor of the Rex. But you knew that already. Or you should.

But there are just a couple of things I need to get off my chest. Won’t take but a second, and they’re really not all that bad.

1. You’ve still got an image problem, Billings (at least in certain demographics associated with me.) Some stared at me when I told them I was coming here, like I was volunteering for rope-testing duty at the gallows.

“You serious?” seemed to be the reaction of more than one person. It snows there, they told me. And it gets really, really cold. And I bet they don’t have any television, especially next to the Pony Express station. OK, it wasn’t quite that bad, but still enough thought I was marching off to war. Then there were others who had lived here before, and knew better. They were enthusiastic and positive, telling me things I’ve already come to know to be true.

2. You people are so nice here. Maybe I haven’t been to the jerk section of town. Do you keep them all behind a chain-linked fence? Because I haven’t seen them.

The LDS temple overlooking Billings.

3. Speaking of niceness, the customer service has been exceptional here. Yes, more than one store employee gestured off toward Butte and said “It’s over there.” And there was the poor fellow who stared at me blankly when I asked where the picture frames were, and then asked, “What’s a picture frame?”

But again, there’s that friendliness. Go with that. Put it on a sign entering the city, get some T-shirts made up.

4. Somebody explain to me again why Albertsons stores appear to be everywhere. It’s either Walmart or Albertsons for my main grocery shopping choices. Yes, I know about the Good Earth Market and at least two IGA stores here, but the lack of grocery store chains in a city of more than 100,000 is fascinating to me.

5. Winter scares me and it’s not even here yet. This from a guy with plenty of snow and subzero experience from Utah and Idaho. It’s different here, with pre-winter hype rivaling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In my mind, I picture scenes from “Day After Tomorrow”, with families huddled by fires next to the Wells Fargo building downtown.

6. You like your roundabouts here. I’ve never been to a place with more than here, but I don’t get out much. At some point, I’ll figure them out. For now, my goal is to not have “died by roundabout” in my obituary.

Photo of Dehler Park by Phil Bell

7. Did a doubletake as I drove by Dehler Park tonight. What an impressive facility where I hope to find myself watching some home games of the Billings Mustangs. And you say George Brett, Trevor Hoffman, Paul O’Neill and other Major League stars began their careers in Billings? And there’s hockey as well?

8. It feels alive here. I see less houses for sale and more buildings under construction. Like everywhere else, there are people here hurting during these tough economic times. But the growth in Billings is for real. You can feel it.

Thanks for having me, everybody. I hope to be around for quite awhile.

Billings T-shirt photo from here.