Sidney 2.0: ‘Fear and Loathing’ in Montana

Ten hours after departing Missoula, we made it to Sidney.

It’s 10 p.m. and it smells like bacon. You might be wondering what Sidney’s like, but I really can’t tell you—it’s pitch black outside.

The boys brought back a few newspapers from the gas station next door, and I see an article on the Sidney Herald’s cover about a memorial walk for Sherry Arnold, the math teacher who was murdered here last month. Next to it is a story about two suspects and there’s another about a local basketball coach and her relationship with Sherry. There’s also a feature about kid fiddlers and several bulletins with topics ranging from irrigation projects to Girl Scout cookies—Tagalongs sound pretty good right about now.

I’m like the mom on this trip or maybe like the little sister.

This is a trip of many firsts for me. I’ve never been to Butte, Bozeman or Billings–let alone to Sidney. I’ve never seen the prairie. I’ve never driven more than 90 mph. I’ve never traveled 600 miles in a day by car. I’ve never paid for my own hotel room. I pick up the boys’ trash—so far only coffee cups—and they tell me about substances I’m too young to purchase.

We’re headed to the Herald’s headquarters tomorrow to shadow its sole reporter and learn everything there is to know about covering an oil boom town. Dameon Matule and Mike Beall, the boys, are cutting the visit short to speak with Sidney’s mayor and the president of a local bank.

We’re armed with 12 empty reporter’s notebooks, pens, voice recorders, cameras and smartphones. We’re ready for this town, even if it’s never seen anything quite like the three of us.

We have to be at the newsroom in eight hours, so I’ll leave you with a few snippets of the trip so far:

Yesterday, I tweeted that I was looking up strip clubs in Sidney (for the story, not the boys). Within three hours, five new people started following me on Twitter and each of them was affiliated with some sort of porn service. One recently tweeted the following: “If I do get murdered in this motel, will someone please deduct a star from my review over on Yelp? Thanks.”

As we drove past Billings, Dameon learned that his little brother is living in Williston, N.D. We could have stayed with him instead of pay $125 a night for this roadside hotel.

Mike: “Are we going to the bar?”
Me: “Tonight?”
Dameon: “Yeah, it’s Thursday!

Dameon: “We need to have a victory shot after this.”
Mike: “Or two.”
Dameon (looks at me): “You can have a Shirley Temple.”

Mike: “Where are we?”
Dameon: “We are in the left pocket of Hell, my friend.”