Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Old vs New West - Again

Oh, yay - another national article about the collision between the new west and the old west. This time it was the Wall Street Journal jumping in with an article on how recent transplants from the West Coast are giving Obama a shot at being the third Democratic presidental candidates that Montana has ever voted for. That is all well and good, except that the journalist can't resist the cheap shots of espresso bars vs. cowboy hats (see below).

There are definitely people who have moved to Bozeman for the scenery and the chance to get outdoors regularly, who don't care about the local culture and are all for making changes to civilize Bozeman. There are also people, especially farming families, who have lived here for decades and feel displaced by the changes that are occurring. But there is a vast middle ground of people who don't fit these well-hammered stereotypes: recent transplants who value the local culture and work hard to fit in; people who have lived here for decades who appreciate the improved medical services, increased job opportunities for their children, and interesting cultural events; people who come here because they can have a microfarm, raise vegetables and eggs for the farmers' market, raise children in a safe community. The blending of all these people makes for a tolerant community that can accommodate most tastes and pocketbooks, from the $6.50 beef roast at the Western Cafe to the $9.95 panini at a nearby coffee shop or the $12 hamburger at Ted's Montana Grill; some locals patronize all of the above.

Many of the "new west" characteristics can't even be blamed on the newcomers: the local symphony has been playing for over 40 years, the opera for over 30. The farmers' market started in 1977. There has been an increase in coffee shops over the last decade, but that is a national trend, not one imported by West Coasters, and we probably don't have that many for a college town. On the other hand, new and old residents have worked together to keep downtown alive, build a wonderful new library, support a regional museum and 4-H, keep the county fairgrounds alive and healthy, and encourage a flourishing equestrian community. For most residents here, there is a blend that works sometimes and not others, rather than a clash of values. But a clash makes better press, I guess.

I was born in Bozeman, my father is a rancher, I shoot guns and go to the symphony, and I drive an Audi. What does that make me? I think it makes me a Montanan.

The editor in me can't resist picking on this paragraph: "At times, downtown Bozeman feels like it's inhabited by two different tribes. Main Street is lined with Audis and Subarus topped with mountain bikes and kayaks. Half an hour out of town, the polish on cowboy boots gives way to scuffs, and gun racks outnumber roof racks." How can a small downtown contain someplace half an hour out of town? That's a logical impossibility, as well as all the way to Three Forks, clear across the valley.

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