Happy 4th of July from Butte, Montana, home of Evel Knievel. I couldn’t think of a more fitting place to celebrate America. Evel was an icon. Is an icon. His is the story of taking a hard scrabble life in a go nowhere mining town and transforming himself into a super hero of sorts. Millions of Americans, and even foreign ladies and gentlemen around the world would tune in to watch his death defying feats of motorcycle madness. Jumping over cars and trucks and buses. Even the iconic water fountains at Caesar’s Palace in the glitz and showiness capital of the world, Las Vegas. He’s the reason that, as a child, I dreamed of riding a motorcycle when I grew up. And I did. And I finally made the pilgrimage to the pay my respects to the king of two wheeled Kings!
I rolled into town and my first stop was his grave site, and when I entered the cemetery there was a faded old sign that directed me to “Evel’s Grave” It was right on the edge of the cemetery road, I guess for easy access by his throngs of admirers. But it was nesteled behind a tree, which felt curious to me. His tombstone itself, while larger than those around It, was not exactly what you would call a monument. And The occasion certainly didn’t feel momentous. I sat there for a few minutes, contemplated the Evel one, and then headed into town to buy some souvenirs. But a funny thing happened. Of the few souvenir shops I could even find, none of them were selling any Even Knievel memorabilia. Not even a postcard. So I started asking around. I asked the desk lady at the local motor lodge. And the old fella sitting on a crate just sort of observing the farmers market. Both of whom had the same similar stories. First, that they had lived their whole lives in Butte. And second, they confirmed what I had initially suspected, and then quickly feared. That Evel Knievel was an asshole. He was a bad, bad man, they said. And not the kind of bad man that you love to hate. But just an asshole. To his wife, to his kids, and to his hometown.
So i guess it’s no surprise that there’s no mural of him. And no postcards or T-shirt’s in the souvenir shops. His kids are all still fighting over who has the rights to what, and various folks with claims to his estate have sued, or threatened to sue, anyone who uses his image to sell any trinkets that the town has pretty much turned it’s back on him. And this is a town that from looking around wouldn’t seem like it should turn it’s back on anyone or anything g that could give it a little shine. But even the old festival that celebrated his life “Evel Knievel Days” crashed and burned like his SkyCycle rocket did over the Snake River Canyon some 46 years ago. But they are healing. Healing their own wounds that this man inflicted upon the town and it’s citizens. To do so they have chosen to erase his memory, not to celebrate it.
So what’s left for the tourists who do roll through town? Well, there’s the Berkeley Pit, a former mine site that is now home to one of the most toxic pools of water in America. Over 40 BILLION gallons of toxic sludge, bubbling up from the depths of hell. They charge you $3 to walk through a 100 foot tunnel and stand on a viewing platform and look at it. And then on the far side of the “pit” there’s a water treatment plant which processes 5 million gallons a minute, that makes that water clean and releases it into a creek. That’s progress. And THAT’s what the people
Of Butte are are proud of. And the other big attraction is the third largest statue in America. A carving of the Virgin Mary standing almost 100 feet tall high up in the Rockies on the Continental Divide. “Our lady of the Rockies”
For a little bit there I was sad that there was no Evel Knievel crap around town. But now I’m proud of Butte, and it’s people. And I realized the whole entire place is just a metaphor for America. So today, on the 244th birthday of this teeteringly great nation that we were born into, as the wind blows through my motorcycle hair, and I imagine blowing out the candles on a birthday cake shaped like the 50 states (and Puerto Rico!) I’ll be wishing that we can collectively agree to say “Fuck the pain of our past, and fuck the problems it’s given us, and let’s work on some solutions and some progress, and celebrate that!” America – fuck yeah!