Walkabout. Montana Peach Pie Edition.
Tami and I were headed to a ranch in southern Montana for a week vacation with an old high school buddy, his girl, and a couple of my buddy’s friends. We rented a car in Coeur d’Alene and halfway through our drive we pulled into Ruby’s Café in Missoula for lunch. It looked like a typical western diner. There were a number of cars and trucks in the lot. Once inside, we were greeted with a restaurant filled with families and ranchers. Everyone seemed to know each other.
“Welcome, friends!” said our waitress and sat us at a table. Tami ordered a salad and I ordered a late breakfast. The food was great, the service perfect. As we ate we talked about our upcoming visit to the ranch. I noticed a handwritten sign offering fresh, homemade pies. I asked our waitress if they sold whole pies. I thought it would be a nice gesture to show up in Emigrant, our destination, with a fresh, tasty dessert. She told me they did, and that whole pies were $9 each. I can do that, I thought, and walked up to the cashier and asked her if she had a whole apple pie for sale. “Our apple pie has a slice out of it, but I have a whole peach pie,” she offered.
“Is it good?” I asked.
“The best,” she said. “And my personal favorite!”
“Ok, I would like a peach pie!” My mom had made peach pies for us when I was little, which was always one of my favorites.
“That will be $12,” she said.
I told her that our waitress said the pies were $9. The cashier countered that she had to charge me $12 because I hadn’t pre-ordered the pie and this was the last peach pie they had and it was the one they sold by the slice. I was committed to the pie, so I told her okay…I can do $12. I paid her and she said she would wrap it up for me and disappeared into the kitchen.
She returned several minutes later with a huge peach pie in a metal tin. “Looks great! I said.
“The pie is so fresh, I couldn’t get it out of the pie tin and put it in a box,” she explained. “It is our best plate, so I have to charge you a $6.50 deposit for the pie plate!”
Wow, I thought. I’m going to be invested $18.50 for this pie…but it’s going to be great, I thought. “Ok,” I agreed, reluctantly. I gathered up the pie and carried it like a newborn baby to the car.
On the road south, I told Tami how my transaction with the cashier went. “$18.50 for a peach pie?” she smirked.
“It will be worth every bite,” I promised her.
The ranch was great. Horses. Cows. Great vistas. Two streams running by the house. We unloaded our car and got situated in our room. I unloaded the peach pie last and placed it on the dining room table.
We were busy for the next day or so and I decided to taste the pie myself after dinner one night. I cut a small slice and bit into the white pastry and bright orange fruit. To say it was disgusting would be an understatement. The crust was as if someone smashed white bread and ladled in the fruit filling. And oh, the fruit. The peaches were crunchy with a sickly sweet aftertaste. They had the consistency of canned fruit that wasn’t ripe when it was canned and sort of mealy. The real prize, however, was the thick gelatinous syrup that covered the fruit. It looked like a light-colored version of mucilage, that childhood glue that came in bottles with the red rubber spout. I took another taste and I said to myself that it wasn’t all that bad. In this case, denial was most definitely a river in Egypt.
What happened next was such a blur of disappointment and humiliation that I’ve blocked most of it from my consciousness. Suffice it to say, the pie was not a big hit. Forks were dipped into the seething orange confection. Bites tasted. And spit out.
“This is terrible!”
“This is the worst pie I’ve ever tasted.”
“This is disgusting.”
Somewhere in the cacophony of comments from those negative Nancies, someone offered up “Mr. Peaches” as a nickname for me. I had failed. Miserably.
It was still light outside and Tami noticed that the seven horses that we had seen in the fields earlier had wandered up to our back door. We all went outside to greet them. We offered up carrots and pieces of apple to the horses and they chomped them down in flash. Someone mentioned the peach pie. “Maybe the horses would like some of that delicious pie!”
Jacob grabbed a handful and held it out to one of the horses. The horse gulped it down. And then he whinnied, shook his head furiously back and forth several times, and spit out my $18.50 peach pie. Everyone is a fucking critic.
Back in the house, a while later, I dumped the pie in the trash. The pie tin was a solid piece of metal. I looked at Tami. ”Just leave the pie plate here,” she said. “You have no use for that thing.”
I ignored the pie tin until just before we left on our last day at the ranch. I couldn’t leave it behind. I slipped it into the open pouch of my carry-on satchel. And forgot about it.
At the airport in Spokane, my pie tin caught the attention of the person running the x-ray machine. A TSA soldier had to check my bag and smirked as I pulled out my pie tin.
“Peach,” I offered.
“Next!” he yelled.
We caught a cab home from the airport in Phoenix. Our cabbie was a huge guy whose claim to fame was that, much earlier, and much thinner, as a child of a radical in Berkeley in the ‘60s, his job was to shinny up a telephone pole and act as a spotter. He’d call out, “The Pigs are coming!” when he caught a glimpse of the police. When he pulled up to our house, I helped him unload our bags. I lifted my satchel awkwardly and the pie tin flew out, landed on its edge, and rolled in an arch halfway down the hot street. I chased after it.
“Is that a pie tin?” the cabbie asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “Peach.”
“Was it delicious?” he asked.
“You have no idea,” I answered.