Most people, if compelled to spend more than three hours driving halfway across Missoula, would be all road rage and no pleasantries. But not the 40-odd passengers steered along the route of the “Missoula Revealed: We Like It Here” community bus tour on Thursday, May 25. Plied with sandwiches, chips and cookies, we sat staring down at our neighbors in their natural environment, and stopped off to admire their thriving parks, renovated intersections and remodeled homes.
On an itinerary that wound slowly through the southern half of the city—the six hours it would apparently take to cover the whole town might drive anyone mad—neighborhood representatives assumed the microphone at the front of the bus to direct our attention and inform our opinions. A handful each of city staff and city council representatives were present to answer questions and absorb the scenery along with the rest of us.
As each new neighborhood rolled into view, tour guides pointed out their noteworthy characteristics. In the university district, we admired classy homes placed on the National Register of Historic Places; in the Lewis and Clark neighborhood, we considered traffic calming strategies and infill; in Farviews and Pattee Canyon we gawked at massive new homes edging toward the treeline; in Westside neighborhoods we visited tiny “pocket parks” and new affordable housing. We disembarked to huddle around the gates of the soon-to-open Splash Montana at Playfair Park, eagerly eying the waterslides and half-wondering which one had pushed the project over-budget.
Local issues of all stripes that resurface at meeting after meeting were hashed out between seat partners over sandwiches. We clapped when master bus maneuverer Bob Beach successfully nosed around impossible corners, and some of us dozed off as we pulled into the home stretch.
And when neighbors of every age, income and state of dress—lounging on their front steps, playing catch with their young sons, seeding new lawns, chatting over fences—waved heartily and smiled curiously up at our tinted windows, we waved back.