I’m not really sure why this story came out when I sat down to write a post. I’ve remembered that night in a haunted old Ramada in Kalispell, Montana, often over the years, because it was on that Good Friday twenty-two years ago today that I decided that a stint in the northwest just wasn’t working out, and I resolved to leave.
I don’t have any photos from that time. I brought a camera with me and used up a roll of film my first walk in Glacier, and never developed it. It seems rather fitting.
April 2, 1999, Good Friday, found me working the night audit shift in a creepy old hotel on the outskirts of Kalispell, Montana, near Flathead Lake.
The job suited me. I’m a night owl by nature, so I didn’t have a problem staying up all night reading, especially at that point in my life. It did present challenges with my other job as a homebound tutor, as I sometimes only got an hour or two of sleep before having to drive into the mountains to teach a boy who’d been caught with a gun at school a few months before Columbine.
I’ve looked for the Ramada Klondike on the Internet; it no longer exists, which is a shame, because it would have made a great movie set. A new Best Western replaced the hotel on the lot.
The Ramada Klondike
Built to resemble the Klondike steamer ship that sailed on Flathead Lake in the early twentieth century, what may have once been a lovely resort had faded carpet and a small “casino” just off the lobby, with blinking Keno machines that reeked of stale cigarettes, to greet the guests.
The guy who trained me really enjoyed being able to smoke on the job, so we spent a lot of time hanging out in the casino. He wore metal band tees sincerely and had strange skin, like someone who spent his entire life auditing the night. He was the one who asked me a few weeks into my employment there if anything strange had ever happened during my shift.
Prepare for the guests
Certain rooms were never to be booked. The pool was closed. Upstairs, the banquet hall had only a few tables strewn about, the floor to ceiling windows dusty. I had to walk through there to the enormous kitchen each shift in order to make a pot coffee to bring down for the “guests.” I worked there for months, and I filed the night audit reports. I could count the guests for my entire tenure on two hands. No one ever walked in, looking for a room, at least not on my watch.
The hotel general manager, though, would often visit in the morning, so I had to make sure that everything was ready in the lobby. Even though I found him unpleasant, I pitied the general manager. He only saw the old glory of the place, not what it had become.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ve had three strange occurrences in my life that I can’t explain. One of them was in that hotel. Every night, I prepped to make the coffee as I was trained to do: take down a filter from where they were kept and place the bag of coffee from the box under the counter inside it, so that I wouldn’t have to fiddle with it in the morning, when guests might come in.
The housekeeper didn’t come in until after the coffee service, nor did the morning person, and so there was no one except for me awake in the hotel. But every morning, that prepped coffee filter would have moved. On the counter across the from the brewing station. Sometimes the bag would be under the filter. One time, I found the setup back with the other coffee filters, the bag on top. The lights flickered in the lobby, strangely.
I never felt threatened by whatever happened in that hotel, perhaps because that winter and spring a rapist was attacking women in their homes in section of Kalispell where I lived, and I was relieved to have someplace else to go at night, even if it was haunted. One time I even tried to talk to the ghost as the lights flickered. Alas, it made no reply.
Not what I had envisaged
Anyhow, that Good Friday night was the night I resolved to go back home to New England. I’d practically run away to Montana after leaving graduate school with a master’s degree and no idea what to do with my life. One of my college roommates was from the area and had offered to let me stay with her while I figured out what to do.
A starry eyed romantic at that time in my life, I was in love with the idea of the West, with wilderness. Although Glacier was one of the most glorious places I’ve ever seen, a color blue that exists nowhere else except for in the Rockies, Kalispell, Montana, where I lived, was a town twice the size of the town where I grew up. I had to drive to find nature. I loved my drives around Flathead Lake, the water so different from the lakes I knew from New Hampshire, as well as hiking and cross-country skiing in Glacier, completely in awe over the the sheer size of the mountains, but this was not what I had envisaged. Instead of living among the trees, I lived on a perfectly square block.
I couldn’t find a decent job, and the tutoring gig would end with the school year. Over the course of the five months I was in Montana, it became abundantly clear that my roommate and I had gone in different directions, except when it came to drinking all the beer in the northwest and finding trouble. I was lost.
Good Friday vigil
That night, Good Friday night, on the stool beside the window, I sat vigil. I sat vigil over my own life, pondering what to do. This was not working. I watched the blinking lights of the Keno machines. The flickering lights from the specter. Hours passed, and dawn started to break. When I went upstairs to make the coffee, I actually found everything in the right place. I don’t believe in god, either, but I do take signs where I find them.
The Mennonite woman who worked mornings joined me for the last hour of my shift. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember how much I liked her and that I was a bit surprised to see her that morning, as she typically didn’t work weekends. She used to knit, with tiny needles and undyed yarn. She never mentioned the ghost. That morning, she took the stool, and we talked quietly, watching the day begin out the window. I had another cup of terrible coffee.
Eventually, my shift ended. I walked out into the light, having decided to go back home.