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Know the West

A visit to Pie Town; Mermaids on maternity leave; Airplane pit-stop

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


The military has long complained
that many young recruits are too fat to fight. Now a new study finds that even Colorado — generally ranked as the least obese state — is becoming increasingly portly: More than 27 percent of the state’s children are considered overweight. “Low levels of physical activity and the obesity epidemic are contributing to an unprecedented readiness problem for our armed forces,” said the nonprofit Council for a Strong America. Military recruiters already face a myriad of problems presented by potential recruits, including drug habits, facial tattoos and criminal records. If you add obesity, “a full 70 percent of Colorado teens are ineligible for military service,” reports the Colorado Springs Gazette. There are definite rewards for young people who qualify as battle-ready: To meet its 2017 target of bringing in 69,000 recruits, “the command doled out enlistment bonuses for as much as $40,000, with an average bonus of $12,800 for 33,000 recipients to attract the best-quality candidates for service.” To help the military find fitter recruits, the Council for a Strong America supports state-mandated physical education classes in public schools (Colorado is one of three states without a mandate), more bicycle lanes, and more programs providing healthy food to the poor. Retired Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart said families can also help: “Parents need to turn off the television and send kids outside more.” 

“You couldn’t make this place up if you tried,”
said Gayle Nafziger, a teacher on a summertime road trip, describing the Sip ‘n Dip bar in Great Falls, Montana. Tucked into the O’Haire Motor Inn, the Sip ‘n Dip features an enormous drink called the Fish Bowl that holds 10 shots of alcohol, and three nights a week it showcases the singing of 85-year-old Pat Spoonheim, known as Piano Pat. For 54 years, she’s been belting out rock ’n’ roll and other old favorites from a triple-decker electric keyboard festooned with Christmas lights. But it’s the mermaids who really transform the “kitsch-tastic” place, as The New York Times reported. Starting at Happy Hour six nights a week, women sporting long tails and flowing hair materialize in the darkened room, swimming in a pool behind a glass wall. Two at a time sway, turn flips, blow bubbles and rise to the surface outside every 20 seconds or so to take a breath. Twelve women work the four-hour shifts as mermaids, but with three out on maternity leave, Sip ‘n Dip manager Sandra Johnson-Thares is hiring. “Do you know anybody?” she said. “I’m desperate.” Any special skills needed? “They’ve got to be comfortable in a bikini top and a tail.” Online, Johnson-Thares also advertised recently for a merman, thinking the Ladies Night crowd on Tuesday might enjoy a change of pace. The posting went viral, leading politicians such as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to Twitter: “Dang, I’m overbooked.” Tim Fox, the state’s attorney general, also demurred because his “Speedo is @ the dry cleaners.” Mermaiding can get tedious toward the end of an underwater shift, a swimmer named Claudia acknowledged. She declined to reveal her last name to protect her day job: “I don’t know how corporate would react if they knew I was moonlighting as a mermaid.”

A six-hour Delta flight from New York to Seattle
made an unscheduled stop in Billings, Montana, after the plane’s toilets stopped working and passengers said they couldn’t hold out any longer, reports the Associated Press. The plane flew hundreds of miles out of its way to accommodate passengers, who, as Delta explained delicately, needed “to find relief of built-up pressures.”

Redrock Wilderness, the magazine of the Southern Utah Wilderness Association
, recently listed “10 unbelievable things Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has actually done (for real).” Notable items included his comparing the Department of the Interior “to a pirate ship,” complaining that he can’t fill open positions because of what he called “the resistance,” criticizing 30 percent of Interior employees for not being “loyal to the flag,” and wasting “$12,000 of taxpayer money on a private jet so he could meet with rich donors and the Las Vegas hockey team.” 

Pie Town, population 186
in a remote part of Catron County in western New Mexico, proudly lives up to its name, according to Atlas Obscura. The Pie-O-Neer and the Good Pie Café serve up charm as well as desserts. Seriouseats.com especially recommends the “New Mexican Apple Pie, which includes the state’s famed green chile and is scented with piñon.” Resident Nita Larronde said townsfolk have always had a bite to them: After the U.S. Post Office asked locals in 1927 to suggest other names besides Pie Town for their settlement, Larronde said, “The people of Pie decided: ‘No, we’re Pie Town. You can take your post office and go to hell.’ ”

 Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.