Homer and I have spent a lot of quiet time together over the last 30 years. We have trod many a dusty trail mile. We have spent countless lazy days drifting down beautiful rivers. We have warmed ourselves around campfires and gazed into the starry heavens in some of the most beautiful places imaginable. And we have driven across the country in a loud and uncomfortable rental truck without benefit of radio.
So we have had a chance to get to know each other pretty well. And, as happens when you know someone well, conversations begin to develop recurrent themes. For Homer and me, the most predictable topics, beyond the immediate concerns of family and daily life, run to just a handful of general areas of interest.
Montana politics is one that always produces some lively exchanges. Homer's take on the often mystifying machinations of state government gives him plenty of opportunity to sharpen his skill at bombastic oratory.
The same goes for the general erosion of the English language that we see all around us. The recent trend of adding "age" to words that are perfectly good to start with has become particularly irritating to him. Perhaps, somewhere down the line, I'll devote an entire column to that growing problem.
But it is another of our general topics that I want to share with you today. That's the one where Homer and I scheme about how we might devise a way to earn a handsome living doing fun things outdoors.
First, you have to know that neither one of us has ever been deprived in the outdoor fun department. If you have read this column over the years, you are certainly aware of that.
We have both worked in fields that involve spending time out there in the hills and on the water. Homer is a wildlife biologist by trade and, in one way or another, he has made his living in that field. We have both done our time as fishing guides on the wonderful rivers of this state. Sometimes, I even get paid to write about the outdoors.
But what we have been thinking and talking about is figuring out a way to get paid to do what we like to do, and nothing more. We don't want to have to row the boat for a stranger. We don't want to have to teach people we don't know how to cast a fly. We don't want to have to make up lunches for the customers. We don't want to have to answer endless questions that we don't really know the answers to, anyway. We don't want to have to be on our best behavior, careful and diplomatic about what we say all day long. We don't want to get involved in guiding hunts, where we would be spending our time around strangers with guns.
We have been keeping an eye on the things others have tried to achieve the same objective. What we have decided is that there might be a niche market for folks who would be interested in watching us do what we do, without having to actually do it themselves.
As far as we can tell, there must be a pool of customers out there for just such a business. We can think of no other way to explain the explosion of hunting and fishing and outdoor shows on cable television. We all know that the people who really spend their time in outdoor adventures rarely, if ever, watch those shows. We also know that, despite what it might seem like on many of those shows, there is no such thing as a big trout on nearly every cast, a handsome bull elk wandering into range on every hunt, or a sky full of ducks and geese on every damp dawn in a duck blind.
The way we figure it, for a few dollars more than that monthly cable television fee, we could provide opportunities for that great untapped pool of potential customers to get off the couch, travel to Montana, and spend their wonderful vacation days watching us have fun. They wouldn't have to get wet. They wouldn't have to struggle with the frustrations of learning new outdoor skills. And they would get to see what that outdoor world is really like for a couple of old practitioners of outdoor fun.
We haven't got our business plan completely fleshed out yet, but we have developed some guiding principles.
First, the customers would have to be kept at a safe distance. If we happened to be fishing, they could watch us fish from another boat, kept sufficiently upstream from us so that we could ignore them. If we were hunting upland birds, the notion of some kind of touring bus with lots of big windows would be ideal.
"I think one of those 'popemobiles,' would be the ticket. You know what I mean, a car with a big glass bulletproof bubble like the one the pope rides in. The bulletproof glass would be great to protect our customers if a little birdshot came their way. And the sound of those BBs rattling off the glass would add to the whole thing," Homer suggested when we touched on this subject.
We would agree to allow our clients to listen in on our conversation, though the technical bugs in that idea have not been identified yet, much less ironed out. We would guarantee, however, that the customers would get to hear actual, unedited and unrehearsed spontaneous conversations between Homer and me.
This would also serve an educational purpose that some customers might want to share with their entire families. In addition to outdoor fun, they would be hearing lots of observations about Montana politics and the strange things people are doing to the English language. Of course, we could not agree ahead of time to discuss those topics. For realism, we would have to let the talk flow naturally. With that in mind, families might think twice about exposing children to some of the inevitable repartee. That's another little bug we haven't yet addressed.
From time to time, we would have special guests accompany us on our adventures. Erwin, Slats, Johnny, Sparky, Casper, Walleye and many others would all be given plenty of opportunities for cameo appearances. We might even put together a special trash-fishing package that would feature an appearance by my pals Gabby and Gimpy, but we would have to do a little more market analysis before putting much effort into that.
At the end of each day of fun, I suppose that Homer and I would have to do some mingling with the customers, perhaps over dinner. There would, no doubt, be some questions that we should try to answer about why we did what we did or said what we said at certain key moments of the day. We might even be willing to pose for pictures with them if that's what they wanted. After all, we would certainly want them to feel like they got their money's worth.
In our discussions, we have not yet tackled such issues as marketing, support staff, client accommodations and so forth. What we are certain of, though, is that there has always got to be a way to turn a good idea into cash. And Homer and I are sure that this is an idea whose time has come.
We haven't figured out what we're going to call the business yet, but we're leaning in the direction of something like, "Almost-Close-Enough-To-Touch Expeditions."
Whatever we call it, we know it just might be the wave of the future. We're starting to look into the possibility of franchising, just in case.
Greg Tollefson is a Missoula free-lance writer whose column appears each week in Outdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org