Measuring Distance by Time? What’s So Odd About That?
One of the little cultural idiosyncrasies that seems to immediately peg someone as a Montanan is measuring distance using time. To most of us, Great Falls to Helena is only a 90 mile trip if you go by the road signs. Person to person, we say it's an hour to an hour-and-a-half trip, depending on the weather and road construction.
I'm no different. I moved to Great Falls from eastern Montana, and whenever someone asked where I was from originally, rather than say the town's name, I'd say 'Get on Tenth Avenue South and drive east for about five hours.' or some variation.
Why does this out someone as a Montanan? Numerous non-Montanans have told me to my face that they've never heard of any other group of people that does that. I want to ask them, "Are you sure about that?".
When you travel on an airplane, your flight is measured in how long it takes to get to your destination, not how far you traveled. When you buy the ticket, it lists the time you leave one location and the time you arrive at the next. Some also list the estimated duration of the flight there as well. Isn't that using time to measure distance? When the pilot gets on the intercom and says the flight will be however long, does that mean that the pilot is from Montana? Somehow, I doubt that.
I was driving back to Great Falls from Butte earlier this week. I was by myself, and to keep my brain engaged while I was driving during the two-and-a-half hour trip (see, there it is again!), I got to thinking about this very topic. The best answer I could come up with by myself was that it's a combination of our state's size and a holdover from the early days of our state's history.
A round trip between Great Falls and Butte is about 300-310 miles, depending on where you start keeping track, but it's also five hours out of the day doing nothing but driving, and before modern automobiles and highways, it would have been even longer. I can easily imagine people back then complaining about how much time out of the day was being wasted travelling back and forth, and that got passed down through the generations, changing over time until the present.
What do you think? Why do you think Montanans measure longer distances in time?