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How to work for food
Instead of scrounging for change in the couch cushions to buy a gas station corn dog, consider putting in a few hours of work at a local farm so you can walk away with your arms full of fresh and healthy vegetables. Garden City Harvest's "volunteer for veggies" program is the nonprofit's most popular, welcoming volunteers during the growing season to work at the River Road and Orchard Gardens neighborhood farms. Most volunteers put in between one and six hours of work. The ratio of hours to quantity of food varies depending on the farm and time of year. Typically, three or four hours of work earn volunteers a half share. Last week, for example, a half share included "a pound and a half of peas, three zucchinis, three onions, three beats, a pound of carrots, a bunch of kale, cabbage and a head of lettuce," according to Greg Price, the manager at River Road. That's a lot of food. And with the summer bounty bursting, now's the best time to participate. Garden City Harvest tells volunteers to come prepared to work hard and get dirty by weeding, planting, harvesting—and more weeding. Bring water, sunscreen, close-toed shoes and maybe a hat. Call 523-3663 for more information.
You can also work for food at the Missoula Community Food Co-op (1500 Burns Street). It requires members to contribute just three hours of work per month, which cumulatively accounts for the majority of the co-op's overhead costs, resulting in lower prices. Lifetime memberships cost $125, or less if you're a student or receive federal assistance. For more information call 728-2369.
How to have some fun
How to curate your own art museum
We're lucky in that both of the local art museums—the Missoula Art Museum (335 N. Pattee Street) and the University of Montana's Museum of Art and Culture (inside the PARTV Center on UM's campus)—don't charge admission. But just aimlessly wandering the halls and soaking in the artwork feels like a glorified elementary school field trip. That's why we like to play a little game when attending one of these museum's rotating exhibits—ignoring the placards next to each work and coming up with our own titles. The exercise will make you look a little more intently at each item on display and generate some interesting conversation with your fellow art lovers.
How to watch movie stars, under the stars, for free
The old Go-West drive-in movie theater off Highway 10 West closed in 1999, but that shouldn't stop you from watching movies in the fresh outdoor air. The Missoula Outdoor Cinema is one way to catch a pretty eclectic collection of flicks every Saturday, all summer long, for free. The movies are projected on a big 12-by-25 screen by a bright, high-resolution digital projector at the Headstart school on the corner of Worden and Philips. You can bring compact seating or blankets, and cart in a picnic dinner at 8 p.m., well before the show starts. Be warned: It's a non-alcoholic, family-friendly deal. But the movies aren't just for kids. The upcoming batch includes Mama Mia! (July 31), Thelma & Louis (Aug. 7), Some Like it Hot (Aug. 14), The Big Lebowski (Aug. 21) and The Dark Knight (Aug. 28).
How to hear live music for free any day of the week
Cover charges and venue ticket prices are the bane of today's frugal entertainment seeker. Thankfully there's a free alternative nearly every night of the week around Missoula in the form of the sometimes laughable, sometimes surprising, always upbeat open mic night (check our calendar for regular listings). Mostly these events attract a plethora of one-man or one-woman acoustic acts, the guitar toting singer-songwriters whose lyrics drip with angst and failed college romance. But take any Monday night at Sean Kelly's, for example, and you're guaranteed at least one self-deprecating hip-hop or Prince cover, the kind that will have you snorting Bud draft out your nose. The most redeeming aspect of the open mic experience is the fact that few performers have any whims about "making it big." They appreciate the overstated whoops and hollers, but tend not to notice the pervading silence that follows a less-than-stellar tune. Occasionally they'll treat you to something of a spectacle, like a male Gwen Stefani duet or a mandolin solo on the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (one Indy staffer notes from personal experience, both get open mic crowds roaring). Everyone's there for essentially the same reasons: It's fun and it's free. Just be sure to tip your bartender.
How to hear live music for free on the weekend
Thank god for the Union Club (208 E. Main Street). Times may change, and local bands may come and go, but the blue collar bar still offers live music Friday and Saturday evenings with no cover charge. (Note: The summer schedule doesn't always include Saturdays. Double-check our calendar before you head down.) That means you can catch popular acts like Reverend Slanky, Tom Catmull and the Clerics, Cash for Junkers and others as they play in front of Missoula's most popular dance floor. Again, just be sure to tip your bartender.
How to play pub trivia
You're smart, even if you're poor. Getting together a power team for pub quiz night is a cheap, if not free, way to show off your brain and maybe learn a trivial bit or two. Even though it's expected you'll buy a few beers, it doesn't cost anything to actually play the game. Sean Kelly's (130 W. Pine Street) has been hosting a pub quiz every Tuesday night for over a decade now, and recently Brooks and Browns Lounge at the Holiday Inn-Downtown at the Park (200 S. Pattee Street) got in on the action with Thursday night games. The entertainment and education factors of playing trivia with friends for three hours are valuable in themselves. But if you've got a team of know-it-alls, you likely could win some prizes. Sean Kelly's awards $30 toward your bar tab for first place, $15 for second and $8 for third and fourth places. Brooks and Browns has a $50 first place prize. If you become a regular winner, you can even save your acquired winnings for one big beer splurge. Nice way to use your head.
How to shop without making a purchase
We're talking about window-shopping, an activity that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. Take Circle Square Second Hand (519 N. Higgins Avenue): The last time we checked, Circle Square's display window featured a Salvatore Dali theme, anchored by a book opened to a page featuring one of the painter's otherworldly psychedelic landscapes. A mannequin decked out in a pink, orange and yellow flower print shirt, wearing sunglasses and carrying a whip, stood to the left of the book. Several bocce balls dotted the floor, along with a red clog. Statues of demure looking women holding jugs stood in front of a red barbeque. A lizard with wings hung from the store's "Open" sign. It's a lot to take in, and worthy of at least several minutes of window-shopping.
Circle Square owner and window dresser extraordinaire John Baker says the Dali theme is popular, but he changes motifs regularly. Astrology is a personal favorite. "I'm kind of into all that shit," he says.
How to play bingo—and other games!— with old people
Volunteer bingo caller Dick Pickens says smart players can easily win a couple bucks off of a bingo buy-in at the Missoula Senior Center (705 S. Higgins Avenue). Two cards go for just 25 cents, and winnings run in the neighborhood of $1 to $2 per game—or enough to buy a Pabst tall boy. The trick, Pickens says, is paying attention to which numbers have been called and selecting a bingo card with numbers yet to be selected.
"Some people are better at picking out cards than others," Pickens says. "If you think it through a little bit, then you increase your chances of winning."
The Senior Center puts on "mildly competitive games" of bingo every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and every Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. The facility also hosts free cribbage, pinochle and dominos, and offers a sweet 25-cents-per-game pool table.
How to ride the river
Missoulians had refined the art of the cheap day-trip downstream well before the current recession. Our backyard is full of blue ribbon playgrounds—the Bitterroot, the Blackfoot, the Clark Fork—and all it takes is a $4 rental tube from the Army Navy Economy Store (322 N. Higgins Avenue) and a $13 case of Pabst to turn any financial stresses into metaphysical driftwood. All you need to do is arrange for a shuttle back to your bike or car, find an inviting put-in, and you're good to go.
How to make a splash without hitting the river
Public swimming pools like Splash! Montana and Currents can cost an arm and a leg for lowbaggers. As an alternative, check out one of the many local splash parks located around the city. Bonner Park (corner of Hilda and Evans avenues) offers plenty of water works, as does West Side Park (corner of Phillips and Scott streets). Just be careful as you're avoiding dumped buckets of water from overhead and fountains launched from the ground—little kids rule these spots, and can be easily toppled if you don't look where you're going.
How to shoot a gun for fun
You live in Montana, the land of guns. Even if you haven't jumped on the hunting bandwagon, you can at least have fun practicing your Calamity Jane target skills. While it's not necessarily the cheapest hobby, there are ways of making it cost effective in the long run. If you already own a gun, the ammo can be expensive depending on what you need. If you don't have a firearm, check out one of the better deals with the Ruger .22 long rifle, which costs a relatively measly $200 and requires ammo that's just $20 per 500 rounds. If you shoot an average of 50 rounds every time you go out to the range, that's just $2 of high octane fun each time. You can go to a real hunting range like the Hellgate Civilian Shooters Association's Deep Creek range for just $3 per day (543-3075), or Missoula Trap and Skeet (549-4815) for a $30 yearly membership, among other ranges. But there are plenty of unofficial shooting spots on public lands—you'll know them by their pitted out dirt banks filled with confetti-like smattering of shells, riddled stuffed animals and broken televisions.
How to catch a ballgame for free
The Missoula Osprey offer many discount opportunities for tickets, but nothing beats the free seats just beyond the stadium's center field wall. With little more than a lawn chair and a cooler, you can sit a couple feet from the center fielder—and directly below a real osprey nest—for nothing.