Saturday, May 22, 1999
There seemed a strange disconnect between me asking, “What’s the best restaurant in town?” and people answering. This was repeated in Forks, at breakfast, with Tom’s easy question, “Do you have any fresh fruit?” The waitress paused for a moment, then seeming genuinely confused, replied, “Is watermelon a fruit?”
Now normally, I don’t eat eggs. I just don’t like them. But it seemed dumb to order cold cereal, my usual, on a trip around the country. So starting in Morro Bay, for comparison, my standard breakfast became a large glass of orange juice, a couple of scrambled eggs, and whatever local potatoes, bread, and fruit the area favored. That started off fine, though by Forks I’d lost my courage. Instead, I scanned the menu for anything tangentially healthy, settling on a double order of oatmeal with raisins and, by default, whole milk.
I could have asked for 2%. They might have had it. But a friend of mine, traveling on business, recently trapped himself in a mobius vaudeville routine. Asked if he wanted cream in his coffee, he routinely replied, “Half and Half.”
“Half and half what?” the waitress asked.
“Half and Half.”
“Yes, but half and half what?”
So why risk baffling a woman already in trouble identifying fruit?
Tom had copy-catted my order, adding his usual cup of bad coffee. He didn’t want it that way, of course; it just appeared, Starbucks being not nearly as pervasive as one might hope. While we slowly waited—Tom predicting they were planting, harvesting, and personally grinding our oats —I investigated some local kindergarten art on the restaurant wall. I could recognize the snails all right: light brown paper, coiled, with added eyes and antennas. And I could pick out the clever strip of Saran Wrap slime. I could even understand how the kids had dipped ferns in bright green paint, then pressed their patterns onto the construction paper. But what was the slightly darker green splotch that appeared in every drawing? And the orange one? And the dreaded deep brown smear?
A woman also waiting for her infinitely-delayed meal surveyed the art with me. “The dark green is cedar leaves,” she finally announced. “Lots of them, local.”
That made sense, and we shifted to decoding the brown thing. Tom soon joined us. “It’s a pine cone,” he eventually bet. “Look, here’s an indentation.”
We weighed. We agreed. Then focused on the orange: Too early for autumn leaves. Too round for carrots. Definitely the wrong scale for pumpkins.
“There’s just some things we’ll never know,” the woman laughed. Then, frowning at her still-empty table, she grabbed a free local paper—no wonder they were on the counter—and headed for the Ladies.
My finally-arriving oatmeal was just okay. The best part though was, after eating it, for the first time in several mornings, I didn’t have to scrub slippery hash browns grease off my teeth. We also passed on taking a leftover biscuit for the dog, which Tom had started doing in Mendocino. He’d meant it for himself, but the dog had found it under the front seat and seemingly swallowed it whole. The next day Tom hid another roll in the same place, wondering how long it would take the dog to discover. Only this time the napkin disappeared, too. A bright green napkin. We kept waiting all day for the dog to make it reappear. But we lucked out, because, last night, we found the damned thing intact, stashed under the mutt’s blanket. Seems she could play Hide ‘n’ Seek, too.
Pulling out of Forks, which is different from pulling forks out—how do people live in this pun prone paradise?—we found the local high school kids were having a Dog Wash.
“Kind of desperate,” I joked. “But maybe people here don’t wash their cars.”
“Wish I’d known that while we were eating,” Tom surprised me by saying, clearly unastonished by the canine goings-on. Likely what happens when you’re raised in Tucson. Still, it’s not like he needed to imagine his pet frolicking with wet cheerleaders just to ease down his gruel. He was simply trying to use her truck-time well.
Making our way toward Port Angeles and the Vancouver ferry, we slowly twisted by graceful Crescent Lake, fifteen elegant miles of clear water, picturesque rocks, and perfect pines. “This is why I came to Washington,” Tom kept repeating. And if I had a way to support myself in the woods, I would have bought one of the understated cottages.
Though the ferry freaked the dog out: First, the vibrating deck. Next, simply crossing water. Poking strangers didn’t help, either: Boys seemed unable to pass without scratching her ears. Girls, cooed “Hi, baby” in ways the boys would have killed to hear. And if Tom or I even inched from her side, she tried to herd us.
“It’s being half-border collie,” Tom explained. “She probably thinks she’s been sent on this awful trip just to track us.”
I laughed. “Is she really that unhappy?”
He considered. “She’ll get over it.”
Meanwhile, we stared at the Olympic Mountains: snow-topped above, though blue below, blending into the water. They almost seem to float, unmoored, like Valhalla. We weren’t the only ones gawking: the boat was jammed, with every ex-pat Canadian seeming to be headed home. Turned out, it was a three-day holiday.
“Lucky we made the ferry,” Tom mentioned. “Next one leaves in late afternoon.”
Our guides hadn’t warned us.
As we docked, Victoria—the next port—seemed inviting, and it might have been great to explore. But, as with San Francisco and Seattle, that would have taken more time than we had, and this wasn’t the city tour. Another trip perhaps, traveling by plane. There were also several large, high school bands on board, presumably heading for the Victoria Day parade. I could only imagine the traffic.
So we slipped onto the bulk of Vancouver Island, planning to drive its several-hundred mile coast. We even considered taking another ferry from its north end, then driving the mainland highway back through British Columbia. That could add a week I judged, studying maps, and though our books also warned we’d need “early reservations,” for an hour we discussed it. Which hardly stopped us from pausing for sights, some of the most amazing we’d seen: Interlocking green islands in the Strait of Georgia; The snowy Cascade chain anchored by Mt. Garibaldi. I tried not to take pictures, again knowing they’d barely match the panoramas. Our camera was just too small.
We ended in Courtenay, surprisingly suburban along with its neighbors—one restaurant even had a sign reading No Cell Phones, not that we’d seen one for days. Our motel was in bunkhouse disrepair, though clean, and the boyish manager boasted he knew a “great place for dinner.”
“It just opened,” his as-young wife cheerfully agreed. “So it has to be good.”
Wrong. They even managed to ruin iced tea. And I won’t—can’t—describe what they did to my steak. Still, across the back of our check, the chipper waitress had scribbled, “Hey! Welcome to B.C.!”
I would have preferred something a bit more A.D.