Friday, May 21, 1999
Even with motel reservations, we’d been rushing the ends of the last three days, not our plan at all. But Mendocino had spooked us—we didn’t want to be stuck again in the clone of that Ft. Bragg shanty. (Yeah, yeah: Motel 6 is a palace.) And yeah, again, the dog could always sleep in the truck. But Tom didn’t really want that, and we were heading up the rural coast of Washington, home to few motel chains.
So we went back to drifting—sort of. Over plastic breakfast—again the recommendation of some vinyl moteleer—we estimated where we’d be in two hundred miles. (That’s what we had to average every day, I figured: seven weeks being forty-nine days; forty-nine times two hundred being roughly ten thousand miles.)
Two hundred miles north of breakfast was Forks, where the dog guide reassuringly listed eight pet-lovin’ motels. Including the Hoh Humm Ranch and the Westward Hoh Resort. (Both, I trusted, were on the River Hoh. Otherwise, those people had some explaining to do). One place was even Big Foot friendly.
There seemed little else near Forks, just this clump of rooms with the last hot, running water for hikers and lumberfolk. But since the parks weren’t open yet for the season, we seemed safe without reservations.
After reluctantly paying for breakfast, we leaned into the ocean wind on Seaside’s mile-and-a-half-long concrete Promenade, built in 1920 for just under two-hundred grand (got to stop reading those plaques). Dead in the middle was Lewis and Clark’sEnd-of-the-Trail Monument, the sun-crisped explorers bravely facing the surf with a numbed “Are we there yet?” glaze. I could only imagine what the area looked like when they first saw it. But I’ll bet the food was better.
In nearby Astoria, having already seen the bronzed pioneers, we skipped their museum. I’m sure it was full of spiffy maps and snazzy pelts, but we had a suitcase full of atlases, and if the dog tried chewing my baseball cap the way she’d just mauled Tom’s, she’d soon be a pelt. Tom insisted she was just punishing us for leaving her in the—clearly well-ventilated—truck, while we went off to be battered by pancakes. But I think she knew what leftovers we were bringing, and figured the cap tasted better.
Crossing the long bridge to Washington, Tom asked, “What’s that?” again somehow thinking I’d know.
“The Columbia River,” I replied, just spotting the sign.
“All of it?”
“It’s just so… big.”
That’s what happens when you live in L.A.—where mighty rivers trickle in concrete. Though reaching Washington gave us a new opportunity to take pictures of the frowning dog in front of a Welcome sign. And since we’d crossed an entire state in slightly over a day, Tom felt we were really Seeing America.
North of Astoria came the Willapa Hills. Then Willapa Bay and the Willapa River. Not a land of imagination. Another sign indicated an Historic Courthouse in South Bend, but my rule—after chasing similar signs meant to mislead tourists and, perhaps, foreign militia—is if it’s not On The Road, we don’t stop. Otherwise, we drive on and on, full of elastic curiosity, finally seeing nothing.
But the Pacific County Courthouse was right in front of us, and a kick. Built in 1910, overbudget at a measly hundred-and-thirty grand, it was nicknamed by those-who-were-taxed “The Gilded Palace of Extravagance.” (They couldn’t guess nothin’ about Prada stilettos.) And that was without its interior marble columns. These were faked in wood, and later glazed by a multitalented prison inmate. Early faux corruption.
The best thing about the courthouse was its stained glass dome, which twenty years ago cost a hundred-and-forty grand just to restore. The next best thing was how this nationally-registered Taj Mahal-ette came to be built in a farm town. Even one once exalted asThe Baltimore of the Pacific.
It seems at the end of the nineteenth century, several local villages were jousting for the title of county seat, each feeling it had the brownest cows and most beautiful maidens. So they had a contest, which is to say election, and South Bend won. But the losers, feeling the election results, if not the maidens, were padded, refused to give in. (This sounds strangely familiar.) In response, the citizens of South Bend midnight-snatched the county records, and quickly erected a building so expensive the local government could never afford to move its seat again.
Democracy in America.
But I’m glad they did it, as it also gave us a chance to walk the dog in a sweet little Japanese garden, probably not intended for that purpose.
North of South Bend, Aberdeen offered its own Historic Seaport, which, sadly, turned out to be a three-block tourist mall. Though it did give the dog a chance to chase a bird. And neighboring Hoquiam lured folks to itsHistoric Castle—just a big, old house, that day closed for renovations. There, the dog chased a bee.
Then came the lumbering forests, clearly raw to public relations. Each section bore a servile billboard indicating when these particular acres had last been cut. And how rapidly the trees had been replanted. And how distantly in the future—dozens and dozens of years—they’d be “thinned” again. Nothing like taking condemnation personally.
But I could see the city folks’ point of view: clear-cut fields were gross no matter how reassuring their press. And clear-cutting doesn’t leave a Disneyfied glen. You get huge upturned roots, bulldozed to rot to fertilizer. Where were those banana slugs when you need them?
Forks was, well, Forks: a half-mile stretch of worker huts and laundromats. Our motel room was out of the forties, and rancidly pink. And there was a mystery shrine in the garden. We had dinner in what the friendly motel owner assured us was the best restaurant in town.
She needs to get out more.