A treatise on Tri-Cities: what I will and will not miss

As some of you know, we live in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco) of Washington, and will be moving to Boise, Idaho later this year. We weren’t eager to relocate, but we’re embracing it–kind of a shock for my system, after thirty-nine years in Washington. This has gotten me to thinking about what I will miss and what I won’t.

In Washington (economically dominated by the Seattle region), the stereotype is that Tri-Cities are full of dullness, wind, meth, Republicans, Mormons, Mormon Republicans, nuke-lovers, and Mexicans. To Tri-Cities, of course, Seattle is full of Democrats, hippies, atheists, sneering snobs, junk science anti-nuke kooks, tree huggers, vegans, weed, and so on. Like most stereotypes, all of the above are overblown but with bases in fact. As always, I find myself caught in no-man’s-land between the extremes, finding both of questionable credibility, which is my typical ideological comfort zone on any topic. I’ve lived about the same amount of my life in both regions. When I left Seattle, I didn’t miss that much about it, whereas there’s a fair bit I’ll miss about the Dry Cities.

I will miss:

Great Mexican food. It’s not all good, but enough of it is great, and that meets my needs.

Great neighbors. Except for the idiot who puts up the 12′ lighted cross at Christmas (showing that, in his need to advertise his faith, he has fully missed the point of the holiday), I would take them all with me if I could. Most Tri-Citians really don’t get to know their neighbors, which I consider to be cheating themselves. Home security system? Every one of my neighbors would call 911 at the slightest indication something were wrong. None of them solve mutual concerns with lawyers, even those whose children are lawyers; they come over to talk about it, and we figure something out.

Cheap hydroelectric and nuclear power. We get off very easy.

The option to be in Seattle or Portland in a little over three hours.

A remarkable resiliency and interdependency in crises. The huge fire at Benton City, some years back, was a great example. The Red Cross’s main problem was not helping the few refugees, but trying to figure out how to direct everyone who called in wanting to help. When they could not get through, they drove down to the Red Cross, bringing anything from bundles of clothing to horse trailers. These are a remarkably kind people, and if you had to ride out a rough time, you could not ask for a better place.

High levels of volunteerism even when there isn’t a crisis. For a long time we had a bi-county volunteer center just to find things for them to do. If told they would have to pay for their own training, they paid it. As quiet as this place seems, there’s steel in there. Good example: some time back, the ‘mayor’ of Kennewick led a initiative to build a great play area in the park for kids, which looks a lot like a fort with lots of stuff to climb on and slide down. Contractors willingly donated materials; citizens showed up in dozens with their own tools. It was wonderful. Then some vandal burnt it down one night. The people just went out and built another one, right in the same spot. Not doing so wasn’t even open to question.

Three hundred days of sunshine a year, with just enough cold weather to make me happy. Roads rarely get icy.

Triple-digit temperatures in summer, which toughen you up if they don’t kill you by sunstroke. It truly is a dry heat. Speaking of which, I will miss such a dry climate. You can hang stuff up and it actually dries, which was not the case in Seattle.

Friendly politeness. Whatever faults some here might have, malice is rarely among them. Disabled? You can’t avoid having the door held for you if you try. Even clods who block the shopping aisle smile about it, not realizing that makes it twice as annoying. I have to give them credit for good hearts, anyway.

A live-and-let-live mentality. Whatever your difference is, in Tri-Cities, no one will care about it unless you more or less wad it up and wash their faces in it. If you do that, yeah, you’ll get their opinion. But if you just live your life gay/atheist/pagan/vegan/Raelian/Klingon, no one gives even half a damn what you do. I remember when the porno shop moved in where a rowdy bar closed down. It wasn’t festooned with gaudy signage; it was just there. For a while, a couple of protestors tried standing outside it on the sidewalk; they soon gave up. Whether locals liked it or not, it wasn’t washing everyone’s face in it, thus it should be left alone–if you don’t like that stuff, hey, don’t shop there. The gay bar in east Pasco remains completely unbothered, and has been since I’ve lived here, on the same principle.

Great dental care. I have no idea why, but this area is loaded with quality dentistry and nearly everyone seems happy with it.

Hearing Spanish now and then, and knowing that if I want to practice mine, I can simply go hang out in east Pasco–where I’ll be doubly safe, a) because it’s pretty safe to begin with, and b) because a friendly Anglo speaking Spanish is not an outsider. I don’t like when businesses pander with bilingual signs, but I have no problem with what people want to speak among themselves. If someone has enough English to get by at need, that’s all that concerns me.

Lots of wineries. There are 160 wineries within fifty miles of my office, and many of them earn international recognition. This is wine snob heaven.

Some urban rurality. Just down the hill from me is the proudly proclaimed Tri-City Polo Club, with horse barns on one side of the street, a grange on the other and a small cattle pasture across from both. Only in Tri-Cities. I love it. Going into West Richland (with its famously speed-trappy police force), crossing the Yakima River, a sign orders: DISMOUNT AND LEAD HORSES.

A remarkably good airport in which it is impossible to get lost, and where parking is relatively cheap.

Radcon, at least when I’m not mobility impaired.

Ralph Blair of Tri-City Battery (west Kennewick) and the whole crew of the company–they authentically solve car problems. I don’t know why anyone takes their car to Cheapo Lube when they could have it glanced at by honest professionals for the same cost. Dr. Ronald Schwartz (ear/nose/throat, Richland)–solved a perplexing balance issue for my wife, and was always honest with a great staff. Monica and the staff at the UPS Store (2839 W Kennewick Ave), who have always gone the extra mile. The WSU Master Gardeners at the extension office, an excellent resource allowing us to tap into the best knowledge available concerning things that grow in the ground–this is precisely what the land grant concept was supposed to bring us, and it does.

Living in a city where about five miles of the northern boundary is a park along a river, some of it nearly undeveloped except for a few picnic benches and a nice walking/cycling path. Oh, and the river is about half a mile wide. If you like to sit by a river in complete peace, Kennewick can arrange that. So can Pasco, and so can Richland.

I will not miss:

So much mediocre Mexican food. How can so many people patronize so many crappy places when there are enough great ones handy?

Minimal other ethnic dining, and much of it mediocre. Chinese food here is a joke. The Greek restaurant specializes in ‘Greek style pasta.’ Seriously?

The Hanford mentality of “never complain” and “don’t make waves.” This complacency and silence assures the mediocrity of local municipalities and businesses. You see, the Hanford nuclear site’s main form of employment involves not cleaning up the nuclear waste from the Cold War. This assures that their children will still have jobs not cleaning it up, which will be good for when their grandchildren need jobs not cleaning it up. Much of the work is heavily overpaid and ridiculously bureaucratic. As for not cleaning it up, that’s all blamed on the Department of Energy and unions. Never mind that government money is the area’s economic base; they want government to butt out, and want me to believe that this would create some kind of Nirvana in which they would immediately work themselves out of jobs. Never mind that there has never been a union contract that was not also signed by management. Nope, all the fault of DOE and unions. I’ve long been fond of saying that while I believe we ultimately will need nuclear energy, I hope to the gods they expand its use anywhere but here, because these are the people who made a massive mess during the Cold War here and now are taking the longest possible time cleaning it up. Don’t ever give more responsibility to a business culture in whose best economic interest it is to cause problems and then be inefficient at fixing them. That’s like paying mechanics to break your vehicle, then mill around it doing nothing.

Dust storms. Sometimes this is like living near a giant hair dryer filled with beige talcum powder.

Most of the local vendors one is stuck with. I will feel joy the day I never again have to send money to Waste Management, Sprint, Frontier Communications (they might just be the worst of all), Cascade Natural Gas, DefectivTV, Pemco, the City of Kennewick, and the Kennewick Irrigation District. Some I will actually get to fire, and it will feel good.

Monumental business boneheadedness, such as Richland using some of their best real estate not for a convention center (next to a nice golf course and the river), but for a Winco (discount grocery) and some crappy strip malls. Such as Kennewick building a convention center, wondering why it didn’t thrive, and only then learning that you need hotels near convention centers in order for the concept to work. Such as the Kennewick School District thinking they needed to renovate a whole new building because they were ‘really cramped’.

Meanderthals. You see, Tri-Cities are in the middle of a huge high desert. Without human activity, everywhere but river coasts there would be nothing but sagebrush and sand. As a result, the local mentality does not register that anyone else really exists, let alone is also trying to get to a destination, be they on foot, pushing a grocery cart or behind the wheel. Driving here is very dangerous because one must assume that everyone else thinks there is no one else on the road. Grocery shopping is a pain in the ass, with constant aisle blockages. Walking through the mall is even obstructed, usually by packs of eight people who have decided to have a discussion completely blocking the throughway. Costco is a nightmare. And if you’re crabby about it, no one understands why. A New Yorker transplanted here would be dead of a stroke in one week, unless s/he smoked about six joints before leaving the house.

A terrible medical situation. I have come to believe that, while there are a minority of competent and caring local medical providers, most are here because it’s easier to practice in an area where expectations are so low. I think most of them simply couldn’t make it anywhere that crappy and apathetic didn’t cut it. It’s bad enough that, despite three fully equipped hospitals, a shocking number of Tri-Citians go to Spokane or Seattle for surgery if they value their health. Medical offices have a tendency to hire bored, lazy office personnel who really don’t care. The key to getting decent medical care here is word-of-mouth combined with willingness to shop around–and once you get a decent doctor in a given area, you don’t endanger that.

Racism. Richland used to be a ‘sundown town’ by virtue of its status as a company town–you couldn’t live there unless you worked for Westinghouse, and they generally didn’t hire blacks. Kennewick was worse: it had actual signs at the bridge with Pasco (where most of the rather small African American community lived and still lives) requiring all blacks to be out by sunset. They came down sometime around 1965, but ask any older black Pasconian: they have by no means forgotten, and most of them loathe Kennewick. Considering that some Kennewick neighborhoods still have racially restrictive covenants on paper (though unenforceable), I can’t blame anyone who lived through that time. (The title companies are slowly magic-markering that part out of the covenants, but some persistent irritant found an unexpurgated one.) It’s one thing that there is significant racism here, especially with police very prone to profile Hispanic and black men as potential criminals, but the worst part is the denial of history. Kennewick does its very best to say as little as possible about the covenants and sundown town history, essentially waiting for all the witnesses to die off so they can pretend it never happened. (I bet they think that when a certain local gadfly moves away, he will stop bringing this up all the time. They had best think again. All it will mean now is that even if they wanted to retaliate, they’ll lack the means.) The other racism here has to do with Hispanics (mostly of Mexican heritage, many being US citizens who not only speak native English, but speak less Spanish than I do), and it’s in a sort of sneaky way. When Tri-Citians speak of a “bad area” or “dangerous part of town,” that’s code. It means “has Hispanics.” I once heard east Kennewick described with a straight face as ‘Beirut’–but what the person really meant was ‘has lots of non-white, non-Asian people.’ (And by the way, comparing east Kennewick to Beirut is like comparing the oil you spilled in your garage to the Exxon Valdez.)

Indifference to literacy and reading. The area simply doesn’t read much and doesn’t care much about it.

Indifference to the world at large. Yesterday on the Amazing Race, I watched a fairly Cletus couple try to figure out where the Kalahari Desert was. You could ask 90% of Tri-Citians which continent it was on, and most would guess wrong–and it would be a guess. They don’t know, and they largely don’t care. We have a whole lot of insular ignorance here, and we do little to ameliorate it.

Remarkably stupid speed limits designed purely to raise speed trap revenue. It has nothing to do with safety. Same for school zone lights that operate when there is not a child in sight–it’s just a way to nab people for ‘speeding.’

Lack of a major university campus. Pasco has a relatively blah community college, and at the extreme north of Richland is a branch campus of Washington State University (enrollment less than 1000). A full-dress, sizable university brings with it so much, and that is largely denied to the Tri-Cities. Oh, sure, on average the level of education appears high, but that’s mainly because of all the nuclear engineers working at Hanford and all the Aspies out at Battelle with physics Ph.Ds. In reality, local kids seeking a serious degree mostly leave town, and many of them will never be back unless they’re nuclear engineers or physicists.

Crappy local businesses that continue to succeed simply because they are more habits than enterprises. I could name half a dozen such without effort. Longtime Tri-Citians keep going there. It’s where they’ve always gone, and where they continue to go.

The combined reek from Wallula of the IBP feedlot and the Boise Cascade paper mill. When there’s an inversion, smells like something died. Richland is spared this, but southeast Kennewick sure isn’t.

Finding ways to be short of water despite living next to the confluence of two great rivers (Snake and Columbia). This is like living by the ocean and not being able to get salt for your food, or freezing to death near a big pile of deadfall with a functional lighter on your person.

Boat Race Weekend. Unlimited hydroplane racing (which is strictly limited) is sort of like Nascar on the water. I don’t begrudge it to anyone, but it doesn’t interest me, and turns the place into a madhouse one weekend a year.

Lousy contractors and mechanics. Like the doctors, once you find a good one, you don’t let go. Many consider that they are doing you a favor just by showing up or accepting the job. Many do very shoddy work. Unless you have the ability and will to raise tremendous hell–which will stun them, because everyone else just accepts the shoddy work (“so why can’t you?”)–you will become a do-it-yourselfer simply because you often can do a better job than the so-called professionals. Plus, at least you are likely to show up for your own work. They often won’t.

Having only one independent local bookstore that quietly makes sure that males know they are barely tolerated, without good grace. Your call, Book Worm. It takes a lot to make me avoid a bookstore, but you were up to the challenge.

The look of fear when I mentioned to a serving city employee how corrupt Kennewick’s government was. It told me a lot. I learned a lot about Kennewick’s government when their piping contractor behaved disgracefully on my property and they told me that I’d have to pay to fix everything myself, then their insurance company would decide if I got reimbursed. Kennewick’s citizens tolerate this. Remember when I was telling you that this area will swallow any mediocrity without a complaint, the Hanford mentality? Exhibit A. Guess what, Kennewick. I will move away, but my words will not.

Ridiculous provincialism leading to failure to merge three cities into a combined city with much larger political pull. They all complain that they would lose their ‘unique cultures’. Seriously? Let’s get real: Richland is whiter than Kennewick which is whiter than Pasco. That’s the difference, though you aren’t supposed to put it that way, nor to correlate it with the historic tendency of Richland to look down on Kennewick which looked down on Pasco. Beyond that, there is hardly any difference, but this does ensure three different bureaucracies, three different police forces, and a whole lot of wasted tax money. There is so much that Three Rivers, WA could do united, yet it doesn’t. And it won’t.

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2 thoughts on “A treatise on Tri-Cities: what I will and will not miss”

  1. You hit the nail on the head, and hard. I just moved back here last year, having grown up here during the 70’s and 80’s. I left in ’89 (and boy do I NOT miss Seattle). Funny thing about the bookworm…last time I went in I (a male) asked if they had a particular series of books , all of which concern military history. I could almost see a huge load of passive-aggressive steam billowing out of the employee’s ears. Without ever making eye contact, she said, “we don’t carry that series.” More steam billowed forth when I found one of the books on the shelf in question! Sad, I used to love the buying comics and D&D stuff there when I was a kid…

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    1. Howdy, Kevin, thanks for your thoughts! Yeah, I always felt discomfort in there. It was a major benefit when Adventures Underground showed up in Richland–a much better option than Bookworm, and plenty of milhist, without any passive aggressiveness. As a former D&D player myself, I know those feelings well. There’s a lot to like about the Tri, I guess it just depends what is important. Hope you settled in well and it’s treating you all right!

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