Tag Archives: boise

A treatise on Boise: what I will and will not miss

This is a time when I am mostly unable to do a lot of blogging, but as I enter my final couple of months in Boise, I find myself reflective, and desiring to do the same sort of reflection I did when we left Washington for Idaho. Thus, the positive first:

I will miss:

  • The potato skins at Goodwood Barbecue. I’ve never even tried their barbecue. Once I had the skins, the rest of their menu officially no longer mattered to me.
  • The easy friendliness of the average Boisean.
  • The good people we met here, which was most of the total people we met here.
  • Basque food ranging from bar food to cloth-napkin restaurants.
  • A healthy distrust of our precious government.
  • Traffic insignificant by comparison to larger cities.
  • Surprisingly cool museums for a town its size.
  • A superb library.
  • The ‘Idaho stop.’ In Idaho, bicycles treat stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs, and it works very well. Since that’s what cyclists are going to do anyway, for the most part, making it legal is one less thing for the police to ticket people over.
  • Idaho characters. While characters can be obnoxious, Idaho tends to embrace them, and at heart, most are good folks.
  • Division I-A college football and a passionate fanbase for a team I at least can bear.
  • The Idaho Potato Drop at New Year’s. It’s hilarious, and best of all, it’s owning it.
  • The tremendous and diverse natural beauty of a state that I can’t believe anyone would willingly pollute.
  • A large number of ways to experience that outdoors, with plentiful hiking, fishing, camping, skiing, boating, hunting, and other ways to get out from behind a computer screen and live.
  • A high incidence of volunteerism and generosity.
  • The state liquor stores have a lot better selection than the Washington ones ever did.

I won’t miss:

  • Predatory law enforcement that has revenue generation as its obvious primary purpose, and thus is morally little better than when the Federales stop you in Mexico and you have to bribe them.
  • The perpetually flat coke at Goodwood Barbecue. How hard can it be to fix a pop machine?
  • Zoomtards. You don’t know what that means? Suppose there are two lanes before and after the light on your side, but anyone can see that the right lane will have to merge after the light. A zoomtard is a person who zooms past just to get ahead, rather than merge in at the safe and obvious place, and in Boise there seems to be one in every situation where it’s possible for one to exist.
  • Coal rollers. These are the jackasses who find it amusing to show their hatred for environmentalism by using their diesel trucks to produce a noxious cloud of ugly smoke when a Prius (or whatever fuel-economic vehicle) is behind them.
  • Deep ignorance and corruption entrenched in state government. It’s not your imagination; they really, truly, authentically are that ignorant and corrupt.
  • Lousy schools that produce subpar education.
  • ‘Inversion.’ Since smog is for Californians, Boise is not supposed to have smog. However, it does, but it’s only a problem when an inversion traps it. Thus, people complain about ‘the inversion’ when the real problem is the smog, which is a naughty word. I find the euphemism more annoying than the air quality issues.
  • The idea that a potato mogul could be Very Important. Nothing against J.R. Simplot, but we don’t have to talk about his family name like they’re the House of Windsor.
  • Must surely be the world capital of pawnshops, payday/title loan places, and other vampiric business that, if it were up to me, I would crush without compensation or remorse.
  • Political incontinence. You can’t meet five random people in Idaho without one of them trying to work up a political hatefest. Politics, like defaecation, are bearable when done in the proper venue designed for the purpose. The random person who can’t shut up about politics while people are trying to do civilized things, I rank right down there with someone who gets up from the restaurant table and takes a dump in the aisle.
  • ‘Murrica f*** yeah’: the macho mentality that in my opinion has caused so many of our national defects.
  • What must surely the the world’s largest concentration of native English-speaking call centers on earth, mostly so employers can take advantage of Idaho’s serious wealth disparity, rudimentary social services, and of course low minimum wage.
  • Having both a state sales tax and a state income tax.
  • The general halfassedness with which so much is done, from road maintenance to customer service.
  • Dogwhistle racism. As in eastern Washington, ‘rough area’ is code for ‘has Hispanics.’
  • Denial about racism. Here’s the denial standpoint: “in Idaho, racism was Brought From Outside by A Bunch of Neo-Nazis who Do Not Represent Idaho.” That is not 100% true, as comforting as moderate Idahoans may find it to be. A fairer statement: racism has long had a significant presence in Idaho, and while most Idahoans rejected the more extreme versions, there was a hefty minority who looked at the racists and more or less thought: “Well, they’re pretty nutty, but they’re right on at least some things.” And that’s fertile recruiting ground.

Stop calling it smog!

That’s what Boiseans would tell you. They hate the word ‘smog.’ They always use the term ‘inversion,’ thus confusing the partial cause of the problem with the ugly result of the problem. It’s not bombing; it’s air support.

If there’s any phenomenon that can move me to start making fun of a sacred cow, it is the euphemism. ‘Euphemism’ is itself a euphemism: for the word ‘lie.’ Not that some lies aren’t bearable or pardonable; surely they are. If you think otherwise, substitute the word ‘fat’ for all its euphemisms, and watch the fun unfold.

Boise is the first place I have ever lived in which I cared about the AQI (Air Quality Index). Overall, it’s a very nice place, which may be why this euphemistic tendency afflicts it. However, I think we need a more realistic and descriptive scale than the Idaho Department of Letting Corporations Pollute applies to the data. Herewith I present the KBSI (Kelley Boise Smog Index):




0-20 City Good Still urban, but bearable. Does not actually occur.
21-40 Flatus Slightly bearable. Occurs rarely. Stifling to sensitive systems.
41-60 Los Angeles Lousy. And is the norm. Stifling even to goats.
61-90 Sarin Miserable (and common). Preppers dig out their gas masks.
91+ Beijing Certain death. Shelter in place, or wait for the Corpse Wagon.

Defining Idaho

The definition is elusive. Idaho has a million and a half people, slightly more than a third of whom live in or around Boise (BOY-see, not BOY-zee). North Idaho has its own identity. Idaho is only something like 25% LDS, but in parts of southern Idaho you couldn’t get elected dogcatcher without a Temple Recommend. It’s famous for preppers, gun fanatics, precious metal trading and potatoes (even the license plates announce this). Many of you have only heard of Idaho, never really been there. What defines it?

One must resist, as always, the tendency to generalize too much on a small sample base, but I’ve spent the past month arranging business with Idahoans, meeting them, having them knock on my door, and otherwise getting a feel. What defines Idaho, in my observation so far?

Rawboned. Your typical Idahoan is spare, rugged and inured to economic and environmental hardship. These are a tough people. Life in Idaho can be physically challenging, and I think it tends to run out those who can’t handle that. I’m not thinking this is a big retirement state, although Boise’s climate is just a shade harsher than that of southeastern Washington. That of other parts (Idaho is the nation’s 14th largest state) can be much harsher. I’m talking Montana harsh, and Montana harsh can sneak up on you and end your life.

Unguarded. Idahoans do not anticipate that people will gratuitously do them wrong just because they can. I have seen many examples of this and it seems representative, from driving habits to knocking on my door. Many places are this way, but Idaho seems a bit more so: people seem to assume the good. I’ve been around much of the state over the years (you cannot really head east from Washington without passing through Idaho). There is a certain refreshing goodwill to it all. A good example might be the seller of our house, whose financing went pear-shaped thanks to US Bank’s mishandling. Could we have kicked her out at closing? Sure, but since we did not need to, we did not. We didn’t need the house for a couple more days, and some discussion with others confirmed that we had followed basic custom by not being insistent when we did not need to. Needless hardassery in human relations is just not the way here, that being counter to a live-and-let-live way of life. Surely there are exceptions, but they are neither approved nor embraced at large.

Friendly. Everywhere I have been in Idaho–even the parts where being a jackass can get your head run through a wall, like Sandpoint–I have generally found friendly people. Consider this: if you have followed the blog for a while, you probably read of my pitiful efforts to buy champagne in Rexburg. This is a town that exists mostly for BYU-Idaho, where something like 95% of the population isn’t supposed to drink at all. That didn’t stop people from helping us figure out where we could buy champagne (and there is no poorer selection of it outside Saudi Arabia). People treated us helpfully even after this glaringly obvious self-identification as outsiders. And I did find the champagne (kicking myself really hard for not buying it in Salt Lake when I had the chance for a better selection). I see this even in Boise, the state’s largest city. If you need help, people tend to offer it, whether or not it might agree with their own world views.

Characters. Idaho has lots. I am already meeting them. And since I qualify as one, and am encountering warm reactions to my quirkiness, it’s hard for me to escape a feeling that Idaho is used to characters, and kind of likes them, unless they are the type who call the cops every time someone is having fun, or who yell at kids (metaphorically) to get off the lawn. I would suggest that Idaho leans toward embracing characters, especially those who seem not to be overly guarded, and who show some evidence of a tolerant attitude (it being expected that there will also be other, very different characters, and if one wishes to be embraced, one has to plan to do some embracing).

Let’s be intellectually honest about inherent biases: I can’t say that much of the above isn’t true for observers who go to any place with a reasonably open mind and sense of goodwill. Perhaps it is. But it does seem to come freely and easily in Idaho.

I think we’re going to like this. I think we can fit in, and find our way here.

Basic education: Idaho’s nickname is ‘The Gem State,’ for the wide variety of precious stones found here. The motto is Esto perpetua (Let it be forever). I have no idea what they mean by that. It was the 43rd state (1890). The state song is Here We Have Idaho, which I’m not sure anyone can sing; it beats Washington, My Home, which I can attest that nearly no Washingtonians know, but shrivels compared to Kansas’s Home on the Range. The state bird is the Rocky Mountain Bluebird. The tree is the White Pine (also known as the Western White Pine), which in my lumber mill days we called the ‘Idaho pine’ and had to sort out from the Ponderosa Pine which was the mill’s focus. I told them from ponderosa by the lighter wood and the purplish knots, in contrast to the rusty brown of ponderosa knots. The flower is the Syringa (sah-RIN-gah), a broad white flower that grows from a big bush somewhat like a rhododendron (Washington’s state flower). Idaho’s state fish is the cutthroat trout.

My thinking is we could plant a couple bushes of syringa out back, without hurting anything, and it might be kind of nice.

Howdy, Idaho. Thanks for taking us in.

Driving from Boise

I drove down to Idaho’s capital, where we anticipate we will be living before 2013 is out, to visit Deb. She has completed her first week of work at a new job and we miss one another keenly, though we have a plan that depends upon me not just ripping up stakes and moving quite yet.

Boise is a 4.5 hour drive from here, if one wants to avoid falling foul of the Oregon State Police. When you have any tags but Oregon on your car, you very much do not want to make yourself an interesting person to pull over. The trip is mountainous, winding and beautiful. Reunion was joyful and came just in time for us to find a fun Lebanese place in Boise. Tried my limited Arabic on the staff, but none would answer in it. One may take that as a sign that my pronunciation was atrocious, or that they kind of try not to be too conspicuous–I don’t know.

The next day, we wandered around to some specialty stores related to hobbies of mine, which was quite fruitful, then headed to the Basque Block downtown. About the only place in the world with more Basques than Boise, we are told, is Euskadi itself (Spain’s Basque country). Stopped in at one of Boise’s more storied Basque spots, a tiny corner pub named Bar Gernika. (Accent on the second syllable–and yes, the name refers back to Guernica, of Spanish Civil War tragic fame.) I liked my paella and croquetas, and Deb enjoyed her selection as well. Lots of Basque flags there (looks much like a Union Jack but with a green background). Did not try my Spanish there; one suspects it is widely spoken, but as the language of what Basques would consider an oppressor, might be a real bad start with people.

Headed out earlier today, and decided to describe the travel, for those who have never been to this part of the world. A trip from Boise to the Tri-Cities of Washington mostly crosses northeastern Oregon on I-84, which can be formidable in winter even though the summit of the Blue Mountains is only just over 4000′. From Boise to Ontario, OR is fairly flat past croplands and medium-sized towns like Nampa and Caldwell, enjoying Idaho’s 75 mph speed limit. (I could not stop calling the former ‘Nampon’ in my mind. I may one day blurt it out.) At the Oregon line, speed drops to 65, shortly after which comes the climb up to Baker City, and the trucks begin slipping back shortly after crossing from Mountain Time to Pacific Time. Soon one sees the first of many breathtaking vales and valleys, which almost become dull: the majestic turns commonplace. One eyesore: an old lime plant in full decrepitude, looks like a lot of kids go where they would be wiser not to and mess around in the ruins. I guess kids need to do stupid things in order to adventure and learn.

At this point in late winter, the road is clear but the mountains surrounding are still quite snowy where one can see that the sun doesn’t strike directly for long during the day. There is usually a river near the freeway, or a snowy field, or a herd of cattle, often all three. Snow drift barriers are rarely out of sight; these look like fence sections leaning over, and exist to control the heavy drifting of snow–presumably onto the freeway, since most are close to it. North of Baker some miles, a sign announces that you’re crossing the 45th parallel. It feels compelled to explain that this means you are halfway between the Equator and North Pole, which says a lot about the state of geography education in this country. From Baker to La Grande is more very empty and pretty country, where the freeway sides are often far apart and many steep descents and climbs show up. In numerous spots, wide roadside areas advise that one may use them to chain up–indeed, in winter, carrying chains or having traction tires is the law in this stretch of the Blues. Even though it’s in the 40s, the wind at a rest stop is punishingly hard and cold, a reminder of what it’s like to make your living up here.

Past La Grande some miles, one begins to descend out of the Blues, and one sees those signs that are the clearest signs that one is in a mountainous part of the West: RUNAWAY TRUCK RAMP 5 MILES. Other signs set aside areas for trucks to check brakes, give speed guidance based on gross weight, and otherwise make absolutely clear that everyone on the freeway knows the danger. This is when it hits you. If in your rear view mirror (which you should check frequently), you see a semi barreling down on you at what looks to be 90 mph and accelerating, he hasn’t gone crazy or decided to bully cars (as trucks sometimes do, in my experience). He’s lost his brakes, is hoping not to roll his rig before he reaches a runaway ramp, and he can not stop. You can get out of his way, or die. The runaway ramps themselves are steep tracks into the mountainside located at bends which a runaway truck could not hope to survive at those speeds, paved with loose crushed rock (probably a couple of feet deep), to soak up the speed in conjunction with the steep climb up the slope. The first one I passed had numerous ruts, some all the way to the top of the ramp. If you weren’t checking your mirror before seeing that, you would start. Deadman Pass is along this stretch, and it’s not inaptly named. Just a couple months earlier this winter, a busload of Korean exchange students going to Canada from Las Vegas went down a steep embankment at Deadman Pass. Nine fatalities, dozens injured. To stay alive up here, one best look alive.

For my trip, happily, everyone’s brakes were fine. Coming down toward Pendleton (yes, home of the Roundup), one crosses wide farming areas on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. On the way there, I had seen a tribal police speed trap, and watched my speed carefully this time–but the only speed trap on the way back on Umatilla land was an OSP van hidden in a clever defile. From Pendleton to the Columbia is rolling high desert, heavy with sagebrush and offering the turn onto I-82 north for home. I pass at one point the hundreds of bunkers in which the nation once stored enough nerve gas to wipe out a fair percentage of humanity. I always feel happy when I’m onto the bridge and the sign welcomes me to Washington. I feel a little less happy when other signs start to harangue me about various laws, but I guess we need them. Limit is 70 in Washington on this part of I-82, which seems kind of symbolic that we’re partly like Oregon and partly like Idaho. Of course, as always, the Oregon license plates will tailgate one even more readily in Washington than in Oregon–they take deep personal umbrage at being impeded in any way, even if there are four other cars ahead, and will come up within a yard of your rear bumper. I’ve never figured out why they do this, but it got old a long time ago.

These drives used to be worse before the Ipod came along. I got four and a half hours of Viking metal quality time, though my truck is noisy enough that I must jack up the volume in order to hear anything over the background road noise. Pick up the dog from Rich and Betsy (bless them), drop off some Basque sausage for them (Rich is Pennsylvania Polish, thus the perfect tidbit), and home to some cold beers.

After four and a half hours in the saddle, with only one ten-minute leak break, I need them.