Tag Archives: kennewick

My beard saved me from the bolt in my hamburger

A heavy quantity of unmanicured facial hair will impact your life in ways you did not imagine. If you are female and have never had reason to confront the topic, no one would expect you to imagine it. Some women find the whole subject fascinating, probably because it’s as far outside their experience as menstruation is mine.

There are two basic beard personality types: fastidious and messy. Fastidious does not refer to styling or waxing or braiding or trimming, but to cleanliness. Some men readily tolerate all manner of filth in their beards without caring. That makes me want to throw up, just as comments about ‘saving it for later’ are the sort of thing where I don’t respond with what’s on my mind. (To do so would usually alienate, for no good reason, a friend whose only fault is to imagine herself the inventor of that juvenile jest.) I believe in a clean beard. I will have a clean beard. I don’t care much how it hangs or flaps in the wind (or blows forklike over both shoulders in a high wind), just about clean.

In public (and even in private for some foods), this affects my choices a great deal. Some examples:

  • Never liked corn on the cob anyway, so the beard is a great excuse to beg off.
  • Hamburgers with enough stuff on them to make them worth eating: require knife, fork and a firm plate. At Red Robin, I ask for a plate rather than the basket. At home, I use toothpicks to hold the burger together while I cut it up. This produces benefits, especially when it comes to burger toppings like onions and bacon, which traditionally come loose and make messes.
  • Anything that involves jalapeño jelly is automatic: it will drip into the beard. Same for syrup, caramel sauce, honey. If it is sugary and sticky, it will. This will send me to a restroom to run the whole thing under the hottest water I can find. I hate sticky anything on my fingers, so the idea of such contamination in my beard is intolerable.
  • BBQ ribs? Knife and fork for sure. You might marvel to watch my dexterity at shaving rib meat off the bones with the utensils.
  • Hot wings? When my wife makes them, I let her have the drumsticks and I take the wings. I strip them one by one, by hand, burning my fingers badly. I then wash my hands for a couple of minutes with dish soap and sit down to eat.
  • Pet peeve: salad with huge, lazy lettuce chunks the size of welcome mats. I cut ’em up myself so that I can eat the salad normally. My wife’s salads are always in demand, especially by me, because she cuts it up beautifully. Never ask me to help in the kitchen by cutting your lettuce unless you want it in half-dollar-size pieces or smaller.
  • Most pizza requires a fork and knife until it cools a bit. Otherwise I’d have a bunch of tomato sauce and grease in my mustache. Unacceptable. Unbearable.
  • Slurp spaghetti? Don’t expect to see it from me; the result would be catastrophic. Pastas are fine long as I can cut them up. Plus, slurping anything without a straw is as barbaric and stomach-wrenching as burping, farting, describing your dumps, telling me about the gory details of your zombie apocalypse novel, or chewing with your mouth open. I can eat spaghetti with lots of marinara sauce while watching True Blood, but a good noisy belch makes me want to push my plate aside.
  • Sub sandwiches are problematic, because they are difficult to cut up and messy to eat in any form.
  • The most serious danger is a strand of beard getting caught on food and hauled into my mouth and swallowed, which could cause me to choke. Of course, I do my utmost to keep all of it out of my mouth at all times, but it’s a risk. Can’t monitor every hair at every moment.
  • General rule: if liquid can drip off it, I distrust it. I’ll do whatever I must in order to avoid contamination.

Other aspects of life:

  • In baseball, I wore it in a ponytail. Stole the little elastic thing from my wife. Otherwise it would blow up into my eyes while batting, which was a headache when people were throwing curveballs I was trying to hit. I didn’t need any artificial disadvantages to compound all my natural ones.
  • Very annoying when it gets hung up on something in bed, especially if I wake up and Deb’s elbow is pinning it to the bed, or it gets hung up in my armpit.
  • I shed worse than a Labrador retriever. Big long wavy 8″ strands.
  • Back when I kept it shorter, I’d shave it all off now and then. Those were opportunities to experiment. One year I shaved off everything but a sinister Fu Manchu, which made me look trans-Mansonian. Shortly thereafter, I had to go in to get my driver’s license picture taken. Five years of showing that post-office-wall ID, and we’ll never know how many nightmares it caused poor innocent cashiers.
  • Grooming involves washing (high pressure very hot water combined with a handheld comb), brushing, and clipping off split ends. I hate snags or tatty hairs, and will clip or even yank those. Clean and smooth. I used to shampoo and condition it daily, then realized how little sense that made. What a great deal for the fashion industry; sell you a product that damages hair, then sell you another product to fix the damage. Shampoo also inflamed my skin underneath. Much more sensible to hit it with steaming hot water that will flush out any dirt and excess oil, leaving only the small amount that’s natural (and would occur within hours anyway). The shampoo from washing the remnants of my hair, and the soap from washing the exposed skin of my face, are enough.
  • I have had this for sixteen years. I have aged a third of my life. I have no idea what I look like now. Not sure I ever want to find out.

One time, though, the beard saved my teeth from breakage.

Our house in Kennewick, WA was fairly close to a few eating establishments, none special. One was the Burger Ranch, your basic burger bar/takeout. I like big hamburgers when I can eat them at home, so I phoned in an order, drove down, paid and picked it up. I sat down at our breakfast bar to have lunch, putting the burger on a plate. Fork and knife. Even when no one can see, I don’t like messes in my beard. I sank the utensils into the burger and hit something very hard.

That’s not normal. I took a look: there was a bolt. Yes, a bolt. A piece of steel with threads, a blunt end, at least 2″ long.

This was not my idea of a suitable iron supplement. After thinking about it for a bit, I phoned the business to report it. I was expecting a strong reaction of embarrassment and concern. To my shock, at first they doubted my truthfulness, as if I were trying to pull a scam. That offended me. While they probably deal with a few sleazebags now and then, this was provable were I to bring it back. I insisted, describing the bolt in detail. When I wouldn’t just give up, they got to looking around. Yep. There was a bolt missing from their lettuce slicer. At that point, their basic stance shifted. Since I hadn’t been hurt–there was no expression of relief on that score–as far as they saw it, no harm no foul. However, their lettuce slicer was now inoperative due to a missing bolt. If I would bring it back, they offered to refund our meal.

When I get angry, I get as obstinate as a cornered sow badger. It wasn’t about the money, which wasn’t that great a sum, but their gall. I told them that I could not fit a custom dropoff of the bolt into my busy afternoon schedule; I wasn’t a delivery service. If they wanted to send someone to get it, I’d consider answering the door–then again, I might ignore the doorbell. Otherwise, I might be able to get there sometime later in the week. Or not. Might throw it away. Might freeze the burger and save it for a decade as a souvenir and evidence (this in the end is what I did). Their reaction made it clear that they considered me a very mean person, angry and difficult for no valid reason. I’d just found a steel bolt in their food, been innuendoed as a liar, had the evidence proven me out, and I was the bad guy for not taxiing it back right away. Only in Tri-Cities, where the standard of service fits the Hanford mentality of “mediocrity now, mediocrity tomorrow and mediocrity forever.”

Charming. But there came more.

In those days, I was a computer shaman. My ads were in the newspaper and in the nickel papers. The very next business day, a fascinating thing happened, unique in the history of my little computer support business. I got a call from their business in my professional context, asking for copies of Microsoft Office. I responded that they could find it at any store. The caller asked if he could buy a ‘copy’ of Office, making clear he meant not a full-price retail version, but a burnt copy. An illegitimate pirated version.

How stupid do they think people are? Does one not assume that a person with enough brains to solve diverse computer problems on request can tell when something’s up? Then again, if they’d been smarter, they’d have taken me seriously to begin with, sent someone out to collect the bolt and drop off both a refund and personal profuse apologies, and I wouldn’t be writing this post ten years later.

It’s hard to see that as anything but a clumsy revenge entrapment effort, though I can’t know that for sure. The timing was certainly worth considering. I gave the only and obvious answer: that would be software piracy, a violation of various laws, and therefore impossible. My company would have nothing to do with piracy. If they wanted the software, they ought to go purchase it from a legitimate outlet. In any case, I did not sell hardware or software in any form, and most especially not pirated software. I didn’t hear a recorder click off, but I could hear disappointment.

We lived there another decade, and never ate there again. I’d rather eat fermented compost. But for all you misopogonic types, let it be known: the beard once saved me some teeth. Had I eaten that burger with my hands, I’d likely have sunk my incisors into steel, and broken one or more.

They would have been much wiser to care about that prospect.


Mistaken for Santa

An armpit-length beard has a way of drawing attention and comment. Some of the discussion is interesting and promotes conversation (“what motivated you to grow it?”) and some of it is high-water-pants dumb and tiresome (“how long you been growing that?”), but the choice to own this facial hair requires some patient acceptance of reactions from strangers. I have heard it described as ‘scruffy’ (that’s uncomplimentary) and ‘kingly’ (that’s pretty nice; thanks, Marcy).

The beard confers the benefit of starting me on at least neutral terms with any big shaggy/bikery/Vietnamy guy, some of whom have potential to be dangerous if offended, so I like that part. One downside is that some women, incredibly, think they can just reach in and play with it, or want to braid it and otherwise diddle around with it. Not enamored of that part. I never know what sort of reaction it’ll bring. The kids on my last baseball team immediately nicknamed me “ZZ” as well as “Badger” and “Scrap Iron,” all of which fit perfectly, except that I had to look up ZZ Top to find out why. I knew they were a Southern band, but that was it.

It wouldn’t be strange to mistake me for Santa Claus, or at least a younger version. When I describe myself to people, I usually explain that I look like Santa in his dissolute middle age. I get shoutouts from mall Santas at the holidays, and near-constant stares from wide-eyed children (whose parents should correct this discourtesy, but there’s nothing I can do…as a boy I was told to stop, and would have been spanked had I kept it up), so it’d be hard to be unaware of the resemblance. But in my baseball uniform?

Before I tore up my knee, I was an amateur baseball player with minimal talent but significant hustle and combative spirit. When my knees could take it, I loved to catch in spite of my mediocre arm to second base. I liked handling pitchers, wearing the gear, and quarterbacking the infield. I even liked catching the knuckleball, which I also threw during my rare mound appearances. Few catchers like catching the knuck. I gained great amusement watching the batter try to follow it.

One fine July Saturday afternoon in my late thirties, I had just caught a full game at Roy Johnson Field in Kennewick. If you have never done time behind the dish, you may not be aware of the filthiness involved. The mercury exceeded 100° F. Most home plate areas are full of powdery dirt called ‘moon dust,’ which clings to all moisture. Soaked with sweat, and squatting down frequently amid clouds of moon dust for nearly three hours plus batting and baserunning, I was disgusting. I always refused to wear the skullcap. The catcher’s correct gear involves wearing your regular baseball cap backward as the gods intended, and doesn’t include a helmet, so my cap was also gross from the frequent need to toss aside the mask. I wore a royal blue jersey and cap, grey pants, and beige dust which had turned to tan salty mud on the numerous sweaty spots. Each cleated shoe contained its own miniature sand dune. I didn’t need a shower; I needed hosing off.

I’d gathered up all the gear (I assume that we lost, as was our custom) and was leaving the field. My knees ached, and heavy bags of gear hung from my shoulders: one for my regular equipment, and one for the Tools of Intelligence, as the catcher’s gear ought to be called. As I walked behind the backstop toward the parking area, two pleasant-looking African American girls aged maybe seven and five blocked my path. They gazed up at me in wonder, even adoration. Kennewick has a very small black population, less than 2%*; it is 1/4 Hispanic, by comparison. If I had spent my morning coffee time imagining “stuff I expect will happen to me today,” “be adored by young African American girls in my filthy, smelly baseball uniform” would not have made the list. I assumed the kids must be related to the opposing shortstop, a good guy named Taylor who gave us fits as a fielder, hitter and baserunner. With him being the only black player present on either team, this wasn’t a reckless presumption.

I stopped, looked down and smiled. On rare occasions, little kids would ask for autographs, having no idea how insignificant we were in the grand scheme of the game. Not this time. The older girl began with “I want…” and started reciting her Christmas list.

I don’t remember what all she asked for, but most of it didn’t sound too exorbitant. The pony might have been a little over the top, but I doubt I was the first ‘Santa’ who ever fielded a girl’s request for an horse. When she finished, the younger gal took her turn.

Since I wasn’t in my ideal mental frame of mind thanks to aches, fatigue and disgustingness, I was glad it took them a while to finish telling me what they wanted. It gave me time to decide how to react. I decided to play along, with a sidelong wink at their adult relatives wearing amused smiles in the nearby third-base bleachers. When very tired (or drunk), I tend to drawl. “Okay. Well, a couple of things for ya. First of all, please make sure y’also tell your parents, because Ah’m kinda off duty and tired, and don’t have anything to write with, and my memory isn’t what it once was. Also, remember that in order to even have a chance at any of this stuff, you need to be real good for the rest of the year, and mind your parents. Especially no going cattiewhompus in the restaurant. Everyone understand?” Both nodded, still gazing up in wonder. “Good to meet you young ladies. You have a good day now,” I finished. I don’t remember the rest of their reactions, but it was probably the big moment of their day.

Nothing more came of it, though I had a chance to talk with Taylor about it a few weeks later, either before or after another game. They were his nieces. Evidently the incident had amused everyone, which gratified me because any time I’m taken by surprise and manage not to say anything dumb, I count it as a win. In hindsight, it amuses me too. Those girls must be near adult womanhood now, and I wonder how they’re doing. Well, I hope.

If they never got all the stuff on their list, I hope they forgave me.


* Thanks to Kennewick’s deeply racist history as a sundown town, with racially restrictive covenants still technically on the books (albeit unenforceable, and in fairness, it’s unlikely anyone would try to enforce them), few black people choose to live in Kennewick. Same for nearby Richland, which was a different type of sundown town: with the whole townsite run by Westinghouse, one had to work there to live there. By hiring very few African Americans, segregation was de facto if not de jure. Most of the black population of the Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco) lives in Pasco. Many older black Pasconians much dislike Kennewick to this day, and I can’t blame them.

Not that race mattered here; I just resent Kennewick’s efforts to shovel its odious past under the rug, and have made a decision to remind the city of it online every excuse I get until some official acknowledgement is forthcoming, ideally in the form of an exhibit at the East Benton County Historical Museum. Perhaps they thought me moving to Idaho would make me stop this. Nah. All that has done is put me beyond retaliation. If they can put an exhibit in the museum about the Asatru Folk Assembly’s claim that Kennewick Man (ancient bones found along the Columbia) might have been a proto-Viking, piously stating that they respect all viewpoints on the issue, they can find a photo of the sign on the old green bridge to Pasco that said something like ‘All Blacks Must Be Out By Sunset,’ and talk about those years honestly. The civic spirit of Kennewick is ‘stuff it into the closet until all the eyewitnesses die out.’ To quote Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend.”

By the way, any live witnesses to those sordid days are welcome to get in touch and tell me their stories, that they may be recorded. I offer you any terms of confidentiality you wish, and consideration that the memories not be pleasant to recall. If you are younger but have older relatives who remember, it would be a service to history if you could persuade them to speak with me. Memories do not last forever. You may contact me as tc_vitki at yahoo dot com.

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.