Tag Archives: washington

Nearly gone now

It is not my habit to write a whole lot about my personal life and feelings here, but right now they monopolize my mind and world, and it is time to write.

Two more days and I am gone from Washington, for thirty-nine years my state of residence.

The process is difficult mainly due to my personal quirks. I am most comfortable with non-change, and am often ill at ease when relative strangers are in my space. When that space has ceased to really be my own–when everything I own is either being carted away or is already packed up–the impact is greater. Plus, everyone you hire breaks things, and it is always guaranteed to be something problematic to repair or replace. I am not sure I have ever had a service provider not break something that was very annoying or impossible to put right. I do not know why; it is just so.

My preference would be to do as much as possible myself, but my knees simply will not permit that. Even what I have had to do has been painful. Naturally, we are doing this in the hottest part of summer, so that adds its own joy. While it’s okay to smell like sweat at the end of a day where one did honest work, that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely pleasant sensation.

So I sit with my computer all crammed into our breakfast bar, and I write, and I chat in Spanish with the cleaning service. They are friendly and polite. In fact, everyone’s been great, really. It’s just hard for me on any level, and there is nothing for it but to bear up.

Through this process, I wondered at what point this house would cease to be home. While it lost a lot when Deb headed for Idaho, it still had elements of the old life, comforting reminders. When they packed up the library, I just went somewhere else. When I came back, and it was gone, that was the point of fracture. If it has my wife and my books, it’s home on some level. With neither, it is not. Now we know.

It’s almost time to get the hell out of here.

For those of you who have never been to Washington, let’s close this phase of my life with a little education, and countering of misconceptions widely held. That’s always fun and usually entertaining. It should probably be a separate post, but nah.

  • Not all of Washington is rainy. Only the western side is rainy, and more so as one approaches the ocean. The southeast, where I will soon no longer live, is bone dry and would be barren but for irrigation.
  • Washington’s politics are viewed as left-wing by the nation because the Seattle area, with over half the state’s population, leans that direction. The central and eastern parts lean right.
  • Washington is that rare state where some of its Native Americans live on ancestral land. While there are conflicts over treaty rights, the Native Americans here have a sense of their political leverage and aren’t afraid to use it.
  • The eastern part of Washington has a significant Hispanic population, in some towns exceeding 90%. The sound of spoken Spanish is unremarkable east of the Cascades. The western part has a significant Asian population as well. As with all minorities, levels of assimilation vary by culture and individual and time their families have been here. I speak better Spanish than some Latinos who live here. There are some who speak English better than I.
  • What you have heard about the beauty of Washington is all true; what you have not heard is how diverse that beauty can be. The wheat country rolls and has its own agricultural beauty, as do hills completely girdled with vineyards, hop fields, acres and acres of orchards, and so on. The semi-dormant volcanoes have snow and glaciers year round. Washington has mountain passes that can be problematic to keep clear all winter, and roads that close entirely in winter. Near Bellingham are acres and acres of tulips. Seattle itself mostly looks like a forest with some buildings protruding. The walls of the Columbia Gorge are majestic, as is the view from Vantage looking out across the Columbia. We have rain forests, deserts, ranch country, jagged mountains, beaches, stands of scrub oak, many square miles of pine and fir and spruce.
  • Washington is one of the best places in the nation to be working for minimum wage, as ours is among the highest in the nation. It has no state income tax, just a high sales tax (not levied on grocery food). If you live near Oregon, you can go shop without any sales tax. Oregonians can shop in Washington without paying sales tax. It’s a rip for Washington, but the alternative is zero business from Oregonians, so that’s the best solution we could come up with. If you go down to Oregon to buy a car, though, there the Washington State Department of Revenue draws a line–you will have to pay the tax to license it.
  • Until last year, Washington had only what I called Soviet liquor stores–owned by the state. Now they are privatized. You could and still can buy beer and wine in any store. In fact, a Washington grocery store with a lousy wine selection is considered a fail. We are winos.
  • Washington is maybe the only state where the employer can make employees pay a portion of the premium for industrial (workmen’s comp) insurance. Varies by job type and occupational hazards. Computer jocks barely notice the bite, but ironworkers sure do. So do both our remaining loggers.
  • I believe Washington was one of the first states to elect a woman governor. Both Washington’s US senators are women.
  • There’s a little piece of Washington sticking out of the Canadian mainland, called Point Roberts. It’s only a few square miles, and is more or less a weekend getaway and gas station community for Vancouverites. Washington also has a Vancouver, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon.
  • Washington has some amazingly odd place names, and I’ll help you pronounce them: Sequim (SKWIM rhyming with ‘swim’), Puyallup (pyu-OWL-up), Enumclaw (EE-num-klaw), Snohomish (snuh-HOE-mish), Humptulips (HUMP-two-lups), Poulsbo (PAULS-boe), Camas (KAMM-us), Washougal (wa-SHOE-gull), Kalama (kah-LAMM-uh), Spokane (spo-CAN), Colville (CALL-vul), Mattawa (MATT-uh-wuh), Wahluke (wa-LUKE), Methow (MET-how), Hoquiam (HO-kwee-um), Wenatchee (wuh-NATCH-ee), Yakima (YACK-uh-muh), Chehalis (sha-HAY-liss), Tulalip (two-LAY-lip), Camano (kuh-MAY-no), Skykomish (sky-KOE-mish), Kittitas (KITT-ih-tass), Husum (HEW-some), Bingen (BINN-jen), Stehekin (sta-HEE-kin), Cle Elum (klee ELL-um), Pe Ell (pee ELL), Naches (nah-CHEESE), Tieton (TY-uh-ton), Selah (SEE-luh), Naselle (NAY-sell), Satus (SAY-tuss), Ephrata (uh-FRAY-tah), Touchet (TOOSH-ee), Kahlotus (ka-LOH-tuss), Washtucna (wash-TUCK-na), Asotin (ah-SO-tin), Palouse (pah-LOOSE), Chewelah (cha-WHEE-lah), Nespelem (ness-PEE-lum), Tonasket (tuh-NASS-ket), Tekoa (TEE-ko). As you can see, the trend is toward the stress on the second syllable, but it’s by no means universal.
  • Washington’s highest point is Mt. Rainier, fifth highest peak in the lower 48 states. Only three in Colorado and one in California top it, at least outside Alaska. Its lowest, of course, is where the surf meets the sand.
  • It is true that Seattleites can’t drive on snow and ice, because a) they get very little practice at it; b) the city has wholly inadequate means of snow and ice remediation; c) ice can come very suddenly and dangerously when the temp hits freezing in such a wet climate; d) the whole Seattle area is very hilly. Most years we have the annual ritual where the east side laughs at the west’s paralysis, though not at the traffic deaths that are sure to result when idiots in 4x4s think “this is my time, I am master of my environment.”
  • Both sides of the state tend to sneer at one another. To the east, the west is full of tree-hugging hippies who jump into their gas-hogging SUVs to drive (when they could bus) to their cruelty-free fair trade vegan lunches. The east sees the west as effete and self-superior. The west in turn mocks the east for growing food, being backward, voting for Republicans, going to church, and surviving in blistering heat and bitter cold. As with all stereotypes, both have bases in fact yet go very wide of the mark for most people. Not all of the west is that wet, nor is most of it urban. The east has good universities and high levels of education in many places. Seattle has a lot of thriving churches. You’ll see plenty of Priuses out east (including my wife’s, until very recently).
  • Washington is a very outdoorsy state with lots of water, forests, fishing, hunting, hiking and climbing. Hang gliding, ballooning, kayaking, canoeing and wind surfing are popular. No one goes surfing at the beach, though–too often cold and windy, and there are dangerous riptides in places. There are a limited number of days in the year on which you can see bikinis on Washington beaches.
  • Washington provides ready access to all that British Columbia has to offer. Vancouver is larger than Seattle, and might be described as ‘Seattle, only more so.’ The BC interior is inexhaustibly beautiful and wild. Vacations up north are common, though Canadian border control has tightened of late. Likewise, it is unremarkable to meet Canadians all over Washington. The province and the state have much in common on all levels, including a live-and-let-live Western ethic that just doesn’t get in people’s faces without a compelling reason. Oregon is likewise much like Washington with many of the same issues and climates, although I’d say Oregon is slightly more granola overall than Washington.
  • The college football rivalry between the University of Oregon and the University of Washington is the most venomous one you haven’t heard about. Objectivity demands that I give Oregon its due: it has some excellent programs, a great college town atmosphere and some of the most rabid fans in college football. That said, there can be no peace in the Northwest until Oregon is crushed. This is not something we have even come close to achieving in recent years. The Washington-Washington State rivalry reflects the internal division of the state, and is hotly contested, but without quite the same deep loathing as Washington-Oregon. There’s no love lost between WSU and Oregon, either.
  • Far and away the worst trend in Washington, besides a congenital ability to balance the state budget and a tendency to ignore passed initiatives that the legislature just decides are icky, is the political polarization. It’s divided the state much worse than before, with businesses getting into the act and fishing in conversation with customers for signs of political sympathies. Political incontinence is a plague here. Politics is like bodily waste: when handled in the suitable facilities in sanitary fashion, it’s a bearable and necessary aspect of human civilization. When it’s allowed anywhere, disease and suffering predominate. It’s getting worse.
  • If you haven’t visited Washington, there’s a lot ahead for you to discover. Come on out sometime. Most Washingtonians are helpful to tourists, especially if they aren’t littering or holding up traffic.

That Titanic feeling

It’s a strange feeling, it is. While calling it after a massive maritime disaster isn’t really appropriate–my situation is not disastrous, but hopeful–it conveys a similar feeling. Within five weeks, six at most, I’ll be leaving the state in which I came of age. I look around at all the familiarities, and know that their days are numbered, just as the ill-fated passenger liner’s crew had to confront reality: in two hours, nearly all that they saw would be submerged.

A part of me is tempted to mourn early and often, which is irrational. I should not mourn. I lived thirty-nine years in Washington without considering myself a Washingtonian (nothing against the concept). What is ahead is appealing, reuniting and promising. How many local vendors am I eager never to give one more dime? I will be saying farewell to a city government that is a poor steward of the public trust, a library that cannot find useful volunteer work for an author, provincial myopia about the region’s past and present, complete social stagnation, mostly mediocre dining, and dust storms. I just placed a simple phone call to my ISP and got four different answers from four different people, only one of whom seemed the least bit concerned about the variance. The rest were resigned to it. Said it all.

Yet for a long time it was home, and here I met some of the finest people I’ve known, had many good times, loved our house with its strong natural privacy and kind neighbors. And though I should not mourn, I know I will. My last ride to Boise will be a contemplative and emotional four and a half hours.

Soon we part, Washington. Thank you for all that has been good and wonderful. You’re a beautiful state with many fine folks, and you will always be a destination for those seeking climatic diversity and free spirits. People will also come for the weed.


In a complete topic segue, it’s about time I made written record of my usual analogy for my status as a published author.

I am not the sort of published author most people think of, and yet I’m not self-published (though I may change that). I have contributed to a good number of books, but all had other contributors. One might say I’m a freelance writer who is entitled to call himself an author, having done his share of authing for pay and print. I edit, write and proofread. Most of my paid writing work is done on contract, which puts me at the lowest tier of the authorly ziggurat. I usually describe it thus:

You probably saw Titanic. In fact, you’ve probably seen it eight times in reruns whether you wanted to or not. You observed that the ship operated according to a class system, which had direct relevance to one’s chances of ending up in a lifeboat. This has direct analogy to the security of one’s position in the literary world. Thus:

Suppose that the literary world is a Titanic. (The way New York is handling things, the analogy is apt enough). The highest class are, of course, first class passengers, would Madame care for some more champagne, veddy good, sah, socializing in that rotunda with crystal chandeliers overhead and an orchestra playing, more caviar, please, waiter. These are the J.K. Rowlings and Danielle Steels, anyone who is always on the endcap at the bookstore. Almost all of them are getting off the boat.

The next class, second, are the leisure tourists. They do not receive the fawning deference reserved for the big spenders in first class, but they are treated well. They enjoy some amenities and general respect. They are the top-selling science fiction authors, the more famous travel writers, and sometimes the self-help book gurus. Most of them are getting off the boat.

Down in steerage is the third class, the people making their own music who live in a different world than the prominent. This category includes most of the crew. These are most indie authors, history writers, the folks that pen Harlequin romances, cookbook authors, most children’s authors, writers of books on religion, and so on. Most people have never heard of most of them. Most of them aren’t getting off the boat.

Continue into the bowels of the monster and you will come to the engine room, full of people stripped to the waist and sweating quarts as they shovel coal into the boilers. These are the stokers. Without them, the ship couldn’t have set sail, but no one in first class can name a one of them. Not only have they no security, but in time of danger, more important people will shut the watertight doors on them. They aren’t getting off the boat.

I’m a stoker.

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.