read various chapters of this autobiography by going to the Individual Stories menu to the right.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Family Vacation in Wallace Idaho

On November 23, 2008 our family embarked on a vacation. It was a unique time -ten months after the birth of our first child, and in the middle of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Some might have chosen to skip a vacation altogether, but we chose to have fun while being mindful of what we spent. We chose to make a trek to Wallace Idaho.

We live in Seattle, and do not own an automobile. We walk to work, to the store, and only use a car occasionally. When we do, we rent a Zipcar. What the heck is a Zipcar? Answer: Usually a Honda, Subaru, or Toyota; parked in our neighborhood, which we can rent anytime, paying per hour or per day. For example, we rent for one hour to make a run for a large load of groceries. For this trip we needed an all-wheel drive car for the winter conditions on the mountain passes, so we chose the Subaru Forrester just two blocks from our home. Our trip was for five days, so we had to contact customer support and make a request for keeping the car that long. They were fast and courteous with a response of yes, and the little wagon was ours for those dates. (booking a car for the more usual few hours of use is much less trouble, just login the site and select a car that is not booked.)

November 23 I got the car packed and the family loaded and we were on the Interstate 90 at 6AM. The first light of dawn came when we ascended Snoqualmie Pass. It was my first interstate road trip driving a car since 1995. I have travelled across the country a few times by train or bus since '95, and thousands of miles by air around the world, but driving has an appeal and beauty all its own, and Interstate 90 is a great highway for it.
Interstate 90 at the Columbia Gorge.

The scene as we approached the Columbia River was surreal. There was a thick fog filling the river valley, which is more like a canyon than valley. Driving past this we proceeded through a geological region known as the Columbia River Plateau, a lava plain known by most as Washington State's only desert landscape. The air was dryer and colder, and I kept commenting to my wife how great it felt. She just grinned warily, knowing I prefer cold, dry, tree-less climates.

We got to Moses Lake before 10AM, and took an exit to have breakfast. Out in a vast desert plain, Moses Lake is one of the largest towns for a stop along the Interstate in this region. In Seattle, we have an almost endless number of nice restaurants. What I am about to say may sound, um, like I don't know much about good restaurants. I think I do know something about good food, and with that proclaim: I love the Moses Lake Denny's. We ordered omelettes served on a hot griddle. I'm not a paid spokesman, I promise, but the hot plate breakfast dish I had ( it was the more spicy of the selections ) totally rocked.

Our experience at this Denny's made me think up a motto: Being on a budget makes you go to average places, and have average things. Its great when this average stuff is great. Enjoy it.

After Moses Lake we did our best re-enactment of Dukes of Hazard, and sped (70MPH) towards Wallace. Our baby's only crying was somewhere between Moses Lake and Ritzville, then slept, like a baby, till our next stop.

Within a few miles of Wallace I began to question whether we had made the right choice. A few of the towns before Wallace seemed really cute, from what I could see driving on the Interstate. Then Wallace appeared. Clouds clinging to the edge of town, mountains rising right from behind the town buildings, and dozens of ornate "story book" brick buildings. I remembered why we came: it stands out as the prettiest small town on I-90.

Our reservation was for five nights at The Ryan Hotel, a circa 1903 miner's residential hotel. Our room was an especially large suite, with a wrap-around couch the size of a 747 airliner. A microwave, refrigerator, and space larger than our apartment in Seattle -all for $38 per night. Note that $38 is the price of the smaller suites, they simply gave us the master suite because it was vacant and we had a baby. The hotel was clean, everything worked, and looked like a movie scene about a ritzy hotel in the Old West. The hotel manager, John, was more like a nice cousin looking after us while visiting his house. He made sure we had everything we needed.

Once we were settled we walked around town. Any point in town was within a ten minute walk, or maybe five minutes. A three floor store, Tabor's Drug, is on the first corner next to The Ryan. We shopped there looking at all the toys. baby clothes, and sourveniors. The ladies at the counter were fun to talk to, interested in us and why we chose Wallace for our trip. We had that same conversation several times around town. Wallace is a "destination", for skiers and mountain bikers because of the ski slopes and huge trail system in the area. But a family simply staying there to see the town, particularly in the tourist offseason of Thanksgiving, was a little unusual.

We may have been some of the first customers ever at the newly revamped "Vintage Games". It is more like a tourist trap than any place in town, but wow, what a cool tourist trap. It has a wireless cafe ( maybe the only one in this region of I-90 ), bookstore, upscale sci-fi and toys store, all kinds of oddities store, and retro game arcade with old pinball machines. They even had a LIFE SIZE TYRANNOSAURUS HEAD for sale. $5000. Briefly, I wanted to stray from our budget constraints to buy this obvious bargain. A once in a lifetime chance to grace our living room with a VW sized dinosaur head.

My wife did not want a dinosaur head for $5000. ( She is a conservative New Englander. )

Later at the hotel we made sandwiches. Being on a budget, wary of spending money during a world financial crisis, we planned to fix our own food for lunch and dinner during the vacation ( when not on the road ). We had stocked up on cold cuts, fruits and milk; even packed our coffee maker. This is not as romantic looking as the marketing photos promoting most vacations, but as Sting sang in the old Police song : When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around. We watched a lot of cable TV while at the hotel, this was a treat for people with no TV or cable at home. I was glued to the 24 hour news when in the hotel room.

We planned to eat out for breakfasts. We ventured out around 9AM and quickly settled on the Brooks Motel Restaurant, which had a sizable crowd already being served. I had eggs, bacon and toast; and our son liked looking at all the new people. He got to crawl around on the floor playing with year old girl. Her family lived in town, the father's home state was the same as mine: Arkansas. We both went on about how we liked the Northwest. There was an elderly man that stopped and talk to us and entertained our baby. He looked every bit the part of old miner -an old tough but jovial man who had lost his wife, telling us stories of his old heirlooms he had stashed in his house, and his kids taking and wearing some of the old jewelry without his permission.

Wallace is not a resort, it is full real people like this. What is nice is it is not a typical working class town either. There is no McDonald's/KFC/Pizza Hut/Wendy's or Burger King, no mall, and no Wal-Mart. There is a Harvest Food (full size grocery store), TrueValue Hardware, and Tabor's Drugstore. The town is thriving with nice restaurants and bars. It is the Silver Mining capital of the world, with businesses and people that really serve that way of life. Think of a thriving Old West mining town in 1920, that is what Wallace does, without any fakery or mock up. It is the real thing.

The Brooks was advertising a Thanksgiving buffet from Noon to 4PM. We decided to go for it. It was our first Thanksgiving as parents, as a real family. A lady I assume is the owner offered to hold and entertain our baby while we ate. When we came back the next day she remembered our son's name.

On our third day in town we toured the Wallace District Mining Museum. They have the semi-famous last traffic light on Interstate 90. Wallace was featured on 20/20 as the town that stood up against the building of an Interstate through it. I-90 had a detour in Wallace, traffic had to exit the interstate and travel through a few city streets and then re-enter I-90 on the other side of town. The museum has that traffic light. Historical note: the Interstate was eventually fully built by building a bridge outside the town, leaving the town untouched by the construction.

I got to jaw with the Museum proprietor about Wallace and how it reminds me of towns in southeast Alaska, along the Inside Passage. Like in SE Alaska, Wallace is hemmed in by topography, not able to sprawl out indefinitely. The mountainsides are right in town, with a few houses built right on the hillsides. The proprietor opined that the land had made a people that are tough, independent, and hard to categorize.

On Friday night I got an early birthday gift -I got to go out to the bars. I started my bar hopping at the 1313 Club. There I was able to test an early run of "Orehouse Amber" from the totally new Wallace Brewing Company. I even got to meet one of the brewery's owners, Chase Sanborn. My taste test put the beer somewhere close to Seattle cult favorite Mack & Jack's African Amber. I stressed to Chase this was a compliment. Beyond the good beer, I got in a really long and indepth chat with locals, including one guy back home for the weekend from Portland, talking about crime on my side of the mountains and how unfortunate that is, and how fortunate the people in Wallace are.
1313 Club. Wallace Idaho

I closed down the 1313, and went on to the slightly rougher Silver Corner Bar and Grille. It was packed. Within minutes a crazy drunk woman knocked a beer bottle over and onto me. Now this was a bar! I eventually got in a conversation with a group that included a Navy man on leave back home, with his wife who had moved here from Dallas Texas. Later I met a brilliant electrical engineer and we talked tech stuff till I finally called it a night.

The next day was more of the same. I visited the little computer store and got to geek out talking about my favorite subject with the owner, then had a huckleberry milkshake at the Red Light Garage. They were closed for a little renovation, but let me in for a milkshake, even pressing me to taste test their micro-brew ( which was good, tasted like Killian's Red ).

That afternoon we decided to pack up and hit the road to beat the Sunday after Thanksgiving traffic. I drove to the entrance ramp on the east side of town, so as to get one more look at Wallace.

For anyone in the Northwest, Wallace is worth a look.

New York Times Photo Essay: Wallace Idaho

The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Page

Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Page

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