Monday, April 22, 2013

Kalaloch Lodge to Forks

From the log book
We drive past Destruction Island and its lighthouse, as well as the Hoh and Bogachiel rivers, finally arriving at Forks around 7 p.m. Just before twilight.

Before Twilight, published in 2005 as the first of what I later refer to as “a popular emo-vampire book series whose essential message is that women are only as valuable as the men they covet,” Forks was a small logging town in a remote corner of the United States. It is still that, but because the characters from Twilight live in Forks, it is also a town full of shops that attempt to capitalize on the series' popularity by slapping the name “Twilight” onto everything.

The motel we stay at offers Twilight-themed rooms. You pay extra for those.

We stay in one of the cheaper, less creepy rooms (these are teen-aged lovers, after all) that is best described as being devoid of anything to do with Twilight. This is its charm, and so we celebrate by sharing a bottle of MacPelican's Scottish Style Ale brought with us from Pacific City.

Sandra tries to make reservations online for tomorrow's ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, but that doesn't work. So we call the ferry company. The woman at the other end of the line says that they can't offer reservations this late but assures us that there will be plenty of room for passengers and cars alike on the 8:15 boat.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aberdeen to Kalaloch Lodge

Kalaloch Lodge, Washington
WA-109 is supposed to hug the coast and span from Hoquiam to Queets. However, this crosses the Quinault Indian Reservation, and the tribe does not wish the road to continue so it does not.

We continue instead along US-101, through dense forest. An isolated nation lies to our left, and beyond it the ocean. Eventually the highway returns to the coast, and we stop at Kalaloch Lodge for dinner and one final glimpse of the Pacific.

The lodge is part of the Olympic National Park and Forest, which means that although this appears to be a restaurant, it really is a catering service. People around us complain about the food's price relative to its quality (similar laments appear in various online reviews), but there is nowhere else to go and besides, the view makes up for a lot.

A middle-aged man (not much older than me, come to think of it) sits with his teen-aged daughter at the next table. She has blonde hair pulled back and spends much of her meal trying to text on a phone that gets poor service in this remote area.

They have returned from Forks, home to characters in the Twilight series that is popular among teens and other people with questionable taste. To his credit, the father attempts to engage the girl, feigning interest in Edward and Jacob. She occasionally looks up and says something excitedly, then notices his glazed look and returns to silence. Nobody understands her.

Ah, the joys of adolescence. Someone on one of the podcasts we've been listening to asked, “If you had only 15 seconds on the phone with yourself when you were that age, what would you say?”

I would say, “Hi, this is you in the future. Weird, right? So life sucks, but it gets better. No time to explain, just trust me on this one and be nice to Mom.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Astoria to Aberdeen

Ubiquitous purple flowers, somewhere in Oregon or Washington
These flowers are everywhere along the coast. They look vaguely like Physostegia virginiana, but that plant is not found west of Utah. More likely they are Physostegia parviflora, although it is equally possible that I am clueless.

An earlier version of our itinerary had us spending the night in Aberdeen, where Nirvana's former lead singer and guitarist, the late Kurt Cobain, spent his formative years. I didn't adore Nirvana's music the way many did, but I liked it well enough, and Cobain symbolized a post-modern apathy that spoke to my generation.

After he committed suicide in 1994, I wrote a poem based on a photograph of the death scene. I also wrote a song for a band I played in at the time (our singer named his first son Kurt and had invited me to see Nirvana live on the In Utero tour; “next time,” I said). The poem was called “Burning, Not Fading” and ended up in a chapbook I published a year later for my own amusement:

Two glass doors with wooden frames,
one open, the other shut;
branches of a tree or bush not quite in focus;
pills or gun shells on the linoleum floor
laid out in perfect, retreating squares;
a bald-headed man in a dark suit
behind the door that is closed;
an open box, socks,
a baseball cap, towel,
unfolded wallet, driver's license;
a man in black shoes, squatting,
holding a notebook in his hands;
to his left a tennis shoe
whose toes are slightly off the ground;
to his right another shoe,
dark, canvas, with a star on the side,
neatly laced and tied,
wrinkled jeans,
long-sleeved shirt,
a wrist,
and a clenched white fist.

I will never forget the photograph, nor the experience of studying it. Neither will I forget the feeling of helplessness at knowing this young man wasted his future. He was 27, which is when all the great ones seem to die–Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison. It's a romantic thought, but also a sobering one for this then-25-year-old trying to figure out what the hell to do in life.

This is my role model? A guy who mumbles, doesn't shave, then shoots himself?

The title of the poem was supposed to be patterned after Stevie Smith's “Not Waving but Drowning,” only I got it wrong. I forget the name of the song I wrote. Maybe “No Apologies,” as a play on Nirvana's “All Apologies.” It is the sort of title I would have liked.

I forget many of the lyrics as well. The chorus went something like this:

Anger of a generation
Forgotten but not gone
You were seen as their salvation
Something they had won
No apologies will be

Musically it borrowed from several Nirvana songs–an homage–starting with a low murmur in the style of “All Apologies,” rising to a frenetic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” style chorus, and ending with a call to “Heart-Shaped Box.”

This was a long time ago, and all I have now are fragments... “Bullet to the head, better off dead... you could teach them something... bitter, angry words.”

I am 43 now, and what little sense of romance there may have been in suicide at the time is long gone. Days, weeks, and months are cherished as singular, unrepeatable events on a one-way trip.

This afternoon, Aberdeen is a balmy 74 degrees. We stop at a convenience store to buy water, then drive through town, with its front yards full of beer-gutted women. I have been to places like this, but in very different parts of the country. The scene runs counter to my stereotype of the Pacific Northwest, reminding me that stereotypes are rarely as useful as reality.

In a flash, Cobain's angst makes sense to me. His death, not so much, but I get him in a way that I didn't before spending 10 minutes here. Aberdeen had no clue what do with him, and vice versa.

Back in San Diego, I will ask a friend who grew up in the area about his impressions of Aberdeen. I want to be certain that I am not making a snap judgment based on an insufficient sample of the place, that I am not reporting a stereotypical view and feeding the romance of Cobain's life and death. My friend will assure me that what I saw is what there is.

This is both comforting and disturbing. We continue driving.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tillamook to Astoria

Bridge from Astoria, Oregon, to Washington
“Padres!” exclaims a twentysomething outside the Wet Dog Cafe and Brewery, which overlooks the Columbia River. It appears promising, but our schedule calls for the briefest of stays in Astoria and keeps us from conducting a proper investigation.

“Right on,” I reply. I am wearing a blue Padres shirt with Trevor Hoffman's name and number 51 on the back. As we walk past the young, excited bar patron, he notices the back of my shirt.

“Hoffman!” he cries. “That's old school.”

He then mimics an exaggerated version of Hoffman's delivery that looks more like Juan Marichal with the high leg kick. But he's excited, and it's rare to find Padres fans outside of San Diego (or even, if we are to be honest, in San Diego), so I smile and give him the thumbs-up.

Then his friend drives up and he gets excited about that. He's not excited to see me in a Hoffman jersey, he's excited about everything. There are worse ways to go through life.

Sandra and I stroll along the river and pop into a used bookstore. It's hot and muggy here, at least compared to where we've been.

Repairs on the bridge connecting Oregon to Washington force us to stop and wait 5 minutes. This is an inconvenience to locals but allows us to savor a spectacular view and me to snap a photo from the driver's seat.

The bridge, formally known as the Astoria-Megler Bridge, spans 4 miles across the Columbia River and is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. Construction began in November 1962 and was completed in August 1966. The bridge has appeared in movies such as Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop, and Goonies, which probably isn't sufficient reason to see any of those, but there you go.

And here we go, headed into Washington, searching for Nirvana.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pacific City to Tillamook

After spending much of our time in remote areas, the booming town of Tillamook takes us by surprise. We drive north along the so-called 3 Capes Scenic Drive, which goes from Cape Kiwanda (where Pacific City is), through Cape Lookout, to Cape Meares.

There is a lighthouse at Cape Meares, but we miss it. I misread a sign and hang a right at Netarts instead of continuing along the coast. Soon after, we find ourselves in Tillamook, which is famous for its cheese and... well, just its cheese.

The factory is in the middle of town. You can't miss it, because that's where everyone is, eating cheese and ice cream.

We enjoy samples of cheese, some of which are good. We buy a block of garlic chili pepper cheddar to go with our Pelican beer tonight. We also eat ice cream for lunch–a combination of black cherry, white chocolate/raspberry, and caramel crunch that is smooth, creamy, and flavorful.

The moment we finish, we bolt for the exit and return to our car. There are a lot of people in this place, and they really like cheese. It's a little weird.