Excerpt from: Dispatches

Road Scrapings

 The Pacific Northwest is a lush, expansive, and wonderful place. It is brimming with unexpected vistas and encounters. For example, the area east of the Cascade mountain range in Washington, which is comprised of dense forests as well as a broad, fertile valley, is renowned for regular Bigfoot sightings, bizarre UFO encounters, and unexplained cattle mutiliations. The locals routinely blame the federal government for these intrusions, and they can make some very persuasive arguments for their case. These folk are a hearty, practical lot, accustomed to making their own way in life and not about to be thrown off course by something as transparent as a UFO sighting followed by a visit from the Men in Black.

This wonderful part of America also offers breathtaking scenery, wild game of all sorts, unspoiled rivers, and a proliferation of quaint, roadside towns nestled in the heart of a series of mountain ranges and valleys that stretch from Washington state, across the panhandle of Idaho, and into Montana and Wyoming. To say the countryside is spectacular is to underrate it.

But enough of the more common tourist vistas and claptrap. Here are a few encounters that have escaped the notice of the local Chamber of Commerce spin-doctors and do not appear on any roadside billboards. You have to look very carefully for this kind of encounter, but none of them should be missed by the serious Northwest traveler:

Historical Landmarks:

In Wallace, Idaho, one will find The Oasis Bordello Museum. This is a one-of-a-kind landmark that offers a rare snatch of America’s history. The Museum is especially proud of its collection of “turn of the century lingerie,” which it advertises heavily in local tourist guides. There is, of course, a gift shop for the serious historian.

Rare Entertainment:

Folks from eastern Washington are regularly wooed by a nightclub known as “Swackhammer’s Concert Club.” As I was passing through town, their playbill announced the following upcoming events. By any definition, this is quite a lineup:

August 27—The Boxing Ghandis

September 7—Joan Jett with L7 and the Seven Year Bitch

September 8—God Lives Underwater

September 13—Suicidal Tendencies, Fishbones, and Civilized Animals

September 14—Missing Persons

Famous Beer Encounters:

In Missoula, Montana, the Ale Brewery offers patrons four special beers that are obvious favorites with the locals: Moose Drool, Slow Elk, Scapegoat, and Montana Mauler. These refreshments are all brewed on the establishment’s own premises and are not extensively exported.

Beer Note: The body fat content of the average Missoulian is exceptionally low, at least by California standards. The reasons for this are many; however, I suspect it is the water used in the beer brewing process that is most to blame for this unusual situation. In any event, this is assuredly the land of the beautiful people.

Famous Places to Relax:

The Buck Snort Restaurant, Bar, and Casino, Inc., in Missoula, Montana. The Staggering Ox (in the same town). This latter establishment is known locally as the “home of the world famous clubfoot sandwich.” Finally, there is Zimorino’s Red Pies Over Montana, which prepares, serves, and delivers, “hand-tossed New York-style pizza”

Timing is Everything:

Ironically, the local daily newspaper for Missoula, Montana, The Missoulian, carried a banner headline about the discovery of a crop circle on the morning of my first day in town. It read: “Crop Circle: Inexplicable Marks Appear in Kalispell Farmer’s Wheat Field.” To provide some sense of scale about the local importance of this event, the matching headline on the same day was “Stocks Take a Dive,” memorializing the single largest point drop on record in the Dow Industrials average on August 31, 1998 (512.61 points).

Kalispell is a remote, tranquil farming community that is located northeast of Missoula. This was apparently the first time that a crop circle appeared in this serene community and the result was quite a stir among the locals. Immediately after the appearance of the strange markings, the farmer’s field was besieged by a variety of visitors who would have otherwise never ventured to Kalispell, including reporters, a few scientists, a number of UFOlogists, and a hoard of general curiosity seekers. In fact, the onslaught was so overwhelming that the farmer was reported to have said he would cut down the entire wheat crop as soon as possible to keep interest to a minimum and prevent motorists from stopping by the side of the road and trampling his fields.

When the farmer’s wife, who was unwillingly pressed into the roll of public relations representative, was asked by a reporter whether or not she believed that UFOs were responsible for the crop circle, she answered in classic Montana terms: “I’m a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So far, there have been no sightings of The Men in Black. However, all eyes are turned to Kalispell, for now.

Roadside Pop Quiz (answers below):

  1. How does one pronounce the name of this town: Cle Elum?
  2. Killer and Babe’s” is the name of (a) the only bar in Cle Elum, (b) the motorcycle repair shop in Cle Elum, or (c) the only surviving pizza parlor in Cle Elum.
  3. Cle Elum” means (a) sticky, gooey dirt, (b) the name of the first settler in this area, (c) fast moving water.
  4. The most famous monument in the Cle Elum area is (a) the river, (b) the train station, (3) the cemetery.
  5. (This question is only for those who live in California or New York.) A large soft drink in Cle Elum costs (a) .89, (b) 1.29, (c) 1.49.
  6. Are reservations required at either or both of the Italian restaurants in Cle Elum?

Local Linguistics Encounter:

Patron: What kind of dressing do you have for the salad?

Waitress: Ranch, Blue Cheese, Eye-Talian, and Creamy Eye-Talian.

Patron: Oh, well . . .

Waitress: We also have Eye-Talian Dee-Oro Ex-presso . . . but not for the salad.

Can you guess the state in which this conversation took place? The answer is below.

Answers to the Roadside Pop Quiz:

  1. I have no idea how to pronounce “Cle Elum.” Apparently, the American Automobile Association has no idea either. Although I stayed overnight in this comfortable town of 1800 souls, I was too embarrassed to ask any of the locals how to pronounce the name of the place.
  2. Killer and Babe’s is the only surviving pizza parlor in town. The health department closed the other one.
  3. Although apparently unpronounceable to all but the locals, “Cle Elum” means “fast moving water.” I found this odd since the town does have broad expanses of sticky, gooey dirt and a very slow moving river just beyond the railroad tracks.
  4. This town takes enormous pride in its cemetery. In fact, it is mentioned as the most important attraction in the area. I thought Killer and Babe’s should have been mentioned somewhere.
  5. Amazing as it seems, an undrinkable-size soft drink costs .89 (American) in Cle Elum, proving that there are still pockets of sanity in this country.
  6. Yes, at both, but only if it’s Saturday night. The entire town goes Italian on Saturday night. This is a tradition whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time. I also noticed that no one in Cle Elum mentions the name of their town on Saturday nights. This could also be a tradition, or it could be a wide conspiracy to deny dreaded tourists any secret information about local goings-on.

Answer to Linguistics Quiz:




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