Last Sunday on Rainier

Julie was still asleep when inspiration hit me on Sunday morning. So I went into our bedroom and sat on the foot of the bed and said, "I have one word for you."

She stirred and said "Mmmmfraw," which after over a decade of marriage I knew meant Huh? What time is it? What word? What are you on about now?

I said, "The word is 'mountains.' I know we said we couldn't afford a trip but we can afford a drive. It's the first real day off we've had in forever, the column's done, we don't have to be anywhere or do anything for anybody. And you just finished up a week at the new job. It deserves some kind of a treat."

Julie sat up, interested now. "Where in the mountains?"

"Rainier. We go out east up past Greenwater and over the pass and have lunch in Packwood at our diner, then come around through Morton and Eatonville and have dinner in Orting at our other diner, and then home. See, it's a long loop, basically. We'll take the whole day. Amble. Be lazy. Stop wherever. You know, road trip."

What I was suggesting was going out south and east from our home in south Seattle on route 410, the old Maple Valley Highway. Julie agreed this was a fine idea and soon we were on our way.

Here's a map for those of you that are Pacific Northwest-impaired.

It's a route we're sentimental about; it was one of our first road trips, way back when we weren't even sure we were dating yet. We were ferrying an unpleasant woman to a place in eastern Oregon and took the back road down to Hood River. The trip was through gorgeous country and Julie and I discovered we both preferred back-roads traveling, but the unpleasant woman managed to poison every effort we made to enjoy ourselves or have any fun. On our way back I'd said to Julie, "Next time we'll come by ourselves and won't have to deal with the wet blanket." This, I was later informed, was a Major Turning Point for Julie-- she'd finally realized that yes, I really liked HER, and called all her friends that evening to rejoice.

We had eventually taken that promised road trip on our second anniversary; I wrote it up here. But we hadn't been back up to Mount Rainier since then.

In that previous column, I hadn't talked much about the mountain leg of the trip, because it wasn't terribly relevant to our subject here of books and comics. But we really enjoyed it nevertheless, particularly the time we spent in Packwood, and it had been eight years since we'd been out that way.

Maple Valley had been built up a lot in the last few years-- the road had been widened and there were a whole bunch of new homes and strip malls where previously there had only been pasture. But we stopped at the Goodwill anyway, because we'd had good luck there before.

There wasn't much in the adult section-- a hardcover Louis L'Amour Sacketts anthology, which I picked up because I like Westerns and hardcover omnibus editions, and also because I didn't have the books included in it at home. There were five in all, published by Doubleday's Book Club back in the 1980s. I already had the first two, and I keep an eye open for the others as a reflex. They're not exactly collector's items but they ARE out of print and hard to find, and dealers charge between ten and twenty bucks each for them most of the time. Goodwill had volume five, which you hardly ever see out in the wild, so I scooped it up. My inner bookscout that keeps track of the short-list items like this that I am always looking for muttered, Three down, two to go.

That was pretty much it, though, until I glanced at the kids' books section. Somehow someone had got it lodged in his head that SF was the same thing as 'juvenile,' and there were all sorts of cool things there.

I picked up Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane, even though I already had it at home in a collection called Winterlands, because Dragonsbane is a cool book and I thought it would be nice for Kerowyn, our friend Rin's daughter and our honorary niece of sorts.

Barbara Hambly, of course, is the wonderfully crazy person who wrote the Star Trek/Here Come the Brides crossover novel Ishmael.

Because Mark Lenard played both Sarek of Vulcan and Aaron Stemple, the miserly mill owner on Brides, naturally it follows that Aaron Stemple is an important figure in Federation history.

At least, it does if you're Barbara Hambly. Ishmael is one of my favorite examples of how much sheer unabashed fun fan fiction can be if the writer approaches it with craft and good will and a total lack of cynicism. Still not sure how it ever made it into print but I'm glad it did, and it got me interested in her other books as well. Once in a while the fanfic thing pays off.

And on a whim, I also picked up the boxed set of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Strictly an impulse buy, but they knocked off two bucks because it was in a box and therefore Goodwill figured it as ONE book.

I don't understand that reasoning at all, but hell, I figure with that kind of discount it was worth rolling the dice, especially when the series has racked up a couple of Newbery nominations.

With that, we were on the road again. We were relieved to discover that once we were out of Maple Valley, the mini-malls fell away and it was once again the road we remembered.

By now it was afternoon and we were getting hungry, so we blew through Greenwater and turned on to Highway 12 going by White Pass, looking forward to a big sloppy burger at Peter's Inn when we got to Packwood.

Now, we are probably the only people in the Northwest who like Packwood for its downtown. For most people, it's a place to set up your home base at the lodge, then go out and hunt or fish or hike or ski or whatever your outdoor sport is.

But we like Packwood itself, all six blocks of it. The last time we'd been there we had arrived just in time for the Summer Annual Rod Run, which started off with a parade up the main street of all the classic cars that were going to be exhibited, followed by an outdoor dance at the Cowlitz Lodge. We'd watched the parade from the porch of our wonderful old hotel, "the historic Hotel Packwood," and then gone to the dance.

After the dance we'd walked back to the hotel, stopping at an old-fashioned ice cream bar for milkshakes. By that point we had fallen completely in love with the whole town, an affection that was not diminished in the slightest the following morning, when we attended the Firemen's Pancake Breakfast on our way out.

But eight years had made quite a difference. Peter's Inn was closed and empty, the building for lease. The ice cream place was gone as well. Even the Presbyterian thrift shop was gone... it had been a dusty old place with little of interest, but we had quite liked the senior-citizen volunteers that staffed it when we poked our heads in briefly on our last trip, and had gladly kicked in a few bucks for the jar by the register to help with Junior's upcoming knee surgery. (We had no idea who Junior was but if those nice old people vouched for him, that was good enough for us.)

The historic Hotel Packwood was still a going concern, we were pleased to see. The grocery store was still there, and a couple of other businesses, and of course the tavern. But most of the restaurants were closed or defunct. There was a pizza place hanging in there and we briefly considered it, but dammit, we had been all wound up for the Peter's Inn big sloppy diner experience. Anyway, seeing this nice little town looking so gray and failed, with so many of the places we remembered fondly now boarded up and empty, was depressing.

So we hit the road again, following Route 12 on down the mountain and west back towards the valley, reasoning that the hunters and fishermen and summer people had to be getting big sloppy burgers from SOMEWHERE.

That may be so. Maybe one of the taverns has an award-winning kitchen. But we didn't see anything, though we did see quite a few more closed restaurant buildings and other failed businesses. It was especially galling when we got to Glenoma and saw that, of all the different businesses along the road, it seemed that the only one to weather the hard times and even prosper somewhat was the roadside stand of the person selling Confederate flags and white supremacy bumper stickers.... the one we call "that paranoid psycho," who apparently even has a web page now.

There's probably some sort of pithy conclusion to be drawn from that, but we were too disgusted to bother.

By the time we got to Morton we were so famished we would have settled for a couple of doughnuts from a 7-Eleven. Fortunately, we did not have to. There was a nice little Mexican restaurant, Plaza Jalisco, just off the freeway, and the bulletin board by the door advertising upcoming festivals and other events cheered us a bit. Even in the midst of what appeared to be a crushing economic depression, the local folks were still having fun.

Our late lunch -- a "mega" burrito for me, chile rellenos for Julie-- was big and well-made and once we'd eaten we felt better. We decided to take some time and look around Morton itself.

It's basically a flat little place at the foot of the mountain, not so much a logging town as a mill town; that is to say, it exists primarily to service the needs of visiting loggers and the people who work at the local lumber mill.

It was a nice enough place from the look of it-- mostly closed, but after all, it was a Sunday afternoon, and at least the main street didn't look all boarded-up and empty like the last few towns had been. Best of all, when we rounded the corner from the fire station we saw a thrift store... and it was open.

Thrift-Tiques and Gem Crafts was a small but tidy little storefront run by a cheerful young man with a beard, who told us that everything was half-price that afternoon. He was mostly about used DVDs and handcrafted jewelry (and a few bongs under glass at the counter, I noted with amusement.) But there was a tiny books section and it even had comics.

The comics weren't much. "Vintage" Flintstones and Richie Rich, with the occasional Bugs Bunny, that were practically falling apart-- a stiff breeze would have rendered half of them coverless. He had them at 99 cents each but I wouldn't have given that for the whole pile. The book next to the pile had caught my eye, though: The Boys' Life Book of World War II Stories.

Boys' Life magazine is apparently still in business, though I haven't seen one in decades. But when I was a kid they were a huge presence in elementary school libraries everywhere and I found their adventure anthologies irresistible.

This one I had never seen before but I was sure it was awesome. I flipped it open and saw he had it priced at ten dollars.

Well, nuts. Here was a thrift-shop guy who knew his business, or at least knew his Google. That was a fair price; the book was in great shape and not some battered ex-library copy like most of the ones that turn up used. But it was more than I wanted to pay.

"Store's all half-price today," the proprietor called out. He must have seen me considering.

"So this is five?"

He nodded and I felt my resistance fading. After all, I'd loved these books, and anyway it was half off, right? Julie had found some necklaces she liked as well-- one for her and one for her sister-- and they were less than half-off, just a flat twenty bucks, so we caved.

Since that was the last of our budget and we'd eaten lunch so late, we opted not to go through Orting as we'd planned, but instead took Route 7 straight north, through Eatonville, and headed for home.

"I'd still call it a win, though, right?" I asked Julie, who was driving. She says it relaxes her. "You had fun today?"

"Uh-huh." She nodded. "I'm still kind of sad about Packwood, though."

Yeah. Me too. We might still go back for a night or two at the hotel-- maybe in time for the Summer Rod Run Parade. After all, even if we can't have ice cream after the dance, there's still pizza.

See you next week.

Bury the Lede
REVIEW: Bury the Lede Is a Compelling But Undercooked Crime Story

More in Comics