Three Days on the Strait

2015 has been rough for us; we’ve had to cancel so many things this year I honestly thought we wouldn’t be able to do any kind of traveling at all. But then the printshop where I occasionally work needed a brochure job delivered to the Tokeland Hotel, and I volunteered to go. It was kind of a work trip but not a LOT of work, just a courier job basically, and with the shop picking up gas money for the first part of the trip and the hotel spotting us a room for the night, we could afford the rest of it.

It was an excuse for a sort of road trip, anyway—with Monday off I figured we’d make a leisurely ramble of it, come back north up the coast on 101 all the way to the cape and then turn west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Here’s a map for the Northwest-impaired.

Stay a night in Clallam Bay, do a little thrift shopping here and there, enjoy the scenery, take a ferry home from Port Townsend. It’d be a consolation prize of sorts for us having to cancel our plans so many other times for one reason or another… most of it falling under the category of “goddamned adulthood,” basically. Being a responsible grown-up.

We always take the ferry over to the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle and go south along the western shore of Puget Sound—a much pleasanter drive than down Interstate 5—and we have our little traditional stops along the way. We usually like to have lunch at Rain Country in McCreary, because the desserts are epic. Sandwiches are pretty good too.

We noticed there was a bookstore across the street that we didn’t remember seeing before, so we went to have a look.

Brilliant Moon is a kind of hippy-dippy New Age place that does at least as much business in candles, incense, and homemade honey as they do in books. The fellow behind the register was very nice-- a middle-aged man with a graying braided ponytail, who told us sadly that the store was closing at the end of the week and the owner was moving to Shelton in a few days. The pickings were slim in the book department, but Julie bought a jar of honey, I think at least partly out of sympathy.

That was our only purchase for the next two days. There really wasn’t anything of interest as far as books were concerned, though the Tokeland Hotel was as charming as always, and we were amused to see that there’s now live music on Saturday nights, in this case an elderly folksinging duo.

On our way out the next morning we poked out heads in briefly at the Catholic Ladies’ Rummage Sale in Westport.

Again, the book selection was grim.

We’ve never had all that much luck along the Cranberry Coast area but usually I can manage to turn up something. Not this trip.

Well, I thought as we left Aberdeen and headed north towards Ocean Shores, we’re going through Forks, that’s Twilight country. There ought to be a few readers that way.

Nope. Nothing. They’re doing a land-office business in Twilight tours though.

Which is really laughable if you’ve ever actually been to Forks. It’s a bleak little place, a surly logger’s town that’s about six blocks long.

There is nothing sparkly or sexy about it. Judging from the comatose business district, if it wasn’t for the tourism windfall Stephenie Meyer tossed the place with her books, the town would probably have died a decade ago.

Clallam Bay we liked quite a bit better. We’d been curious about the place because Donna Barr founded the Clallam Bay Comic-Con here a couple of years ago and it’s become something of a legend with indie comics folks as an event that is nothing but fun. (We keep meaning to attend, but that was one of the many things we’d had to cancel out on this year.)

But we figured we’d crash here for the night and get a look at the town at least. No thrift shopping or bookscouting to be had, but it’s a lovely place and weirdly charming in its obsession with fishing and fishermen. Technically there are two little towns, Clallam Bay and Sekiu, but they both ring the bay and the demarcation between the two is mostly just a big sign with a big wooden eagle welcoming visitors to Sekiu as you round the halfway point along the bay’s inner shoreline.

We found a nice fishing resort place on the harbor in Sekiu, with cabins looking out over the bay, and the kid manning the desk was happy to rent us one for fifty bucks. It was actually a real cabin with a full kitchen, and we were amused to see the sign above the sink imploring us to Please, please, clean and gut your fish at the outside faucets on the dock, NOT in the cabin sinks, our plumbing can’t take it! Clearly, Julie and I were the only people in Sekiu who did not care about fish at all, though we enjoyed watching the sea lions at sunset. They swim right up to the docks and catch their own dinner.

The next day we figured we’d poke our heads in at the Goodwill in Port Angeles; we’ve always had good luck there.

The books are pretty haphazard, they’re just parked on the shelf every which way, but that can occasionally mean stumbling across something really amazing if you’re willing to dig—on our last trip I’d found a pristine first edition of John D. MacDonald’s The Green Ripper in the middle of a bunch of Reader’s Digest Condensed crap.

But not this trip. I almost fell for a vintage Battlestar Galactica paperback, just as a novelty item, but decided against it. Likewise the grab bags of comics under glass at the front of the store.

On our way out, I was pleased to see an eight-year-old kid pick up the Marvel Team-Up bag after agonizing over the choice between that and Deadpool for a few minutes. But for us, still nothing. It was probably just as well, since we only had a ‘fun’ budget of fifty dollars or so… and except for blowing seven on a round of miniature golf in Ocean Shores we’d managed to hang on to it.

Julie consulted her phone—she’d been playing with the map and GPS applications ever since we’d set out and was, I am convinced, as entertained by mapping our route as she was to be actually traveling on it. She discovered there was another thrift shop, Serenity House, just a few blocks away. We’d never been there and thought we might as well have a look.

Their book section was not very organized, but it was easier to navigate than the one at Goodwill, and it had been put together by someone who actually cared about books.

I found a couple of vintage hardcover mysteries still in the jacket—Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil from 1951, and a 1959 Perry Mason, The Case of the Mythical Monkeys.

Julie likes Ellery Queen because she adored the old TV show, and I like a Perry Mason once in a while; though I have to admit I could not tell you the plot of any of the Masons I have here to save my life. Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books are not terribly memorable mysteries, certainly not in the way a Chandler or a Hammett or even a Dorothy Sayers book is. But I like them anyway, the way you like a crossword puzzle; something to kill an hour or so. And I would have fallen for this one in any case just for the cover. Anyway, 1959 and still in the jacket for a buck.

There was a Frederic Remington coffee-table art book displayed up on the wall that I lusted for, but it was fifteen dollars—very reasonable, certainly, but that would have been too harsh a blow to the fun budget, so I put it back. (Julie scolded me about this later—“What’s the point of a fun budget if you’re not going to have any fun?”—but as it turned out we were glad we’d hung on to the money. Better things awaited.)

The lady working the register assured us there were many more books to be found at the mother ship Serenity House store in Sequim, and since that was on our way Julie busied herself with her phone looking up the address. She discovered there was a big Goodwill store right across the street from there and we added that to our route as well.

We were still traveling along the Strait, but our route was inland enough now that we couldn’t see the water any more.

But it’s still very pretty country, mostly farmland, with the occasional eccentric business establishment like the bed-and-breakfast place constructed from old railway cars.

If we hadn’t been so broke and could have afforded to miss the extra day of work, we would have been sorely tempted to stop there for the night, just for the hell of it.

The town of Sequim is about as close as you get to a bustling metropolis in that part of the country. The first sign that it was selling its soul an acre at a time was when Wal-Mart moved in a decade ago, and these days it’s pretty built up—there were a lot more malls and chain restaurants than we remembered, and I was depressed to see that the charmingly odd little burger place with the wooden tepee out front was apparently long gone.

But we consoled ourselves with some more thrift-shopping therapy. There was a big sale at Goodwill that day—any time there’s a three-day weekend there’s some sort of rule about thrift stores having giant discount sales, and usually we avoid those days when we’re in town because everything is so picked over it’s hardly worth it.

It cheered me to see so many people interested in the book sale, though.

I had a nice chat with a young lady pushing a stroller about bookscouting, and she ended up with John Dunning’s The Bookwoman’s Last Fling at my recommendation. It always amuses Julie, but between being a writer, a pop culture historian, and a schoolteacher, when people ask me questions they tend to get a little anecdotal review instead of just a yes or a no. It’s a reflex, I can’t help myself. Push the button and the lecture comes out. Anyway most bookscouts have a soft spot for Dunning’s novels about Cliff Janeway, cop turned bookseller.

I already had all the Janeways at home in hardcover, of course, but I did pick up a couple of other things. There was a “vintage” shelf at this Goodwill but as usual, the good stuff that was genuinely vintage was out in the general population.

I considered scooping up the Whitman juvenile Mission: Impossible novel just on principle but that one’s pretty easy to find and I already had it. The only reason to pick it up would have been to try and turn a profit on it by selling it to a collector, and honestly the only person I know who actively collects the Whitman “Authorized Edition”/“TV Favorites” hardcovers is me.

I did fall for The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes, a collection edited by Howard Haycraft. This was the 1961 revised edition, which I remembered fondly from my elementary school library; it was my second Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid and I’m sentimental. (The Educator Classics Library edition with the great illustrations by Don Irwin was my first, for those keeping score at home.)

This particular Holmes collection has some interesting essays and things and also period photos and maps. It’s a nice little introductory collection even if it does use an abridged version of A Study In Scarlet as so many other juvenile ‘classic’ editions did back then. (It was common for editors to cut out the chapters with Jefferson Hope battling the murderous evil Mormons. This one at least has a long footnote explaining what went on in the deleted chapters, with an apologetic opening sentence explaining that most Mormons are very nice people and not actually murdering rapey cultists at all.)

I also picked up a couple of paperbacks—- the first was Warlocks and Warriors, a British fantasy anthology of the sort you used to see all the time in the seventies.

It turned out to be a greatest-hits collection of the sword-and-sorcery scene at the time, though I think I’d have tried to get a real Robert E. Howard Conan story instead of a wet fart of a pastiche like "Curse of the Monolith," especially since that was one of the few reprints. All the rest were gems though, and it’s definitely worth picking up if you’re a casual fan and just want a sampler of the genre.

And on a whim I decided to grab an SF men’s adventure thing-- Hook: The Virility Gene, which looked like the sort of delightfully schlocky series book I can never resist.

As it turned out Hook was pretty terrible… but the ads in the back later led me to some very fun books as recounted in this column a while ago.

Finally, I found the first three of the Covert-One paperbacks in like-new shape.

They looked like they’d make for okay bus reads, even though, on the whole, I don’t approve of plastering an author’s name on books he didn’t write and really didn’t have much to do with at all. I’m pretty sure Ludlum was already dead when these were written. But at least the actual author’s names were on these in pretty large type, and I had enjoyed other books from Gayle Lynds, so I decided why not?

This haul was less than five dollars total out of the fun budget, so we were pleased. Across the street at Serenity House, though, was the real score.

Again there was a ‘vintage’ shelf loaded with crap, but out in the general fiction, larded in with multiple copies of The Da Vinci Code and other similar dross, was an actual first edition of The Shining.

Well, not a true first—I think this was probably a second or third printing, but it was early, anyway, and early Stephen King books in hardcover are something you never see out in the wild. Especially not in great shape like this one was, still in the jacket. The professional bookscouts are all over those like white on rice. But here it was. Priced at a dollar-fifty.

I snatched it up so fast that, had this been an animated cartoon, there would have been a sound effect like VVVVIPPP! with a little puff of white smoke. I didn’t even bother to look at the rest of the shelves but instead went and found Julie where she was looking at toddler toys (she was trying to find something for our new grand-niece.)

“Look at this,” I told her.

“Oh my GOD!” Julie glanced around in a panic. “Did they see you?”

I was irrationally pleased that she could see for herself what a find it was without me having to explain, but it made me laugh that she was so worried. “Honey, you have to be weirdos like us to know what this is. Most of the time Stephen King hardcovers are so common that they’re right up there with John Grisham and Danielle Steel as far as thrift shop people are concerned.” I nodded at the toddler goods. “Are you done here?”

“Yeah.” She glanced around nervously. “Let’s hurry.” Julie is always convinced that whenever we find something really cool at a low cost, some interfering clerk will grab it out of our hands and claim that it was a mistake, that item is actually supposed to be classed at the Rare and Valuable Antique level and we can’t have it for the marked price. It’s completely paranoid, but sort of endearing. For Julie, shopping is like combat, and there was no way she was letting a clerk cheat us out of a big win. Her sister does this too. I can’t decide if it’s a family trait or a girl thing. But the clerk was very nice, as they usually are, and did not contest the price of a dollar-fifty. Though I think we both held our breath all the way to the car.

After that we were definitely ready for lunch, but not in Sequim; the good diner-type joints, as far as we could tell, all were closed or defunct, and we have a rule about no chain places like Subway or McDonald’s when we travel. We decided to take our chances in Port Townsend.

Port Townsend is pleasant, if a little bit of a tourist trap—it’s technically a small seaport but really these days, it’s more one of those places with a ‘historic downtown’ filled with brewpubs and Ye Olde Gift Shoppes and handicraft shops selling candles and prints and so on. But when the sun’s out and you can smell the fresh sea air off the harbor and everyone on the sidewalk is clearly enjoying themselves, lots of families with laughing kids and so on, it’s hard to be a crabby old cynic about the place.

We found a fifties retro burger place that made giant homemade milkshakes and had tableside jukeboxes loaded with oldies, so we were more than happy. We were well-fed and we’d made a really cool score, all while staying safely within the fun budget. That made the trip one for the win column.

And then we stumbled across a world-class bookstore. We weren’t even looking.

William James Booksellers was just a few feet up from the burger joint, between us and the car; we’d come down on the other side of the street and missed it coming in. So of course we had to check it out.

A glance at the display case in the front of the store told me there would be no stealthy bookscouting scores to be had here. These folks knew the alphabet.

I saw first editions and signed copies of things like Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, the original Richard Bachman hardcover of Thinner… for a moment I just stood and stared. I might have drooled a little.

Julie sucked in a sharp breath. “Oz books, honey.” She pointed.

Sure enough. Not just Oz books but also some of the really hard-to-find other books from Baum, as well as magazines and ephemera. I picked up a battered edition of John Dough and the Cherub and turned to the young lady at the front desk. I suppose I was nursing the forlorn hope that if we found something on the low end we might justify blowing a hole in the budget—anything under forty dollars, say. “How much for this one?”

“Oh, that’s a find,” she beamed. “It’s intact, it’s still got the contest form in the back.” She took it gently from my hands and showed me. “Most of them, kids tore out the form and mailed it in, so that page is almost always missing. A hundred and twenty.”

I shook my head. We love Baum and it was a find, but we didn’t dare. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and be a goddamn grownup whether you want to or not. I sighed and moved to the back to look at the lower-end stuff.

And there among the juveniles was Blondie and Dagwood’s Adventure in Magic.

This was one of the aforementioned Whitman Authorized Editions, the oddball ones from the forties.

I’m always on the prowl for these but it had a mylar cover on the jacket and clearly these were serious book people running the place. So I didn’t let myself get my hopes up as I flipped it open to look at the price....

...and saw there was a missing flyleaf. “As is, $7.00.”

Well, hell, I didn’t care about the damn flyleaf. I’m not a dealer. Truthfully, I’m not a big Blondie and Dagwood fan either but I do collect the Whitmans and this way we'd still be able to leave with something. Also, this was within the fun budget even after lunch. And it was even comics-related so that made it possible column material.

That was enough to tip the scale. We went for it. This grownup thing only goes so far, after all.

By then we were tired and ready to be home, so that was our last stop. Not a huge excursion, but as consolation prize outings go, it was okay. At least we got in one trip this year.

And as you can see, I did get a column out of it.

See you next week.

Hardcore: Reloaded #1

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