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Two Weekend Outings

"We have to cancel our trip," I told my bride. "There's just no way we can pull it off. Too broke."

Julie didn't take it well, because the promised weekend in Portland, we had agreed, would be our Christmas gift to each other. But between car repairs and prescriptions and, well, food and shelter, there just wasn't any discretionary income left over for goofing off.

So Julie felt, with some justification, that this was the equivalent of canceling our Christmas. I couldn't really argue. Even though I'm not at all sentimental about Christmas. (I'm right there with Burr Shafer's J. Wesley Smith on that one.)

But even with my Scroogelike contempt for the holiday season, I was nevertheless getting dispirited myself. We'd been dog-paddling like this for a couple of months now and we never seemed to get dug out, despite the fact that we don't use credit and carry no real debt to speak of. I was getting tired of telling our friends that we were going to have to cancel... again. We'd already gotten time off from our respective jobs for a trip that it was becoming clear we couldn't possibly afford, and since we'd traded with other people for the days there was no rescinding it. At least I hadn't booked the hotel.

So our long-anticipated vacation was going to be spent at home, probably sitting around cursing the whole necessity of responsible adulthood. And though Julie would protest vociferously if I said so, I felt like I was letting her down. It was a depressing prospect.

That was why, when she suggested that we could at least make a day trip, go for a drive, something, I lunged at it. "Where?"

"You pick. I don't care."

I considered it. In the decade we've been married we've explored most of the places near us (as documented here) and I hungered for something new. Then I remembered an idea I'd always wanted to try.

Most of our ventures south go through Olympia at some point, but we'd rarely stopped there. Moreover, we'd gone south on the back-roads route many times, but always by taking the ferry over to the west side of the Sound. I was convinced there had to be some kind of alternate, interstate-avoiding route along the east shore of Puget Sound, because we live on such a road. But we'd never tried following it all the way down to Olympia. There were towns, houses, people living there, we'd seen them across the water while driving on the western shoreline. I reasoned that therefore they HAD to have a road. Julie had always said there wasn't one that went all the way through but I refused to let go of the hope. We just hadn't found it yet. We'd try for Olympia by taking the elusive EAST SHORE back-roads route. I felt like a sea captain trying for the Northwest Passage.

So we took our best shot. We did pretty well. But we never made it to Olympia. Julie was right... you can't get through. You run into the giant military reservation shared by Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, and it's all fenced off with barbed wire. You can get as far as DuPont, though, as pictured on the map below.

It's a nice drive with lots of pretty views of the water, especially when you are passing through Tacoma and going around Point Defiance. Fair number of seafood shacks and the like.

But very little in the way of thrift shops or bookstores. Honestly, a lot of the towns look like extensions of suburban strip malls.

We determined that for the most part, the interesting, funky places are along the western shore of the Sound. And it was taking long enough that we decided not to bother with Olympia, since the last time we'd been through there on Sunday most places had been closed, and it was too late in the day to do much once we got there anyway.

So we turned back. We didn't completely strike out, though. The Goodwill store in Lakewood has a really nice book section.

Most of what they had were books I already owned but I did find a couple of things. Two hardcover omnibus editions that I thought were worth risking a dollar on....

The Gothic was just an impulse buy because I liked the cover and I enjoy a gothic once in a while. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Reader's Digest Condensed edition, but I wasn't out enough money to be irritated over it. (I WAS irritated that there was nothing on the trade dress to show that it was one of those damn Condensed Editions. I don"t blame them for being ashamed. Still, they're okay as starter books for kids and maybe one of my Young Authors might like it.)

The Bova was one of those SF Book Club collections I have a weakness for. I'm all about the omnibus bulk reading. This one has the first three volumes of "The Asteroid Wars."

I've been a fan of Ben Bova since Weird Heroes but I hadn't gotten around to these yet. There's one more book in the series, Aftermath, which I may look into if I enjoy these. I probably will.

But the real find was the trade paperback collecting Roy Crane's famous WASH TUBBS newspaper strip.

I've always been curious-- it's one of those strips I've been reading about for years without ever really seeing it myself, and there's no way I'd ever be able to afford the new hardcovers collecting the entire run. But this was a nice little find, the 1974 collection from Luna Press, and Goodwill called it a 'children's paperback' so it cost almost nothing.

We were pleased at scoring something and, honor satisfied, decided we'd find some food and then head home. Since we'd already been on the seashore road, on the way back we decided to cut up through Ruston, and there we finally found the sort of funky little place that we love coming across when we go on these adventures.

The Antique Sandwich Company is a lovely little place that serves mostly sandwiches-- duh-- but we decided to take a chance on the turkey enchilada combo and it was terrific. But the best part was that we had arrived just as they were starting "Classical Music Sunday," and we hung around an extra hour and a half just to watch the amazing guitarist that was playing that day.

His name is Leon Christian and he teaches music, as well. It's not an exaggeration to say that the Antique Sandwich company and Mr. Christian pretty much saved the trip for us, and I thought the least I could do was give them both a plug. If by some chance you're in the Tacoma area, you should certainly try the restaurant, and you can check out Leon's stuff right here.

*

That was last weekend. Yesterday we had another book-related evening that was also a little field trip for my Young Authors class. Strictly informal, the kids are still technically on winter break. But we decided we'd go anyway.

Christine Brant was giving a talk at our local Barnes & Noble. She is an award-winning fantasy writer who's published one novel, Red and Grey. It's a supernatural-romance twist on Red Riding Hood, quite a bit better than that horrible one in theaters not too long ago.

But the important part for my students is that she's also Willoweve's mother. So we felt that we should represent. And I'm always on the hunt for free events I can take the kids to.

This one was definitely a success. Ms. Brant was great fun.

She read from her book, she told funny stories, and she did a signing. The students were very into it and several bought copies of the book. Here's Willoweve, very pleased about things, while Ms. Brant signs Tiffany's copy.

And another view, this time looking past Willoweve at Tiffany and Julie.

We also had Symphony, Dimpal, and Iman from the high school class and I think they bought books too. It was just a lot of fun, and a badly-needed morale boost for Julie and me. Even better, the lady in charge of doing the monthly author thing was very impressed with the idea of school-age kids publishing an anthology of their own stories and wants to do an event with the class. And possibly also one with me where I talk about the New Pulp movement and stuff like that. Definitely wouldn't suck to get the Airship 27 books into a Barnes & Noble.

*

So there you go. The punchline is that my old friend Jim emailed that same day asking Julie and me if we'd be interested to contributing something to his blog Blue Collar, Black Tie. He said, "The general theme can be summed up as 'making the most of the life you have,' the old 'champagne life on a beer budget' as the saying goes."

Of course we said we would. Why not? It's clear that's going to be the general theme in our home for a while too, so we might as well.

See you next week.

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