Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Our Big Western Road Trip was over, almost. All we needed to do was get back home to Fresno. We left Priest Lake thinking the trip needed to be as quick as possible, in part because Gabby's father-in-law might not be with the family much longer and we wanted to be around to help her, Mamal, and other parts of that family. Besides, after six-and-a-half weeks, it was time to be home.
Wednesday, June 16, Start a Drive Home
Starting the day, the plan was to go ASAP to Los Gatos to see Gabby, Mamal, and the kids. That's where we pointed Carla's navigator. It told us our first stop would be Ritzville, a fuel stop I remember from my childhood whenever we made the Spokane to Seattle trek. It was not much more than a gas station or two then. From there, we would need a charge at The Dalles and probably an overnight stay before heading across Oregon and into California where we would need one more overnight. It is a long way from Priest River to Los Gatos!
On the drive across the Eastern part of Washington state, we discussed options for where we really should end up. Options were: Los Gatos; Fresno; and Truckee. Somewhere along the way, going to Truckee to wait for Gabby and the kids at their mountain "cabin" came out on top, so we reprogrammed the navigator. This time, it told us to shift stop #2 east 80 miles to Pendleton. OK enough.
Once we had left Spokane, the drive was flat and boring. Eastern Washington, and Oregon for that matter, has few trees. Mostly it is wheat fields of dirt hills. This was going to be a long trip, but it gave me plenty of time to check out "autopilot". I like it. Marianne doesn't.
At Ritzville, we found a brand new Tesla Supercharger and quickly filled up. Next door was a real gas station with needed services and The Grass Station, for products we don't buy. (By the way, Ritzville proved as boring as I remembered it from our family trips 60 years ago.)
The autopilot and I drove across more miles of rolling wheat fields and then across the Tri-cities of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. Twenty-five years ago, I had a once-a-month gig that had me work in the area for a week and this drive through reminded me that I didn't like this part of the state either. Other than when we crossed over the Columbia and Snake Rivers, there just were not enough trees and green.
Crossing to Oregon, we turned east toward Pendleton, but we kept discussing where we REALLY wanted to end up. Late in the drive, we decided we needed to go to Los Gatos first, before we swing through Fresno and go up to Truckee. That meant we should have been stopping in The Dalles, but by this time we did not have the battery range to change our Supercharger stop. Pendleton it would be.
Driving through the open plains, phone and internet connection was spotty, so we came to town not knowing where we would book a room for our one-night stop. We remembered trips in Europe where we had this situation and would go to the local tourist center and ask for help. This worked in Pendleton, to a fault. At the Chamber of Commerce tourism office, Tim and Kay cheerfully volunteered to arrange whatever we needed. In fact, they convinced us that Pendleton held so many interesting attractions that we decided to make this a two-night stop, with a whole day to see the sights. Who would have thought?
From the tourist office, we swung by the Travelodge where Tim had made us reservations. The motel was a bit worn, but clean enough and centrally located. There had been two old-hotel reconstructions that were higher on the recommendation list, including one in a former bordello, but they had no rooms. Next time? (Why would there be a next time?)
We went to another recommendation for dinner: Virgil's at Cimmiyotti's. The dimly-lit restaurant, with red velvet wallpaper and leather booths, seemed like a time capsule from an earlier age, but the steaks were good and we even splurged for wine and dessert.
After eating, we walked through the downtown. It's hard for me to characterize central Pendeleton. Maybe "worn" is a good word, or "trying". Main Street is decorated with bigger-than-life bronze statues of local dignitaries from years gone by, so there is an awareness of history, store fronts are more full than not, and thanks to COVID, there are a scattering of sidewalk cafes.
Is Pendleton worth an extra day? We will find out.
Thursday, June 17, Pendleton Tourism
We would try to do everything the travel bureau suggested, from breakfast to a bordello.
The day started early for me, as usual. My Starbucks office was empty at 5:15, as it should be. Oregon Covid protocols still required masks to enter and allowed only 25% inside seating. It seemed strange, since states we'd been in for weeks had essentially no limits or at least no limits for the vaccinated.
Our only downtown choice for breakfast was Rainbow, a combination bar and cafe. Food was strictly traditional: eggs, hash browns, rye toast, bacon. We will have to get off this high-calorie tradition pretty soon, but is seemed necessary in our cowboy town.
Our major morning appointment was for the Pendleton Underground Tour. We weren't sure what we were in for, and we'd seen little activity going below street level, but the tourism office had said it was a can't miss. Sure enough, as soon as our group was assembled, guide Shari Jo took us out to the sidewalk and down some narrow stairs, into a bar scene like from a Western movie. She explained all the action that would have been here when there were gold miners in the surrounding Blue Hills.
Elsewhere in the underground rooms, Shari Jo showed us Hop Sing's Chinese laundry and the rooms where Chinese railroad workers were housed. "Sundown laws" required all non-whites to leave town at sunset, or at least be invisible to townsfolk, so the some of the underground rooms and passageways became a Chinese settlement, complete with opium tables.
The underground tour also told the stories of the ground-floor business, including the Empire Meat Company started by a pair of German brothers and an Ice Cream Parlor run by their wives. The connection: both needed ice, which the brothers made via a brine bath down here in the basement. Pretty ingenious in the pre-electric era. From this start, the immigrants reportedly did build an "empire" of business in town and in nearby ranches.
In the early 1900s, there were dozens of bars and bordellos in a four-block area of Pendleton reserved for such entertainment. Both businesses came under citizen pressure once their clientele shifted from transient miners and cattle-hands to neighbors. The first threat was prohibition, which a reforming mayor instituted even before the national law was changed. This effectively shifted the bars and stills from the ground level down into the basement labyrinths where they prospered, in between the sheriff's raids. We'll talk about the bordello crack-down later.
During wartime, the entertainment spaces served a more patriotic purpose. In World War Two, well after Prohibition had been rescinded, the district serviced nearby Army training bases, including parachute and heavy bomber training. The USO even opened an operation in the same neighborhood.
A now-recognized group of "jumpers" was the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, organized to fight forest fires, including those started by Japanese fire balloons. The soldiers were all black, except their white officers in the segregated US armed forces of the time.
Initially, the black soldiers were kept from evening entertainment by the same sundown laws that had affected the Chinese railroad workers decades before. Base officers staged a band parade through town, giving many in Pendleton their first glimpse of black men and the effect was that town fathers granted an exemption to the prejudicial laws, as long as the soldiers were in uniform.
Shari Jo was most animated giving us the history of the upstairs entertainment of Pendleton, particularly the operation run by Madame Stella Darby. Stella's Cozy Rooms operation operated from the WWII era through the mid-1950s, despite ever-more-stringent laws against prostitution. She managed to stay in business by a combination of insightful marketing, good employee care, and an in-depth understanding of local politics, and politicians. She even ended up with a statue on Main Street.
The hour-and-a-half tour was all that we could have hoped for and we came away agreeing with the Chamber of Commerce tourism recommendation: a must-see.
Next door to the Cozy Rooms, was Alexander's Artisan Chocolates, as tempting as any bar or bordello. Customers of the Underground Tour are offered a free sample of warm liquid chocolate and we were hooked. Marianne ordered a 6-ounce refill, with a added shot of (decaf) coffee. I bought to-go treats, but not the $13 mounted-on-display bonbons.
Our tourism day was not done with just old bars etc. We also visited the business that has made the town name famous: Pendleton Woolen Mills. Originally based on local sheep farming, the factory continues to make blankets from local wool as well as American wool from other regions. Despite the huge selection of new and discounted blankets, we left empty-handed. Oh well, there's always mail order.
No city visit is complete without an art element and that meant the Pendleton Art Center. Housed in an original Carnegie Library building, the Center is more an artist shared space than a display gallery, but we did enjoy the photos of Debbie Mcintosh and her trip to Kazakstan for the Mongolian Nomads and their hunting eagles.
A tour day is not finished without a meal and we took the Art Center's docent suggestion of The Oregon Grain Grower's Distillery. I had an excellent gin and tonic to start, while Marianne sampled a mint-vodka drink that was good enough that we ordered a bottle of the distillery's product. The food was, if anything, better, especially the peach pizza. Really. You must go to Pendleton to get it, and only during local peach season.
That's it for Pendleton. Maybe one of our best one-day stops!
Friday, June 18, Across Oregon
Our plan was for a long drive across a big state. We left Pendleton early, heading west along the Columbia River. This may be one of my most favorite drives anywhere, although this time we would turn south before some of the best scenery.
Starting inland, we passed through miles of wheat fields and granaries.
In Umatilla, we passed by the chemical weapons incinerators of the Army Arsenal.(middle)
A few vineyards on the Washington side, fishers and barges, several huge dams,
and Mount Hood always keeping and eye on us.
At The Dalles we stopped to charge Carla and to get some breakfast for us carbon units. Because of all those hydroelectric facilities, power is relatively cheap up here. Everyone should be driving electric!
South from The Dalles, we wound along mostly-two-lane highways up to the high plains of Eastern Oregon. This is a long drive to Klamath Falls, but more interesting than down Interstate 5 from Portland to Salem, Eugene, and Medford. That's just a freeway, whereas this is a Road.
Once up on the plains, we were guided by a series of Cascade Mountains along our right side. This makes the drive interesting, but it is a long haul.
By the time we reached Klamath Falls, we were ready to stop for the night. All the chain hotels were either full or much more expensive than an overnight stop warranted, so we opted for the city center Maverick Motel. I classified the place as "simple", but Marianne was less positive. I have the feeling that standard prices have doubled in the two months of our BWRT and reservations have been harder to get. Everybody's on a Road Trip and hotels are making up for lost revenue in 2020.
We grabbed a quick dinner at the next-door brewery and made it back to our room in time for our Friday Game Night on Zoom. I'm glad we've been able to keep up this tradition on the road because it does add some two-way communication with Brian and Geoff. Our diaries give them our happenings, but we need to learn about them and their families as well.
After games, we took a walk in downtown Klamath Falls. Pendleton was more pleasant, but it is a much smaller town and revitalization would be easier. In that sense, Klamath Falls and Fresno face a similar problem: too big for easy solutions and too small to be a major urban center. (And both places decorate with murals.)
Saturday, June 19, Drive to Family
This would be another long day, from southern Oregon to family in South Bay.
I started the day with coffee and the first of four charging sessions. Klamath Falls was quiet and the Supercharger was empty at this early hour.
We left Maverick Motel as soon as we could. It had not been our most luxurious over-night spot and we had lots of driving ahead. We crossed into California just minutes after leaving Klamath Falls and started picking up views of Mount Shasta. The snow-covered peak and its neighbor, Black Butte, were visible for the next hour or even longer. Shasta is one of my favorite Cascade peaks and I still remember driving (slowly) past it in my 1952 MGTD on my way to the University of Portland, over a half-century ago. (Now we zip along in our Tesla Model Y.) It's still majestic.
From the shadow of Mount Shasta we descended into the routine of driving on a busy travel Saturday. Interstate 5 was almost-full through the Sacramento Valley and traffic on I-505, I-680, and I-880 just got heavier as we crossed the San Francisco Bay area. I had not planned the Supercharger stops well, so we made three relatively short pauses instead of just one or two. Each Tesla station was full, or almost. I hope Elon keeps spending on infrastructure!
Finally, we made it to family in Monte Sereno. It was great to see Gabby, Ava, and Sam for the first time in months and we had the added bonus of Zohreh, the kids' other grandmother. Ava demonstrated her latest acrobatics and Gabby gave us a tour of her veggie garden. Family is always the best road trip stop.
The kids showed us the map they had used to track our travels on the BWRT. Seeing their enthusiasm was comforting that we had not lost contact over the two-month trip.
While the more grown-up folks chatted and caught up, the kids and I goofed around in the pool. This resumption of an activity interrupted by Covid precautions was reassuring, at least for me. And fun.
Sunday, June 20, Fathers' Day
Fathers' Day was full of Dad-related activity, but first we distributed BWRT memorial t-shirts to Sam, Ava, and Gabby. (Mamal was at an early morning golf tournament.) Gradually, the car storage areas were getting emptied!
Fathers' Day activities proper started with a visit to Mamal's father, Manou. Unfortunately, the visit had to be at a rehabilitation facility. His four older grandkids came, along with a half-dozen other relatives. It was a family gathering with mixed emotions.
Next on the agenda was a flag football game for Sam and cousin Reef. The guys enjoyed everything, despite an hour-and-a-half running around in the day's heat. Sam's highlight was a touchdown catch!
Back home, Fathers' Day celebration began in earnest. Mamal was back from golf and was presented with cards from the kids, a mountain picture from photographer Gabrielle, and a cap from Marianne and me. We were also happy to give him a "growler" we had found in Wyoming, even if it was not for any special occasion.
After gifts, it was a barbecue dinner, complete with an an ice cream cake that almost defeated Mamal's surgery skills. A great way to celebrate.
Then it was time for more adult chit chat while the kids enjoyed the pool. I don't know how they have so much energy at the end of the day. They even worked in a few dance steps on their way to bed.
It's fun being around them, especially on Fathers' Day.
Monday, June 21, End of the Road
On the 59th day of the Big Western Road Trip, we returned home to Fresno.
Before leaving Los Gatos, we went to breakfast at a regular spot and, because she lives nearby, Marianne called Adrienne to suggest joining us for coffee. She did and then mentioned that she was meeting our other Tuesday Zoom Cocktail partner, Rita, shortly. That turned into a drink in Adrienne and Tony's back yard, kind like a rehearsal for our Zoom appointment the next day. It was a good visit and I hope friends succeed at helping friends.
The drive back to the Central Valley was as routine as ever. We stopped at Casa da Fruta for some electricity and fruit. These are the kinds of charging stops we enjoy; unrushed, uncrowded, and overlapping with something we might do even without the need to top up our big battery.
Arriving home was a blur of activity. We emptied the front trunk, the back trunk, the under trunk, and the back seat. At least 20% of all this went unused in the two months of travel. We resolved to be more selective next time. (I think we make such a resolution every trip.) The house-sitters had done OK in our absence, with nothing expensive broken or destroyed.
The yard and garden were green and flourishing, mostly. That's a mixed blessing since we now need to do two-months worth of trimming and cleaning, in 100-degree weather, before we leave in three days.
I'll try to add a summary of the BWRT as soon as I mull things over. As of today, we'd say that, while we like our home and nearby friends, we'd still like to return to the road. Soon. For another "Big Roadtrip". Currently, our horizon only has small trips, but we are thinking.
Stay tuned, as always.
John and Marianne