Backroads Bookscouting: Last Hurrah on the Olympic Peninsula

It started a few weeks ago, when I’d had occasion over the course of my day job to drive some patients from Tacoma to their homes out in Buckley.

It’s beautiful country, and it got me feeling wistful for the days when Julie and I could just take a long weekend and throw a couple of bags in the car and hit the road. Maybe we could still do that, I thought. Just an overnighter. Eat drive-thru and find a hotel that’s being safe.

My original idea was to head east towards the mountains, which is where you find Buckley and Enumclaw and other such places. But the foothills around Mount Rainier wouldn’t be good, I decided after giving it a little more thought. Too many of these.

Apart from the politics– which was uncomfortable enough by itself, we’d spend all our time tiptoeing past the locals like fugitives on the Underground Railroad or something– chances were that in hardcore Trump country, people would very likely be getting all their news about the coronavirus from Fox News and AM radio… so we couldn’t trust the hotels to be safe. With Julie still convalescing, that was not a risk I was willing to take.

But I was itching to go somewhere. Our routine of home-work-grocery-and-occasionally-doctor’s-office had given me a bad case of cabin fever, and Julie didn’t even get out that much since she was forbidden to go to work or the grocery store.

After some online noodling around, I decided on Port Angeles. Specifically, the Port Angeles Inn, because the first thing that came up on the Booking.com website was all the Covid-19 precautions they were taking, and the second thing was that the room would only run us about seventy-five dollars. Besides, Port Angeles is on the water, and Julie loves the water.

My original idea was to take the ferry across Elliott Bay to the peninsula, but we had a little kerfuffle trying to find Julie’s insulin kit and missed the boat. So we decided to just drive south to Tacoma, take the bridge across the Narrows, and pick up 101 that way.

Most people think 101 is the coast highway, and it is, it goes all the way down to southern California; but it loops around the north end to come inland toward us, around the Olympic Peninsula to terminate at the south end of Puget Sound. Here’s a map for the Pacific Northwest-impaired.

We live very close to the airport, there on the lower right quarter of the map. It would be a simple matter to buzz down I-5 to Tacoma and then swing west on 16, across the Narrows, and head north up Route 3 to where it joined up with 101. It’s a pretty drive, with lots of gorgeous scenery.

I have to admit I don’t care for the Narrows.

The bridge is very high and still sways in the wind, though of course it’s much safer than the original bridge that collapsed in 1940. But that collapse is always on my mind going across it, and it’s worse when it’s windy, which is pretty much all the time.

But once you’re across it’s a lovely drive. As usual, we were ambling, with the vague idea that we’d be at the hotel by late afternoon. Normally we would poke our noses in at any thrift store or garage sale that caught our attention, but the virus has made us a little jumpy about that so we mostly eschewed such stops and settled for the view.

Which was almost always spectacular, since the sun was out. It had rained all week and we’d have gone even it had been raining still (because the hotel was nonrefundable.) It did seem like a good omen though.

We stopped in Discovery Bay to stretch our legs and find a restroom and that was when we noticed something of a phenomenon. They really like the ganja out there on the rez.

I mean they really, really like it.

After Discovery Bay we started counting. In the space of two miles there were no less than seven different cannabis emporiums. Those are just the ones we SAW, on 101 itself, without turning on to any side roads. Ranging from the shacky mom-and-pop kind…

…to the very slick and corporate-style Greens at Seven Cedars.

We do not partake so it was strictly an academic interest, but it was a little boggling to realize how quickly the Demon Weed had become mainstream, especially in this very conservative part of our state. Greens even has a drive-thru window, for God’s sake. (Speaking of, just after I shot the photo of Greens, above, we saw a little old Native lady with snow-white hair, clearly in pain, hobbling up to the entrance; we laugh about it, but we are aware they aren’t all befuddled Phish followers using the stuff. I silently wished her well and hoped they’d fix her up with something that made her feel better.)

Greens is the latest addition to the Seven Cedars Resort, by the way. It joins a very classy hotel and nightclub, and of course, a casino. We have occasionally been tempted to stop there, since the nightclub often features bands of our era doing the dinosaur-tour thing, though of course live shows have been off the table for the better part of a year. But staying at the hotel itself is way out of our price range.

Clearly dope is the new unregulated-fireworks out here in Native country. At any rate, it’s obviously a big cash crop. I couldn’t help being a little amused, given how un-progressive folks are out here about virtually everything else. Agribusiness has had to adapt in recent years. Berke Breathed was way ahead of the curve on that back in 1981, for sure.

Agribusiness looked like it had taken quite a dive, actually. The whole stretch there along the bay from Discovery Bay to Port Angeles has gone from pastures, lavender farms, and logging to looking really quite suburban. (Yes, lavender; it used to be THE big crop out around Sequim and the surrounding area– there was one year we couldn’t get a hotel room because they’d all been booked for the Lavender Festival.)

Neighborhood developments have been springing up like mushrooms where there used to be nothing but grassland, trees, and the occasional rawboned cow.

This creeping gentrification is what persuaded us to take a chance on the Goodwill on the east end of Sequim. Corporate folks are less likely to play fast-and-loose with mask-and-sanitizer protocols. (That, and wanting to stock up on snacks and soda at the adjoining Safeway.)

I hadn’t really been expecting to turn up much, though we’ve had good luck at this Goodwill before; turned up a rare hardcover first of The Shining there a couple of years back.

Nothing that good this time, but I didn’t leave empty-handed. I found these two.

The Fear Index by Robert Harris and Once Upon A Time, an anthology edited by Lester Del Rey and Risa Kessler. Neither one is a rarity, though they were both firsts. The Harris was just because I’d liked his novel Fatherland, one of the better alternate-universe takes on World War II where the Nazis won the war. It was made into a very cool little movie with Rutger Hauer a couple of decades back and someone really needs to get on a new home video release of that.

Harris has followed that up with a number of other World War II thrillers and historical novels about ancient Rome and such, but The Fear Index was the first time I’d run across a story of his set in the here and now:

At the nexus of high finance and sophisticated computer programming, a terrifying future may be unfolding even now…. Dr. Alex Hoffmann’s name is carefully guarded from the general public, but within the secretive inner circles of the ultrarich he is a legend. He has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that predicts movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy. His hedge fund, based in Geneva, makes billions. But one morning before dawn, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of his lakeside mansion, and so begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts, with increasing desperation, to discover who is trying to destroy him.

Okay, sold. Suspense with an overlay of SF has been my jam ever since I ran across Ben Bova’s The Multiple Man in high school.

But the treasure of the two was the Del Rey anthology. First of all the lineup of writers looked really good; a nice mix of styles, and unimpeachable talent top to bottom.

That would be enough to recommend it but the reason I loved it so much were the illustrations from Michael Pangrazio. It’s a remarkable book just as an artifact.

He looks like he’s channeling his inner Hildebrandt but he’s better than the Hildebrandts.

I was through with the book section in record time– really, it was slim pickings– so I ambled over to the CDs to see if there was anything in between the usual thrift-shop selection of weirdo Christian-rock compilations and discarded classical collections that might make good road music. It’s rare you find anything really GOOD among the CDs at Goodwill, though once in a while you see a greatest hits collection or something that’s fun. Amazingly, though, this time there was a genuinely good record in there.

Julie gave me a look. “You like Bonnie Raitt?”

“I thought all right-thinking people like Bonnie Raitt.”

I was fudging a little. I like LIVE Bonnie Raitt. Specifically, I like this cover, which was on the album.

Opening it up in the car, we found that only one disc of the two-disc set was in there; the other was, inexplicably, one from Shania Twain. But what the hell, it was Goodwill and only two bucks, and the song I’d bought it for was on the disc that made it, so I didn’t care. Julie likes Shania Twain anyway, so it wasn’t like it wouldn’t get played. We also found winter socks for me and a shirt for Julie so all around it was a success.

With that, we were off to the hotel, only another fifteen minutes down the road.

We hadn’t bothered to spring for ‘waterfront view’ or anything like that, but the view from our door was pretty good, looking away from the water toward the mountains. You can’t really see it in the photo but the clouds were stippled with pink and orange from the sunset and it was pretty damn spectacular.

I had forgotten, but Julie reminded me that her best friend and former roommate Marcia lived out this way now, and we should call her and see if she wanted to get takeout with us. Marcia begged off on that, so we settled on lunch the following day.

That still left us with the question of dinner. Julie cares about this sort of thing much more than I do so she did some Google-fu on her phone and found the Firehouse Grill, apparently a local legend of a burger joint that did drive-through.

I’m normally suspicious of this local legend thing– after all, Dick’s Drive-In is a local legend here in Seattle and their burgers are tiny and paper-thin, resting on a salad’s worth of lettuce and a soggy little bun– but I had not reckoned with the fact that Port Angeles is a seaport in farm country. They eat hearty.

I daresay all the weed they’re smoking is probably a factor. (*rimshot* HEYooooooo!) Anyway, it was a terrific burger, and I know genre fans like their junk food, so I’m telling you, if you ever get out that way, it’s not to be missed.

The next day we didn’t really bother with breakfast since we slept late, we were meeting Marcia, and anyway we still had snacks from the stop the day before. Instead we took our time packing up and getting dressed. Here is a thing I’ve never mentioned about our travels but I assure you it’s one of our real pleasures on the road, and the Port Angeles Inn was a prime example of this. When we travel, we usually end up crashing in some low-rent rural no-tell motel, which we don’t mind as long as it’s clean and doesn’t smell of bug spray. (Looking at you, EconoLodge.)

But a great treat, in even the crappiest of these, is the water pressure. It’s always abnormally high and we love it. Run the shower a little extra hot and it’s better than a massage.

Maybe this is just an old person thing but it is truly wonderful, especially since at home our cheapskate landlord insists on low-flow everything. I spent half an hour in the shower that morning and I was aglow. Julie said she hadn’t felt that clean after a shower in six months.

We are simple folk, clearly. But feeling that good after a shower really does set a sort of pleased and optimistic tone to the morning. I’d rather a hotel have high water pressure than free HBO. Not even a little bit kidding. When you are old and achy like we are you’ll get it.

We didn’t have much of an agenda other than checking out, lunch with Marcia, and heading for home, though we did want to give the Port Angeles Goodwill a quick once-over. Since Marcia is also a thrift-store maven, she had opted to meet us there, so that was where we were stopping first.

As we were heading out to the car the maid was just starting on the upstairs floor, a couple of doors down from ours. She told us not to worry, she saw us checking out well before the time we were supposed to be gone, just leave the key in the room. Something about the encounter seemed a little off to me and when we were a block or so away it hit me. “You notice anything about the maid?” I asked Julie.

“No, not really. What?”

“She was white. When’s the last time we saw a white motel maid? Even out here in Caucasian paradise.”

“Never,” Julie said slowly. “Not ever. Always Latino, even on the peninsula.”

“No uniform either, and almost nobody in the hotel. And she talked like the boss, not a maid. You know, I bet that was the manager. Maybe even the owner. Most of the staff probably got laid off months ago. When the lockdown started.”

It was a sobering thought. I might have been completely wrong, but I doubted it. A lot of us have had to choose between keeping a paycheck and keeping safe since the pandemic hit, but a lot more folks had no choice at all.

The Port Angeles Goodwill was a bust. Marcia said it was always a poor prospect for books; back before she moved out here, when she used to visit, her mother would beg Marcia to bring books. I’d had some luck out there in years past, but not much. Sequim was always the better bet.

Just the usual junk.

I’d thought we would do some kind of takeout for lunch but Marcia assured us Gordy’s was safe, and it was. We were the only customers there.

The food was good, though, and Marcia explained a lot of what we had been seeing. She’d grown up in Port Angeles so she had a much better sense of the changes out there. The farms were being parceled out because there had been an influx of California software money, telecommuters who’d found they could get a house and a nice spread of land for a monthly mortgage payment that was less than what a two-bedroom apartment rental would cost in Seattle. It also explained why farming had turned from lavender and livestock to cannabis, and why we were seeing a considerably more liberal sensibility than you’d find on the peninsula once you were east of Discovery Bay. (Even some Biden signs were visible once you hit Sequim, though Inslee was nowhere to be seen; for governor, Port Angeles was solidly for Culp, or at least the sign-display contingent was.)

Gordy’s, though, had not changed significantly, Marcia assured us, and told stories of how it was the big hangout back in her high school days. Julie took this photo of the stained glass piece, which may or may not have dated back to then, just because she liked it. She’s fond of owls.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and hit the road. I briefly considered and discarded the ferry as an option, since it was Sunday and the ferries were even more likely to be both infrequent and late, which would leave us waiting in line for an hour or more for a boat that would save us half an hour’s drive at most. So we turned south on 3 to cross the Tacoma Narrows again.

Our experiences in Sequim and Port Angeles had persuaded us it would be safe enough to stop briefly at the Goodwill in Silverdale.

The book section there is huge, which is why I was thinking it might be worth a look.

But again it was slim pickings. I did find a couple. Another SF thriller, Allen Steele’s The Tranquillity Alternative…

This was purely an impulse buy, I have no knowledge of the book or its writer. I just liked the cover and the jacket copy sold me:


The Tranquillity Alternative
is set in an alternate world where America’s space program, despite the establishment of a Moon base, a visit to Mars, and other successes, has run out of credibility and money and is being sold off to a German concern. One problem remains: A US silo on the Moon contains nuclear missiles that must be deactivated before the Germans take over. So the US Space Agency organizes one last mission, but as the ship nears the Moon, pilot Gene Parnell discovers that one of the crew has been replaced by a double, and that a treacherous plot is unfolding…

Very much reminiscent of Ben Bova’s Millennium, which I had also first encountered in high school. Maybe it was a theme this trip.

The other was The First Rule of Punk, a novel by a former zinester about a teenage punk rocker, so I kind of had to.

The plot’s fairly standard for a YA novel– misfit girl moves to a new town and has to figure out where she fits in the unforgiving new school setting. But it’s all about the execution here. Author Celia Perez was a zine maker herself back in the day, and that’s incorporated into the book itself. The chapters are each framed with a zine our young heroine Malu makes about whatever she’s going through.

It’s completely charming.

I wish I’d known about this book in the pre-Covid days, when I was teaching. My students would have loved it.

Those two were all I turned up, though. I went and found Julie, who was having a much worse time than I was. She hissed at me, “These people are NOT keeping their distance, and they keep pulling their masks down.” When we got in line to make our purchases I saw what she meant. The line kept getting squeezed to unsafe distances. Fortunately it was moving, and we got to the checkstand fairly quickly. After we’d paid we raced to the car and fled for home.

So that was our overnighter. As trips go, it wasn’t an award winner, but it was something. At any rate, with the new lockdown in place, it’s going to have to do for a while.

Back next week with something cool. In the meantime, enjoy your holiday– ALONE, at home. Please. We’d really like all of this virus panic to be over someday. The more safely we conduct ourselves, the sooner that happens. So be safe, everyone.

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8 Comments

  1. Jeff Nettleton

    These are always a treat. Glad you got a chance to get outside, for a bit.

    I agree with you on Harris and Fatherland. I stumbled across the movie long ago and his name came up in references to conspiracy novels, in an Illuminati role playing sourcebook I picked up, after getting interested in the the theories and such, after reading Time Masters, from Lewis Shiner and DC Comics.

    Tranquility Alternative sounds like it’s up my alley.

    Illinois legalized ganja not long ago and we now have a dispensary opening up right next door to us, at my workplace. There is talk of us moving, though not related to that, though it might have helped pry open a few pocket books to make it potentially sooner than later (Our building is old and location doesn’t have the best access and potential site is both highly visible and easily accessible).

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, I always love the backroads columns, regardless of whether or not there was any success in snagging some cool books. And man, that burger looks sooooo good. My mouth began watering as soon as I saw the pic.
    Nice to hear that Julie likes owls. My partner Sanja also loves them (and I like ’em, too). Great minds and all that.

    By the way, 101 also runs quite a ways inland for a big chunk (most, really) of its route through California as well.

    1. Gavin

      Greg-

      For a shorter road trip that Julie may enjoy, a snowy owl has been spotted on Queen Anne this week. It will take some detective work to figure out where it is hanging out, as I haven’t heard of an address or cross streets. My hunt will start near Coe Elementary.

      I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some owls. Their personalities are very cat-like.

      As always, I enjoy reading of the road trips. So glad you could work one in!

  3. The conservative rank-and-file have been comfortable with pot for a long time. It’s one of those points where the government has been considerably to the right of our voters — probably because there’s big money in keeping it illegal (property seizures, the prison industrial complex, etc.).
    I get you about bridges. The Mid-Bay Bridge near where I used to live is long and narrow and while it doesn’t sway I grew much more uncomfortable driving over it as time passed.
    I’ve gotten a lot of CDs out of the library sale table (not so much this year of course) and occasionally I discover it’s The Wrong One inside.

  4. We’re a long way away in Calgary, Alberta and, you know, the border is closed to the US, but otherwise we have a kick-ass shower and you would be welcome to come holiday here with us and use it every day as long as you want, Greg! As thanks for all your wonderful bookscouting stories which I think I said before, way back on the old website even, make me feel I should be reading a magazine article and not the cold dead screen of a computer.

    And yes, while Alberta is Canada’s Trump’s America, I’m going through chemo so we’re a super safe house. Cases ARE mentally on the rise though so sadly the excellent second hand bookstore here that is merely down at the next major set of lights is likely to be closing tomorrow along with everyone else. Again.

    Stay safe! Apparently our saviour, Vaccine, I think that’s her name, is riding in on her horse any month now. Yeehaw! I knew them masks weren’t necemmsary.

  5. BB

    Greg, so glad you and Julie could get out for a bit! Cabin fever is REAL! And what else is real is that burger! I’m with Edo, now that I’ve seen it that burger is the only thing I’ve ever wanted. So glad you had the weather you did, too.

    I always say progress can’t be stopped, only slowed, and the changes we’re seeing with pot – and the start of decriminalization of drug use – are examples. Good riddance to Trump/Pence, and if there’s a god we’ll get a couple blue Senators in Georgia and then get some real progress going! Long shot I know, but one can hope!

    Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, all!

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