Day 6: Driving through Washington

posted 3 Aug 2005, 11PM

We left Portland at the crack of dawn, due east on the 84 into the rising sun, following the river halfway across the state. The terrain was rugged; Jenny napped as I drove, thinking about Lewis and Clark and those late 19th century geological government surveys documenting the savage frontier. All that bulky photographic equipment. I saw tree farms and rocky riverbanks. After a fruit stand snack stop we ditched the freeway for back roads, munching tamales (unexpectedly good) and beef jerky (remarkably peppery).

We drove 395 to 26 to 27, cutting through chartreuse wheatgrass and the occasional duststorm,, in pursuit of a town where Jenny’s father had lived as a baby. According to the bartender/cook/waitress at Grumpy’s Tavern on main street, Garfield has a population of about 630. “I wonder how many Honda Elements have come through town?” Jenny asked, under her breath. We saw mostly Chryslers and farm trucks.

Grumpy's in garfield, WAThe diner in town had closed a few years back, but the good people at Empire Grocery had suggested the tavern. The interior of Grumpy’s was coated with clever bumper stickers (“For a Small Town, this one sure has a lot of Assholes!”) and promotional beer posters from the early nineties. We ordered two cans of Hamms and two burgers. The woman was friendly, and the food was tasty in the way that simple food in strange places is tasty when you’re tired and traveling.

The bartendress knew the folks who entered the bar as we finished our burgers. She gave one lady a sandwich and set cans of Budweiser in front of two good old boys. The white-bearded one was older, with glasses and a kind face; the other was tall and guant in his pale coveralls and looked like he shaved his black stuble with mollusk shells. They both smoked. Whitebeard had more to say.

Whitebeard: Up there they got Jack in the Box, and Burger King, and all of ‘em that work there is Mexicans. And they don’t event speak English, all they know is how to say the name of food. If you don’t know know Spanish they wont hire you.

Gaunt: “Ham-bug-uh, or howeve they say it. “Frunch Fry.”

W: And it’s the same if you go into a Walmart, too.

G: I can’t even go in there. It’s all Mexicans workin’ there.

W: But see, I can’t handle bein’ around Indians neither. And I’m part Indian!

F: Me too.

W: You know, it was the Cherokees were the first ones that the white could fuck.

G: The only ones!

W: That’s how they did it, fucked them all away.

You know, my granddad said he rode his wagon into town, and saw a pretty old girl settin’ there… well, she was young at the time, you know. Young and pretty. And he saw her there, and he walked up to the chief and said, “I’ll give you a wagon and two mules for that one.” And the chief looked at him for a second and said, “Ah-yep.” Don’t know why, either… it’s not like they got anywhere’s to go!

G: Well, except to Oklahoma.

W: Naw, this was 125 years ago, before the reservations. And my grandma, all the way up until she end, she was 99 years old – she died of Alzheimer’s, you know – all the way until the end she wouldn't acknowledge her Indian heritage. Not ever.

G: Yeah, neither didn't my grandmother.

We listened, paid our bill, and stepped out onto the asphalt street corner. As I opened my laptop to jot down dialogue, I noticed that my Airport had already connected to an open wifi network called Garfield_center.

Jarring, anachronism.

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