Sunday, October 17, 2010

CHARCTERS AND CREATURES ALONG THE EMERALD HIGHWAY

The weather has stayed so lovely here it has been impossible to leave. Yesterday was the first true fog day we have had in two weeks. It is often been foggy here at night and in the early morning but rarely has lasted long. It is a rare year, not likely to be repeated soon. There has been some rain north of here, but the state from the midpoint down has remained dry and unseasonably warm. This weekend marks the first cold nights and truly grey days. It is the announcement that it is time to move on, inland perhaps, where the temperatures are higher in the daytime and the sun will be shining next week assuming the weather remains as the prognosticators suggest.


The time here has fallen into a pleasant pattern. The routine has allowed me to meet more characters and observe more of the creatures here. There are so many characters among these travelers and vacationers too and then there are the drifters, grifters, and townsfolk. There is so little time to chronicle them all.

As always, the bikers are fascinating. Two groups were here a few nights, resting up for the rest of their journeys. One, a young couple from Seattle who had made it this far in sixteen days was headed for “somewhere in California”. They showed me the topography maps that showed more hilly sections yet ahead in California than they had thought. I suggested the maps were likely right. I believe I saw Becky recalculating their turn around point before my eyes. Two others, young fellows who seemed more used to all this, told me as they munched power bars at my favorite local mini-mart one morning that they would be in Los Angeles in 20 days. It seemed short to me, but they moved with the grace of ones who should know their limits, so who was I question either their math or their determination?


The last week has seen a large influx of British Columbians headed for warmer climes or just finishing long trips and on their way home. Two ladies with delightful accents and a most noble “westie,” which walked as if he was king of the campground spent a night in the next site. They were headed home for the winter after having crossed Canada to Halifax and Prince Edward Island, and then “sort of wound their way back across the States” as they put it. They had been out six months, which seemed to me too short for such a trip. We shared dinner and a fire and they explained that they only lingered in the places they either found interesting or had never seen. This is for them an annual event although the route may be altered. They rent their house, fire up the camper and are gone a half a year. Their wit and wisdom was refreshing and, as with all such people on the road, they were gone too soon.


Denny is a drifter, in the best sense of the term. He has a camper on his pickup and had been on the road for several months just figuring out what he was going to do next. Half way through his stay, his brother joined him and yesterday they were off to Salem, his brothers “summer” quarters to sell the small rig for one that they both would be comfortable in and then they would go on the road. Denny was returning to Oregon where he had grown up and wanted to spend time here. Hosting at campsites was a possibility. I was impressed by his ability to be open to whatever the future might bring. He was a man of possibilities but not of expectations. I spent less time with his brother, but he seemed surer of what he wanted to do, and while time in the beautiful campgrounds of his home state appealed to him, I had the impression that by next winter, Tucson would be calling him back. They were nice, amiable men, well read and informed, different from many of the more parochial characters I meet on the road.


The drifters and grifters are here too. They always are. Some drift up and down this emerald highway, part beach, part forest, all year. Some do it for good reason. Work at seasonal jobs they hitchhike to every year. Or they go to see family. They are a comfortable bunch, hiking and camping as they wish, with no clock except the inner one that permits them to meet their personal timetables.


A few are just old hands at talking the money out of tourist’s pockets with a variety of stories that stretch the imagination. Often now they are couples and they have a world of trouble. Denny and I ran into one sweet pair in separate places on the same day. He heard the story up to the point where both had lost their jobs, she had lost a baby, and he was a “disabled vet.” By the time they found me, all these things were so and more. Her father had died recently and her mother now lay ill somewhere in Washington and they really only needed gas money to get there so she could care for her Dear One. He had no explanation why he had no disability check for his “war injury.” They moved off when questioned and the inconsistencies arouse. There would be a revised version for the next approach. Could it all be true? Perhaps. Yet in most cases it is unlikely. That is the scam you see, make it seem real enough and a few dollars change hands and they are on to the next mark. When directions to a shelter from a friendly store keeper were ignored, the case was made for me. Being inquisitive works best for me, as it had the day before at the mini-mart when “Billy” (his adorable dog Flash in tow) vouchsafed that he had to have lost his truck keys (he said he was a truck driver) and all he had in it the day before. When I asked him for a picture, he obliged. He sported a VA Hospital Bremerton hat and was about to tell me more about his seven tours as a combat marine in Vietnam when I found a reason to leave. He sat and finished his spiked energy drink as I headed back to camp with my newspaper and sent Flash into his act for a lady just entering. No hard feelings. Just a touch he didn’t make.


The town characters begin to appear when you ride a bike to town for more than a week. Some I had seen before on other trips, yet they seemed to be out more this trip, just like the sun. The dog walker, Florence, is a pleasant if loud woman who seems to know everyone. She appears about nine o’clock with ten dogs, all on separate leashes. As she moves up the parking lots to the convenience store lot in order to circle the gas pumps and begin the trip back, she orders them all to stop or start as the traffic requires. They obey her after several shouts in what I was told is a ritual a few years old. They are hers. She is not, as I has initially thought, a professional walker. She just brings them all out every day, rain or shine for their morning exercise. Since my trips to the store were limited to mornings, I cannot confirm that it is repeated in the afternoon.


There is a type of hat I have sought for some time. Common in the rural west, it is fine for wear in the van as a rain hat. It is made of a stiff cotton oilcloth that makes it impervious to water. It is just the thing for waiting about for the used water to empty at the camp dumpsite, or while unhooking the water and electric from the van. Its wide brim keeps the rain off both the face and the neck while not blocking the vision as a hood. I happened on a small strip mall that yielded a small tack shop that sold them. It was manned by a dapper man dressed in the style reminiscent of my father’s business attire. Harold had the hats, although only a few. I was fortunate to find my size. I asked if I could look around some more and he allowed he would be delighted for me to do so but hoped I could another time. He was waiting for, in his words “a younger woman.” She still drove, he explained so she was taking him to the senior center for lunch. Harold explained to his surprised customer that he was 95 years old, the younger woman was a mere 92, a “lovely” lady, and he was closing because his daughter (I never did get her age) was in Eugene for a show yesterday and had car trouble. He was most gentlemanly and apologetic and said I should come back again after I admired the collage of pictures on his wall of he and his wife as well has his graduation pictures from the “Teacher’s College” in Corvallis , where he had been born and raised.(now Oregon State University). He last worked for a pay from anyone but himself in 1943. He remembers U.S. 101 when it was barely more than a dirt track, paved as it was in gravel. Men of a certain age enjoy being told of thee “past” by men such as these. He explained patiently each picture of him and his wife of 65 years and those of his college days. He told of the eccentricities of all the horses he had owned and shown and how he came to own this shop, a place to be “retired” he said. He was a charming a courtly fellow and I glad I met him. I hope can be that gracious, alert and informative should I live to such an age. Oddly, after all the explanations, he did not want me to take his picture. He said he was getting to old for that.

Early the next day, I dropped my laundry two stores down and as I passed his store, I saw him sitting reading the newspaper avidly and with such focus he did not notice me pass. He looked every bit the gentleman I believe him to be.


The weekend fog and colder nights is the harbinger of the deepening fall in this magic place. The creatures now burrow in for warmth, the “snowbirds” move south, the drifters go on to the next place of interest or employment, the towns people begin to slow their pace for winter, and the grifters continue to tell their stories, bilking who they may, and life continues up and down this gloriously verdant emerald road.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, you've met a world of folks. Interesting how the phenomenon of the grifters with the improbable stories is the same wherever you go...though the stories change. Lots of folks in NYC try the "I need $1.25 for subway fare." Guess it works. Enjoy your travels. I am.

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  2. I thought the yellow brick road went to Emerald City. I didn't know there was an emerald road too.

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  3. GMB: Feel free to ride along!

    RWP: There must be. I named it.

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