January 9, 2013
The Washougal River Mercantile
Pulling off the Washougal River Road into the gravel parking lot, I scanned the dozen or so parked cars for a familiar face. None stood out, but then again, I hadn’t been a regular at the Washougal River Mercantile for the better part of a decade.
“Do you still come here a lot Mom?” I asked.
“All the time.” She responded from the passenger seat.
Parking in an empty place, I checked my pockets for my wallet and grabbed a handfull of change from the ash tray. I was hungry, and the Merc (as it is is called by locals), was the only option for 20 miles.
The steel bell chimed as I pushed the door open. A few members of the Fuller family (three generations work at the store) stood around the cash register and met me with a familiar smile. I said hello back and continued towards the grocery section. They layout, selection and prices, haven’t changed much since is started going there 20 years. Heading towards the deli section, I searched the heat lamps for a bacon egg and cheese breakfast sandwich. All sold out.
“A little late to the party.” I murmured as I checked my watch and headed towards the expansive beef jerky section for my protein fix.
Growing up 10 minutes away from the Merc afforded me an intimate knowledge of its offerings. Some of the more glamorous purchases over the last 20 years include but aren’t limited to; my first .22 there, a Savage Single shot bolt action, my first rated R movie there, The Rock, and my first steelhead fishing set up were all purchased at the Merc. In addition to these notable purchase are countless Charleston Chews, gallons of milks, pipe fittings, and dozens of eggs.
As a kid, it seemed liked the best store in the world with everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t. It still holds true.
Once ubiquitous in rural areas, these stores are fading to obscurity in the wake of suburban sprawl and shopping centers. It’s happening in Washougal. With the Portland Metro area constantly growing outward, places like the Merc are feeling increased pressure from chain grocery and sporting good stores.
All the beverages you need.
The hunting and fishing bragging wall. Someday I’d like to make it on here.
Grabbing my coffee and Tillamook beef jerky pack, I walked past the pluming section towards the cash registered.
While searching my pockets for rolled up dollar bills I made small talk with the clerk. She had been my baby sitter when I was 10 and hadn’t recognize me. While talking, I noticed a hand written sine taped to the cash register. The Sharpie on 8.5X11 paper read, “Gas Purchases limited to 10$.” Taking a swig of my coffee, I bid farewell and pushed the sliding door open. Walking towards the syncro, I milled the implications of the sign over.
“No gas sales over 10$? Would that even get you to Washougal?” I asked my Mom as she walked up to the Syncro. I stood with my back against the drivers side.
“It’s not good. They must be really strapped for cash.”
“Those places are going the way of the Blackberry. what a shame,” I said popping open the drivers door and jumping into the seat.
“Sure is,” she agreed.
Here are some more links,
Washougal River Mercantile (Yelp).
October 16, 2012
A statue honoring the Veterans of the Korean War stood watch over a lone Dodge at the county park. Across from the empty jungle gym, unidentifiable country music from a Central Oregon radio station hummed through the ‘lowered windows. The west wind bent the top of the pine trees and wafted over-heated coolant from the front grill of the truck. A girl’s legs hung from the passenger window and a shirtless teenager slouched in the bench seat. It was late summer 2012 in The Dalles.
“Should we tell them their engine overheated?” My mom said, leading her Irish Terrier, Lucy, down the sidewalk.
“No, Mom… let them be,” I said, taking the leash from my mom’s hand and continuing along.
It’s hard to predict which moments come to identify a specific place or time, often it’s the most seemingly trivial ones that capture my imagination and spark my sense of nostalgia.
Here are some more links,
West Wind (Facebook).
May 29, 2012
We followed US 89 out of the east end of Flagstaff as the lengthening afternoon shadows and dropping temperatures signaled the eminence of the high desert sunset.
“How far do you think we should make it tonight?” I asked Tim as he peered at the Gazeter of Arizona.
“Ehhh it all depends…”
“Just pick a place, and we’ll head there. All this,” I motioned out the windshield towards the expanse of sage and sandstone, “is government land. God’s country. We can camp where-ever-the-fuck-we-want.”
“I know, but we’re getting close to Navajo Nation. I feel weird for camping in their land.”
“Are you serious? This shit is abandoned. There’s a gazilion dirt roads leading off into the middle of nowhere.”
“I still feel strange about it. If I were them, I wouldn’t want a bunch of gringos camping on my land,” Tim said, as if addressing the possibility of Sasquatch.
“Alright, alright. Let’s head towards a monument then. I want to be within striking distance of Four Corners tomorrow. I can’t do any more of this interstate highway shit,” I said, alluding to the hours spent tracking east out of LA on the 40.
Nodding in agreement, Tim flipped to the page, searching for suitable monument or national park. ” Navajo National Monument is….less than 100 miles from here. Lets head there.”
“The Dude Abides.”
Rolling down the window, the warm desert air masked the smell of sweat and dirt has amassed in the Syncro over the last nine months. With a destination picked, my angst settled and I stuck my hand out of the open window. Flowing like a sine wave, I hummed the melody of a familiar Warren Zevon song. The miles ticked by.
My brother Tim has a photo blog called Cairn Culture. Take a look.
Yours truly looking over the edge. Timer.
The Clan of the Van.
Burning the last rares of daylight, we pulled off the empty two lane highway and headed towards the Monument. Judging by the suns position, hovering a few degrees over the horizon to the west, we hand less than an hour before the first stars would dot the unpolluted sky.
“I wonder what’s at the Navajo National Monument,” I mused, half to my brother, half to my sleepy self.
“We’ll see first thing in the morning.”
Pulling off on a packed dirt road with scraps of spring grass growing in the middle, we headed half a mile towards a canyon. Periodic slabs of sandstone broke broke the ground, sending the Syncro on a trail that resembled a centerfold of an off road magazine. Arriving on one such sandstone bulge, I rolled to a stop.
“This looks about as good a place as any.”
Pulling the parking break, I slipped into second gear and released the clutch. Popping my seat belt, I opened the door and jumped down to the still warm sand stone. Stiff from the hours of driving, I spread my arms and arched my back.
“Home is where you park it!” I laughed.
Here are some more links,
Four Corners (Facebook).
March 22, 2012
The Last Free Place
“Want to go explore this place?” I asked Jason as I flicked a piece of gravel from a scrape on my elbow caused by a slam in the deep end of an abandoned pool.
“Yah, I’m over skating this spot.” Jason said leaning against the wall in the shallow end.
“Which way do you want to head?” Looking around in a 180-degree motion, the occasional satellite dish on an RV punctuated the otherwise unremarkable deserted landscape. In the distance a two-stroke engine, presumably from a motorcycle, whined.
“That stage looked really cool,” Jason nodded west towards the main road.
“Yah, ‘check that out. I spotted some pretty neat campers too.”
Leaving our skateboards by the van, we headed back along a dirt road towards the center of an abandoned military base base in the California desert known as Slab City.
Following the road a half mile back towards the pull off, we passed a dozen or so makeshift camps composed of a vehicle and a structure of sorts, usually an awning or tent. Each winter, thousands of snowbirds, travelers and vagabonds pass through the Slab City. These “slabbers” as they are called avoid rent and other obligations known to the majority of society by camping on abandoned building foundations or slabs. An entire community has developed with a church, a barter-based internet cafe, post office, communal water source and a music venue, the Range.
Tyler Mummar impersonating a local.
Haven is trailer in the California desert.
“You guys just get here?” A kid in his 2o’s said sitting next to a Chevy Astro van, some twenty feet from the road.
“Yea, just a few hours ago. We are just passing through.”
“This place is pretty wild,” I said excitedly. ”How long have you been here?”
“Oh, two or three weeks. I come through a few times a year,” He said, kicking a beat-up tennis ball across the road for golden retriever.
“Ever been here in the summer?”
“Hell no. It gets to 120 in the shade. You’re not consider a true “Slabber” around here until you spend at least two summers camped out.”
“Yah..No thanks, that sounds miserable.”
“When are you hitting the road again?” Jason asked.
“Soon, real soon. I’m feeling restless. Maybe two or three days.”
Nodding in agreement, Jason and I continued down the road towards a group of RV’s pulled together in a semi circle. The golden retriever followed for fifty feet or so before being called back to the Astro.
“People lose track of time here.”
“They sure do. Did you hear that guy? He said he was leaving real soon, ‘…. two or three days.’ Real soon for me is ten minutes. Maybe fifteen.”
“Haha. When life’s cheap, things move slowly I guess.”
“They do call it, ‘the last free place on earth,’” I joked.
Here are some more links,
The Last Free Place (Facebook).