I decided to stay in Seattle for a couple weeks, help Trevor paint a house, and make some cash. He wanted to show me around the Pacific Northwest, and although I had been in the area while in the Navy, I hadn’t been able to explore the many spectacular vistas.
In those days Trevor was driving a ‘59 Cadillac Coupe Deville. It was blue with a cream interior, high rear fins with rocket like taillights, white wall tires, and lots of chrome. I was sure that at one time it must have belonged to Buck Star – Space Ranger. Sure, it was not in excellent shape, but Trevor was working hard for the almighty dollar, and stretching it to its limits. Restoring an old automobile is expensive. Pappy’s pig-headed, creative genes had found fertile ground in his sons, and our capricious approach to life was incessantly haunting our attempts at becoming doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, or marine biologists. One must go further down toward the button line – nearer to the solar plexus – to the butchers, bakers, candle stick makers, house painters, bartenders or store clerks, in order to find Pappy, Trevor, and I schlepping for a living. We choose a nice, sunny morning to take the Caddy for a tour of the Olympic Peninsula.
Butch led the way – it was his job, and he did it well. He leaped into the driver’s seat, then over the seat into the back, and waited with anticipation for one of us to roll down the window of his limo, which we proceeded to do of course. We wouldn’t want to miss those hound dog ears flapping in the wind. We took the ferryboat across to Bremerton. The ferry system is an important means of transportation in Puget Sound, as well as an enjoyable boat ride for Butch, and me. To this day I always find the ferryboats a wonderful source of fun. From Bremerton we would go north around Olympic National Park. We would visit Port Townsend, Port Angles, Lake Crescent, and the Olympic Rain Forest.
Port Townsend became a settlement in 1851, and was called the “City of Dreams.” Captain George Vancouver imagined the deep, safe harbor to become the location to perhaps the largest and wealthiest city on the west coast. But, the Northern Pacific Railroad did not link the northern peninsula with the growing cities of Tacoma and Seattle, and the people and trade shifted to the east sound. It remains today a small, picturesque sea town of Victorian homes and historic buildings, small watercrafts, yachts, ferryboats and marine vessels of many kinds. I found it to be one of the most charming coastal communities that I have ever visited. It was a perfect location in which to have lunch – or to settle permanently if one has discovered how to germinate a money tree, and doesn’t require employment. Butch was ready for lunch!
It was a beautiful day and several bar and grills were cooking with the doors and windows open. We choose a nice location from which the delicious aromas were especially enticing. A beer and a salmon sandwich with a cup of chowder sounded superb, and we ordered up. Butch, on the other hand, had to take his position out front – near the open door. Our booth was near the door as well, and I watched that hound get down low on his belly and scoot across the threshold, moving invisibly, inch-by-inch toward us.
“Butch!” was all Trevor had to say and the dog returned outside.
But, Butch was determined, and after several tries, stealthy inching closer and closer, and ever so flat, he eventually situated himself strategically beneath our booth. And nobody had seen him except me. Well, I think that Trevor had actually seen him, but was allowing Butch to exhibit his cunning.
“A double burger plain to go, please,” Butch’s ears perked up and we made our exit.
After a well-deserved lunch for clever ol’ Butch, we continued our tour round the top of the peninsula to the rain forest. There is a noticeable contrast in climate changes across Washington State. From the high desert in the east, through the Cascade Mountains, to the moderate climate of Puget Sound, onward to the Olympic Mountains on the peninsula which includes the rain forest, and finally the rugged north coast line. The Olympic Mountains act as a natural obstacle to the steady flow of moisture that comes in from the Pacific Ocean, via the Japanese Currents and the Jet Stream, and causes a higher measure of rainfall than other areas. Combined with the moderate temperatures and the volcanic rich soil, the conditions have created a spectacular temperate rain forest.
Nestled in four river valleys – the Queets, the Quinault, the Hoh, and the Bogachielgiant – this area is the home of many enormous, old growth trees. Some of the Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, or Douglas fir are as old as one thousand years, and stand up to three hundred feet tall. Below this veteran canopy is a potpourri of ferns, flowering plants, and nurse logs. The result is a magnificent, and imaginatively supernatural, scenario of thin rays of light that scan through the dense canopy of emerald and lime green colors, to the moist forest floor.
As Trevor and I explored this magnificent place, I had visions of Sir Uck Uck, Charlie Horse, Snappy, the dragon, and the Walkin’ Polkin’ romping through the background at any moment. And, I will tell you truthfully that at a quick service restaurant in the nearby town of Port Angeles I once saw an old lady with a hooked nose, crooked back, coarse, hoary hair that extended to her waist, dressed in a long flowing black gown and cape, and wearing shin high, black, lace up boots. I am convinced that she lived deep in this mysterious forest, in a house made of seductive treats for bad little girls and boys who wandered too far from home. Trevor and I had wandered late into the day, and decided to spend the night and rise early for some foggy morning fishing at Lake Crescent.
Port Angles is a small town of about twenty thousand inhabitants situated between the Olympic Mountains to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. It offers access to the Olympic National Park and to the Ferryboats to Vancouver Island, in Canada. For most of its existence, Port Angeles was a timber town, and has only recently begun to enjoy the benefits of the tourist dollars. In the early twentieth century the downtown street levels were raised in order to protect against the constant tidal erosion, and as I understand, there is an underground that may well host the ghosts of many a bibulous lumberjack, or drunken sailor. Seemed like a fitting location for Butch, Trevor and I to find a room.
Trevor and I decided to go out in the evening for a brew or two, perhaps a few games of pool, some good tunes, and perhaps the attentions of a damsel. We found just such a spot. The jukebox was turned up and the selection was country. We bellied up to the bar.
“I’m Dot, what’ll you boys have?” Asked the middle aged, rather husky woman that was tending bar.
Couple of long necks got us started, and a healthy tip to Dot kept us on the right track. There were several people sitting in the booths along a back wall, but the joint was not particularly busy. We had a couple more long necks and chatted with Dot. She was a big woman of Scandinavian decent, and she owned the tavern along with her husband Pete, who was the chief cook and bottle washer. Pete was flipping burgers and frying up a razor clam in the kitchen. In a room set off to the side Trevor and I spied a couple of pool tables. We got some quarters from Dot, over tipped her, punched in several tunes on the juke, and racked ‘em up. I looked out the window at the amber reflection of the neon open sign and noticed that it had started to rain.
Taverns like this are scattered ubiquitously across this country. Dimly lit by neon signs with sad songs on the jukebox, the smell of stale beer, a couple of game size pool tables, and inescapably someone willing to disrupt the lazy, smoky tranquility. After a couple of quiet games of pool I saw them enter and shake off the rain. There was a woman in her early thirties and looking “rode hard and put up wet,” clinging to the arm of a skinny, pocked faced, older man with a crew cut, and a cigarette that hung resolutely from his mouth while the smoke ebbed upward into his eyes without interrupting his callous glare, as it had for years. And, there was the giant. Behind this squalid couple was the big Indian that they called Chief.
Chief stood a head and a half taller than Trevor or I, he outweighed us by a hundred pounds, and his inebriated curiosity cued directly to the poolroom. Jeremiah, as the older man called himself, and his filly named Darla fetched some drinks and seized the unused pool table. There really wasn’t enough room in that small space for two games of pool at the same time, and the scene rapidly became uncomfortable. Chief was a drunk and clumsy mountain, and Jeremiah and Darla were crawling all over each other. Darla disconnected from Jeremiah’s incessant fondling and placed quarters on our table, challenging us to a game.
It is rare that I can beat anyone at a game of eight ball, however by a sardonic twist of fate I happened to have been victorious this time. Trevor conceded to buy the next round, headed for the bar, and Darla racked. But, she racked for nine ball. Now, I didn’t know for sure that I understood how to play the game, and I did know for sure that I had had too much to drink to try. I attempted to forfeit the table and room to this precarious trio, but Darla slithered around me like a serpent in an attempt to persuade me otherwise. Just as Trevor was returning with a couple of longnecks, she slid her venomous hand down my pants to my crotch. The situation became lethal.
Jeremiah positioned himself clutching his cue stick as a bludgeon, while Chief, roaring like an angry grizzly, grabbed me with his huge hands and pinned me against the jukebox. The music skipped wildly, and the lazy harmony of this small neighborhood tavern stalled in alarm. Trevor quickly snatched the pool cue from Jeremiah’s hostile grasp, while Chief held onto me like I was a sack of air, and awaited orders. Trevor had a brisk few words with Jeremiah before Dot and Pete came rushing in, she with a pot of hot coffee, and Pete wielding a telephone. Behind them were two regulars in hesitant support.
“Chief, now you and your friends get out of here now! We’ll call the cops, and you been in jail too many times!” Dot barked.
“I ain’t Chief… Jessie.” The big Indian grunted.
Jeremiah sneered and started to argue. Trevor leaned toward his ear and whispered something, which quieted the belligerent troublemaker.
“Com’on.” ordered the skeletal scalawag.
Darla hissed and twisted around Jeremiah’s arm, Chief tossed me onto a pool table with one hand, and the treacherous three departed, cursing into the rain.
“Damn close.” I muttered thankfully.
“Too damn close.” Trevor concurred. You OK?”
“You boys let me buy you a beer, let your dander wind down.” Dot spoke in a motherly tone.
While our adrenaline was slowing down we ordered a couple of burgers and some fries, maybe to settle our nerves somewhat, maybe because we didn’t want to leave any time soon.
“What did you say to the old dude to shut him up so quickly?” I asked.
“I told him that I had a couple of friends waiting in the car… Smith and Wesson. Didn’t tell them that Butch was snoozing in the back seat. Didn’t want to paralyze them in utter fright.”
“Do you?” I inquired with genuine curiosity.
“Do I what?” Trevor was digging into the generous order of fries.
“Smith and Wesson waiting in the car?”
“Naw, just calling their hand.” he chuckled with a quick wink.
After a bite to eat we had calmed down, and decided that we should get some sleep if we were going to get up early and go fishing. We paid up, thanked Dot and Pete with a generous gratuity, walked out the door, and stopped cold in our tracks.
In the amber glow of the neon sign stood Chief, leaning against a car, and drinking from a bottle of whiskey. The rain was running down his face, he was slobbering whiskey down his chin, and glaring at us with a foul, evil grin as if he was about to claim the scalp of George Armstrong Custer. Inside the automobile I saw Darla provocatively stroking the barrel of a pistol. She handed it to Jeremiah, and, as he looked our way, a terrifying, satanic, glow flashed in his eyes. I prayed that it was only a neon reflection, and not the face of death himself. Trevor and I retreated back into the tavern.
We explained the situation to Dot. She shook her head in brief contempt, mumbled something about how trouble seemed to follow Chief, he’s a big child, then inquired as to where we had parked. Thankfully, we had flanked the building, faintly out of view of the jeopardy lingering out front. Dot said that she would handle it. Chief would listen to her. He always did. He needed someone to love him. He didn’t have any family anywhere that she knew of.
“You boys just drive away!” she ordered, and led us through the kitchen and out the back door into the rain.
Trevor and I slinked around the building to the Coupe Deville and started her up, as Dot walked out front and up to Chief. We sat there for a few moments, watching. Jeremiah started to get out of the car and Chief confronted him and motioned him back. Jeremiah wanted to argue, but with an immense growl Chief slammed his huge fist onto the roof of the auto, to which Jeremiah conceded into pitiful reduction. The pistol that Darla had so affectionately fondled earlier was nowhere to be seen. Dot stood there talking with one hand on her hip and the other waving in some hypnotic gesture of reproof and motherly love that seemed to tranquilize the big Indian. She clearly had taken control of the situation. Pete stood in the doorway, again wielding his telephone as if it were some sort of menacing weapon that he could use from a distance. We decided to slip into the darkness, not using our headlights until out of sight.
“Damn, the wipers aren’t working.” Trevor exclaimed.
Sure, it was not in excellent shape, and restoring an old automobile is expensive, but, this was the Pacific Northwest, and we were but a few miles from the Olympic Rain Forest. We eased the old Caddy onto the road and into the black, not turning the lights on until well out of sight. Butch wanted out, but had to settle for hanging his head out the window just behind Trevor’s as they both looked down the highway while rain splashed into their faces. Butch loved it. Trevor did not. We were only a couple of miles from the motel, luckily. At the motel Trevor and I waited for a few minutes while Butch lifted his leg and claimed territory, then we telephoned the tavern. Dot said that Chief was there, and that she was trying to sober him up, but that the other two had squealed away in a rage, kicking up an onslaught of rocks from the parking area. She assured us that she was all right, and warned us to be careful, that couple was dangerous. We felt relieved that this dark and dreary night was nearing a conclusion, and that all was well that had ended well. Still, as Butch snuggled up to Trevor in bed and snored, I slept with “one ear open.”
Dot was a good lady, and an excellent bartender. I admired how she had handled the whole chain of events that night, and I questioned the fate of the luxuriously educated when faced with such raw reality. Corporate sharks making decisions that affect thousands of people every day, and devouring each other in hostile takeovers, do not have the veritable taste of blood dripping from their well-whitened, well-engineered teeth. Theirs is the job of stoic politicians and generals, to fill the trenches with the proletariat blood of time immemorial. Without the robotic protection of the universal soldier, Chief would chew them up, and like vultures, Jeremiah and Darla would pick over the remains of their little big horns. Other than perhaps a few physical and emotional scars, there is no diploma for street smarts and grit.
I can only hope that Dot is well today. It would be several months later that Trevor would mail me a clipping from a local newspaper, which showed a photo of Jeremiah and Darla along with an article that told of their crime spree in Western Washington. They had been arrested and charged with armed robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon. Chief was not mentioned.
I woke up early the next morning. Butch was still snoring, and so was Trevor now. It was still raining lightly, and I was in no mood to go fishing in the drizzle. I have never been much of a fisherman anyway. I enjoy tagging along and getting out of town, but I am not clever enough to actually catch a fish.
There was, as Trevor tells it, an old fellow living in Reno that taught Trevor how to catch a fish. Trick is, to take a trolling spinner – a double spinner – and a solid piece of wire to stiffen it. To that, add a leader with a hook and a worm. Cast the line and slowly reel it in. When the fish sees the shinny spinner he goes near to investigate it, at which time he also sees the worm. Now, that fish suddenly has to make a snap decision about whether to bite at the spinner or the worm, and often it makes the wrong decision. The old fisherman was pulling ‘em out of Virginia Lake in Reno, while other folks were just dangling their lines. When Trevor tried it he also hauled some in, and the other folks continued to dangle. You see, I don’t understand what I just said, and the fish know that. As I have been told many times, I have to be smarter than the fish. Reckon that’s true.
“Wake up!” I shook Butch’s foot, and he rolled over and yawned in Trevor’s face.
It didn’t take long for Trevor to sit up after that. At breakfast we decided to return to Seattle. I could embarrass myself some other time with my fishing skills. We tied some line to the wipers, ran it in through the wing windows and joined it with a bowline. For about an hour, as Trevor drove, I proceeded to move the line back and forth, hence operating the windshield wipers satisfactorily enough to see until the rain ceased. Not sure, but I’d have to guess that that was an old fishing trick also.
I stayed in Seattle for a few more weeks, helping Trevor paint a house and pocketing a little spending money. During this time we visited many magnificent spots in the Pacific Northwest. I went down to Portland, Oregon for a couple of visits to my old Navy buddy Mac, who was living there. Portland was a lovely town, as was Seattle, but it was smaller, and more intimate. I could easily see living in one of these places someday, I thought. But, the time came for me to continue my journey. Early one morning, after a goodbye wake the night before where even Butch had a couple of beers, I boarded a bus with a nasty hangover. I was short on funds, and had decided to go back to Texas rather than to L.A. Anyway, I wasn’t sure if Pappy was there, or anywhere. It was good to see Trevor and Butch, though.
To be continued…