Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Headed Down The Coast

Every once in a while you just have to go. Stop worrying about things for a moment and go have some fun. Live outside of your comfort zone – or get back in to it, if need be. So Joy and I decided to shake off the cobwebs of winter for a few days and head down to the Oregon Coast to celebrate our twenty-third wedding anniversary in and around Seaside, Manzanita and Tillamook. Between Seaside and Lincoln City, Tillamook County is really the only part of the Oregon Coast I've never been to, and Joy probably hasn't been down here either. I've gigged in, stayed in or at least driven through just about every part of the Oregon Coast, and this gives me an opportunity to revisit some good times and places, as well as recharge the old batteries while I just veg out with the woman I love.

Home for the next few days is a suite at the Sunset Surf Motel on Ocean Road in Manzanita, quite literally right across the street from the beach. Joy found the place on Hotels.com, and we simply couldn't pass up the relative bargain of a suite with a full kitchen being only ten buck more a night than a basic hotel room. And we're just a few blocks from some very nice shopping and dining options. But it did take a while to get here, though. All in all we spent almost nine hours on the road, from Port Angeles through Silverdale, Shelton, McCleary, Aberdeen, Raymond, South Bend and Naselle before crossing the Columbia River across from Astoria.

A few observations about the trip down:

Dear sweet baby jeebus we both love having a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Silverdale.

The Kurt Cobain Memorial Landing (along the muddy banks of the Wishkah, natch) is smaller than I thought it would be and somewhat less-than-advertised – which goes a long way toward describing the ambivalent and uncomfortable relationship the City of Aberdeen has with the legacy of its most famous son.

Highway 101 south of Aberdeen is utter garbage, and a wet winter has given it more slides than Wild Waves. WSDOT will have to spend a fortune on making that road tolerable again.

Astoria looks much nicer than it did back when I played there at the Red Lion Inn with Powerlight, and across the bay, neighboring Warrenton has grown considerably since then.

Seaside is still Seaside. A working-class town with a tourist-trap downtown that I still adore. We'll have to explore it more here in the next few days.

Manzanita is a fucking jewel. An expensive one to be sure, but a jewel nonetheless. But not without its faults. More on that later.

And we can't wait to see Tillamook and the cheese factory, no matter what the state of their Visitors Center is.


Well, we pretty much described the trip down already, so let's just start off with the first full day of our stay. Manzanita is a small town. Really small. As in a population of about six hundred or so. But on a weekend like this the population probably doubles if not triples in size as tourists pour in from the Willamette Valley and elsewhere, filling the hotels, rentals, campsites and whatnot. Even wind and rain doesn't deter them. And while tourists like us fill the town's coffers full of coin as we shop and eat to our heart's content, it also causes a bigger problem. Y'see, there's a housing crisis going here. Simply put, there aren't enough housing options for those who choose to live here full-time that might actually have to make a living that doesn't necessarily make you an income in the six-figure range. And apparently this is happening all up and down the Oregon Coast, but especially in the smaller boutique towns where there isn't much room and property is expensive – too expensive for normal people, that is. Affordable housing appears to be pretty much non-existent here, and I noticed a lot of “for sale” signs in front of houses in the area – probably people that had moved here before the property values went through the roof and are being forced out not only by the high cost of living here, but by the universal corollary of high property values – high property taxes.

We saw how this impacted the community first-hand as we wandered up and down Laneda Avenue, one of the town's east-west connectors between US 101 and the beach. We came across a little pizza place called Marzano's Pizza Pie, where signs indicated that they no longer were a proper restaurant, and instead only served their wares to-go. Why, you ask? Because they simply couldn't find enough people in the area that could run the place to their level of satisfaction, and when it came down to brass tacks, the only way to save the restaurant was to actually stop being a restaurant. A coffee house next door had a sign apologizing to customers they were having a hard time finding qualified staff and as such weren't able to stay open as long as they'd otherwise want to be. Everywhere I looked I seemed to be seeing “now hiring” signs, both in Manzanita and up in Seaside – and the oncoming tourist season probably had those businesses especially worried about finding those skilled workers. They'd have to come in from Seaside, Tillamook, or even Astoria and Warrenton, because there's no place for them to stay here.

Okay, enough depressing talk. Time for lunch. We'd originally considered a normal-sized lunch, and the local tourism office recommended the San Dune Pub to us, but after a surprisingly large hummus-plate appetizer filled us up, we figured we could save our appetites for dinner. The San Dune Pub is a gem. Warm and cozy, packed with a lunch crowd, it felt like the kind of place we could easily have lunch at every day if we so desired. Hell, it could be our home base if we ever chose to live there. But our suite does have a full kitchen, so we'd be completely idiotic if we didn't put it to good use during our stay.

And then there's the beach. The Beach. Here in Manzanita, the beach is broad and smooth – at low tide probably a good hundred-plus yards from the dunes to the water itself. We braved the wind and a mist that turned to a blowing rain to walk down to the waterline, and a wave suddenly had Joy in up to her shins, I should note that there are signs out warning beach goers about an increase in potential “sneaker waves” that could potentially pull the unwary out to sea. But it was just a giggle to us as she waded back to safety as I stepped back as fast as I could to keep my shoes from getting wet. And we were both getting soaked with water one way or another, so after this adventure it was back to the hotel room. Joy took a nice long bath, and I vegged out in front of the TV, warming back up before venturing north for a proper anniversary dinner in Seaside. Joy was dead-set on prime rib, and I wasn't about to disappoint her.

And then sticker shock set in. Did I mention that Spring Break is starting up this weekend? Tourists and school kids bouncing around from place to place like mad? And the other thing bouncing up was the prices in the restaurants. I tells ya, living and working in Reno like I did for so many years – it spoils you with comparatively cheap prime rib dinners in the casinos. We were routinely seeing prices of $30 and up for even measly eight-ounce portions in the Downtown Seaside restaurants. Higher cost of living is one thing, but this was bordering on highway robbery. But we were able to avoid the sticker shock and still get what we wanted. All we had to do was drive about four miles south of Seaside, where the Sea Breeze Restaurant filled both needs and bellies for a very reasonable price – almost half what places downtown were willing to charge. We sat in the bar and watched the final minutes of the NCAA Basketball Championship semifinal between Oregon and North Carolina, and saved enough money that we could order dessert and an adult beverage for Joy.

We're just about to fade out, so I'll end the day here and pick up where I left off tomorrow. But I'll give you a hint about tomorrow's adventure:

It involves cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.


Oh, yes. The cheese.

At first, we almost didn't go. Joy was still tired from the day before, and I didn't mind taking a rest day between our side trips. But why come this far and not go the final twenty-five miles or so down to Tillamook? So we drove through some quaint little towns – places like Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, and Bay City – on our way down to the Tillamook cheese factory. Apparently going through their visitor's center is something of a rite of passage in the area. Too bad for us that the actual Visitor's Center is being demolished. A temporary center has been set up nearby, while a new permanent center is being constructed with an eye for opening next year. The temporary visitor's center does a good enough job of telling the story of how a humble collective of dairy farmers in an isolated corner of Oregon became a nationally-recognized brand, but I guess we missed out on whatever made the old visitor's center special. Personally, I do know what a dairy farm is like, though it's been an age since a distant summer vacation to my great-uncle Elmer Trosdahl's dairy farm outside Clitherall, Minnesota. But I do remember the barn full of cows, the care he took in milking them every day as part of his local co-op, the big scary bull in his separate pasture – the one that my dad helped get drunk one night by replacing the water in his trough with beer – and other sights, sounds, and smells, pleasant and otherwise.

And after learning about the process of milking comes the payout – free samples of their products, plus the opportunity to buy lots more. We bought t-shirts, some cheese curds of a type I'd never seen before, and a little key-chain bottle opener that doubles as a fingernail clipper to join the collection I carry with me. We topped that off with some ice cream to go – Tillamook Mudslide for me, and Marionberry Pie for Joy. Wouldn't have been right any other way.

On the way back we picked up another treat, this one from the Tillamook County Smoker's factory-outlet/gas station – really. Who doesn't love smoked meats? Okay, put your hands down, vegans. We already know. A couple bags of pepperoni sticks for about less than half of what we'd pay for them anywhere else. Not a bad deal.

We talked about the idea of moving here on the way back. Just another daydream. WE both agreed that a place like Manzanita or any of the other towns along the coast would simply be too expensive to live in, not to mention the difficulties in Joy finding new doctors and specialists to get care for her illnesses, not to mention finding my fat white ass a job. Honestly, I still feel like I lucked into my job. We aren't leaving Port Angeles any time soon – it'd probably take a lottery win to get us out of there, and even then that wouldn't take us very far, because I don't think either of us really want to live anywhere outside of the Puget Sound area. Maybe in and around Olympia at best.

Neither of us is sure as to what we want to do tomorrow. Joy doesn't want to “waste the day”, but it's a vacation – we can do whatever we want to. And that includes doing nothing at all. It's not like we have to go bungee-jumping or anything like that, or go somewhere and spend a bunch of money. We can just kick back and rest. Or we can go back into Seaside – the crowds should be a little smaller on a Monday. When we went there yesterday, we walked by the placed I used to play in when I was in Powerlight. Back then it was Girtle's, named for it's owner Bob Girtle. He was a good enough guy, and I always liked playing there. The restaurant occupying the space now is called The Twisted Fish. I really do want to walk in there and see how the place has changed. But it isn't gonna kill me if we don't.

I'm also beginning to plan our trip back home. I'm not entirely sure what route we'll take. At first we considered going into Portland to have dinner at Jackrabbit, the new restaurant of celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, and his first venture outside of the state of California. But after finding out that dinner there could set us back as much as fifty to sixty bucks a person, that kinda tempered our enthusiasm for the idea. But Portland is a great restaurant city, and we have lots of ideas for other places to go, not to mention the suggestions we've gotten from friends with better knowledge of the city than we have. And then there's skipping Portland altogether and taking another route home. I remember driving home from gigs in Seaside and Astoria, and about a mile or so past the western end of the little town of Clatskanie there was a little Korean-American restaurant with the name “Myong's Seoul Food”. That was always good for a laugh. But a quick check of Yelp shows that the place closed down. But we can still pass through there and take the bridge over the Columbia River to pick up I-5 at Kelso and Longview, and from there head north to Olympia and/or Tacoma before heading home. Or we could just go back the way we came – but I hated that drive. The road is just nasty as fuck.

A small pot of spaghetti made a nice dinner, and now we're just chilling. Joy's watching Netflix on her computer – my old one – while I type this out. There's enough pasta left for seconds, and I think I might oblige myself to a second helping before going to bed. It's been a good enough day, I guess.


We stayed local today. A sojourn down to the beach, and a walk further up and down Laneda Avenue to see what we could see. We bought Daisy (our rescued Havanese) a few treats at Paws On The Beach, got a light lunch at Manzanita News & Espresso (excellent coffee and pastries, and bonus points for the very cute and... perky barista) before heading home to a nice curry for dinner. We could have gone elsewhere, but I don't think either of us had the interest or endurance for another car trip before spending all day tomorrow in the car getting home.

All in all, this was a good trip, and well worth the expenditure needed for this suite. It really isn't much of a suite, and I've certainly been in bigger hotel rooms than this, but it does have a full kitchen, the bed is plenty comfortable, we fucking loved the shower, and location, location, location. Being right across the street from the beach made picking this place an excellent decision. And I even got to have my bucket-list moment early this morning – listening to Dark Side of the Moon on my headphones while sipping a Coke and gazing out into the vast depths of the mighty Pacific. Okay, it wasn't really stormy out, and I had a different drink in my hand. Close enough. I'm satisfied. Now it's time to pack everything up except what we need for the morning – a change of clothes and stuff for breakfast.

I think we'll go in to Portland after all, despite my hemming and hawing about it earlier. After all, there's an Uwajimaya just off the Sunset Highway (US-26, the highway from Portland out to the Coast), and a zillion different restaurant options. Going to Jackrabbit is still an option, but one that's being knocked further and further down the priority list as the real world rears its ugly head and intrudes back upon our lives.

There will be a few things we'll miss. We missed out on the pizza place just down the street, and I really did want to go in to The Twisted Fish and ask if anyone knew what happened to Bob Girtle. There were a few other things, but I can't really remember them at the moment. I just know that this was a good trip. I'll try to make the trip home as pleasant as possible, though I know it'll take us all damn day to get home. Then it's time to stay up late and get my body clock back in sync with work, because Wednesday night means I'm back on the job, resetting the Safeway in Port Townsend.


Well, we're home now. Trying to slow down and relax a bit after a long drive. We wound up pretty much skipping Portland altogether, just stopping at the Beaverton branch of Uwajimaya to pick up a few odds and ends. Joy wasn't hungry, so we just kept moving north until we hit Centralia, where we had a late lunch at Casa Ramos. We didn't stop again until I needed gas just outside of Silverdale, and we didn't stop again until we got home.

Daisy was more than happy to see us, but then she started acting weird. Shaking, like she was afraid of us or something. We know that our neighbor Brad treats her well and kindly whenever he puppy-sits for us, and Daisy plays with his dog Bailey, and his girlfriend and her daughters. I don't want to suggest that something bad happened, not at all. I think she's just dealing with separation anxiety, and perhaps some post-traumatic stress from her previous owners. I never did tell you how she came into our lives. Joy was talking with a guy last summer about service dogs when he mentioned that he had an older female Havanese that had once belonged to his in-laws. They'd both passed the previous year, he was trying to find a new home for her, and among those that professed interest in the dog, he chose Joy to take her in. Daisy was naturally pretty skittish, and a quick examination revealed a nasty bulge on her flanks – a broken rib that had never healed properly, the result of being mauled by a bigger dog, he told us. We've gotten her medical records released to us, but the ID chip in her is still registered to her former owners, and the guy we get her from has yet to produce the documents we need to change the ID chip over to us. We've also noticed that she acts fearful around men, and whenever Joy is using her cane, so we've come to the conclusion that dude's father-in-law may have abused Daisy – perhaps he hit her with a cane or some other object. And we were only gone for five days. I get the feeling that any trips we take in the future will have to be with her. Which will limit what we do and where we go for the foreseeable future. But that's a cross I can bear for the time being, because it's getting harder and harder to take Joy any great distance.

But we did enjoy the trip. We may be able to visit Manzanita again in the future, but right now all I'm really worrying about is getting my body clock back on graveyard schedule. Time to fire up the coffee pot!

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