“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Interstate 90” Chapter 101
By Bruce Williams
As you drive east over I-90, you get struck by the endless beauty of this state—from ocean to mountains to prairies to desert—all in a four and ½ hour drive. I was doing 85 most of the way to Spokane…that felt like a safe enough speed should I come across any WSP license plates, giving me plenty of time to take my foot off the gas and get it down to 70 before I was worthy of ticketing. Everything on this side of the state is huge: the expanses, the giant combines and tractors, mammoth, otherworldly-looking windmills, massive silos and sprinklers, and on the freeway—an enormous amphibious army vehicle atop a wide-load semi, sandwiched between colossal motorhomes bigger than your average double wides. The dirty sky is immense, too, conjuring up dust twisters across the plains with a mix of hot air and forest fire smoke. I caught myself staring too long at the eddies, requiring me to correct the wheel when I pivoted back forward. Even the insects are gargantuan…slathering the windshield with their eviscerated carcasses like big greasy pimples, miraculously impervious to both soap and wiper. Then you encounter the Columbia River and you feel a little Lewis and Clarksy—in awe of its majesty amidst the forlorn dust and brush.
We first stopped in Ellensburg at the Red Horse Diner to load up on a big country breakfast two hours into the drive. It was hale and hearty, much like the salt-of-the-earth clientele in its booths. I glanced around the room at the vintage gas station decor, 50’s-themed malt-shopesque interior and drank in the sun-kissed faces of its diners. We’ve all known these honest folks from Ritzville and Ephrata, Cheney, Fishtrap and Medical Lake. They might sometimes have bad haircuts, but they’ll look you in the eye when they firmly grip your mitt with their leathery paws in an earnest handshake. Pulling out of the Red Horse after a hot plate of eggs, bacon, hash browns and English muffins, with black coffee and orange juice, I was surprised to see a massage “trailer” adjacent on the property. Judging by the litany of big trucks surrounding its entrance, I turned to Michelle with a raised eyebrow and inquired, “Tug joint?” “Grrrosss…” she moaned as she disappointedly looked the other way out her window.
Back we went on 90 heading east, avoiding the flapping loose plastic on the back of several trucks and the jettisoned big rig tire chunks that littered the roadway. About 100 miles later the black coffee was working its magic so we hit the rest stop. The last leg towards the state’s 2nd biggest city was rather uneventful—that is until we hit Division Street in Spokane and spied a shirtless man tugging a full-sized mattress across the thoroughfare—folded in half like a taco with his belongings as the meat. We were staying at the Centennial Hotel—just a stone’s throw from the Spokane Arena where Jack’s favorite band Greta Van Fleet was scheduled to play that night. The hotel featured clean, modern rooms (“L’Occitane!” exclaimed a giddy Michelle at all the soaps and sauces in the bathroom). Poolside in the sweltering afternoon heat there was a long-haired, bearded gentleman with an underbite toting a red Powerade and an order of garlic fries who retreated into the wooded area and proceeded to emit skunk fumes from the copse. Meanwhile, a youth suffered a sudden seizure across the pool deck, and the EMTs carted him away to the dismay of the other guests. Rockers are indeed a different breed.
Pre-concert we headed into the city for some pizza. We passed the sprawling and impressive Riverfront Park and parked near the shopping district in a seemingly revitalized downtown. Walking several blocks to the restaurant we passed a cadre of ghoulish junkies peddling their wares on Wall Street—just a block from the police precinct. We swapped street sides on the way back to the truck. Returning to the hotel room to change for the concert—a short walk through the Park amidst the odd conglomeration of current Greta fans—mini skirts, salt-and-pepper beards, hardened leather rockers and inappropriately dressed teenage girls. Aggressive cleavage and young guys with those earlobe stretching earrings that I can’t figure out for the life of me—what are they going to do when they eventually tire of that game? Snip that loose lip of lobe skin off once they’re done toting around that poker chip in their ear? Gads!
Our seats were in the bottom bowl, but two extremely heavy-set brothers (twins?) were already seated in them as we approached. Michelle gave them the tap, and they excused themselves awkwardly in the too-small space. I sat down in my padded seat and it was swampy hot with their steamy remnants and I winced and muttered, “Damn it…”. The Pretty Reckless was already playing, their foul-mouthed, unapologetically trampy blond singer kicking a little ass of her own as the warmup act. Their set was just short enough not to dampen the anticipation for the main act, and Greta didn’t disappoint—playing all their hits and adding an impressive fire show to their set production…smartphone flashlights now replacing what would’ve once been Zippo lighters, raised high in the hands of their rabid fans.
The road home was a replay of the road out. My son Jack, always a creature of habit, wanted to hit the Red Horse again on the way back so we obliged, much like we did when we let him play his Five Finger Death Punch and GVF-heavy playlist both ways—fortunately there was enough Motörhead and AC/DC on there to appease me too. Michelle donned her oversized sunglasses and put her feet up on the dash and pretended that she wasn’t sleeping. As always, it was good to get home. It marked the end of our summer trips (well, the ones that include me at least—Michelle’s got a swim team reunion at a resort next weekend). The kids start school this week and the weather’s set to dip under 80 for the first time in awhile. The Huskies are on tonight, and the pumpkin spice enthusiasts are hornily champing at the bit. Go ahead…bring on the fall.