May 27, 2024

Column: That Got Me to Thinkin’…? “Mid-Winter Break”


Bruce Williams

“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Mid-Winter Break” Chapter 108
By Bruce Williams

My wife and I have a game we like to play…when she thinks she’s catching me not listening to her she’ll ask me pointedly, “Did you hear me?”  After years of marriage I’ve trained myself to be able to recall the last line of her thoughts verbatim (even if I’m daydreaming about football or food or sex) and I’ll recite it right back to her.  Then we stare at each other for a hot minute—her slightly squinting and dubious of my actual attention, me mildly satisfied with myself but cloaking my mirth in a cloud of feigned self-righteousness.  We danced this dance while we discussed our mid-winter break ideas over the last couple of months…bouncing from big plans of Mexico, then downgrading to Palm Springs when we didn’t get passports in time, and then finally settling on a couple short road trips—the first one to Quincy/Leavenworth and then another to Portland to see Bruce Springsteen in concert.

Jack always makes us stop at his favorite greasy spoon—the Red Horse Diner—whenever we head east.  Our friends were kind enough to lend us their vacation rental overlooking the Columbia River Gorge in Crescent Bar, Washington, which is a bedroom community of Quincy, Washington which is  a couple of tire shops and fast food joints stranded in the middle of the state.  The most memorable things about the two nights we spent there (after I eventually figured out how to turn on the hot water) were the three games of Monopoly the four of us played together (I went 1-0-1–I’m convinced the key to victory is owning the oranges and the railroads), the fighter jets that Top Gunned impressively through the canyon a couple of times, and the menacing tumbleweeds that came out in the windy blacker-than-black nights, illuminated by my truck’s headlights in strings across the road blocking our path as if to drawl, “You’ve gon’ far enough.”  “They’ve got knives…” I whispered ominously to Michelle, as we tip-toed the all-wheel-drive between their spindles.

After stopping at the most depressing mall I’ve ever been to in Wenatchee, we made it to Leavenworth—our state’s own Bavarian Village (“What’s Bavarian?” “I dunno—German, I guess”), and dined at Gustav’s, which is always pretty good every decade or so.  We stopped in the sweet shops and the year-round Christmas store.  Michelle and the kids swarmed the souvenir depot grabbing hoodies, magnets, mountainscapes, and necklaces as I ate my nut-covered caramel apple.  While Jack was trying on hats I eyeballed my wife’s armload and sighed the sigh of dads everywhere while monotoning, “That’s probably enough gear now—let’s wrap it up.”  It snowed an inch the last day in Crescent Bar, but we made it up the switchback road without event.  We arrived home in short order and ran the wash, leaving a day or so in-between packing up again for Rip City.

The journey south was just to be Michelle and I—the kids aren’t into Springsteen and you almost always need a kid-free post vacation to make up for the vacation you took with them because, well, they’re exhausting.  Portland had gotten a ton of snow, too, a few days before but the streets were mainly clear as we coasted into downtown.  We parked in the garage across from the Marriott Embassy Suites—a dirty tin foil pipe awaited us on the bottom floor of the garage.  And man, what a shithole Portland has become—filth everywhere…tents, menacing schizophrenics, discarded stolen merchandise, shopping carts piled high with wet clothes, fast food wrappers and empty liquor containers, not to mention the furtive doorway lurkers.  “Is that blood in the snow…?”  I did have a memorable meatloaf sandwich with homemade mac-n-cheese at Mother’s Bistro before the concert, though.  I only regret not having a chance at the chicken and dumplings or carrot cake when we circled back late at night and found them sadly closed.

The Boss played for three hours without stopping—no warm up band either.  The first half was mostly b-sides which were performed with his notorious gusto, but then the last dozen or so songs were all his staples and the crowd ate it up like red meat…especially this strong run:

Wrecking Ball

The Rising


Thunder Road

Born to Run

Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Glory Days

Dancing in the Dark

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Someone farted putridly in the crowded stairwell as we were exiting—it’s malicious lingering effects the result of aging bowels and traveling restaurant grease, I suppose.  Back at the room I had to swallow a handful of Tylenol PM’s to get some rest—I was so jacked up on lattes, Diet Cokes and loud Classic Rock that I didn’t fall asleep until one a.m.”

We hit the breakfast buffet and Voodoo Donuts for the road before we got out of Dodge—relieved that the truck didn’t have any smashed windows or fresh fentanyl pipes surrounding it.  We put Bruce on shuffle on the way home as we drove mostly without conversation, holding hands at times when she wasn’t chastising me for checking my phone as the right tire thumped a little Braille before I corrected the wheel.  I never really care where we go as long as we get to spend some uninterrupted time together and we got that in spades, so I guess I’ll return to work satisfied and we’ll start planning the next one in August after we hit Scottsdale in April for my annual company trip.  “Hey, what about San Diego…?”