The Road Revisited

Follow Me Around The United States!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Idaho and the Third of July.

It was time to leave Missoula. Lala had family coming into town and didn't have room for me anymore. Megan, ever the angel, offered to let me stay with her but I still had somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth from fighting with Josh and fighting with the homefront. Wal-Mart had finally developed my pictures, thereby untethering me from the need to stay in town, and I couldn't get a cell phone signal anywhere in the city, except for one lone parking spot beside a house owned by a crazy, shirtless man. He was angry with me for spending so much time parked outside his house, talking to Greg, that he set up his sprinkler to spray through my open window. It was beginning to feel as though the town was turning its back on me. I know that is far from true, but feelings and knowledge don't always collide. For some reason I, at 26, have yet to understand, I have a very inherent "Fight or Flight" notion whenever things aren't fun anymore. And I'm not a fighter.

My journal from that morning actually read, "Why do I get this instinct to cut and run whenever I'm on the road and things don't go exactly the way I want them to? I take it personally, as though I'm wearing out my welcome. I guess I did in this case? Is it in my head or theirs?"

Whatever the case may be, I said goodbye to Megan, thanking her for taking me riding and letting me hang out with her at the equine vet clinic. She had showed me all of the huge equipment they use to operate on horses and let me help sterilize some of the surgical tools. We had gone out to lunch at cheesesteak place and gorged ourselves on cheese fries dipped in ranch. And now, at 2:30 in the afternoon, my things safely collected from Loser Josh's and Lala's houses, it was time to go. I stopped by El Cazador to thank and say goodbye to Lala and tried to keep from crying as the bells on the door jingled as I walked out.

I wanted the sweet solace of the backroads, the verdant green and leafy ones that offer distraction from one's thoughts, but I-90 was a more direct route to Coeur d'Alene. The huge expanses of blue-gray sky stretching from horizon to horizon, gently kissing the tops of rounded mountains on either side offered a pleasing view, but the open space was like a blank canvas, waiting to catch all the messy splatterings of broken thoughts.

I-90 actually turned out to be quite beautiful crossing into Northern Idaho. Unlike the arid southern regions, the landscape was lush and mountainous. Curves in the highway dropped off sharply over cliffs leading down to the St. Regis River. I turned my clock back one hour as the time zone became Pacific Standard. It was the furthest I'd been from home on this journey.
I crossed Fourth of July Pass on the third of July, musing about Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. So much of the land I'd crossed to that point had been blazed with signs and historical markers that I was beginning to wonder if there had been land they hadn't touched on their journey. Despite the reports of the weather and hard times and having to eat bear-grease candles, I was jealous. They saw the land before the land truly became "ours", before we littered it with asphalt and highway markers and C-stores, Wal-Marts and gated vacation rental communities.

I put on Josh Ritter's Hello Starling album, with track 6 on repeat. "...and we rode to Coeur d’Alene—through Harrison and Wallace, they were blasting out the tunnels—making way for the light of learning; when Jesus comes a’calling she said he’s coming round the mountain on a train... it’s my home—last night I dreamt that I grew wings, I found a place where they could hear me when I sing....."

But Coeur d'Alene didn't prove the sleepy, little mill-town I imagined. My map is about five years out of date, which, since Coeur d'Alene is actually considered to be one of the fastest growing cities in America, explains why it's barely a blip in my atlas, but a churning pocket of concrete valley threatening to burst at the city limits and leak humanity into Coeur d'Alene Lake. That holiday weekend the town was especially packed, and it was everything I could do to try and find a parking space. I was shocked. It was a resort town, teeming with half-naked teens flirting at stoplights and families carting lawn chairs and babies down to the lake's edge. It was the Daytona Beach of Idaho.

"This is what I get for not planning ahead," I thought, wondering where I could find a campsite at the last minute on a holiday weekend. I wandered into a random clothing store on the main street of town, a two-lane drag of bars, restaurants, antique shops and galleries lined with Hummers and BMW Z-3s. "Can I help you?" snapped the woman behind the counter. She scared me.
"Yeah, hi. I was looking for the tourist information station, is it nearby?"
"It's closed.."
"Oh, okay. Well, I was also wondering if you know of any campsites around here?"
"Here, take this." She handed me a Guide to Beautiful Kootenai County and ushered me towards the door. "You can have this one, I have another somewhere."
"Oh, thank you." I carried it past the Red Hat Society merchandise display and out to a park bench, checking my armpits for any smell that would warrant being rushed out of a place that fast.

I called a few in Coeur d'Alene but most were booked. It was getting late and I was tired of driving. I wanted a beer, a meal, and a friendly face, but more than that I wanted a shower. That meant campsite, and that meant I was out of luck. Or was I? "Lakeside RV Park," a woman barked into the phone.
"Um, hi!" I said, shakily. "Do you have room for one tent camper tonight?"
She sighed loudly, then said, "Sure."
"Great! How do I get to you from the corner of Sherman and 11th?"
"We're on Northwestern."
"Um, okay. How can I get to Northwestern from Sherman and 11th?"
Another heaving sigh. "Sherman turns into Northwestern."
"Oh. Okay. Um, so just head west on Sherman and I'll see you?"
She gave an exasperated, "Yes!"
"Um, okay, thanks." I hung up, resisting urges both to call her a bitch and to well up with tears. I may never understand rudeness, and I will for damn sure never understand why the littlest things can affect me so greatly while traveling alone.

Down I headed, over the railroad tracks until Sherman indeed became Northwestern, and it was there on the left. As I pulled in, I thought there must be a mistake. It was a parking lot. Not to say that it was like a parking lot because there were rows and rows of RVs parked dangerously close to one another, but because it was literally an asphalt parking lot. "How can I pitch a tent here?" I wondered.
I went into the empty office, and watched from the window as a massive woman in a sage-green t-shirt and shorts set rocked her camper, descending the metal steps and walking toward me. She came in the door, looked at me, said nothing, and climbed behind the desk. "Twenty-two dollars."
I recognized her voice as the woman on the phone and shuddered. "Um, okay." I tried to sound cheerful as I asked if she accepted plastic.
"Cash or check."
"Okay," I chirped. "Let me just get my checkbook out then..." I wrote it out and handed it over, praying it wouldn't bounce. "Where can I set up?"
She pointed to a thin strip of grass barely visible at the far end of the lot.
"Um, okay. Thanks."

I drove carefully over the satellite cable cords criss-crossing the lanes of the drive. "Why can't you people leave your god-damned TVs at home?" I wondered aloud. I was tired and dirty and lonely. There is no worse combination.

I tried to park and couldn't, much less pitch a tent. There were too many pick-up trucks minivans crowding the grass, which was already thinner than a porn star's bikini wax. "How the hell am I supposed to do this?" I drove back to the office, luckily catching the ogre woman still inside, verbally roughing up someone else. When it was my turn, I said, "I can't park, there's no spaces."
"Well, then, you're just gonna hafta unload your gear and then park on the street, 2 blocks down and around the corner."
"We need those spaces for our RV guests."
"Well, they're everywhere, though. I can't even fit my tent on the grass."
"Well, I can give you your money back if you want."
It was going to be another Wal-Mart night for me. Sans shower. Dammit.
"Yeah," I said, reaching out for the check. I ripped to bits and handed Shrek a five-dollar bill. "Can I at least take a shower?'
She sighed her now-infamous heaving sigh. "Fine."
"Thanks," I spat. I was pissed, but at least I got to bathe.

After a shower, I drove back into downtown Couer d'Alene and tried to hit up the wireless connection at a little coffee shop, but it was closed. There was a man with a laptop, however, at a table right outside. He saw the case in my hand and called, "The wi-fi still works! They said it was cool if I'm out here, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you used it too."
"Really? Well, thanks!"

We chatted briefly. His name was Patrick Mitchell and he was writing a grant for a non-profit he created, The Dads Matter! Project. He gave me his website -- (Please check it out, it's cool!) Unfortunately, I couldn't talk very much because I had a lot of work to do and then I got a phone call from a friend back East with a crisis and had to tend to that.

When my battery died, I put the laptop back in the car and went to a bar called the Twelve-Ten. Their kitchen was closed. I was too tired to get off my barstool, so I just decided to skip eating that night. Instead, I watched the place fill up with weekenders as the band of middle aged guys with Larry the Cable Guy beards did a soundcheck and then launched into some Jimmy Buffet. The bartender seemed friendly, a sweet, fatherly type with blonde hair and glasses. He bummed me a cigarette and smiled a lot. But I thought he flirted too much with the super-skinny cocktail waitress. As he was staring at her, so was I, wondering how lungs, a stomach, and 18 to 21 feet of human intestine could be crammed into her waif-like torso. I wanted to stuff a tater tot down her throat. In fact, Coeur d'Alene had a severely above-average number of pretty people per square-foot, it seemed. It was unexpected, like finding the inordinate amount of pretty people I did in Cincinnati last year. Pretty people don't bother me, but it is a little disconcerting to feel like the dirtiest, smelliest girl in the bar. Which, despite the shower, I may have been.

I used my Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox as bait to start conversations with people. Just set it
on the bar and wait for them to come. It's perfect. Why couldn't I have thought of it sooner, I wouldn't have exhausted so much energy trying to sell myself to people all over the country. Just let the Gods of Nostalgia do it for you. That night I attracted a burly man with a Hawaiian shirt, a hipster couple from Seattle and a cook from the bar's kitchen. I spoke with him the most, a guy about my age. He could have been described as a "wigger", with baggy clothes and a cap half-sideways. But he was articulate and friendly.
"What brings you to Coeur d'Alene?" he asked.
"I'm just traveling around, writing about it."
"Oh, you're a writer? Me, too! I'm working on a book right now!"
"Sweet! Is it fiction or non-fiction?"
"Well, non, I guess. It's a how-to book. It's for game-code cheats. But it's pretty complicated. There's a lot of math."
"How so?"
"Well, it's a game based on math and foresight, like chess..." He launched into an in-depth explanation that for the life of me I couldn't remember the next morning. I do know that it had something to do with physics and binary numbers. He finished with, "And people in here think I can only make club sandwiches."

He was the one who told me about Coeur d'Alene's rank as the second-fastest growing city in the nation.
"What's the first?"
"Post Falls," he answered. Post Falls borders Coeur d'Alene.
"You're kidding."
"No, really. All the Californians are moving up here."
"So Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene are going to pretty much bleed into each other, eventually?"
"They already do."
"Dammit!" I cried. "Pretty soon there's going to be no open spaces anywhere!"
"You might be right."
"That's the kind of thing that makes me not want to have kids! What kind of world are we bringing them into?"
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," he said, twisting the bill of his cap to face front, a more serious look. He smiled wistfully and said, "I have two little girls at home, but I don't worry about them one bit. Know why? 'Cause my girls are smarter now than I'll ever be. Everyone worries about the children, the children. But kids are damn smart. They're like dry sponges. And my girls are going to be just fine. Speaking of which, I gotta get home to them. Nice talking to you, good luck with your book."
"Yeah, you too. Take care."

When the bar became a meat market, I left, walking up some side streets just to check out the town. Most of the nightlife was on the main strip, while the alleys cradled music shops, dance studios, florists, and antique stores. I wasn't tired, but I was tired of being the only solo, underdressed, flat-broke chick in the room. I headed back to my car and headed home for the night. Which was, of course, the Wal-Mart parking lot.


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