Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Winthrop, WA

From my discussions of traveling, I have observed that most people associate a trip with something simple and sometimes seemingly unrelated to it -- perhaps a song, a memory, a color, a movie. For example, when I was eating at a restaurant on Hyannis Harbor in Massachusetts, I heard the song "Viva La Vida" from Coldplay and have since associated that trip with that song. The track "Fortress of Solitude" from the soundtrack of the movie Superman reminds me of Lake Superior, as that was the song I was listening to at the time I first saw it. Anthony Bourdain associated Brittany with the color blue, whereas that color reminds me of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Typically, the association matches our impression of the place. As my favorite color is blue, you can imagine how much I liked PCH. I also like "Viva La Vida" -- perhaps to unhealthy levels. I associate New Jersey with the color orange -- my least favorite color. Wanna know what my opinion of New Jersey is? Read about my rating of their license plate in the Facebook archives -- though I think the association of New Jersey with urine and jaundice may be (was) more appropriate.

For my trip to Washington in 2008, I think of the movie My Darling Clementine. For those familiar with the film, this may startle you. That movie was set nowhere near Winthrop, an isolated and beautiful town just east of the Cascades in north-central Washington. However, after watching the film, I kept thinking about the small-town streets of Winthrop, with buildings looking like they have been untouched since the 1800s. I imagine the character of many a man in the town similar to Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp. A man of concise words and admirable actions, wearing his heart on his sleeve and with eyes that could see through a weaker man's skin.

For Mom and I, Winthrop was a rest stop on a long day of driving. We started the morning in beautiful Burlington, on the windward side of the Cascades. By afternoon, we had driven through glorious Washington Pass, one of the best stretches of highway in the country. We would end the day in Idaho after passing Spokane. Winthrop was an oasis of rest for two weary but very satisfied travelers.

In many ways, that is the setting of My Darling Clementine -- set in the vast desert of the Southwest just as civilization was developing. I think of Earp dancing in public with his new love interest, and the rest of town clapping their hands in joyous celebration. It reminds me of this place -- with the smiles of kids devouring their ice cream cones, parents elated that their kids aren't making noise, and travelers like us sighing with relief at the sight of an iced tea hitting the wooden table with the local waiter charm.

A river rushes through Winthrop, giving the westward-bound traveler all the necessary foreshadows of mountain scenery. For me, it was a reminder that a beautiful stretch of land was in my recent past. As I ate a sandwich and fries at a restaurant that hadn't much changed since the 1950s, I looked outside the curtained windows. I heard someone yelling "Hello!" to another. The restaurant's dog raised its head with only lackadaisical curiosity. I stirred my iced tea, cheerfully listening to the ice rotating on the sides of the large glass.

There's a beautiful scene in My Darling Clementine where Wyatt and his brothers sit reclined on a porch just before church. If ever there was an image to associate with Winthrop, this was it. Relaxed, friendly, old-fashioned, western.

Mountains near Washington Pass

A beautiful valley just west of Winthrop

Winthrop, WA

"The" intersection of Winthrop

A typical downtown visual

Mom resting in a Winthrop diner

The river in town

Bridge on east side of Winthrop