A Soggy Sunday Drive
Last week I talked about our weekend jaunt to the Columbia Gorge in search of old books and comics and stuff. Most of it was a lot of fun. But sometimes… the wheels just kind of come off the wagon.
Which is to say, Sunday’s trip home was not a whole lot of fun at all. But we did get in a little bit of books-and-comics stuff.
The reason Sunday was less than stellar was largely because of the weather.
We got a late start because Julie and Marcia both wanted to do some shopping while we were in the Dalles — specifically, Julie reminded me that we’d been talking about a new microwave oven for months, and that if we purchased one in Oregon there’d be no tax on it.
I couldn’t really argue with that, especially since she’d readily consented to let me casually re-purpose “Marcia’s visiting weekend” so we could drive 300-plus miles on a book-buying junket. And our old microwave was long overdue for the junkheap, anyway.
Plus, Marcia wanted to shop too. All of which meant that by the time we got around to actually hitting the road, well… the good weather was gone. The deluge had arrived.
Now, I should have known better. Two days of sun in early April is way better than we have any right to expect. In the Northwest, the weather breaks our hearts all the time. The standard joke is that in the spring, the sun comes out on Monday, hangs around until Tuesday or Wednesday — just long enough for you to go ahead and commit, to book a hotel or arrange for an extra day off for a long weekend — and then it’s gone and we’re back to the same old damp gray sky that we’ve had for the last six months.
And we’re not even terribly outdoorsy. Still, that stung, after the great drive down on Friday.
So we scrapped our original plans of ambling back home along Route 30 and just hightailed it for Portland on I-84. We had a bit of a lull by the time we made it to the city, and it was well past lunchtime, so we decided to stop at the first likely spot we saw in east Portland.
It took a while to find a likely spot. Admittedly, we were also sort of pointed towards the giant Goodwill store that’s located in Portland’s Eastmoreland district. (And my grandmother used to live over in Garthwick, and the girls had been asking about that.) However, as often happens since my memories of the streets are thirty years out of date, I got us turned around and we never did find the Goodwill.
What we did find was a place called Libbie’s, a block or so off McLoughlin Boulevard in Milwaukie (which is a sort of suburb that has merged, amoeba-like, with southeast Portland itself, so it’s really hard to tell where the one leaves off and the other begins.)
By then we were starving and the place was doing business even on Sunday afternoon when the rest of Milwaukie was apparently closed. The only other place that was open was this establishment, across the street.
Things From Another World, or TFAW, as we usually see them in banner ads here on CBR and elsewhere. The girls knew it was inevitable that I would have to go and investigate this establishment, even though they were not interested. (“They buy ad space from Jonah,” I’d said. “I should at least go see what they’re all about.” Shameless, really.) So Julie and Marcia stayed in the car while I went to check it out.
As I’d suspected, it was just a nice high-end comics retailer. The place was laid out well, all the new comics and books were accessible, the staff seemed friendly and professional. The only thing that set it apart from similar places at home was the gaming tournament in full swing at the back of the store. Unfortunately for me, the chairs and tables were set up in such a way as to block any access to the back-issue bins, which was the only part of the merchandise I was really interested in. I can’t really blame them…. I mean, they have to put the players somewhere.
What struck me was the all-ages demographic, not just of the store’s layout and merchandise but also of the gamers themselves. You saw thirty-year-olds squared off against twelve-year-olds… all guys, of course, I don’t think there was a lady in the place anywhere. But still, at least age-wise it was a nice cross-section of people. I was amused to hear this particular exchange:
“No, that can’t happen, because Wolverine would regenerate.”
“But Deadpool can heal too, and Deadpool is cooler. So he would still win.”
That was between a fortyish-looking man and a roughly nine-year-old boy; the reason it made me smile is because they weren’t playing Heroclix, the discussion wasn’t game-related at all. As for who was taking which side, I leave that as an exercise in reader speculation.
Those of you familiar with Milwaukie will doubtless guess where this is going but I was oblivious to it (in my defense, we’d come in from the other side of the street toward Libbie’s, and the rain had been such that I was mostly watching the road.) But I was nevertheless surprised and pleased to discover that Things From Another World were next door to, as it happens…
…the Dark Horse offices.
They were closed, of course, since it was Sunday, and I don’t know that I’d have gone inside even if they were open. It wasn’t as though I had business there, and I’m sure they get more than their share of fan drop-ins as it is. And anyway, Julie and Marcia were waiting in the car and they had already been more than patient. But it was nice to finally see the place.
It was getting rather late in the afternoon and the weather was looking grim again, so we hustled Marcia home and then pointed ourselves north toward Seattle.
We decided on Route 30 again out of town, at least as far as the bridge at Longview. Interstate 5 traditionally bottlenecks at the bridge to Vancouver on Sunday afternoon and evening (Julie and I once spent almost six hours just trying to get across that bridge after attending a friend’s college graduation from Portland State a few years ago. That time, after finally getting across, we were so exhausted that we gave up and exited to a Vancouver motel for the night; we swore then never to get stuck like that again.) I-205 was a little better but I really didn’t want to fight my way clear across Portland again after dropping Marcia off; I’d already gotten us good and lost once that day.
But I knew I could find Route 30, and Julie and I were still clinging to the forlorn hope that maybe, just maybe, we might still find an interesting place to stop. Despite the foul weather, we weren’t quite ready to let go of the idea that the fun part of our trip was over. There might be an interesting thrift shop or antique mall or something between Portland and the bridge at Longview. Maybe in Scappoose, or St. Helens.
But nothing was open. It was Sunday afternoon, and in those small towns they just lock up and go home Saturday evening and that’s it until Monday. It was mostly just rain, and not just drizzle, either.
We did a quick loop through downtown St. Helens, largely just to break the monotony of dodging truckers and RV drivers who seemed to take the inclement weather as a challenge to go faster. It’s a pretty little place and we could have easily killed an afternoon there if it had been any other day but Sunday. As it was, the place was closed up tight.
By the time we reached the Longview bridge and turned to cross over to Washington, we were resigned just to cutting over to I-5 from there and making straight for home. Can’t win them all.
We thought we’d take a quick turn through downtown Longview itself, though, just for the hell of it, before we gave up completely.
Longview, to be honest, is not really a place for tourists. It’s just another rural Washington mill town, slightly better off than others because it’s located where the Cowlitz River empties into the Columbia. But the economic depression we’d noticed on our trip last August had taken its toll here, too, and even though the rain had let up a little, the place still had that gray look of despair that you really only see in the Pacific Northwest. (If you ever saw the old Twin Peaks, that show made great use of that dark, foreboding look of the country up here. The first couple of years of The X-Files worked that angle as well… come to think of it, The Killing on AMC is milking it too.)
Suffice it to say that the town was by all appearances gray, wet, and closed. But just when we were about to give up, we ran across a Goodwill on 15th, and they were open. We needed to stretch our legs anyway and it was a welcome break.
The book section, though sizable, turned out to be just as bleak and depressing as the rest of the city. You can always tell when it’s just a dumping ground for books no one wants; there’s a lot of Reader’s Digest Condensed Book collections, Danielle Steele hardcovers, Left Behind paperbacks, and other similar garbage books no self-respecting bookscout would bother with. Still, I gave it a much closer inspection than I normally would, simply because I was putting off getting back on I-5 for the miserable drive home.
And wouldn’t you know it? I did turn up a couple of nice finds.
A Star Trek hardcover of Ghost-Walker, by Barbara Hambly. I had quite enjoyed her previous Trek entry, Ishmael, a good-natured piece of fan fiction that put Mr. Spock into the milieu of Here Come The Brides. No, really. I know it sounds insane but Hambly made it work.
And apart from that, those old Trek hardcovers from the SF Book Club are becoming somewhat sought-after in collector’s circles. Most Book Club offerings get snooted by book dealers, but in genre fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, these Book Club editions are often the only hardcover printings those stories get. (The omnibus Time and Tomorrow by John D. MacDonald, or the Frazetta doubles of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels, are other examples of moderately-rare SF Book Club originals.) The Trek ones, especially from the days before Diane Duane put Spock’s World on the hardcover bestseller lists, are hard to track down so I tend to snap them up as a matter of course when I run across them.
The Dragon’s Eye by Norma Johnston was an impulse buy, on the theory that a hardcover juvenile mystery is always something we can find a home for. Ignore the frankly lame cover illustration — this is a taut, clever mystery that hinges on the building tensions in a small-town high school surrounding a vicious cyber-gossip and bully called “The Dragon’s Eye.” A lot of the computer stuff is a little dated (it was published in 1990) but the intensity with which teenage girls go to war is, sadly, eternal, and Ms. Johnston does a really good job capturing that and escalating the tension to a level of actual violence and danger for the heroine. I don’t know what the art director was thinking with that cover painting, though. This book deserves a new edition with a much more suspenseful and atmospheric illustration. The one on this edition looks like a Radio Shack ad from 1988.
And there were a couple more that somehow ended up over with the technical books. (In fact, none of the books I found were shelved in their proper section; I’d have missed all four if we hadn’t been lingering in hopes the rain would let up.)
The Linda Ellerbee memoir I picked up just on the strength of her previous two books, And So It Goes and Move On, both of which I’d liked a lot.
The William Overgard book was an impulse buy just on the strength of the jacket flap copy, that promised savage jungle adventure. But I vaguely remembered the name Overgard from somewhere and it nagged at me until I was able to look it up a couple of days later. Turns out he was the man behind the Steve Roper comic strip for over thirty years, as well as the scripter of a number of episodes of ThunderCats.
But what I was remembering him for, I eventually realized, was being the scripter of a delightfully deranged 1977 made-for-TV movie, The Last Dinosaur.
The Last Dinosaur was the tale of an obsessed big-game hunter named “Maston Thrust” (!!) who’s determined to bag himself a T-Rex. It’s too deranged to sum up but it not only has a slightly-drunk Richard Boone as Thrust, but also Joan Van Ark as a flirty photojournalist, and– wait for it– Luther Rackley as Thrust’s Masai tracker, the spear-carrying Bunta.
So, a jungle adventure by the creator of Maston Thrust? Hell, I’m sold. Haven’t got to it yet but I’m sure it’s going to be a good time.
That was our last foray for the weekend, though. We gave up after that and made straight for home. I consoled myself that despite the depressingly soggy journey, we hadn’t come up completely empty for the day.
And there you have it. It’s taken a bit longer to get this column up than I’d originally planned because we ended up with our godson Phenix for the weekend. With the media blitz for the upcoming big-screen Thor in full cry, we spent most of yesterday and today talking about the Marvel heroes, particularly the Avengers.
But we’ll have more to say about that… next week. See you then.