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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.

We do occasionally spend money on things other than books and comics. Although that's usually when Julie gets a turn. (It IS a nice little oven though.)

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.

Julie took this to document how incredibly wet it was. That's the actual visibility on the road, around three in the afternoon. I didn't suspect I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder until my joy at seeing the sun on Friday... but I KNEW I had it, after the depression that settled in on having to drive in THIS crap all day Sunday. Sigh.

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.)

Really, the bar was doing most of the business. But there is a nice little diner on the left side and it did a pretty fair omelet.

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.

They occasionally advertise with us on CBR... It would only be polite for me to go see what's up.

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 also had another building across the street, which you can sort of see reflected in the window glass. That's probably where most of the actual work gets done.

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.

Julie got interested in documenting how incredibly bad the visibility was, simply because there was so much spray in the air. When that big truck on the left blew by us, it practically left a wake.

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.

The view from this bridge is amazing, but it narrows to a slender two lanes in the middle and it can be a little unnerving for the driver. I keep promising myself to try and arrange to enjoy it from the passenger seat for a change; Julie wouldn't mind trading at all, I just keep forgetting to ask her to take the wheel.

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.

This book section looks far more promising than it actually turned out to be.

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 couple of nice little scores. Those old Star Trek Book Club hardcovers, especially, are turning into a mid-level collector's item.

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.

It takes a special kind of nerdity to look at Mark Lenard in both STAR TREK and HERE COME THE BRIDES and conclude that Mr. Spock should meet Aaron Stemple. But Barbara Hambly sold it.

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.)

More impulse buys. I very much enjoyed Linda Ellerbee's previous two memoirs, and the Overgard was just because I'm a sucker for jungle adventure.

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.

William Overgard's comic-strip autobiography.

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.

This was not Richard Boone's finest hour, but I still kind of love this movie. It's just so completely nuts.

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.

15 Comments

That Overgard biography and especially the photo (with pipe!) look like what a modern creator might use as a joke.

I had to Google Search the man to make sure it wasn’t.

Only a child would think Deadpool is cooler than Wolverine. Of course neither of them is nearly as cool as Julie obviously, that woman is obviously a saint!

Did you know the Dark Horse offices were across the street before you saw them? I thought someone like you might already know that. Dark Horse owns TFAW, I think, so it’s not surprising. The Milwaukie one is not a bad store – the one in Hollywood is a bit better, though, and it’s in a niftier location.

Ah, Scappoose – home of an NFL quarterback and a Playmate of the Year. How the heck did that happen?

I’ve only taken the Lewis and Clark Bridge once, I think, and it was in the summer, so it wasn’t terribly unnerving. I do imagine inclement weather would make it a bit scary, though.

Why has Linda Ellerbee written three memoirs?

Did you know the Dark Horse offices were across the street before you saw them? I thought someone like you might already know that. Dark Horse owns TFAW, I think, so it’s not surprising.

Nope. We were looking primarily for lunch, and for the big old Goodwill that’s down there somewhere by where the Southgate Theater used to be. I sort of knew Dark Horse was based in Milwaukie but it wasn’t on the top of my mind at all. In fact, it was news to me that they owned TFAW.

Why has Linda Ellerbee written three memoirs?

Well, they’re really more like loosely-themed essay collections. The first one was about her years in television, the second one is more personal reminiscences on family and stuff, and the new one I guess is about travel and food, though I haven’t gotten to it yet.

Nice column.

I don’t know, Greg, maybe if the offices had been open, you could have asked for a quick tour of the place for CBR and made a column out of it. I’m sure Jonah would have dug that.

I’m thinking the Deadpool supporter is the kid, because his reasoning is that coolness is a winning factor in a fight.

Yeah, but remember, it IS a 40ish guy arguing with a kid.

About Wolverine vs Deadpool.

So…I’d say it’s a tossup as to who’s who.

And that Dark Horse door has a sign that says “employees only”, so that’s getting less use lately…

I hope the people laid off there go on to new avenues and do well, of course.

Except for whoever did that “most awesomest comics” ad with the cat that I see on CBR. THAT person should be fired :)

I’m thinking the Deadpool supporter is the kid, because his reasoning is that coolness is a winning factor in a fight.

Not saying one way or the other… but clearly you missed the whole March Madness Batman/Thor character matchup thing Brian was doing here…

Ah, freeway driving in the Pacific NW during a downpour – I remember it well. Too bad you didn’t have as much fun on the way back, although you did pretty much what I always remember doing (whenever I could) on those gray, miserable, rainy weekends: spend time in bookstores.

(saw the name-check, wandered though to wave at you…) :)

And a wave back at you, Ms. Duane. As it happens the last time I lucked into a couple of those Trek hardcovers they were The Wounded Sky and My Enemy, My Ally, which was a real treat. I have this sort of bookstore collector quest that I pick at, to try and get as many of my favorite old Trek books traded up to hardcover as possible.

Greg, there’s a Goodwill store on SE Sixth between Hawthorne and Division, and one on Ochoco St. between 17th and McLoughlin, near the Portland/Milwaukie line. Which one were you looking for?

Greg, there’s a Goodwill store on SE Sixth between Hawthorne and Division, and one on Ochoco St. between 17th and McLoughlin, near the Portland/Milwaukie line. Which one were you looking for?

Almost certainly the one on Ochoco. We blew by it on McLoughlin– you can see the sign– but I couldn’t get us turned around in time to get back to it, there didn’t seem to be an easy exit. And the girls wanted to eat, so we gave up.

I very much hope you like my third book, “Take Big Bites.” Thanks for the shout-out.

Best wishes,

Linda Ellerbee

Wow, kismet! Or something. Big Bites made it to the top of the stack a couple of nights ago, as it happens. Enjoying it a great deal so far, Ms. Ellerbee, especially the reminiscences about your mission trip when you were a teenager. I hope the book did well for you.

I should add that Ms. Ellerbee also writes a fun series of juvenile novels, the Get Real! series starring Casey Smith, 6th-grade girl reporter. My librarian friends swear by them.

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