The Pleasures of Eastern Washington 1: The Mountains

I’m a city kid, ah, but you gotta have some wildness too.  Doncha? Preferably, with plenty of splashing.

I’m cooling off in Lake Leo, named for our trusty correspondent and great friend of Jinx The Cat, Leo Sadorf.  It’s a trout-filled little lake hidden in the Selkirk Mountains of Northeastern Washington, just two hours from our home in Spokane.


If you’re scared of fish nipping your toes, or Grendel maybe, you can go hiking…

That’s my 89 year old mother-in-law beside me. No joke – this lady keeps up with the Pondering Pig on the trail any day and she ignores the doctor’s pleas about osteoporosis.  She can trip over a root, get up, grin and keep going.  Never broke anything yet. What a lady! My Patrushka comes from sturdy stock.

Ah, the August mountains. If you’re a photographer you can wander around and just look through your viewfinder…

We get long winters up here in the North Country, not far from the Canadian border, but the summers are divine and the mountains are near. They’re one of the pleasures of eastern Washington.

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On To Santa Barbara, Summer 2008

We touched down at the Oakland, California airport a week ago Wednesday (July 9).  I was curious – has the price of gasoline changed California’s famously maniacal driving habits?  I was here to find out.

Actually, I was here to go to a wedding (see I’m Going To California),  but I was still curious to see how Californians, with their wondrous skewed materialism and idealism all slushed together, were facing peak oil.  The cost of housing has driven folk right out to the outer outer suburbs. Towns that used to be artichoke centers or desert spas are full of new subdivisions and professionals who drive 85 miles to work every morning. That’s the distance between San Francisco and Stockton, once an affordable community for San Francisco wannabes who couldn’t afford to buy there.  Or it was popular until their mortgage balloon payments called the game.

Unemployed writer and ponderer that I am, I can afford to sneer, but I don’t.  We’re all stuck in this shit, one way or the other.

Patrushka and I grabbed BART to downtown San Francisco – where you can rent a car for half the price at the airport, and off we buzzed towards the great Beach Boys California to the south.  Good Vibrations, here we come.

The Eyesore Freeway as far as Gilroy is still crammed with giant SUVs hitting 80 miles an hour on their way to somewhere dead important before it’s too late, leaving the Pondering Pig in his rental Dodge Caliber inhaling their carbon dust.  $4.85 a gallon?  Pigeon feed.  I got lunch with Steve Jobs.  Let’s roll!

There’s next to no clunkers on the road, so maybe the $4.85 a gallon has affected the beatniks, layabouts, and other troublemakers who know how to enjoy the coast, but now that I think about it – there never were many clunkers on the Eyesore – this piece of Highway 101 is in the land of big salaries and young cats with two Mercedes and a Hummer in their three car garages.  OK, there’s still the odd gardener burning oil down the Eyesore on his way to the next job, but that cat’s driving a gas-conscious 60.

Me too.  This rental car has cruise control, we got the time and I want to look around.

Gad, I hate to write this.  But I am sworn to the truth, no matter how much it costs: the California coast in July is just as beautiful, just as near perfect as it ever was, even looking out a Caliber car window.  Oh man, why didn’t I rent that white Mustang convertible instead?  I need the top down to watch the wind tousling my baby’s hair.  As soon as we hit the eucalyptus groves north of Salinas, the years melted away, my hair grew out down over my shoulders, the pounds melted off and I popped a Coca-Cola, the kind with sugar. And Patrushka, my gosh, she looks fab in that bikini next to me, just like she did when I first fell in love with her in the spring of 1969.

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do –
We could be married!
And then we’d be happy!
Wouldn’t it be nice?

We stopped for lunch in Pismo Beach.  Is this guy still selling these things?

You know what?  I sat down to write a nice self-righteous diatribe against people still living a sybarite lifestyle with the apocalypse nearly upon us – but damn it, this is California and the myth is just too big to see over. I’m getting those good vibrations!  I can’t raise up the required sourpuss-ness.

Say, isn’t that the curve where James Dean bought it in his Porsche Spyder one  afternoon in 1955?  And isn’t that Dead Man’s Curve, that place you won’t come back from?  And look, isn’t that where that guy in the black denim trousers and motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back bought it on the railroad tracks?  And, my gosh, that’s exactly where Brian Wilson’s girl made him come alive, made him want to drive in Don’t Worry, Baby!  Hey Patrushka, stop slathering yourself with Sea ‘N Ski.  Let’s roll!  We got a wedding in Santa Barbara!

What Patrushka Saw: The Birdseed Capital

Looking at Andreea’s pics just now reminded me of all the images from The Pondering Pig and Patrushka’s travels across America this summer in their little gypsy cart.

Here is the little world of Flagler, lost and forgotten on the plains of eastern Colorado. Except for the local bird seed farmers, of course, to whom it is found and remembered every day.

Bird Seed Central


What America’s Sparrows Need


Technology for the Sparrows


In the Lonely Country

Corn Dog Girl

How’s this for a life style? You go down to the barn, get out your traveling corn dog stand, and your traveling pizza stand, and your supply trailer with batter and cheese and stuff and off you go over the mountains to the Mendocino County Fair, or the California State Fair, or the Fresno County fair, the Rodeo, up and down Northern California, filling hungry giant California bellies with fresh deep fried corn dogs, lemonade (“our lemonade made with real lemons”) and gooey slabs of cheesy pizza.

The County fair wasn’t even open yet. We were just wandering around watching setup, watching the 4-H Ag kids putting the last bean in their all-bean display about the top 10 crops of Mendocino County – (trees are number one, grapes number two, apples number ten, pot number nothing), stopping by the Methodist Ladies Homemade Apple Pie and Ice Cream Stand to see if it was open yet and the corn dog business was already jumping. The workers, the 4-H Dads, the guy from the cowboy hat and saddles concession, and even some of the Methodist apple pie ladies were standing around waiting for their custom fried corn dogs to come out hot and brown.

Corn Dog Girl told me they’ve been deep frying up corn dogs for many a year. Her partner started out in 1970 with icies and they went pretty well, but when he added hamburgers, the business took off. It was hard decision, moving into corn dogs but once he decided his future was corn dogs and lots of them, he never looked back.
He built the sign one rainy winter. Pretty cool too. Yellow. Purple. The letters light up one after the other in a hungry sort of way.

Hey, they’re just a carny couple, right? Hardscrabble life in a trailer behind the ferris wheel, right? Wrong, On corn dog profits, they just bought a twenty acre ranch in the Sierra foothills.

See You In September


If you’ve been wondering why the Pondering Pig is getting a little thin lately, a post here, a post there, but sort of random – Patrushka and I are putting our lives into an entirely new order. We are leaving our temporary summer quarters here on the far coast in 1910, and heading home – to our new home in Washington State up against the edge of the Rocky Mountains where the grizzly bears roam.

We have chosen the year 1925 as our time location, although I will be visiting the present to report on our adventures, discuss the pondering business with other talking pigs, and pick up our supply of Cheerios.

We’ve been sweating the deal and the financing and how to move all our gear over a thousand miles and packing Grandma’s sewing machine (yes, Patrushka’s greyhaired Saxon mother is coming to live with us) and besides that, we left our gypsy cart in a field in Washington State and I have had to hitchike to the library to post.

By the end of September we will be living in our new home, surrounded by boxes but with an internet connection again. And, I promise you, a whole new exactly the same Pondering Pig ready for new adventures. So keep your RSS feed connected.

Pondering Pig’s Tour of San Francisco

Planning your big trip to San Francisco? Don’t forget your coat! I know you want to see Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum real bad, and, oh those cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, they’ve got to be great. How about a trip to the Haight-Ashbury to see where the Grateful Dead lived? Maybe a topless bar (wink wink nod nod), and a nightcap in the bar of the Holiday Inn.

But hold on for a minute. There’s another city hidden beneath the glitter and gloss of “My Enchanted City”. A city with hidden treasures and landmarks that only the talking pigs know about. Let me take you down, cause I’m going to…San Francisco’s Richmond District, Home of the Talking Pigs!

Oh, there’s not many of us left now in the City. We’ve dispersed across the world. I’m an exile myself, sleeping in an abandoned mobile home far down the coast with only an owl and a feral cat for company. (Besides the beautiful Patrushka and her indomitable Mom, of course, both of whom insist they like it)
Oh, perhaps it’s quiet, perhaps it’s a little lonely today. But there was a time when the Richmond resounded to the throng of happy snorts and grunts, when little curly tails disappeared into the bakeries and came out with pies and cakes and sugar cookies to take home for tea. Young pigs such as myself studied in the libraries and parks of the Richmond and learned to ponder deeply into the mystery of things.

Wandering through the muffled streets, we learned to love the fog and moist grey gloom. For us it was a warm cozy blanket. The wind barreling off the Pacific, it filled the lungs with glee. Ah, for the life of a talking pig in the Richmond District in those golden times of yore.

Certain among you are beginning to wonder when the show starts and I wish you’d have a little more patience. I’m just getting warmed up. But ever it shall be. Okay, next picture, please…

The Temple of Learning. Ah, the lines of merry young pigs that stood outside the Balboa waiting for the box office to open and the Saturday matinée to begin. Some Saturdays we heard a lecture on Aristotle. Other Saturdays it was six color cartoons, a Superman serial, and Mickey Rooney in “Penrod Fights The Gangsters”. Even today, the remnants of the Golden Age remain. Where else could you have your choice of Nacho Libre or Army of Shadows, a phenomenal, magnificent 1969 French film about the Resistance during WWII, and don’t miss it if you trust a talking pig’s judgment). But it’s not coming soon to a theater near you. Sorry. Maybe on DVD.

The Secret Treasure Statue. I boldly proclaim its location because I know how to get to the treasure and you don’t. No, it’s not symbolic of the treasure of the imagination – it’s money. Gold beyond your wildest dreams! And it’s mine, mine mine! Hahahahahahahahah.


Adolf Sutro. How we honor Adolf. Not only did he build San Francisco’s Sutro Park, most beautiful park in the known universe, he was the first talking pig to successfully pass as a human for most of his life. We don’t like to do it, but it’s so much more convenient. People are always asking embarrassing questions like “How come you’re not wearing trousers?” But they never guessed the truth about Adolf. What a pig! Too bad about the name though. It was a perfectly nice name in 1890.

The Old Manse. Pigs lived here once but now they’re gone.

Our tour of San Francisco’s Richmond District is about halfway through. We’ll be stopping for lunch today at The Blathering Pig. Please try not to encourage the proprietor or we’ll never get served!

Back In California


Ben Lomond Springtime
Originally uploaded by Patrushka.

“This world…and then the next,” my Kansas-bred grandmother used to say. I was never really sure what she meant but she said it after she had experienced some small sorrow or exasperation. I think Nana believed this world was a vale of tears to be gotten though by grit, determination, and holding on for dear life. And who knew what the next world would be like? But when she used that expression, she didn’t sound too hopeful. In later years, my mother took up the refrain and now I hear it ringing in my own ears.

Where is joy this overcast morning in the backyard of my brother’s house in Ben Lomond, CA? The acorn woodpeckers, a whole gang of them, are knocking and banging overhead somewhere, making their ‘kacka-kacka’ calls to each other. A grey squirrel and a stellar jay are facing off over first rights to the birdbath. Looks like the beginning of another nice California day. So why do I feel grey?

We flew down from Spokane on Saturday. My oldest pal, Way Out Willy, and his wife Kay picked us up at the San Jose Airport. We went out to dinner and laughed about nothing in particular, as we always have. “Joshed” as they used to say. I’ve known Will since we were Baby Beatniks together nearly fifty years ago. He’s become as strange and crotchety as I have but I’m okay with his crotchets — you don’t get that many best friends in a lifetime and God gave me one. Someday I’ll write about him, but I’ll have to disguise his name so he won’t get mad. Maybe I’ll call him Way Out Billy.

Will was out on his adventures for a long time but he made harbor at last. Now he has a sweet wife, and a cool little house in the manzanita thickets and an old dog Miles who remembers Patruska and I when we come to visit and wags his tail and grins.

How I long for a safe harbor. A place I can put my stuff. A place where I can get up in the morning and know where everything is, know that today will be a lot like yesterday, pondering and writing and going down to the coffee house to see what the other talking pigs are doing.

This is just a phase, of course. Too much experience, too much chaos. Too many days just trying to get through to the end – like the homeless guys experience every day of their lives. No wonder so many take drugs! When we do get a home again, and peace, and a fire to sit by on winter evenings, I know I’ll get restless and start planning a new adventure. Perhaps a voyage to Kerguelen Island, the far away land. But for now, this grey California morning, my sciatica hurts and I just want to go home. If I had one.

Sorry. I don’t usually get this personal. Next I’ll be telling you about Sniffy’s birthday party. With luck, I won’t make a habit of it, but you never know. I may be going into a new phase.