Saturday, 20 September 2008

Centralia to Longview (September 19)

Day 5

Took my leave of a drowsy Summer & Tom, and headed back into town for bacon, eggs over easy, pancakes, maple syrup and coffee at Bill & Bea's Drive-in, served by a tanned waitress with fiercely beautiful blue eyes. So much for American service – it took half an hour to produce such a simple breakfast. The pancake just about did me in. Stoked up and feeling fine, I left Centralia City Limits and was out on Jackson Highway with a tail wind, swinging through wooded hills, yet somehow remaining on the flat. I feel a kinship with the other road users, whether they be in battered old jalopies, great rumbling wagons or Stupid Ugly Vehicles. Drivers wait patiently behind as I swerve round a parked car, I've yet to see someone not indicate when turning and pedestrians in the shoulder step on to rough ground to give me a wide berth with a smile. Here it seems industrious, with a plethora of businesses and shops, and so many souls toiling outdoors. I live America goddamnit. In a world of my own failed to see a traffic island even though it was edged yellow and bumpily careered over the top of it.

Stopping every ten miles for a breather, a drink and to take notes. Sat down at a picnic table adrift in a sea of golden maple leaves in Lewis & Clark State Park, in Cowlitz country, the 'Capturing Medicine Spirit' Indians. The sun came out in Toledo and it warmed the air up after a couple of cool days. Here I popped into Betty's Place for a hot bacon, turkey and swiss cheese on sourdough, which was consumed beside a fast-flowing turquoise river. The local high school promotes a forthcoming sports diary, including wrestling. Is that right? Adults watching young boys grappling one another? Noticed that away from the city people are bigger and plainer.

Crossing Interstate 5 there followed a heavenly stretch of golden tree-lined road, where only half a dozen cars passed in as many miles. Here there were ramshackle homesteads, old folks out in their yards, goats, llamas and dogs chasing me (usually) from behind fences. Recrossed I5 again and a third time before Castle Rock, a town with a population of 2,300 and boasting nine churches. Here I got lost and a man told me to turn down Pleasant Valley Hill (except he wasn't) where I passed another perplexing sign in the form of the “Shed with Shears Hair Salon”. One criticism I have so far with this country is that there are often no direction signs on minor roads, let alone distances. The scale of my map is too small, so how was I supposed to know Pleasant Valley Hill would lead to Longview? Talking of which, turned right when I should have turned left and went 2-3 miles up and down, up and down, the back again, up and down, up and down. Happened upon the library in Longview, where I picked up a street map, which didn't show where this building was, so asked two people to point it out and neither of them were able to! Eventually I found 24th Avenue, where today's Couchsurfing host lived. Turned into it and the number was 1600 or so and Greg lived at 500 and something. Got down to 1200 and the road came to an end. Studying the map further I discovered that 24th Avenue continued the other side of a river, via a circuitous route across a river. How dumb is that?

Waited on Greg's porch for him to come back from his work. He was a photographer for the local paper and tonight he was covering a high school football match back up the road at Toutle. Lugubrious, bearded and bespectacled, he was a true bachelor, with a cluttered house and he didn't have any food or even coffee at home – but went to restaurants and Starbucks, where they give out free refills through out the day! I was only too happy to tag along to the football, as I wanted to understand the rules. After watching it and various people explaining the rules, I'm still none the wiser. They all told me about it as if I had some prior knowledge and without any grasp of the basics I was totally in the dark. It was still good to listen to the National Anthem sung by a young girl, hear the shouting from the crowd, watch the cheerleaders' hopeless routines, as well as these young boys who were mostly very slender, but dressed up with all that padding they actually looked more like women with fat thighs, shoulder pads and puffy sleeves. Back to Greg's newspaper office to watch him photoshop the pictures he chose to use for the next day's edition and also meet another photographer who had ridden across the US in 1975, when it was a real novelty. He was great because unlike a lot of people, he was full of positivity and recounted fun stories and talking parrots and vicars inviting him and his companions to sleep in their churches. There was no Couchsurfing dot com back then. Greg took me to a very traditional restaurant, where we both had burgers. A kindly, softly spoken soul, he told me about his photo-journalism in many Third World countries and how, even at the age of 59, he stayed in hostels for $8 a night. I was dead beat by the time he drove me home and showed me a few of his pictures of shanty towns, emaciated black children, along with Obama and other celebs. He offered to play Scrabble, but I declined, not because of tiredness, but because of this bloody blog. So once again I have failed my mission.

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