Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Port Angeles Homecoming

Port Angeles, 2000

I have never before been to a place that has “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs. But upon reflection, those signs seem a good reminder of the power of nature. And the Pacific Northwest is nothing if not about nature.

After finishing up my business on a recent trip to Seattle, I hopped a ferry to Bainbridge Island and continued to drive northwest up and across the Hood Canal floating bridge to the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula and the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Canada’s so close across the Strait that radio stations broadcasting in French are easy to find.

They’re serious about the environment out there in the Northwest. I thought Texas was gutsy when it introduced the “Don’t Mess with Texas” line as part of an anti-litter campaign. But in Washington State, they take it a step farther with signs that read simply, “If You Litter It Will Hurt.” Take that, you Texan weenies!

The Pacific Northwest is not exactly where a Southerner expects to find decent pork barbecue. But that’s what I found in Port Townsend, down by the commercial docks where the tourists rarely venture. Two ex-pats from Oklahoma opened the DOS Okies pit barbecue place. (I hesitate to call it a “restaurant” for fear of misrepresenting its folksy feel.) It’s not as good as Carolina barbecue, but it’s good, and the staff couldn’t be friendlier. It was probably a foolish move on my part, in that I was wearing a white shirt. But I nevertheless ordered up a big barbecue sandwich to eat in the car while I drove on to Port Angeles.

Port Angeles represents something of a professional homecoming for me. One of the first assignments I had as a researcher was to track the performance of every roll of newsprint used at about fifty newspapers across the United States. In those pre-personal computer days this was a tedious task done by hand and primitive statistical calculator. Believe me, you felt like you knew every wrinkle in every one of tens of thousands of 2-ton paper rolls by the time you’d completed a quarterly report.

Newsprint in those days originated in the north woods and had names like Abitibi, Riviere-du-Loupe, Bowater, Boise and—ta da!—Port Angeles. Over a few years’ time I must have analyzed the performance of thousands of rolls of Port Angeles newsprint. I thought that to actually see where that paper came from might be like closing some kind of metaphorical life loop.

My visit to Port Angeles merely confirmed what I’d known and forgotten thirty years ago: namely, that if you’ve seen one newsprint mill, you’ve seen enough. During my brief stay in Port Angeles, I saw the mill, but not a single roll of newsprint. I did not feel so much as a single twinge of déjà vu. So much for closing your metaphorical life loops.

But I did see this painting on the side of a tattoo parlor, which reminded me of my friend Elaine (not to be confused with my wife Elaine), who could have been the model for it.


  1. Oh, I've been to both Port Townsend and Port Angeles--in fact, I took off on the ferry at Port Angeles for Vancouver Island and Victoria. That whole area is so beautiful. If you ever need a B&B when you're up that way, let me know--I stayed in some really neat ones! Don't think I ever had the barbecue up that way!

  2. Wish I'd known about the BBQ place. I only drove through Port Townsend and didn't stop. Great piece, cracked me up.

  3. The San Juans are lovely. I'd like to retire on Orcas Island one day if I'm lucky enough.

    As for BBQ, I'm partial to Melvin's in Charleston. Yum!