Last weekend, thousands of visitors invaded Newport for the 35th annual Seafood and Wine festival. Imagine being crammed in an oversized tent where the temperature is 40 degrees, everyone is drinking, and you can barely move. Fun! Like many locals, I usually stay away, but I appreciate the big boost it gives our local economy as festivalgoers pack our hotels, restaurants and shops.
Once upon a time, my husband Fred and I and our friends Larry and Jennifer Anderson were visitors, too. It was February 1996. The Andersons had already moved from San Jose to Bay City, up the coast just north of Tillamook. We agreed to meet in Lincoln City, taking rooms at the Ester Lee Motel on Friday night and driving down to the festival in Newport on Saturday.
Locals remember the winter of 1996 for its epic storms. We were not prepared. Oh yes, we brought some light waterproof jackets, but we must have figured this would be like Hawaii, where it rains but it’s not very cold. Uh, no. That first night, we ordered pizza and congregated in the Andersons’ room as the storm ramped up. Rain turned puddles into lakes in the parking lot as the window blew so hard we could see the our ocean-view windows bowing in and out. It took over an hour for the pizza delivery guy to get there, and he looked absolutely drowned. We tipped him ten dollars for his efforts and settled in with lots of wine. Surely in the morning, the weather would be better.
No again. Yes, the rain and wind had eased up. Now we had snow. It drifted down from the sky and piled up on the windowsills and on the sand. We decided against our planned walk on the beach. Even in our cozy suite with fireplace, kitchen, living room and bedroom, we were freezing. We had shivered all night. Instead of going to the beach, we drove to the outlet stores for warmer clothing. Then we piled into our car and drove to Newport.
I’ve never been much of a wine drinker, but Fred and our friends loved the stuff. In fact, Fred had started working part-time in a tasting room at a winery in San Jose, and he was building quite a collection of vintage reds. When we got to the festival, they dove in, despite being surprised at having to pay to taste. Wine-tasting was generally free in California. Here they wanted a dollar for a few drops in what looked like a Nyquil cup. But they drank and got happy while I searched out the seafood and Tillamook chocolate. This was a cultural experience, far different from the many outdoor art and wine festivals we had attended in the Bay Area, where you could sprawl on the grass in the sun with your wine and listen to live bluegrass or jazz.
After a few hours, I grew anxious to go someplace warm where I could move my arms without touching a stranger and regain feeling in my frozen toes. But oh, they were getting very happy. Finally, as the daylight waned, I convinced my group that it was time to go. They had tasted and talked and were ready for naps. “You drive,” they said. Was there a choice? I had not driven in snow before, and it was a good 45 minutes or windy two-lane roads back to the Ester Lee. Except for when I was cursing, I was holding my breath, hoping the tires wouldn’t slip.
We made it, stumbling into our rooms with our commemorative wine glasses. By morning, the snow had melted. Locals assured us this weather was a freak occurence. Six months later, Fred and I moved to Oregon.