Did I really see that?



On my long drives to and from Salem last month, I saw some amazing things. One of the wildest was a guy dressed up like the Statue of Liberty. He was advertising a tax preparation service. I had stopped at a light on Lancaster, and there he was. By the time I got my camera out, he had almost moved out of frame, but if you look closely, you’ll see him all in green.

Another guy nearly caused an accident. I was just driving onto the Yaquina Bridge here in Newport on my way to church, when I saw a group coming out of the Seafood and Wine Festival. One of them, a young man, had his pants down so low his entire butt cheeks were showing. He was clutching his pants in front. I don’t understand what was going on. Were his jeans severely damaged? Did he do it on a dare? Was he that drunk?

Sometimes I just see beautiful things, like a great sunset. As I came up over the hill and down into Newport, there it was. I changed course and drove straight to Yaquina Bay State Park where I snapped this shot.

Keep your eyes open, folks. There’s always something to see.

The Tide Goes Out at Sea Towne

Sea Towne, a maze of bleached-board ramps and stairways, with a lifelike wooden sailor sitting in the courtyard, and soft music playing from hidden speakers, is Newport’s only so-called mall, but like the wood it’s made out of it, this charming sea of shops on Highway 101 between Subway and Sears has been fading for a long time.

Before my twice-monthly meetings in one of the offices there, I often stop at the Sea Towne bookstore. Owner Bill Terry has been a great supporter of local authors, hosting book-signings, displaying our works prominently, welcoming us like old friends. Since he first heard about Stories Grandma Never Told, my book about Portuguese women, he always says the same thing: Did I tell you my ex-wife was Portuguese? Yes, I say, you did.

In November, I did a signing there to promote A Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer’s. The handful of sales I made that day were the only sales, he said. As I sat at my little table with my books spread before me, I noticed some of the shelves were bare. The faltering economy, plus the growing trend to buy books from the big online outlets, has hit independent bookstores hard. Why drive all the way to Sea Towne, where you probably won’t find the book you’re looking for, when you can order it from Amazon with a few keystrokes?

So yesterday, I was sad but not surprised to find Bill’s old store empty. A sign on the window noted that the future occupants had applied for a liquor license. Another sign, handwritten in black felt pen, noted that the bookstore had moved “around the corner.”

I followed the signs until I discovered Bill’s new store. It’s much smaller, the walls inside a startling shade of yellow. There was Bill, leaning on the counter. He had planned to go out of business at the end of last year, he said. Nobody was buying, and with the snow that smacked Oregon during the holidays, the Christmas rush never happened. He’s still trying to figure out how to fit his books into the reduced space. Four banks of magazines have been reduced to one, and the children’s section, once a sizable nook, is just one wall now. Right away Bill started apologizing for not having my books in a prominent display. No, no, no, I said. It’s still here; that’s all that matters.

I’ll be honest. I buy most of my books from Amazon.com. It’s just easier, but I ordered three from Bill in December and another one yesterday. If nobody shops at the bookstores, they’ll disappear.

The bookstore isn’t the only Sea Towne shop experiencing a sea change. The dog boutique is gone. Charisma Gifts has moved out. Several offices upstairs are vacant. As usual, I saw no one at the restaurant where the owners valiantly put up mouth-watering menus every day, serving a handful of customers at most.

Sea Towne still has a clothing shop, a home decorating business, a dance studio and numerous psychiatrists’ and counselors’ offices. I believe the key shop, a tiny cubbyhole opposite the elevator, is still going but it’s only open sporadically.

Sea Towne is becoming a ghost town, haunted by that wooden sailor who looks so real I always feel as if I need to say hello. My footsteps echo on the wooden planks. It feels as if everyone else has jumped ship.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy turkey day to everyone. It’s raining here, but not too hard. It’s cold, but not too cold. Being far from family, we hadn’t planned to make a big deal out of Thanksgiving. In fact, the plan was for me to go to church and then make enchiladas while the husband watched football all day. But my stepson surprised us by showing up yesterday. He was camping east of Sisters and got snowed out. Since we had a turkey in the freezer, he requested a traditional dinner, so the bird is in the oven, the pie is cooling, the Jello is made and it feels like a holiday now. I’ve been burning up the telephone lines calling people in California. They’re all having turkey dinners with other family members, so things are as they should be.

Church was nice this morning, just a small group in our old-fashioned brick sanctuary near the beach. This version of Sacred Heart Church was built in 1952, the year I was born. We all brought bags of food for the poor, and the sermon was about all the things we have to be grateful for. After Mass, Father Brian said he would be grateful if we’d take the 2008 hymnals out of their jackets and put in the 2009 books. We assembled a work party in the hall and were done in no time. That’s a small town for you. When there’s something to be done, we all join in.

My friend Georgia, who sings with me in the choir, was there in her baseball cap and no makeup. She’s got a nasty sinus infection and a cracking voice that sounds like a 13-year-old boy’s. When I stopped at the grocery store for yams and Cool Whip, she was pulling in. She picked up a bottle of wine, saying that was going to be her Thanksgiving dinner. Hey, whatever makes you feel good.

The store was full of people buying one bag worth of stuff, all the forgotten items somebody sent them out to get. While I was in line at the register, Michael the stepson called to request a lemon. I’m not sure what he’s going to do with it, but off I went for a lemon. Now he’s busy working magic with the yams.

Newport, OR is the county seat, with a population of approximately 10,000. The weather and lack of jobs keep us from growing much larger, but it’s the kind of place where you meet friends everywhere you go, and I like that. This week, the public works department wound lighted wreaths around all the light poles and strung lights around City Hall. It is so pretty at night. I’ll try to get a picture soon. Next Saturday the Nye Beach Christmas tree will be lit in front of Nana’s Bistro and I’ll join the wandering musicians visiting the local shops. Soon we will also have our lighted boat parade in Yaquina Bay and the Festival of Trees up at the Agate Beach Best Western. It’s a nice time to be here.

And our puppies, Chico and Annie, huge at nine months, are getting to sleep inside by the pellet stove, the light of the fire shining in their eyes, the scent of turkey wafting past their nostrils.

Happy Holidays.