2020 is the Year of The Killer to me. Not so much in a sense of Jack the Ripper, but more along the lines of The Killjoy.
For many decades, Wendy and I haven’t had a Thanksgiving just to ourselves. It’s always been family and friends galore, traveling to and from, and food. Lots of food. We never even had a thought of a Thanksgiving without it. But, then the Year of the Killer came. It killed nearly all of our traditional gatherings with family and friends; it killed some poor souls; it killed jobs; it killed small businesses; it killed going to a movie; it killed smiling at strangers. And many of our Governors killed even leaving the house. Bah humbug.
So, for Thanksgiving this Year of the Killer, we found ourselves totally footloose and fancy free. What to do? Since we live in an industrial building, we just said “No” to a Stay-cation. We had 5 days off work, and that sounded like: Road Trip! But to where? Almost everything near our home was closed or heavily restricted. North to Canada? Not so fast, we’re closed hoser! South to Oregon? Nyet! East to Idaho? Hmmmm. We’ve always had Idaho in the back of our mind for retirement, we should go have a look-see! So off we went to the Land of Spuds!
There are some who would have us believe Idaho isn’t safe, that it’s the Motherland of White Supremacy, full of vitriol, guns, and anti-Semites. Bosh. One bosh isn’t even enough, so I’ll say it again. Bosh. These people should carefully assess the credibility of their news sources, or perhaps try reading past the headlines. This, in all likelihood, traces back to a single news story from 2016 about the failure of Richard Butler’s attempt to establish his Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake on the outskirts of Coeur D’Alene. While it’s true that at one point several hundred skinheads and swastika wearing wackos did camp there, the good people of Coeur D’Alene would have nothing of it, and with the help of lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center finally managed to scrub them from Idaho through lawsuits and bankruptcy. Today CDA, as it is known, is a beautiful, family-friendly, diverse small city with a fabulous lakefront in the middle of an expansive agricultural landscape. And what we saw of Idaho beyond CDA appeared the same. It’s a 5-hour drive, and off we went.
The weather cooperated nicely, which made the run through Snoqualmie Pass a breeze. We had a few “fat” raindrops, and a rogue snowflake or two at the summit, but the rest of the drive was clear, dry, and fast.
The vast lava-flow prairies of Eastern Washington fall gently away from the Cascades all the way to and past the Columbia River east of Ellensburg.
The huge variety of scenery makes this first half of the drive like a travelogue. But once you cross the Columbia, and get through the gorge, it may as well be Kansas; what you see is mostly hay and grain farming, and the endless giant stacks of hay bales and silos at railway stops dot the land. Since we planned to make the drive on Thanksgiving Day, we did our traditional turkey dinner a few nights early. This gave us the best part of a Thanksgiving Dinner, the leftovers, and we made good use of them for our on-the-road Thanksgiving Lunch.
Near the terminus of our drive we pass through Spokane, which anchors the other end of US 90 in Washington. Spokane and Coeur D’Alene are only about 15 miles apart on the highway, but they couldn’t be more different. Spokane is big and sprawling, with a large industrial streak across it; it takes a good 10-15 minutes just to drive through. CDA is more of a destination town, anchored by its lakefront instead of an Interstate. If you didn’t pay too much attention, you might well be past it and on your way to Montana without taking much notice.
We chose a smallish B&B near downtown because we like to walk a town versus drive it. Walking gives you a much more intimate perspective of what’s what, and who’s who. The Greenbriar Inn was built in 1908 as a boarding house, and revived in the late 1980’s as the Inn it is today.
The whole place is furnished in period pieces and replicas to give it the same feel as when it was young. The owners, Bob and Kris, have done a fabulous job capturing the era, creaky stairs and all. There are only 7 suites, each with a private bath. Our room, on the third floor, had a “detached” private bath across the hall, but it compensated for that with a very generous “kitchenette”, just perfect for our 3 night stay.
They innkeepers are much more well known for their restaurant, 315, and catering business. And we got the benefit of that with our included breakfast.
The downtown lakefront is dominated by the large Coeur D’Alene Resort, with a hotel, several restaurants, a marina, and a shopping mall. Making it even more impressive was the extensive holiday decorating they had done. We were told the process to put up all the lights and finery takes 2 months. It had a magical effect though, putting us in a very festive spirit that we were desperately craving.
We had our hearts set on something other than turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner, and we hit pay dirt at The Dockside restaurant in the resort. Wendy had a gorgeous filet of halibut, and I had not one but 2 steaks, each with a different preparation. I was in heaven. I saw more than a few of the other diners, who had ordered the traditional turkey dinner, staring as I dug in. It even seemed that the little Elf at the next table was watching. I like turkey and all the fixings just fine, but this might alter my traditional meal expectations.
CDA downtown is very walk-able. You can get from one end to the other (not counting the long beachfront park on the western edge) in less than 10 minutes. And wherever we walked, the view was great. Dining is wide open there, we didn’t see much in the way of restrictions beyond polite requests to wear masks inside. Pleasantly enough, right in the middle is Gelato by the Lake, and we couldn’t pass it up. It’s all made right there, and they mix in the usual flavors with some of their own making. I chowed down on Stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate flakes) and Gingerbread; Wendy had the greek yogurt based Yoguretta, which was exactly like you would imagine, delicious.
The restaurants were really doing well, having adapted to the Year of the Killer with outside dining bubbles.
Wherever we went, the shops and cafes had masked-up employees and servers, and some of the public were masked outside while others weren’t. Everyone played very nice, respecting distance and personal space just fine. We noticed how happy everyone seemed without an ever-present authoritarian edict governing their personal behavior. I guess if you leave it up to rational people, they can figure out how to adapt and enjoy life. Another thing we noticed: there were exactly zero signs of any social injustice protests. No BLM signs, no boarded up shops, no clenched fist t-shirts, no megaphone carrying shriekers or Defunders in sight. It was as if nobody had any interest in any Marxist slogans or protestations about systemic racism, minorities included. It was stunningly refreshing, a huge contrast from Seattle. It felt like the America we grew up with. I guess the locals don’t think racism or social injustice is all that systemic where they come from. Oh, and we also met a couple of the stiffly formal locals.
We went to Idaho to look around, and that gave resulted in a couple more “mini road trips”. The first day we took a 2 hour drive south to Lewiston, which sits just across the Snake River from Clarkston in Washington. I can only imagine that our intrepid explorers, Lewis and Clark, flipped a coin to see which one got which side of the river for their namesake town. We didn’t care for Lewiston, which has all the feel and smell of an industrial seaport. Not much was open, even the Starbucks was drive-through only. So we turned around and headed back, intending to take a look at Moscow on the way. I know Bernie Sanders visited Moscow for his honeymoon many years back, but I don’t think it was this Moscow. This one is decidedly more American. The drive is very pleasant, through beautiful agricultural countryside, and we saw more of the ubiquitous farmscapes and silos.
The next day we met our friends Mike and Lisa for breakfast. I’ve known Lisa through past employment for almost 20 years, but have only been in touch through social media. They are taking advantage of “the opportunity of our lives” to live remotely in Coeur D’Alene for a year, and had given us an invitation to visit if we ever got out that way (another good reason to go). They used to live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when Lisa got the OK to work remotely, they flew the coop on a trial run to Living in America. Good for them! We wish them all the best, and will definitely be back to visit. After breakfast, we saddled back up and took a drive one hour north to Sandpoint, which sits on the shores of Pend Orielle Lake. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but felt too far away from civilization for us. We did, however, like the Panhandle Cone & Coffee Company, with some totally delish homemade ice cream. Eggnog and Chocolate Chip Cookie for me, Buttermilk Huckleberry for Wendy. Beside the ice cream, they had a sign in their shop that really summed up our trip.
CDA is bordered on the west by a large lakefront park, which provided us some extra walking, something I could really use after all the great food and gelato! A very poignant sign is posted on the public building there, which merits a mention here.
The City Hall sits next to the park, with the usual Bail Bondsmen and Lawyers offices across the street. But something you don’t see all that often caught our eye, The Hitching Post. Cool.
Our trip was a great success: great friends, great weather, great food, and a sense of a “return to normal” even if just for a couple of days. We will always have great memories of our introduction to Idaho, and especially Coeur D’Alene. Who knows, maybe there’s something there in our future?
And last, but not least, Tippy wants to wish everyone Merry Christmas! And, as he always does, he wants the last word…