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Southern Exposure: Traveling is easy, escaping is hard

Vacation offers respite from national angst

Published on September 4, 2017 12:01AM

Folks love to remember the words of former Mayor Don Larson, who shaped the tone and tenor of Seaside during his long and productive time in city government. A “Don Larson meeting,” for example, is a city meeting run with efficiency and timeliness, without the baggage and verbiage some cities endure.

I remember the former mayor commenting that although he loved Seaside’s events — Hood to Coast, the beach volleyball championship ­— the crowds here in Seaside set his vacation time in motion. I can relate.

After settling in Seaside this spring, I saw firsthand the transition the city takes when June turns the corner into July and visitors swell the city’s streets and fill the local eateries. A confluence of events ­— including the 90th birthday of my father — took me out of Seaside for my summer vacation, a vacation bookended by national, local and planetary events.

I arrived in Saugatuck, Michigan, a little tourist town on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, as events in Charlottesville, Virginia, were unfolding. My father, a longtime civil rights activist, was surprisingly calm as we shuffled from the news channels — CNN, MSNBC, Fox — and watched the hate unfold, culminating in the violent death of Heather Heyer. I think I was more worked up about it — he a veteran of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and at the side of Martin Luther King Jr. again in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

My father was immersed in a book on the French Revolution and as the latest words of our president wound up my internal coil of outrage, I was surprised by his relative calm. “People shouldn’t be surprised,” he said, only barely raising his eyes above the top of his book. “They knew what they were getting.”

Juggling act

After a bit of pique, I decided to follow his lead and enjoy the vacation, which with every political turn seemed to be more and more of a juggling act. My most recent Seaside Signal piece showcased Seaside’s newest entertainment venue, the Inverted Experience, subtly influencing me to feel that the world right now is somewhat upside down. Even the beach book I had chosen, “Submission,” by Michel Houellebecq, was painfully intense and profoundly political, a dark comedy about a world where the Muslim Brotherhood accede to power in contemporary France.

Yet vacation time it was and time to soldier on. Fortunately, Saugatuck — a sort of amalgam of beach tourist communities from Cape Cod to Cannon Beach, with a heavy emphasis on weekenders from Chicago — offered the perfect respite, in fact, one of the local coffee bars in nearby Douglas was called Respite. Acclimating myself to humid summer clime for the first time since my debarquement on the Oregon Coast, I put down my double shot Americano and strolled the streets, bouncing from boutiques to sandwich joints and always looking for an authentic Chicago-style hot dog. I took a riverboat with 80 of my new best friends up the Kalamazoo River to the mouth of Lake Michigan, drinking a Leinenkugel Lemon Shandy under the beating sun. I found a hot dog place in Holland, Michigan, that served the Chicago dogs, but these couldn’t hold a candle to Ruby’s in Seaside or Mudd Dogs in Manzanita. Dad had the TV tuned to the Detroit Tigers games; they were dropping a series to the Rangers. Apparently they’re not having much of a season.

I read the local paper, The Commercial Record, which was headlining a spat between the city government and the district fire chief over concerns from the that city officials were “subverting” his authority. In turn, officials responded: “There was no give and take on anything.” And world news kept seeping in as I lingered on the deck of the Uncommon Coffee Roasters drinking Americanos and reading the Chicago Tribune and Grand Rapids Press.


As family began to arrive for a celebration of Dad’s 90th, I reconnected with John, an in-law and former suburban cop injured in the line of duty. He had been patrolling Highway 41 in Lake County, Illinois, and pulled over a suspect who attempted to flee. The suspect was apprehended, but not without resistance; John was to face three back surgeries, and remains on disability. After my own running accident in May, I was familiar with the pain scale. I asked John what his pain level — a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the highest — was on a day-to-day basis. Was it a two? No, he said. Four? He shook his head. Six? He nodded. I couldn’t imagine living with that kind of pain on a daily basis. He blamed illegal immigrants and lax policy for his pain — the suspect had been an undocumented immigrant. The conversation stirred some complex if controlled discussion from other visitors, including family members Bill and Susie from Charlotte, North Carolina, who had lived through riots after the shooting of 20-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was killed by a city police officer. Both the victim and the officer were black. The shooting led to two nights of increasingly violent protest. Protesters threw rocks and bottles; police deployed tear gas. Three TV reporters were assaulted, one of whom ended up hospitalized.

As in Charlottesville, the narrative becomes increasingly clouded depending on what news channel you have on. Bill urged a more nuanced view than John, but clearly no minds were going to be changed.

It was a good thing the television remained muted as we all gathered together to salute my dad. Among his guests was a 104-year-old woman: “And she came to visit me,” he later said sheepishly.

I closed out my visit with some St. Louis style baby back ribs at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill before setting the alarm for 4:30 a.m. to board the Delta flight from Grand Rapids to Portland, with a layover in Minneapolis.

I felt momentarily relieved — I had accomplished my mission. It hadn’t been easy but I had lost myself for a week and finally turned off the cable news.

There was an eclipse here in Oregon, and with it, I knew, the sun would shine again.

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.


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