I am sure on our journey we will see a many towns that time forgot with empty restaurants and shopping malls echoing the memories of high school dreams from the 1980s. These last vestiges of a once vibrant community are now replaced with the solitary interests of television and the internet.
You can surely see how it happens. In Coos Bay, Oregon, remnants of the former lumber economy are replaced with tourist activities. A casino aptly named the Mill Casino now sits adjacent to the lumber mill and seems to be the only place in town with any action, except for the large highway dominated by mostly large trucks. There is one small fish shack on the board walk, which may have been a great place to gather. There is one row of restaurants, one fairly new brewery, and a couple of dingy furniture and mattress places that seem like they spend more time dusting their inventory in between smoke breaks. There is a very nice Coop that seems new and is very clean, with three or four of each of their vegetable choices neatly arranged in their small cooler.
The mall in the next town up is mostly filled with local merchants, or perhaps low performing chain operations. There are strangely two nail salons right next to each other, and the middle of the mall is lined with crayon drawings from the local kids. Because it is the Martin Luther King holiday, the mall is mostly closed; however there is a preschool that is open and they appear to be holding a small ballet class taught by radically unskilled pre teen dancers, still trying to figure out how to style their hair on their own, and demonstrate various ballet moves. It's a beautiful sight to see, their expressions so honest and faithful.
The casino parking lot where we are staying is quite nice, with a view of the bay on one side and the aforementioned highway on the other. A train runs along the back of the lot. The casino runs a free shuttle bus that will take you anywhere in town. Carol was my driver, and as you can imagine, I was the only one on the bus. The sheets I had purchased in Seattle after so much thought were too thin and were after only 2 washes starting to look ragged so it was time to try again, the theme of almost every important purchase in our now reduced capacity life.
Carol lost her husband in October just 3 months ago, and she tells me she has been in the process of a major reorganization of her life. Her husband died all of a sudden and it appears from the hamburgers and pizza he ate regularly, it's fairly obvious the likely cause. Before he passed, they had purchased a large countertop convection oven to heat up her husband's favorite foods. Carol says it cost almost $200 for it, and it now sits in a closet because she needs the counter top, and doesn't even use her microwave any more. She told me she really likes Chinese food, especially rice. I wonder if she gets her groceries at the tiny Kim's Oriental Market in town or just shops in the asian food aisle at the Safeway in the suburban part of town.
When we first met Carol, we were watching the shadow of the sun set and she told us that that is called the Belt of Venus. She was very proud that a constellation had been named for a woman, as most are masculine by name. It was becoming clear that Carol was a budding feminist, finding her true feminine power late in life after living under the structure of what seemed to be a male dominated relationship for the previous 20 years of her life. She orders her rice directly from China, it's organic, and as she reads the story about it, she learns that most of the rice is farmed by women, and that the company that sells the rice is specifically teaching women to farm and be more self sufficient, plus not use so much water in the process. She is thrilled by the opportunities her rice supplier is creating for women, plus all the varieties of rice they grow are very exciting to Carol, now filled with amazing positive energy for her future.
Carol's next big plan is to get healthy again. She used to exercise regularly, but then she hurt her knee, which got misdiagnosed as a sprain but was actually a break, and she had been running on it inadvertently so it became extremely messed up. Earlier that day, she was doing some electrical work after her granddaughter left (so she could turn off the power). She is installing a treadmill in her basement and needed to move a plug from behind the washing machine. She laughed because she got so involved with the work, she forgot to dust off her hair from crawling around the basement. She is also going to install some rubber that is usually used in horse stalls. She's quite proud of her accomplishments in electrical work in her basement, and because of this huge burst of energy she has, she is ready to get rid of her husband's giant recliner because she just doesn't have time to sit around and wait for something to happen.
That sense of urgency...I feel the same way.