We left Seattle midday on a Friday, making it all of six blocks before our first coffee stop. Heather was driving; Deanna rode shotgun. I was the backseat navigator (Deanna's directional sense rivaled that of Wrong Way Feldman.) Three dollar lattes in hand (all right, there were scones, too), we finally managed to maneuver onto Interstate 5, where we headed south for our weekend destination, a homely beach hideaway just shy of the cheese town of Tillamook.
We were still professionals at that point — a marketing director, a graphic designer, a business manager — three hard-working career women in search of a little rest and relaxation along the Oregon Coast. Our weekend plans called for antique shopping, beachcombing, perhaps a wine tasting or three.
Nowhere on the agenda were alphabetical insults. Yet as we hit Tacoma, 30 miles to the south, there they were.
"Geezer," said Heather.
"Hag," said Deanna.
"Idiot," said I.
Jerk, knucklehead, loser, milquetoast and ninny followed in quick succession.
By Olympia, we were making fun of mullet-haired boys in a passing Camaro; in Centralia, we were blowing kisses at baffled plumbers. Come Chehalis, we were trying to decide who the best-looking guy on any "Law & Order" series ever was (Detective Elliot Stabler, duh). And by Longview, where a cat's cradle of steel spans the mighty Columbia like a set of gigantic teenage braces, it somehow became official:
We were no longer smart, sensible businesswomen. We were something else, something dark and dangerous and disturbingly carefree. We were society's worst nightmare, sisterhood's dirty little secret. We were 11-year-old girls with credit cards.
The potato chips only made things worse. We bought them — three bags of Sweet Maui Onion Kettle Style — at a small gas station along Oregon's Highway 30, just outside of Clatskanie, a name that seemed to get funnier with each repetition.
Racing alongside the Columbia, we made up stories about Clatskanie Annie, who emerged from our murky Maui-onion-soaked brains as a Sasquatch slash logger who lived in the woods and, like many of our suburban friends, came to town only once or twice a year to shop and/or mate.
Breaking out of the veldt of rolling green, we found ourselves staring at the Pacific Ocean in Astoria (turnaround point for the Lewis and Clark expedition, for those of us who paid attention during Social Studies), where we gawked at quaint pastel-painted homes, gaped at the paddleboat Queen of the West, and gamboled through an antique mall trying on every large Russian fur hat we could get our hands on.
It was just south of Astoria ("We're going north, right?" asked Deanna) that Heather announced that from now on she wanted to be known as Vivian, a tall, willowy brunette with a tragic past.
Rooming with George
The beach cabin at Rockaway was not what you'd call fancy, but it did hold a certain rooming-house charm, evidenced by its mishmash of beds (three to a room), stacks of incongruous linen (including towels hardened by the ocean air) and odd collection of reading material (everything from National Geographics to Peanuts cartoons to "Eye on Nixon," a book of White House photos augmented by goofy hand-written captions). The cabin also had a faceless, handless, wig-wearing dummy who appeared to be taking a snooze on a couch in the dining room.
George (as we promptly dubbed him) was the beach-house security system, the caretaker told us; since he'd been installed, the robberies had stopped altogether. Robberies? we mouthed, staring at each other with wild horsey eyes.
He (the caretaker, not George) gave us the three-dollar tour, then puttered off, leaving us with a set of keys, a package of Hydrox, and a picture window full of the Pacific.
By then, of course, it was time to eat.
Bundling back into the car, we barreled down Highway 101 in search of our evening meal. We found something else instead. Towering brick smokestacks, squat silver silos, thrusting lighthouses, jutting totem poles — from all indications, it appeared we were vacationing in the middle of a gigantic phallic system. We sped through the countryside, pointing and giggling, searching for the turnoff to Oceanside, where a good seafood restaurant was said to lurk.
To the west were granite haystacks awash in the ocean, fishing boats coming home from the sea; to the east, we saw herds of cows and ragged clear-cuts and green fields littered with what appeared to be enormous rolls of toilet paper (but were in reality plastic-wrapped hay bales).
By the time we finally reached the restaurant, located at the edge of a picturesque beach community spackled onto some seaside cliffs, the wait was 30 minutes or more.
Famished, we ordered pizza at the tavern across the street, kicking our Keds against the low stools in time to the jukebox as we waited.
Never a dull moment
In the morning, there were adventures. I became trapped inside the cabin's Barcalounger. Heather took a shower, thereafter referred to as the piercing mist of doom. And Deanna met a nice boy on the beach.
"He said he had just moved here from the high country and that he was looking for work as a carver," she said, stamping sand off her shoes.
"He was wearing a leather jacket and no shirt," said Heather, who had gone to fetch her. "And he was carrying a huge knife."
"He was a gentle soul," Deanna insisted.
"He was Charles Manson Jr.!"
"Time to shop," I called, heading for the car.
An hour later, we were perusing the aisles of the Wheeler Antique Station, a labyrinthine warehouse so full of stuff it looked like an explosion inside eBay. Nineteen-forties dish sets, 1960s lunchboxes, big-eyed-children paintings from the '70s, hideous clothing from every era. Dolls, doilies, double boilers, death masks. There was even an old ironing machine known as a mangle, something I hadn't seen since I used to visit my great grandmother's house back when I was, well, 11.
I didn't buy the mangle, but I did buy an old cookbook, "Quick Dishes for the Woman in a Hurry." Heather (who for all her willowiness had tripped and nearly taken out a collection of Depression glass) bought a set of nesting dolls for her sister. Deanna had already bought the gentle-soul story from the guy back on the beach so didn't go away completely empty-handed.
By then, of course, it was time to eat. We found a fish-and-chip joint in nearby Cannon Beach, where even through the beer, grease and cod, I could smell the treacly scent of that American tourist-town staple, the waffle cone. Ensconced in our corner booth, the three of us whispered about boys and music and shoes. And maybe boys some more.
After lunch, we wandered in and out of stores selling more coastal-town fare: candied apples, mountain bikes, purple underwear, leather pants. Later, at a vista point along the highway, we hammed for the camera, then found some railroad tracks to play on, some wooden pirates to make out with and a jaundiced local or two to chat up ("The local industries? Fishing and logging and they both suck.") Another mad dash south and west to Oceanside ("We're going north, right?") reunited Deanna with her credit card which she'd forgotten under a wad of pepperoni-stained napkins.
On the way back to town, we had a detailed discussion about the worst people we'd ever smelled. And then, well, we ate.
One last stop
Later, Deanna entertained Heather and me by jumping out of bed in the middle of the night, grabbing a fireplace poker and standing at the back door ready to bash in the head of a robber she'd heard trying to break in. The robber, as it turned out, was me rolling over in my sleep; nevertheless, I felt it prudent to spend the rest of the night on a cot in their room. George, our security system, seemed unfazed by the incident or by Deanna's repeated advances.
Come morning, I braved the piercing mist of doom, then the three of us walked the beach, tidied the house, packed our bags and headed south (except for Deanna, who like a compass always pointed north) en route to the Blue Heron French Cheese Company in Tillamook.
There, we spent an hour in the petting zoo rhapsodizing over the ponies (or in Deanna's case, the roosters), then scooted inside to graze on dozens of tiny samples of brie cheese, herb dip, pumpkin butter, jalapeño mustard, summer sausage, loganberry jam and pretzels. Back on the road again, we passed the Tillamook High School (home to a stack of hay bales painted like the American flag), then headed east toward Hillsboro, where a Sasquatch convention promised an opportunity to look at actual samples of Bigfoot poop.
After that, it was Portland and I-5, where our car finally became one with Deanna's directional sense, heading north to Seattle, land of briefcases, business plans, deadlines, insurance deductions, phone bills, frappuccinos and very few opportunities for dressing up in big fur hats, making out with faceless dummies (of the beach-house variety, that is) or the bandying about of alphabetical insults.
Diane Mapes is a Seattle-based freelance writer.