When I was a student at Whitman I had little interaction with the town of Walla Walla. These days, the town is part of the fun of the visit. But being a Whitman graduate it’s hard to match wits with people outside the college. Here are three vignettes:
As a student I once rode my bicycle out to College Place just to see what was there, at the time not much that interested me. But 35 years later, and drinking green smoothies every day for arthritis, Seventh Day Adventist country was the place to go for a fix. In the health food cafe I inquired of a woman whose long gray hair stood out in points like the crown on the Statue of Liberty if she could make me a vegetable smoothie.
“You mean juice?”
“No, I want you to puree the whole food, pulp and all.”
“You know,” she said to me. “Dr Carbolic’s book? He says that pulp isn’t good for you.”
I had no idea what she was referencing but my evangelical upbringing has taught me to sense one of the species, no matter what the subject matter.
“Yes, I’ve read his book. I still want the pulp.”
“But he says that pulp is really quite bad for–here let me get you his diagram.”
“No, please. I’ve seen his diagram.”
“He says. . .”
“I know what he says.”
She looked flummoxed. I started over.
“Can you make me a whole smoothie?”
“I don’t actually make them. Laura?”
While Laura was popping beets and carrots into an ancient blender which was not going to make either a smoothie or juice, Miss Liberty came bustling over with a piece of paper.
“Since you are interested in health,” she began. “You’ll want to know about dangerous fats. You see, this is how–”
“Thank you very much, I’ll read it.” I plucked it out of her hand and folded it up. I wondered if Laura, who appeared to not be listening to the conversation, was resigned to ceding a certain amount of potential business to this woman. I wondered what the politics were.
“The fat begins. . .”
“You know,” I put my hand on her arm. “I prefer to pay attention to my own body and make my decisions based on whether or not I feel better.”
“Yes,” she conceded doubtfully. “That’s important, too, but Dr. Carbolic–”
“Thank you very much.” I said loudly.
* * * * * *
I had an odd conversation when I stopped for coffee on my way out of town on Sunday morning. The girl behind the register looked in her early twenties.
“Do you make espresso drinks?” I asked. I didn’t see any of the usual equipment.
“What do you mean by espresso?”
“Your sign out front says that you make espresso drinks.”
“You mean like a cappuchino?”
“I mean like an Americano.”
“All we have are those coffee machines.” She gestured to the Boyd’s drip coffee machines, one of which had a sign that said “Capucchino.”
“OK, well, never mind. Can I use the rest room?”
“You need the key,” she informed me.
“OK,” I said.
“The key isn’t here. Somebody must be in the rest room.”
“It’s 9:00 on a Sunday morning and mine is the only car within two blocks. Who could be in the rest room?”
She looked like she hoped I would stop asking such hard questions. “Someone must not have returned the key.”
I stared at her, trying to imagine what she did with her mind in her spare time. I imagine she was relieved when I left but I was both unrelieved and unfulfilled.
* * * * * * *
I saved this vignette for last because I think it’s sweet and because the only sarcasm in the exchange wasn’t mine which in itself is worth noting.
I was on my bicycle trying to work off either the morning’s lemon Shaker pie or the afternoon’s Umpqua ice cream. Coming around a familiar loop in Pioneer Park I heard boys’ voices.
“There’s another one!”
“My stick broke, hand me yours.”
“No get down, it’s my turn.”
Five boys were clustered around an old Civil War cannon. One was wrapped around the barrel, poking a stick into its innards.
“What are you doing?”
“There are messages down there,” said one of the boys.
“What kind of messages?”
“This one says, ‘Help, help, I’m a prisoner in here!’”
“Hey, can I take your picture?” I asked
“Are you from the UB?” That would be the Walla Walla Union Bulletin, which was misguided enough to not give my book signing a listing so we don’t like them.
“No,” I said. “But I might write about you. Would that be all right?”
“Can we read it?”
“It’ll be on the Internet. I bet you guys are pretty good on the computer.”
One of them said –and here’s my next to favorite part– “No, not really.”
Five boys, ages around 10 or 11, playing outside, and not particularly good on the computer. I bet they’re better than me but never mind.
None of us had a pen or paper (or IPod). I asked “How will I get ahold of you when I’ve written my piece?”
Long pause. (Now here’s my favorite part:)
“My name’s David,” said the boy on the cannon.
“Oh, that’ll help,” said the boy withholding the stick.
David, wherever you are, I hope you see this because you were a sparkle on my most recent visit to WallaWalla.