The morning is lazy and my friends didn’t know I had a small road trip planned for our enjoyment. For winter, it is a beautiful day, no rain and mostly clear sunny skies. Adventure!
Oren and Charlotte Boness, Aunt Charis and Tula
The 9-year-old boy Eduardo was indifferent that he’d be forced to play on his iPhone in the backseat of our Chevrolet rather than at home. I get it, I think. My games were all stuck in 100 pounds of computer hardware at his age - if only he knew the pain of being really cut off from his matrix of pixels, sprites and shitty music but I digress.
Silvana and I were much more excited about a little jaunt upstate - a place that holds a special place in my heart.
Everyone was set, Edu had an orange Fanta and Silvana and I both had Cokes, ice cold in the bottle because that is the best way to indulge a favorite. By the way, the fact that a girl enjoys a Coca-Cola as much as I do… well hell, it is just awesome.
As the captain of the trip, I easily accepted the “master of the stereo” title as well. In an effort to energize Eduardo, I put the Scorpions on shuffle but it must’ve taken too long to get around to Rock You Like A Hurricane - as he had already sunk below window level peering deep into a 1/4” piece of plastic and aluminum.
So, our triumvirate squinted into the late morning as I (probably irritatingly) sang along with every single song that came on. Nobody has told me that I’m irritating them - but I’ve spent enough hours in the XO’s seat to know that if you don’t even know the songs it is much, much worse that if you do. Knowing this, I let the thought flow right out the ½” space my window that is cracked and I picked up the stereo at Still Loving You. I do not have the range that Klaus Meine has so this was probably extraordinary miserable.
As we neared Mt. Vernon, WA, I started having the flashbacks of a thousand trips to this area of the state. My grandparents owned a plot of what is basically a little boy’s paradise: A big house in a forest on a creek that flowed into the Skagit River.
Many things have changed since then but I still see every stretch of the road as I did when I was 8, 10 or 17 years old. There is one exception; there are many bigger, dumb trucks on the road. It is as if this part of the state has forgotten that we have paved roads and amazing interstates that can be navigated on a buckboard with four wheels on casters. This gripe is for another time, too.
My brother Aaron and cousin Kristian (and Tula)
We hopped off the mainline to a more rural Washington Highway 9 (the roads are still paved very nicely here but still - many giant trucks carting around… well… nothing. It is right about here I have the warm, fuzzy flashbacks to a fantastic childhood. Beautiful small town homes and small stores lazily float by our windows thanks to what are actually better than your average Seattle pavement.
Winding through the valley catching glimpses of small creeks, farms and farms with a lot of extra big dumb trucks that look like they never even get driven. Perhaps these are the backup trucks for when Armageddon comes in a bigly way - one of the four or five leviathans just has to start up. Failsafe. For the first time thanks to my love of NASA, triple or even quadruple redundancy is something I begin to admire.
As we near the city of Concrete, Washington, the particular stretch of Highway 20 that we’re on is exactly where at about age 19 my friends and I all decided to go camping in winter on a lark. We had CBs and saw ourselves a bit of a fighter squadron with the scout up ahead letting everyone know when it was safe to pass slow vehicles. This particular stretch of 20 has a slight bend to the right for what seems like two hours.
My buddy (let’s call him John) and I were combat scouts up front. His bright red 1978 1/2-ton, 7.4L V8 and the nickname “BIG 10” emblazoned on its flanks made every car we passed a very simple task.
1978 Chevrolet ½-ton "BIG 10" Model
The rest of the crew were playing “tail-end Charlie” in a bronze colored 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera Coupe - a grand name for a pretty boring car. It came equipped with not the buzzing but pretty kick ass “Quad 4” GM engine but a reliable AND gutless 2.5L 4-cylinder dud.
This rolling hazard to progress was nicknamed by some polyester suit the “Iron Duke”. Oh yeah, it was iron. The only aluminum you’d find on the engine was probably the alternator housing.
A representation of the Iron Duke
Anyway, on this long bend of great American road, the word on the CB from the Big 10 (the Shepard to its Lost Sheep, if you will) was that the 5 cars they were stuck behind could easily be passed, as the oncoming lane was empty all the way from them to us. As it was related to us after the Iron Duke lazily pulled into the oncoming lane the first four cars were easy - but that 5th was beginning to look like “bit off too much to chew”. We all came to the realization at the same time. We dutifully radioed back that the next vehicle coming in the oncoming lane was a Peterbilt that had some amazing chrome dual exhaust stacks.
At this point, our forward observer position was mostly worthless, as the Iron Duke had also seen its challenge. We were told Eye of the Tiger by Survivor just happened to be playing on the stereo when the word “commit” meant exactly what it said in the dictionary. The captain of the Duke pushed the throttle down the last 10% of the way (in effect, did nothing) and they all grabbed each others butts because it was do or die.
They died in a tangled wreck, meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates going backwards and on fire.
Not really. They cleared the last car and the CB was silent but we in the front know that somehow, our brilliant tactics were not brilliant enough. Our asses burned as somehow we could hear them cursing us back in the Golden Chariot.
Our happy crew was now nearly into Concrete and I reveal to them that we’re here to see the world un-famous Baker Lake and Baker Dam. Eduardo pulled his hoodie further down over his baseball cap as if leaving the car would unplug a cork from his body, spilling his essence into the sharp gravel we were parked on. I think he has the wrong definition of bullying but I’m accused of that and as the adult, I accept it because I cannot throw him off the bridge which is the only other option I’m left with.
I take the point and our little crew walks out on to the 100 year old bridge, all the time I’m pretty sure that Edu is going to drop his iPhone accidentally over the side as we all watch its beautiful red case glint in the sun for 4 seconds before gravity takes it all the way under the water. It’s a long way down.
Eduardo flirts with gravity
Yet, this does not happen and we have time to pose for a few pics because, thank the Universe, as soon as he peeked over the side of the bridge and how far down it was, one could actually see the hair standing up on the back of his head. He’s a good boy.
We breathe some air, laugh and Edu takes a swig from the orange Fanta he hauled with him the full 30 feet to the bridge. We made our way back along the exact same 30 feet and pile back into the black Chevrolet. I’m not sure if my crew is happy or perturbed that the bridge was not the main attraction and that now we were going to drive further up the hill to the top of the dam.
Me and Silvana on the 100+ year old bridge
This sends my brain back to when my grandpa drove us up to this very same place in his 1979 Dodge. He told me, “its a dam good view,” it always made me laugh as I felt like we found the very best way to cheat at swearing! A stop at the True Value hardware store before motoring up the gravel roads and he’d happily buy me a 16oz Coke in a glass bottle (those fatty ones that only Generation X probably remembers).
I’m a kid and I can drink 5 of these a day and not pinch an inch.
Remember the fat bottle?
Grandpa drives windows down all days of the year which I think is pretty manly but now realize it's just a great way to drive and breathe Pacific Northwest air. Even as I type this I hear Marty Robins and damn it is good. Thanks, Grandpa!
We crawl up the hill (we’re really off road now, you know, the type you need to buy a Jeep for). Silvana is watching a video of a terrible flooding disaster back in Brazil on her phone and I kinda feel terrible for the Beach Boys’ “Catch a Wave ” playing at the same time. Someday she’s going to read this and kick me square in the apple sack but for now my morbid humor demands that this precious memory stick with me forever. I’m not sure but it may be the reason I’m writing this little story.
We reach the top of the dam and Baker provides the clear water. Baker Lake is absolutely mirror-like and I stand in wonder, gazing up to Mt. Baker, at how this water has made its way down the mountain through trees, roots, ferns and rocks to land right here. Perfect, clean water. With an amused smile at this thought I turn to explain to Eduardo the significance of the snow pack, the melting, the water and then the dam that creates the power for his stupid online game. Before I open my mouth I see he has decided at this moment of the week and month to fiddle with a loose tooth. I digress.
Me and cousins
Grandpa always offered to tie a string around it, attaching the other end of the string to a doorknob and then slamming said door. It promised a quick and easy extraction.
I was either too much of a coward or too smart to ever take him up on his offer. I now feel the need to find out from my cousins if they ever fell for it. One of us had to, and whoever took the hit: hats off to you.
My fat ass hastily makes its way over the rocky terrain here as I deploy the tripod and attempt to corral the crew into any kind of frame I can pare down in to a photo. The tripod is pretty damn rickety and we’re far from on stable ground. I place my far too expensive Phone XS Max (seriously?) on the top of the baby giraffe legged contraption and set the time at its maximum time.
The Smiths all in one frame
10 whole seconds to get down to the group while trying to not knock down the whole shiteree on the way. 10 seconds goes by fast at 6’3”, 300 pounds but I make it! I’m pleased with the shot but it turns out “all” of our smiles are not the greatest so we set it up again. Another successful dance around the rickety tripod and finding my place in the photo. Eduardo, at a 9 year old bantam weight gets back to the camera before me and promptly knocks the tripod off its footing.
I’m not ready to die yet but I can see a way through if that phone hits the rocks and shatters like so many Mariners fans’ dreams every goddamn year. (Hello, homers! The Mariners now hold the longest playoff drought in all of the four major North American professional sports, having not qualified for the playoffs since 2001). Anyway, Edu catches the tripod from falling and I do an about face and walk away from the light. For all the gesturing and fiddling with his tooth and to my chagrin the tooth is still in his mouth.
We motor down the mountain and I find what the town of Concrete would call its very own Kessel Run. That is if anyone in Concrete was a Star Wars fan. I’m unsure if this particular stretch is to be driven on but it isn’t posted and I want to get some photos of this amazing train car that has been sitting here since The Great Pyramid was under construction.
I’m motoring and taking in the sights and out of nowhere a deer jumps out in front of me and in one hop clears the path and is back off the road to the other side. As I marvel at its quickness and the Chevys anti-lock breaks, two teenagers reeking of weed bound out of the forest in chase of the deer. They freeze, with “what the hell are they doing here” looks in their eyes. I throw the peace sign in order to try to convey that I’m not the hooka police but it is clear that their mantra here in their forest is “trust but verify." It is a sound mantra but I am past them before they can verify so I cannot report if they are still thinking of me right now wondering why I showed up in their life for 10 but I've thought about them every day since. Do they grow their own weed?
This has not changed
We’re done here so it is back towards home but this time I take the route whose orbit is close to my heart than any other part of the trip before. We roll past the gravel pit that is bigger than ever. I explain how when it is snowing they mountains of gravel make great mini-mountains to slide down. The closer we get the present starts giving way to the past. We drive over Finney Creek’s bridge that the daring would jump off and cans of refreshment were left in the water to keep cool. We pass “Finney Creek” Charlie’s place where my grandfather and I once were called upon to eradicate Blue Hornets. I got to drive my grandpas 1942 International dump truck down the road and to Finney Creek’s place and it was a thrill. It was also funny to watch the two men concoct a plan: they all included fire and fire worked just fine.
I slow down as I pass over Presentin Creek. I’ve never really owned anything in my life but I feel like I own this bridge. I’m sure my cousins may feel the same way about this creek. Summers spent with good sticks, blazing trails and countless rocks tossed, skipped or saved. We may be the single reason you just don’t see slugs around anymore. As kids it was fun to blow up a slug. I wince at the thought now. I think we stopped the slug massacre the year we blew one up and we all laughed until about 3 seconds later one of my cousins caught a piece of dead slug that didn’t reach escape velocity. I’m unsure I’ve ever seen anyone go from laughing to freaking out and screaming in my life. Another 4th of July comes to mind: the year we set up an extravaganza for everyone to watch in the evening and a Buzz Bomb made its way up on the deck of the house.
Safe and Sane
It was dark out and I can still see the shadows and silhouettes of child and adult dancing to escape the fiery device. Somehow, not only was nobody harmed but also we didn’t even burn down the house.
I cannot even begin to share the many stories with Silvana and Edu so I take a deep breath and hop back on the South Skagit Highway. I have Siri play Sons of the Pioneers and roll the window down all the way in honor of my grandpa and half tune out for the next few miles, letting the familiar surroundings flood in. It is kind of like Walton Mountain but it was our creek and river.
My eyes pick up the telephone lines running along the side of the road. Until the 90s the phone line was a party line! You could pick up the phone and if there was a conversation going on you could listen in! If someone needed the line in an emergency, much like a ham radio conversation, one asked if they could have the line for a while. It’d never work today, too many self-obsessed people that’d leave their phone off the hook just to spite you. In fact, now that I think about it we should reinstate the party line and teach people to be decent again.
Adam and Tom plant a sign
I try to quantify all the cherished voices these lines have carried into and out of Boness Creek. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in electric form shot over copper. Home sick grandsons at age 8 who just wanted to call mom to say hi during a summer stay. If only reality could be as permanent as the copper in these wires. I’d pay good money to posses them.
Alas, copper wires do not have a memory of what they once conveyed at nearly the speed of light and there is no portal to the past and even if there was, young Mr. Smith would probably not even recognize old Mr. Smith.
I've mown this front lawn a few times
Again I queue up Sons of the Pioneers to imprint a little more on the memory while deciding where to grab some dinner. I ask Edu in the back set if he'd like a milkshake, he says yes and promptly falls asleep for the 20 minute trip.
He stirs a bit dazed when I pull into the drive through and announces that he doesn't want a milkshake and crashes back out.
The car was aglow in red from the brake lights in front of us as we made our way though the line. We get our food, get sorted and I navigate to Interstate 5 - when Eduardo wakes and asks in a groggy voice, "where is my milkshake?"
He drank my milkshake.
Grandma with me and my brother Aaron
Best Christmas Ever (1989?)
Grandma with her grandchildren and great grandchildren