The Summer of 1998 Part XIV

I biked over to the Safeway to get some supplies, and on the way, I noticed the town’s water tower was emblazoned with: “Lakeview – 1988 Finalist”. While in the check-out line, I asked the elderly gentleman in front of me, “Say, what’s that ‘1988 Finalist’ stand for that’s painted on the water tower?” He scratched his head and said, “It was some sort of competition for the ‘Best Little Town in America’ award, or something like that. We didn’t win, but we were in the final ten.” “Well, do you remember who won?'”, I asked. He scratched his head again and said, “You know, I just can’t rightly recall.” He was halfway to the exit, when I hollered, “Hey, you forgot your groceries.” Guess I must have discombobulated the old man something awful… and we’re still scratching our heads, wondering who won.

On the way out of town, I stopped at Ray’s Salvage Store and found a vintage 1948 Oregon plate for a sweet six bucks. I was feeling great, having garnered the 46th plate…only Vermont and Rhode Island remained unpossessed. I headed north into the Oregon “outback”, an unforgiving parcel of land in the southeast quadrant of the state, where mankind was an afterthought…as desolate as midway Nevada. Even huge Lake Albert (about the same size as Goose Lake) appeared lifeless…no beaches, no boats, not a sign of anything recreational. Well, it was no wonder, as I discovered later on down the road…it was an alkaline watershed.

All I could think was: “What a waste of nonpotable water.” God works in mysterious ways. It was along these endless stretches of road that I had time to think and wonder how this incredible earth was formed (at times like these, I wished I had studied geology). Mind you, it wasn’t Bryce Canyon or the Royal Gorge. It was simply a vast panorama of earthen formations of little distinction, yet there was an intangible serenity that was so pervasive, Ah yes, the trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for. That’s the ticket.

I found the city park in Burns and maneuvered Ol’ Baleau under the canopy of a giant cottonwood. What is it about human nature that makes us instinctively seek the security of an arboreal shelter? For me, it’s simply a feeling of protectiveness. There was still enough time before dark to jump on the bike and do a little exploring around the little burg. Sure enough, there was the ubiquitous Safeway just a few blocks away. After I got back, I reposed in my easychair and reflected on just where the heck I was. The way I figured, I was sitting in one of the most isolated towns in the country, with the possible exception of Austin, Nevada. To put it into perspective, in present-day terms, it meant being sequestered at least 150 miles from the nearest Interstate (in olden days, it was the distance to the nearest railway depot). The cottonwood virtually embraced me to sleep.

The next day was one of those “you’ll never believe what kind of day I had” kind of days. It could be a short story by itself. The first order of the day was to replenish Ol’ Baleau’s precious bodily fluids with new oil. I biked over to the highway and stocked up with half a case of 10W-30 Pennzoil. Their Fram filter was priced way too high, so I ventured down the street to the NAPA store, where I purchased an AC Delco for a third of what the other store was asking. At the main intersection of town, there was a building with several antique autos parked in front, along with a sign overhead reading: Tourist Information Center. Well, I certainly couldn’t resist stopping there…some sort of magnetism about the place.

The establishment was actually named Tuning Studio & Gallery, an amalgam of regional art work, framing, art supplies, signs, and antique autos (a 1927 Buick, a 1924 Hudson Brougham, and a 1930 Ford). All that in the middle of Oregon’s outback – unbelievable. Among the art work were a number of watercolors, and here again, I was disheartened at not having brought any of my own aquarelles with me. Nevertheless, I had a most enlightening and enjoyable time with Frank and Myrna Tuning, engaging in enthusiastic shop talk about, what else, art and autos.

It was apparent the Tunings were acutely attuned to what was going on in their state, so I figured the time was ripe to ask a question that had been hounding me ever since I crossed the state line: “Why is it a Oregon state law that prohibits self-service at gas stations? An attendant is required by law to pump the gas, right?” Frank’s reply was simply, “It was a proposition we passed years ago so that there would be more jobs available.” “In the small scheme of things, I guess it makes sense, I said, but then added, “I bet it doesn’t make the oil companies very happy.” “You’re right there, my friend,” he responded, “but we look after our own around here.” I thought that statement somewhat paradoxical, since Oregon was the home of the controversial spotted owl – gas pumpers get jobs while lumber-jacks get zilch. Anyway, my question had been answered.

Remembering I had a six-pack of oil stashed in the basket on the back of the bike, I asked Frank if he had any kind of container in which I could empty my dirty oil. He went back to a store room and came out with a sawed-off plastic pail, perfect for fitting under the oil pan. What a blessing. I thanked Frank, and biked back to my hang-out. Two-thirds of my mission had been accomplished. All that was left was finding some boards to slip under the front wheels to make the oil drain easier.

So, I biked around the neighborhood, finally spotting one of those metal dumpsters in a front yard, full of scrap lumber. I was greeted at the screen door by a male anomaly who resembled the head of the Longshoremen’s Union (something out of “On The Waterfront”). He turned out to be very affable and helpful. Out of his pile of refuse, I was able to extract some 2 X 8 end cuts, just right for what I needed. I thanked him, and pedaled back to my station, with all system’s “go” for an oil change.

After a successful “operation”, I put the bucket of oil in the basket and biked over to the Conoco station where the obliging owner let me dump the oil into a recycling barrel. Frank and Myrna’s place was kitty-corner from the station, so I stopped in for a farewell “good-bye” and added, “Next time I’m through here, I’ll have my watercolors with me.” What a joy that was talking with those two.