Cascade Observations: Changing times

I moved to Hood River in September 1979, traveling west in my Chevrolet Vega hatchback loaded with most of my earthly possessions. The trip was without incident until I reached Idaho, when I had a flat tire and was rescued by a good Samaritan. I practically kissed the ground upon arrival in the idyllic town of Hood River, welcomed by a family that ultimately became my in-laws when I married my brother’s brother-in-law (it’s legal in all 50 states).

My first job was as a waitress at Stonehedge; I bluffed my way into the job by claiming lots of previous experience. Luckily, my boss, Joan Smith, hired me despite my lame resume. At that time, Stonehedge was one of the few upscale restaurants in town. Pat Edwards was the chef, and his great sense of humor got us through many stressful nights. The young dishwashers, Gary and Jerry Fisher, were hard workers and always up for a practical joke. And despite my lack of waitressing skills (I spilled an ash tray full of cigarette butts on a customer’s table, dropped a plate of dinners while serving one of Hood River’s important farm families, and fired a cork across the room while serving the manager of the Columbia Gorge Hotel), they all left me undeserved tips.

My next job in Hood River was clerking at Waucoma Bookstore, which at the time had just relocated from under the First National Bank (now the Goodwill Store) to the former Mt. Hood Hotel, now the Hood River Hotel. At that time, the hotel had been abandoned for years, and the rooms upstairs were closed and in decay. I loved that job, and stayed there for years after the bookstore made its final move to its current location. We accomplished the moving task by loading up hand trucks; a force of volunteers helped us push boxes and boxes of books up the sidewalk. I stayed at Waucoma for 20 years, forming lasting friendships with co-workers and customers alike.

In those early days of my employment at Waucoma, it was so dead on Oak Street on Saturdays that we closed the store at 4 p.m. You could literally throw a rock down the middle of the street and not hit a car or a pedestrian. And not a store downtown was open on Sundays.

The merchants tried to drum up business on slow days by hosting Crazy Days, with bargains galore and a downtown parade. Other Oak Street parades included St. Urho’s Day (honoring Hood River’s Finnish population) and a noisy parade staged by the local logging industry to protest the Spotted Owl being listed as an endangered species. Huge logging trucks rumbled down Oak Street with horns blaring. When the windsurfers first arrived, they staged the “Pink Parade” every year on Labor Day weekend. My family and friends joined in, marching as “The Ugly Local Kazoo Marching Band.” The slogan we chanted? “We Stay the Winter!”

Downtown Hood River was a much different place in 1980 than it is today. Parking, though, has always been a big topic of conversation and consternation, and it continues. Years ago, while working at Waucoma, I was appointed by the downtown Merchants Committee to help work on solutions to the parking problem. At that time, there weren’t any meters and the abuse of time limits was rampant. Pete Jubitz, owner of Franz Hardware, and I were given the task of leafletting downtown workers’ cars, reminding them in a friendly way that they weren’t supposed to park on Oak Street; those spaces were reserved for customers. Our campaign was not highly successful, and ultimately parking meters were installed.

Fast forward to 2018, when residents and visitors alike grumble about the downtown parking situation. Sunday parking spots used to be empty; now, cars fill up every block. I live near downtown, so whatever the day or hour, I park my car in my driveway and walk. Unfortunately, once in a while I need to drive. Then I do battle with the electronic ticket machines. The one near the east end of the library is barely serviceable; in addition to the quarters I feed to that machine, I often leave behind muttered expletives as I fight the odious monster. This last week, I received my first parking ticket in years when out-of-town friends stayed later than expected, and I forgot to leave the downtown restaurant to add some extra quarters. When we arrived at our car, a ticket was flapping on the windshield. I guessed the fee for my transgression would be around $10. I almost passed out when I read the print — $26! I dutifully shuffled in shame down to the city hall and paid up.

So a word to the locals, and to the tourists — feed your parking meter generously and support the downtown merchants. Better yet, park away from downtown and try riding one of the Columbia Area Transit vehicles to your favorite shopping destination. Just remember that when you park in a neighborhood, leave room for the locals who still stay the winter.

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