Great American Road Trip: Day 7 in Spokane, city of Stockton

Epic events often come in threes.  The deaths of Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix, all at age 27 within 12 months of each other, is a great example.  In our case, we had three of the most stimulating cab rides of our lives, in the span of the 27 hours we were in Spokane.

The First Taxi Driver

Our Motel 6 was a twenty minute drive to downtown, so we called a cab.  The first driver seemed affable enough, so I engaged him on basic topics, like how to say Spokane (it’s pronounced “Spoke-Ann”).   But once the conversation was initiated, it wasn’t long before he launched into his tirade of choice: texting and driving.  “The other day, I was ahead of this dumb kid who was texting on his cell phone while he was driving.  I slow down for a red light, and he plows right into me. Smashes up the back of my car!”  We offered our condolences.  “Now I had half a mind to call the police, really fix this kid up good.  But I thought, ‘eh, I’ll just scare the bejeezus out of him’.  So he comes out of the car, and he’s all, ‘Dude, my bad, this is totally on me’”.  His teenage dude accent, by the way was outstanding.

“I say, ‘no shit this is on you! And I’ll tell you what. You probably won’t even learn from this. You’ll probably get back in your car, and drive away texting your friends about you just got into a big accident while you were texting.’”

At this point he apparently had the kid shuddering.  Then he chuckled, “The thing is, always got a four inch beam protruding from the back of my van. When the kid got out of the car, he saw the beam’s smashed his license plate all up. He was all, ‘Dude, my license plate, it’s like, totally smashed.’ And I said, ‘I should smash your cell phone too! I should smash it on the ground. Then I would take the pieces and hang them around your smashed up license plate so you could drive through the streets with a big sign on your car saying, ‘Look at me, this is what I have done.’’”

That’s the first time I’ve put three quotations back to back to back. I hope it is grammatically correct.

He moved on from the texting as we crossed Sprague Street.

“Spokane has toothless whores.”

We sat and digested that one.

““Whatever you do, don’t tell a cab driver to take you Sprague Street. That’s the part of town this cab ride ain’t gonna go. All the whores are there.  If you see a good looking woman offering you sex, she’s a cop. We don’t have any good-looking whores.”  Duly noted.  He was more impressed with the caliber of the Gonzaga University girls.  “You’ve never in your life seen so many naughty nurses for Halloween than at this supposedly Catholic college!”

When the glorious ride came to an end at the Star Restaurant and Lounge, I asked him for a business card so we could call the cab company to get home.  After hesitating for a second, Nate asked to have one for himself too.  “You never know,” Nate remarked, “Weird things happen out there.”

The driver swung his head around towards us.  “They sure do.”

On The Town

Almost immediately after de-cabbing, we were passed by a pack of a dozen wasted college girls.  As they loudly stumbled over eachother, a regular from the Star Lounge and Restaurant commented, “There go the young ‘uns.”  His buddy replied, “Must be they just finished their studying.”

The Star Lounge and Restaurant is most hopping place in town- but only on Thursdays.  As one Gonzaga student explained to us later, they have Karaoke nights from Monday to Thursday.  After three nights of middle aged people working the mic, the students bum rush it on Thursday and turn it into a madhouse.  Unfortunately, we were there on Saturday, and the clientele was weak.  Even worse was the cover band, which, after starting with standard classic rock fare, descended into horrendous covers of Michael Jackson.  I mean, few times have I seen such a terrible cover band in my life.  By the time they were blasting their version of Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby’s Got Back” to an empty dance floor, Nate and I knew it was time to get the check and bounce.   The once upshot was the micro brewed beer, which continued its unbroken streak of excellence through the West.

In that part of town, the only other established bar is Dan and Jack’s.   I don’t whether it is Dan or Jack, but one of them is NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton’s father.  Stockton is known for his exceptional work as point guard for the Utah Jazz, where he became the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and half of the deadly Stockton-Malone tandem.  Less well known is that he went to Gonzaga, a school that earned a rep in the college basketball world more than a decade after his tenure there.   An online guide described Dan and Jack’s as the “hub for Spokane’s Utah Jazz fans”, however large that contingent is.

After the Dan and Jack’s bartender rattled off our choices, Nate, not quite at full steam, insisted on trying the Mere Pond.  “I’ve never had it before,” he professed to the bartenders.  “But this stuff is fucking awesome.”  “You’ll have to excuse my friend,” I corrected.  We actually had two pitchers of Mere Pond last night in Missoula.”  In Nate’s defense, I hadn’t been able to recall the name after Missoula, calling it ‘beer pong’, which turned out to be pretty close.   Eventually we acquired a booth, which worked for people watching and sporadic conversation.  At 1:30am the bar shut down, and despite our best efforts, we could not find ourselves a Gonzaga after-party.  We called the cab company and a different fella showed up, one closer to us in age and demeanor.

The Second Taxi Driver

We seemed to be having an amiable enough time.  When Nate and I expressed our hunger, the driver took us through Zip’s, a burger chain I’ve never seen in all my years of cross country travel.  They had my fish fillet up right away.  Shortly after the Zip’s drive through it came up that our driver was from Seattle, but lived in Spokane. Based on everything I knew about the two cities, this struck me as odd, like growing up in New York City but moving to Buffalo.  “Seattle sucks,” he explained tersely.   “Why does Seattle suck?” I innocently asked. Nate later chastised me- “there was no good answer that could have come from that question.”

At my question, our previously chill driver’s face turned red and scrunched in with blind fury.  “I’ll tell you what sucks about Seattle- the goddamn socialists!” Silence descended over the car. Again from me, “What do the socialists do?”

“Those goddamn socialists tell you how to live.  They tell you what car to drive, what clothes to wear…what to eat!  And don’t get me started on this administration! They’re a bunch of socialists too!”

He was bursting on and off again, like a struggling car engine.  Nate did his best to calm things down.  “They sound really self-righteous.”

“They’re incredibly self-righteous!”

“I hate people who are self-righteous.” Thanks Nate. I added, “Yeah, this country was built on freedom!” or some inane tripe like that.  We had already nearly been killed by one excitable driver that day; no need to get on this one’s bad side.  We steered the conversation towards pizza before arriving at the Motel 6. All’s well that ends well.

The Third Taxi Driver

On Sunday morning I lifted our taxi’s trunk hatch, to loud and effusive congratulations from our third driver.  This made me think it was just our first driver happy to see us, but it was actually a different cat altogether. Our new driver betrayed a New England accent, and I asked how a Providence, Rhode Island man like him wound up in Spokane.  “The people here are nice, but they drive all over the fucking road. Like this asshole behind me!”  We g\lanced behind us, and saw a steady accumulation of cars trailing us.  That is because we were driving ten below the speed limit in the passing lane.

He hollered about the “eye-candy” on th street, though it seems our tastes were a little more discerning than his.   Once we started passing through downtown, however, he got dark on us, going into his death of the American lamentations.  “Around here, people retire at age 20, and then drink the rest of their lives away. Drinking, drinking, drinking! I know, because I’ve spent plenty of time drinking with them. But what else are you going to do? There’s no fucking jobs around here.  What are you going to do, work at Jack in the Box? ‘Hey, you be the assistant manager- it’s your job to make the fries!’  Or work at Subway’s, ‘You’re in charge of the tomatoes.’”  His commentary was dark, but extremely funny, and Nate and I were bowled over laughing. He continued,

“What’s more, you can’t just get a job at fucking Subway’s being in charge of the tomatoes. They want you to go to trade school for that shit. ‘Gotta see the degree!’” Needless to say, I’m printing about a third of his curses.  To be accurate would be to clutter.

He still hadn’t come close to answering my original question that had jumpstarted this whole conversation- why was a Providence man in Spokane?  At this point he went into this rambling tearjerker about how in Providence he “fell in love with his drinking buddy (“A dangerous combination”, Nate piped up), and how, well, you know how the rest of it goes…”  I actually had no idea how the rest went, but I’ll infer that there was some series of escalating bets that led them to getting married in Spokane, like that episode of Arrested Development.   What puzzled me is why a couple moving west from Rhode Island would make it all the way to Washington, but not take the five hour bus ride to make it to Seattle.

Anyway, they apparently were not a good match, always drinking and fighting.  One time she chased him into the street with a frying pan, and he said enough was enough.  “I took a Greyhound bus FIVE AND A HALF DAYS to get back to Providence.  Then I drank for three more days.  That’s when my parents said, ‘Julia called, she wants to get back together!’ And I said, ‘That bitch chased me out of my house with a frying pan, and I’ve just been on this bus FIVE AND A HALF DAYS!’ And they said, ‘Do what you want, but you can’t stay here. You should go home, to your wife.’ And they locked me out! So I had to take the bus FIVE AND A HALF DAYS to get back to Spokane.”  We could further infer that they were no longer together.

As we pulled up to the Greyhound station he boomed, “Welcome to Spokane, your bags are gone!”  Nate and I looked at eachother quizzically.  “Everyone’s a thief out here. People get off the bus and boom, someone steals their luggage.  It makes sense to me.  Everyone’s broke, so if you don’t want your shit stolen just give ‘em a couple bucks.”   And in one final grandiose gesture he swept back towards us.

“I mean, why fuck with a nutcase?”   We tipped him well, and as we left the cab, he mused over what bottle he would pick up with his newfound cash.

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About Janos Marton

Janos Marton is a lawyer, advocate and writer.
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