A kind of counter-top collusion, arcane geometries of grinder and espresso maker keep me from my morning coffee aspiration and portend the robot overlords to come. I’ve slept late. My mom has already left for work and I find I’m helpless to make coffee without her.
My daughter Laura remains at Washington State University orienting herself to college life so I’m on my own today. I think I’ll go visit Troy, the North Idaho farming and logging town of less than a thousand people where I, and my parents before me, grew up. I’m interested to see what’s changed and what hasn’t.
Grey clouds hang low above Highway 8, black from morning rain, as I head the eleven miles east from Moscow between rolling fields. I haven’t had a traffic ticket for many years but on this stretch of road I feel like I’m fourteen again, glancing down every few minutes to check my speed.
By the time I roll down the grade into Troy I’m eager for morning coffee and brunch. So when I see the empty gravel lot in front of the White Pine Café, a homey log cabin styled restaurant, and grass growing tall around the door, I’m pretty disappointed. I guess the gas station will have to do.
“Some of those,” I point to the Jo Jos, “and these chicken things.” The high school kid running the Sunset Mart register seems grouchy today. He claws my food together with bare hands then reaches impatiently to press the button for me when I pause to identify the proper “Is this amount correct?” answer (Enter, OK?) on the card reader.
I set my helmet and jacket at one of the orange and yellow laminate booths that haven’t changed since the place was built, since the adjoining laundromat was an arcade. I remember sitting here with my high school friend and neighbor, Brett, and early morning weight lifting partner, Casey.
I glance up from the heat lamp hors d’oeuvres whenever the door jangles open, expecting I might recognize a face. A few are vaguely familiar but I make no positive identifications. It feels ironic to realize that for the kids here I’m just a random passer-by, some stranger.
My twenty-year reunion is coming up and I think it might be nice to get a few pictures of the old school to share. I head up the hill from the Mart and park in the lot that once bustled with activity, now cracked and quiet.
It is about where I’m standing now that Brett once stood, his mitt pooling with blood after a baseball broke his nose at recess. It is where the buses would line up to take us back to our homes in the countryside. It is where I fell and scraped my elbow while running to lunch and was introduced to Coach Brocke’s pain enhancing can of antiseptic spray. It is where we decorated floats with colored tissue and crepe paper for homecoming parade on Main Street down the hill.
It was so many things and now it is nothing—strange to see rooms, doors and walkways once significant now falling apart and forgotten.
As I walk around, I see windows are broken and plants grow uninhibited through crumbling asphalt and concrete. The elevated walkway, fire escapes and all things dangerous have been excised so only a brick and plywood platypus remains of the old alma mater.
Next on the motorcycle history tour is my childhood home out along Orchard Loop Road. It is also my mom’s childhood home.
The fields by the old house have long been fallow, unfenced and the farmers friendly. We used to fly across the steep hills on motorcycles until our stomachs were wild with butterflies. For old time’s sake, I turn off the road across the ditch into the field and stop to look around.
There is the mountain I saw every morning from my window and there is the house, now remodeled to look much newer, with a row of lilacs my mom planted and tall pines I would climb while poking at sappy bark bubbles.
When I grew out of seeing how high I could climb the trees and had a decent motorcycle, I began timing how quickly I could get from my bedroom to the old lookout on top of that mountain. I had to drive crazy and cut through fields but I could do it in about ten minutes.