TRAVELS with JEAN

Jean’s Nissan parks almost alone on Raymond, Washington’s quiet First Street in 2005.  Once this was the main street of a smoking mill town that often went swimming when the Willapa River flooded the street to its knees.  Here on a rare hot day for the coast the pavement is dry as cured fire wood and hot too.  Jean recorded this scene looking south on First as I was either stepping into or out of my side of his gallant carrier.   We were chasing contemporary “repeats” for historical photographs that were then candidates for our book “Washington Then and Now.”  While Raymond’s First Street made it through the final cut and into the book, the repeat we used looks down the center of the street.  It misses the helpful signpost on the left but it is a more accurate “now” for the historical photos used – three of them.  (For Raymond see page 83 – in the book, not this blog.)

Traveling with Jean – the Sherrard of this blog – would be like riding with an ironic* Captain America except that he really has impressive upper body strength from frequent exercise.  He rows while watching the East Enders, the nearly 30 year old BBC1 soap.  And yet Jean is still more pumped-up for ideas of all sorts and for questions of taste and temperament too.   And he can drive like no body’s business, including his own for in truth he hardly makes anything from all his driving zest, including 10 thousand miles across this state pursuing historical sites in order to repeat them for our book Washington Then and Now.   (Visitors to this blog will know how often he flies to that curvaceous canyon on the veriform Yakima River.)

Jean also travels the world, loving the arroyos and scablands of eastern Washington and Ethiopia, equally.  I have seen him travel great distances.  For two weeks in the summer of 2005 I was his dependent as we flew first to London and then rolled by chunnel to Paris.  And there at the train station Jean first met Berangere AKA BB, the Lomont of this blog and I first saw her again since 1977.   I met Berangere that summer now more than thirty years ago!   The adventurous Parisian teenager was visiting my friend Bill Burden, whom she had met the summer before while picking grapes in southern France.  And here, right to left, are Jean, Bill and I posing for Berangere with a familiar landmark behind.

Next, another Parisian scene by Berangere – this one of Jean and I preparing  – with BB – to “repeat” with a contemporary recording the print I hold in my hand.  It is of Concorde Square, and I took it in the summer of 1955 when I spent two weeks in Paris.  I was sixteen and also still more sweet than sour.  Below it is Berangere’s repeat from 2005.  I was hovering over her shoulder.

Back in Washington while touring the state for our book and jobbing about for the book’s promotion, Jean has done all the driving.  I sit beside him in the passenger seat (As I do in the Good Shepherd’s stone grotto portraits also recently posted here.) of his all white Nissan, ready to yield whatever travel advice I have and, more important, listen to his stories.    My Captain is an insistent rapper about this wonder and that injustice and such a good storyteller that unless there is an emergency one will not mind hearing some of them twice because they are his classics.   And one should expect and accept cell phone interruptions from one or another of his many dependents.  Jean is admirably “up-front,” except for those instances when he will suddenly stop, jump from the car and exit around a corner for no announced reason.  Rarely gone for long, he still always takes the keys and a heavy Nikon (digital) about the size of a large chocolate croissant.

Here follow a few recent snapshots of travels with Jean – most of them my own through the Jeanmobile’s heroic windshield.   Jean is just to the left of these recordings, except when he is in them.

First, for the above picture choose one.  We catch Jean (1) looking for a phone booth (2) running around the corner and up the stairs of the Washington State Museum of History in Tacoma looking for proofs of our Washington Then and Now show that opens there in January next.  I take the moment to also leave the car and record this snapshot of the “leaning tower of Tacoma” – another Tacoma museum, for glass not history.

Rather than glass it is Tacoma’s old bricks that both Jean and I find most stimulating. Here is a splendid example on Pacific Avenue, long ago Tacoma’s “boulevard of dreams.”  The pentimento of the pink cream and green sign exhibited on the east façade of this brick block is one of the West Coast’s finest examples of worn mural art.  (While I have never visited a large sample of West Coast revealed murals nor know of any book about them, I still am confident that this is true or may be.   I’ll say that this is another Tacoma museum, one of one work and one wall.   A “drive-in or drive-by” museum you can enjoy, as Jean and I did, through the windshield.

A day after our appointment in Tacoma we were traveling again to responsibilities in Kirkland and Issaquah.  When we reached the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge Jean was feeling good – having a fine time.  Once on the bridge he pointed to “The Mountain That Was God” aka Mt. Tacoma, but officially named Mt. Rainier.  Two years earlier he had sat for most of an afternoon near Paradise Lodge, waiting for The Mountain to reveal itself for the repeat of a historical photograph of it he carried with him.  Now those two views – his and the historical  – appear side-by-side in our book.  Here from the bridge and in the late morning light The Mountain was stroked by dry-brushed clouds.  [Can some reader more familiar with the sky and its tricks explain first that slender but not lenticular, it seems to me, cloud that either points to The Mountain or springs from it, and still more mysteriously the shadow that in part repeats the banner-cloud to the left?]

Stopping for a light on East Lake Sammamish Parkway I used all 10X of the optical zoom advertised even on the body of my little Lumix.  (I purchased it on Ken Levine’s advice.) Jean pointed to the houses hugging the edge of the hill.  He explained that they are the front line of oversized and yet crowded residences built on the plateau east and above the lake.  Some of them he indication would qualify as McMansions.   Depending upon the film you remember, they resemble either a line of U.S. Cavalry or a line of bareback mounted Sioux, waiting to descend into the valley and stick it to a few persons without horses.  I have a different analogy for them born of my study of Classical Greek long ago.  For me they appear to be a phalanx of barbarian invaders.  These homes – Jean tells me for I have never given much time to real estate except the historical sort – continue for miles to the east from that edge of the bluff.  Jean explains that some of this work-in-progress is now stuck.

Ambitious plans on the Issaquah Plateau were popped along with the housing bubble. But then many of them were created together like raindrops on a windshield, or cookie crumbs on a counter, or McMuffins on a grill.  What, I wonder, difference will their mass production matter in a century – if they survive and gain some charm from time and the weather.  Depending upon one’s class sensitivities they now seem to either inspire resentment, remorse, weltschmerz, petty glee or indifference.  Not certain about how I feel, I can at least identify with that comely crow perched on the light standard upper right.  I may be smart about some things, but not about most, including this at once awesome, ominous and curious row on the ridge.  The crow soon flew away from its meditations to search for more scraps in the valley, and once the light had changed Jean continued to the Issaquah Costco where we were scheduled to sign books, which we were fond of telling those who purchased them increased the book’s value by twenty cents, or ten cents a signature.

Late in the afternoon we returned to Wallingford and Green Lake, where the next day I crossed paths with Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata.  I asked Nick if he had seen the young trio singing Bach’s a capella motet Jesu Meine Freude at the front door to the Wallingford QFC.  He had not.  I explained, “With three-parts of a four part Baroque motet they were promoting the social engineer Lyndon LaRouche’s political literature and asking for donations.”  I gave them a dollar for the 3/4ths of Bach.  I might have given 75 cents.   The photograph included here of an unidentified arm shows part of the Wallingford QFC sign beyond.

I told Nick about our trip the day before to the Issaquah and Kirkland Costcos and together we lamented how in the last quarter-century much of “book culture” – both the making and marketing – had been captured by a few heavy weight publishers and retailers – or in Costco’s prosperous formula, semi-retailers.  The Issaquah plateau also entered our little conversation about books and Bach, and the other Lyndon.   Nick confirmed what I had only incidentally heard about Chip Marshall.  The once famous 60’s activist at the U.W., Marshall later became one of the principal developers on the plateau east of Issaquah. Something like Ken Kesey and Abbie Hoffman, Marshall had made his own theatrical run several times from the law, which he offended with some brash objections to the war in Vietnam. What was so entertaining is that he would sometimes appear unannounced to speak in public, but then ditch away again before he could be nabbed.  It was the behavior of legends, and it helped that he was Errol Flynn dashing.  But now his story is a mixed report.  Unlike Kesey and Hoffman, and more like Jerry Rubin, Chip later joined “the man.”  And now, Nick revealed – and this from Chip himself – his old friend longs to open a night club in Seattle.

Returning to the windshield snapshot, Jean told me that the forested horizon behind the crow is Tiger Mountain.  I believe him, for he has been intimate with these “Issaquah Alps” almost since he was a child returning from Germany with his parents to live in Bellevue and eventually, in the early 1980s, to open Hillside School on Cougar Mountain, the little “alp” closest to Lake Washington.  Jean teaches drama, writing and video at Hillside.  His wife, Karen, teaches French and history.  Their oldest son, Ethan, teaches mathematics.   Just above is a photo showing Jean preparing his students for that night’s performance of Brecht’s play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” staged last year at Hillside.

While on our way from Kirkland to Issaquah we stopped along the east shore of Lake Sammamish where, again from the comfort of the passenger seat, I photographed Jean preparing to take a photograph along the old Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad right-of-way (1889), which is now a recreation path – a controversial one, although not for those who use it.  Rather some of those who live to the sides of the trail imagine it as a conduit for urban thugs and liberal ideologists (for some, one and the same) who are carried to the east shore on light weight ten-gear bicycles from Seattle thereby interrupting the formerly fretless piety of the lake shore community and more recently the highlands behind it.   Jean is here visiting the now lost mill town of Monohon.  And that is spelled correctly with three O’s.  (Look it up on historylink for a thumbnail narrative of its substantial history.)

And here still at the abandoned depot site of Monohon, Jean shows the power in those shoulders and long arms as he lifts his heavy camera far above the path and over the heads of a cycling family perhaps returning to smoke-filled rooms in Seattle.  Jean has attached his heavy Nikon to his big ten footer and thereby brings its prospect to about knee-level on the third story of a typical office block.

Continuing on to Issaquah and moments before we stop for the crow on the lamppost (discussed above) I snapped this screen of trees along the east shore of the lake.   I figure that this may be an example of the kind of landscape that we are wired in our genes to enjoy and even long for.  On this possibility I included this scene’s easy pleasures for you to study in reverie.  This tentative insight of evolutionary psychology also adds to my hope that some of the garage sale art that I have purchased over the years is resalable.  Let this also be a fair caveat lector to this blog’s visitors for there are plans for using examples from my “Forsaken Art” collection on this site.

Issaquah is also the corporate headquarters of Costco whose employees seem to express universal gratitude for how well they are treated.  Here we take our place before a special black backdrop raised behind our signing table like an altar and pose with Angela who is our Costco hostess.   We ask her how she likes her employer and get that same response.  While I am happy for Angela and Costco I still feel ambivalent and think of Jean’s and my good friend Clay Eals, the author/historian who is such a champion of small stores and neighborhood culture.  We sympathize with Clay’s ideals but can we also afford them.   In Paris it is still possible, if one wishes, to visit a dozen different stores for a day’s needs and all within walking distance – like Wallingford.

Jean is taking French lessons at the Alliance Française.  He is justly proud of his pronunciation, although, as he describes it, learning the ways of French verbs requires the discipline, flexibility, sobriety and elegance of a ballet dancer in the Ecole Française.   A point that is perhaps mean to make, an instance of protecting my own interests, is this.  After studying his French for however much time he can give it, will he ever be able to tell a story as well in the language of Balzac as he can in the language of Dickens?  (In the accompanying photo directly below, two French-looking visitors admire some of the garden bedding on the Good Shepherd campus.  The Alliance Francaise is in the brick building to the rear.)

Come hear Jean read in English Jean Shepherd’s “Red Ryder and the Cleveland Street Kid” and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” this coming Dec 22 in the fourth floor Chapel of the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.  I will be backing him up as the amateur part of the program reading O’Henry’s “Gift of the Magi”, along with a poem that has profoundly shaped the culture of Christmas, yes “The Night before Christmas.” We rented this fine performance hall  – which you can study below in this blog in the many pictures included with Sally Anderson’s Ashes to Ashes review – so there will be a requested or suggested gate of $10.00.   Elsewhere in this blog is an announcement for this reading – and another at the Haller Lake Community Club –  accompanied by a photograph of Jean and I sitting in the Good Shepherd Center’s Grotto.  I am, again, on Jean’s right – left to you.  Here we also include at the bottom another example of a grotto – this one in the pavement near 42nd Street and 1st Ave. N.E. – and just below an abandoned Christmas nativity scene, or part of one, discovered half buried by untended ground cover and neighbor to other incongruous artifacts in a hidden Wallingford side lawn.

* As yet, we can’t quite expect a sincerely ecstatic post-ironic America with the new administration, although satire will now have to search harder for targets.   What we need is rather a post-iconic America, which is a nation dedicated to patrolling for dead metaphors in public speech and hysterically driven clichés like “iconic.”   This “iconic” is used much too often now as a substitute for thinking.   So stop it!

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