Today’s post contains the same story told twice. The first rendition recounts an intriguing interaction I had with a shop proprietor in the historic downtown of La Grande, Oregon. The second pass offers my wife’s understanding of the same scenario. It is astonishing what a difference ten yards can make.
Here’s the setup: The freeway between Yakima, Washington and the Idaho state line passes through the northeast corner of Oregon, a region rich with histories of pioneer exploration (think Oregon Trail) and a litany of boomtown rushes. The map of Interstate 84 is dotted with cities that present themselves as cardstock pages that fell from a glossy souvenir book of old-timey western postcards.
My family of three is gallivanting around the USA with a 1969 Shasta travel trailer in tow. It is our common practice to stop in municipalities such as these to grab a bite, snap a photograph or two, and have a look around. Rumbling into La Grande would not have been an unusual occurrence, had it not been for the accident.
As I poked my nose and camera around the dusty aisles of the antique stand on main, my wife took our son for his sixth (out of the usual 11) visit to the loo. Not more than ten minutes later, my better half reappeared, this time with a wrinkled, one-eyed wince. Her arms were extended, elbows locked. Far as possible from her own person, she held our sobbing boy by the armpits — his jeans a soaked, dark blue south of the crotch.
Apparently things didn’t go so well in there.
My job in these moments is to feign a combination of stupidity and incompetence, an art at which I am a bit of an expert. And so with a delicate eye roll, she carted my dripping son back to the gravel lot for a fresh set of clothing. Leaving me to window-shop the city’s storefronts, she heaved a word of instruction over her left shoulder: I will come find you in ten minutes.
And so I poked my head into the handful of businesses dotting the block, snapping photos of the comely barbershop, the melted-wine-bottles-gone-chic-bookends at the art (read: craft) gallery, and the wrought iron patio furnishings at the corner sandwich shoppe (spelled with the requisite p-p-e).
Then I happened upon a smallish store of musical instruments for sale. The retail space was empty, except for two dozen guitars, myself, and the wafting tones of a decent — if a little rusty — electric-guitarist. I peeked through an open door in the back hallway, from whence the music seemed to be coming.
The following four words would be my last utterance for the next 45 minutes.
“Hello? Anybody in there?”
A tidy man named Timothy, dressed in pleated khaki pants and a charcoal sweater-vest, sprang to life, nearly dropping his guitar in the process. He had a neatly combed cul-de-sac of dark brown locks rimming an otherwise hairless, shiny scalp. A petite salt-and-pepper mustache bounced atop his upper lip — not unlike a well-loved pet. He shook my hand with vigor and aplomb as he whisked me through the store for a guided tour of his musical merchandise micro-empire.
Thus began Timothy’s monologue, a smorgasbord of his credentials, schooling pedigree, shop history, musical preferences, favorite bits of electric guitar trivia, and business strategies, along with a shimmy up several branches of his family tree. Once the aural memoir concluded, his odyssey shifted to the merits of La Grande and a flurry of private investors’ recent fascination with its commercial redevelopment.
Nearly 30 minutes elapsed, and Timothy had hardly taken a breath. My wife was undoubtedly becoming an uneasy mix of mad and worried regarding my whereabouts. But the orator would not, and could not, be stopped. Before I could wedge a word into the mix, he had me following him out the shop’s back door, down a cluttered alleyway, and into an abandoned brick warehouse for a supposed tour of what he purported to be a magnificent, refurbished venue for theater, listening rooms, art galleries, eateries, chocolatiers, and gift shoppes (again with the p-p-e).
Much to Timothy’s credit, the tour was indeed jaw-dropping. High, paneled ceilings and wrought iron fixtures quilted the reengineered building, with multiple floors of carefully designed spaces for dining, shopping, and arts experiences. Though construction was not yet completed, it was clear this upscale, urban mall would establish the humble town as a regional destination for locals and tourists alike.
According to my musical friend, the vision for this grand La Grande development was cast by a lone, wealthy entrepreneur who hopes to reshape the commercial climate of this once-forgotten and slowly-revitalizing city. I marveled at the layout of this nook and the clever use of space in that cranny. I was gladder by the minute for my hyper-social tour guide (who had way too much time on my hands), and his kind-spirited hospitality toward this curious traveler.
At that moment, I heard an echoey, “Josh? Josh?” come wafting down from the street-level entryway. It was my wife, holding our dry and dressed three-year-old. She joined us for the conclusion of the tour, at which point I shook Timothy’s hand, and offered thanks for his time and friendliness.
I thought nothing more of the unexpected and fascinating peek behind the La Grande curtain of urban development. That is, not until that evening, when my wife shared her perspective. This is how she tells the story (with only minor nips and tucks by yours truly).
• • •
After we got new clothes from the trailer, I tried to call your cell, but it went to voicemail. I figured it would be easy enough to locate you somewhere along Main Street, so we walked back in that direction.
I went in a few different shops and couldn’t find you anywhere. Just as I was about to ring your phone again, I saw you in the distance, coming out the side door of the music store across the street, and you were following a short, bald man.
We tried to catch up to you, but you were moving so fast. As I watched the two of you disappear into the alleyway behind the shop, I started to feel a little uneasy, trying to imagine a plausible explanation . I tried to follow you, but by the time I made it to where I saw you last, you were gone.
I ran up and down that street, frantically looking into each store along the way, and telling myself, “He’s fine, he’s fine…” over and again. You were nowhere to be found, and I started to feel myself panic. On our third pass around the block, I happened to glance into the abandoned brick warehouse, and I thought I saw you pass by the bottom of a cement staircase.
Still trying to shrug off the fear that you had been abducted, I tentatively pulled the heavy door open and called your name. And too my great relief, you answered in a calm tone.
• • •
So, dear reader, remember that every story, no matter how convincing, has more than one side to it. And as I was so aptly reminded in the town of La Grande, Oregon, perspective makes all the difference.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Pocatello, Idaho and headed toward Yellowstone National Park. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!