Down the Coast 3: Friday Night in Pacific City

(These photos by Nick Lynch)

It’s after dark by the time we hit the coast. In Tillamook, we pull into a supermarket carpark for supplies and a look at the map.
“There’s this little town down here where we could stop,” I suggest, pointing at a little dot by the ocean labelled Pacific City. “It’s on the beach. We can wake up by the ocean.”
“And the road from here looks pretty inland,” Calvin says. “So we won’t be missing much, driving there in the dark.”
Nick shrugs. “Sure.”

We buy bread and beer, tomatoes and cheese. The supermarket is as big as Bunnings. You can’t even see the end of it – it’s as if it’s been swallowed up by the curvature of the earth. I buy a jar of pickles as big as my head. It will pretty much be gone by morning.

Nick leads the way, his ’85 Landcruiser sounding its diesel grumble out of the carpark. A little ways down the road, the ocean appears at my window. I glance over at it.
“Hey Calvin…” I say.
“Mmmm?”
“Shouldn’t the ocean be on the left?”
“Um,” he says.”
“Because, if we’re heading South…”
“Yup.”
“…the ocean should be on the right.”
We go quiet for a minute, my headlights bouncing on and off of Nick’s license plate.
“There’s a big bay,” he says. “I think that’s the bay.”
“Ok.”
“So. Maybe it’s ok that the ocean’s on the wrong side.”
“Ok,” I say.

It’s Nick who finally pulls over. We roll up next to him and wind down the window.
“The ocean…”
“Yup.
I get out and walk up to a house for directions.

Pacific City consists of a service station, a short string of motels, and a small scattering of shops. After checking in, the man at the reception produces a map from behind the counter and gives Nick and me a quick tour of town.
“That’s it,” he says, after a few minutes. We’ve taken the particular notice of the local pub, now circled in red. There’s a diner for breakfast and a big rock off the beach called Haystack Rock. “Now, in the morning you’ve gotta go the Grateful Bread,” he says pointing to the little square indicating the bakery. “Diane, I tell ya, she makes the most amazing scones. Wow. I tell ya. Those scones are to die for, boy.”

Within minutes our motel room is cluttered with the contents of our cars. We make sandwiches on the top of the microwave, sawing the tomatoes apart with my Leatherman and cracking the beers open with lighters.
“You guys are going to thank me for these,” Nick says, pulling out some paper plates. “Shit. These are going to come in really fucking handy.”

One by one we are fed and showered and ready, a few beers down already. We all grab travellers for the walk, but there’s a cop car outside the pub, lights bouncing blue and red off the low windows, so, after some hesitation, we stash our beers in the bushes before walking the rest of the distance to the door.

Inside, the place is full of activity. Friday night in Pacific City. The atmosphere is that of a neighbourhood Christmas party. The barmaids walk around in tank tops and call all the old men slouched on the bar stools by name, a few people play pool. Christmas decorations litter the walls in clumps. Behind them hang deer heads and record covers, basketball hoops and names of beers in flashing neon letters.

When we walk in, it’s not exactly the silence of a Western saloon when a stranger walks in, but several people do stop what they’re doing to look us up and down.  Nick, Calvin and I make a beeline for the bar to order a pitcher of beer and four glasses.

Alex goes to find us a table. On his way to one near the woodheater, he’s stopped by a drunken old man on a computer chair. Calvin, Nick and I catch up mid-conversation. The man has some of the worst teeth I’ve ever seen but he grins like they’re beautiful, his bottom jaw fitting in over his top at the end of every sentence like a messy Halloween display. He wants to buy us our beer because we’re foreign. He loves Alex’s British accent and keeps getting him to repeat things.

“I love meeting people from different places, you know.” He grins, looks around at us. “I love hearing about other places.” He grins again. The effect is like one of those battery powered decorations with moving parts. “You know, I’ve never been out of the States. Never been out of here. But I’ve always wanted to travel. You know, it’s been my dream to travel. It really has. I love hearing about other places in the world. Love meeting people from different places.”

Unknowingly, we’ve ordered one of the more expensive beers and when the barmaid comes over with our pitcher, he hesitates at the price.
“Double-it-up,” he declares after a pause. Over our protests selects a hundred from the thick wad of them in his wallet. The barmaid reappears a few minutes later with another pitcher.

Despite professing his desire to hear about people from other places, he does most of the talking. The pitchers were mainly to keep us there. There’s something about an ex-wife and a son, about her slandering his name, about how bad that is in a small town.
“So, which of these men are yours?” he asks me. I tell him none of them and later there is a marriage proposal for citizenship. Then there are a few more, each becoming more serious with each passing drink.

The pitchers empty. We get drunker. Nick goes over for another. The barmaid comes over and speaks to the man sternly, warns him not to get like last time, and she is like a daughter to her dottering old dad. We buy him a new whiskey and coke. Other old men join us at the table. I sit there struggling to preserve this moment, here in some small bar in some small town, somewhere on the west coast of America, drinking away our Friday night in the company of old strangers.

There is a video on my camera from later in the night. It is of the three boys, cluttered around one of the beds in our small hotel room. Calvin, leaning against the wall, plays his little green ukulele. Nick sits on the room slapping on his legs and singing. Alex, on his knees beside the bed, bashes in time on a beer box. After a few seconds, Nick turns to Calvin and asks him to show his something on the uke. To their left, Alex keeps bashing absently on the box, though there is nothing left to keep time to. I hit stop on the recording, put down the camera, go and join them.

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