...Or what I did to kill two hours in Spokane, Washington. I'm back in Indiana for the first week of my second two week vacation in a month and a half. I think it is safe to say I'm pushing the limit with my employers (not that I meant to, it's jsut the way the vacations fell this year. Two weeks in France last month and now a week in Indiana and a week in Michigan....yes, you ARE right, I cannot complain). Anyhow, with all the last minute planning for the trip to France, I forgot to actually purchase my plane ticket back to Indiana. I tried to wrangle a frequent flyer trip out of Northwest Airlines and using my Merrill Lynch miles but in the end I didn't have enough miles bacause my departure date was too close. I was left with the only other viable option, purchasing my ticket through Priceline. And the best deal was to leave from Spokane, which is a little over three hours due west of Missoula.
My original intent was to leave Missoula early and get a cheap hotel room in Spokane but I didn't get packed in time. Plan B was to try and sleep for 3 or 4 hours and then leave Missoula around 1:00 AM so that I could arrive in Spokane at about 3:15 AM (Missoula is Mountain Standard Time and Spokane is West Coast time so I gained an hour traveling west). But it was well over 80 degres in my house and I just couldn't sleep, so I went with impromptu plan C...Ileft Missoula at 10:30PM. The drive over was actually quite nice, other than hitting a huge piece of re-tread and almost hitting a full size deer. I stopped at Lookout Pass on the Montana-Idaho border to stretch and look up at the stars: Out there in the middle of the night like that you can see the Milky Way and the night sky is so black and full of stars. I stopped again for a short snooze in one of the "truck pullout" spots along the highway...not really a rest stop, just a place for truckers to pull over when they get too tired. I got into Spokane around 1:30 AM and located the Airport with no problems. So there I sat, at the airport, trying to decide whether to park the car and sleep for a couple of hours or just what else to do. I decided to try and locate some off-site parking, as my quick calculation of prcing revealed I'd be paying well over $60US to park for two weeks. I drove down a little road that lead to HWY 2 and saw some lights off in the distance so I turned left and headed down the road. I wound up coming up to an area that had alot of flashing red, blue and yellow lights. Witht he ol' silent "what the heck" I turned and came across the Kalispell Indian-owned Northern Quest Casino. At 2:00 AM, things were hopping. The parking lots were full, shuttle buses were unloading guests from somewhere and signs and berriers indicated new construction was fully underway. This was too good of a people-watching opportunity to pass up, so I drove past the complimentary valet parking and self-parked my car. The doors were manned by people that were way too happy for 2:00 AM. Once inside, the lighting was such that it could easily have been 2:00 PM in the afternoon. The place was absolutely packed, and the front entry was lined with blackjack, roulette and craps tables. The huge casino was also stocked with seemingly unending rows of various types of slot machines. There were traditonal slots, alien themed slots, gangsta slots, racing slots, bad girl slots and many, many more. People appeared tethered to the machines, until I realized that they were actually plugged into the machines by a sort of pre-paid gambling slot card, attached to their clothing generally. As an untrained observer, this looked totally eerie to see these people, many of them bleery-eyed and chain-smoking, sitting like zombies, pushing buttons to the machines they were stuck too.
There seemed to be quite a few people who came there after completing their work shift somewhere else, as evidenced by the many people in the uniforms of gas stations, movie theatres and bad restaurants. Then there were the young twenty-somethings out partying; the girls with too much makeup and not enough clothes and the guys with wife-beater t-shirts, bad tattoos and baseball caps, slightly askew. The best guy I saw in this group was a guy wearing a black t-shirt with a [icture of the USA, filled in with the flag and these words superimposed over the top, "Fu*k You I Live Here", only there was a "c" instead of a "*". Nice, buddy, real nice. The other group hoping for a jackpot seemed to me to be a Vietnamese/Chinese mix. This group seemed to go for the alien-themed slots and hung out in clumps, feeding several machines at a time with their pre-paid card tehters strainging to strech from their necks. Finally, I saw a tremendous number of extremely overweight and otherwise unhealthy women in house-dress type getups. I spent a good hour walking around and observing until I noticed that the same plainclothes security officer kept shadowing me and decided it was time to move on.
After the casino I decided to drive back into downtown Spokane so I could locate this mall that everyone in Missoula says is the place to shop. They have a Nordstrom's (ooooohhhhhhh). As you may imagine, at 3:00 AM, downtown was abandoned to the night people. Besides the police, which seemed to be everywhere, I saw a couple of kids on low-rider bicycles that were all tricked out, a couple of couples doing the drunk walk and a few night workers but not much else. The downtown seemed pleasant enough and the mall does indeed look pretty cool. I headed to the local Seven-Eleven and this is where the night action heated up. One look at the cashier and my hands began to sweat, feeling I was about to hit the jackpot when it comes to watching night-time freakiness. The cashier was a dude with short brown hair, except for this teeny-timy pony tail (we call them rat tails) that grew from behind his left ear half way down his back and had a few little feathers weaved into it. He also had a little twitch that caused me to look about for the candid camera hidden camera. Within 30 seconds of entering the convenience store I was joined by two young adults who were hopped up on some mind altering substance. As I wandered the store I watched them buy two boxes of powdered donuts, a bag of Doritos and a 6-pack of bottled water. They left the store and sat on the curb devouring the donutw and laughing. Next came a very drunk man, very much with the construction worker look going. He never entered the store, instead he sort of lurked in front, with his body fighting his mind in a constant bob and weave maneuver, talking to anyone that passd by. I was int he store for about 30 minutes and got to see skateboarders, drunks, night-shift people heading home, mullet-wearing & souped-up car drivin' late night heros and party goers. It was great people watching.
Alas, it was time to head to the airport. I parked the car and caught the shuttle to the airport. I rode with 4 TSA employees, heading in for the early morning shift. We got to the terminal about 3:45 and I was surprised to find I wasn't the first one there. Already there were two older couples, a thin & lanky dude sleeping and an older Native American man with a Mohawk and long ponytail. The ponytail seemed the most interesting so I sauntered over his way, plopped my luggage down and gave him the opening "good morning line". Turns out he was headiing up to a town called Tahsis, in British Columbia, for a week of visiting friends and fishing. Soon thereafter the airline employees arrived and we could check-in. As I was standing in line to check in, I began to smell that awful "ripe human" smell and turned to find the same tall & lanky dude who had been sleeping before: As it turned out I may have met the one other human in the world who can talk more than I can. "DW" is what I called him, mainly because of the fancy D tattoed on his left forearm and W tattoed on his right forearm. The font was that sort of Gothic. DW just talked my ear off, saying he'd been sleeping in the terminal since about 2:00 AM and was trying to get back to Seattle so he could catch another flight to Ohio. I half-listened but spent more time staring at the couple behind him, trying to figure out if the young girl was a stripper with her boyfriend or if I was just out of touch with fashion and this was the latest in a spiraling trshy fashion trend inspired by Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Anyhow, DW just wanted to talk and I was his sounding board. He sat right down next to me in the boarding area, ripe smell and all and proceeded to tell me he was on his way to Ohio to get re-certified. I finally decided to bite and asked, "re-certified for what"? This is where things got interesting. As it turns out, DW is a repo-man. He's a sort of transportation specialist and works freelances for a series of repossession companies. He is on-call, 24/7 to drive repossed vehicles wherever the job takes him. Just the day before he had arrived back from San Diego, where he drove a Lincoln towncar. He was at home when his pager went off and the number was from his favorite guy, the guy named Dave who "takes care of..." DW. Dave asked him to drive his car to SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) and wait to be picked up. He was picked up in a van by a guy who handed him instructions on where to drop off the repo...Spokane. They then drove to a corner and waited. About 30 minutes later the vehicle, a 1992 Fleetwood RV, loaded, squeled around the corner and DW went to work. He hopped in while another guy hopped out. The van sped away in one direction and DW took off in the other. He drove the 6 hours over to Spokane, dropped the RV off in the long-term parking and took the shuttle to the airport. A ticket was waiting for him at check-in. He was then catching a flight to Ohio for some special long-haul driver re-certification because his next vehicle is a semi-trailer he has to drive from Ohio to California. It was a wild tale and seemed almost movie-like. I threw DW off with my first quesiton...how do you know these are really repos and not just stolen. He got a very confused look on his face, thought about it for a few seconds and said, "I just know. I see papers". DW spends his days and nights waiting for his beeper to go off. He says he can make $1000.00 a day but usually makes $300 - $500.00 every day or two. He wants to "retire" and buy a house in a town south of Seattle called Puyallup and get a garden. Somehow I don't get the impression that will happen soon. DW was strung out and reminded me of a cross between two king of the hill King of the Hill characters, Boomhauer and Dale. It was a strange morning.
The Freaks really do come out at night.