Spokane: The Lost City of Potential [Travelogue]

Before I leave the United States for such a long stretch, I thought I should speak about the last place I will have lived, and currently reside.  Spokane, Washington.  I’m not ashamed to say that I truly love this city.  Even though I can perfectly understand why a westward bound traveler would rather land themselves in Portland, Oregon over this region, I still love this place.  I’ve had my ups and downs living in this city.  So many things I would like to forget, but just as many things I will always cherish.  And as I depart from its plain of existence, I wish only the best for Spokane and its people.  Let’s begin….

Riverfront Park

Spokane, Washington was once destined for a somewhat divine greatness.  In the mid to late 19th century, it seemed as though this region held everything you could every need to exist in the newly trampled Northwest territory.  As the city’s current motto states, it was “Near Nature, Near Perfect”.  Then, and now, it was a vastly expanding metropolis equipped with a large river that proved both beautiful and profitable.  For anyone looking to move any and everything along this river.  Throw in a later boom in mining around the present day Couer d’Alene and Northern Idaho area that proved (just as it does today) to be a very convenient and by far cheaper to operate within that say, you know, the other place that was known to draw in miners across the globe.  Throw on top of that the inclusion of the Union Pacific railroad driving through, and it appeared as though this place could hold nothing but great things for the future.  By 1900, the population of Spokane was well over a hundred thousand, which was even after The Great Fire that almost wiped the damn place off the map.

But, alas, you don’t hear of Spokane in the same way it may have been expected to have this place be on par with the likes of San Francisco, Chicago, etc.  So what happened?  Well, the story is actually a whole lot better documented and embedded with corruption, greed, and a stand-off between the International Workers of the World and the giants of  the corporate world, than I could ever really get into.  Let’s just say, things have slowed down a bit.

But, to even have reached the current state in is now, Spokane had to develop itself in a world that really didn’t seem to give a damn if it succeeded or not.  In 1974, Spokane hosted the first ever environmentally themed World Expo which left a pretty spectacular sprawl of a park in the downtown area, which I will surely speak of more.  It has also a city that subsequently needed to leave its manufacturing roots behind after an almost obsessive collection of failures and ineptitude that may not be entirely the people’s fault, rather the on slaught of the American dream simply fading into a different direction, leaving The Lilac City in the proverbial dust, so to speak.  The city can now boast itself as a thriving facilitator of several amazing opportunities for collegiate advancement, especially in the medical world.  Population has slowly risen.  110 years after reaching 100,000, the city itself has broken the 200,000 barrier, and the Spokane/Couer d’Alene metropolitan area can show over 600,000 residents, respectively.

Riverfront Park

Yet, where is the hope?  Where does the potential really lie?  How does one truly epitomize or even describe what Spokane really is to the rest of the world?  In my own personal opinion and experience in this city, Spokane can be described by what it actually isn’t.  There are two VERY important things that Spokane is not that need to be addressed.  And what are these two things?  Well, Spokane is NOT:

Seattle or Portland.

When somebody from outside of the Pacific Northwest (or even within its boundaries, at times) thinks of the gloomy, caffeine laced, region of this country, Spokane is not what they envision.  They know grunge music, indie rock, rain, The Goonies, Starbucks, Microsoft, etc.  It’s really a tired story for most of us from this region.  I specifically understand the differences being born in a failed industrial town actually situated within the walls of liberalism and the divine social epitaph of society in which most see the world.  I grew up in a town at the base of Mt. St. Helens that is simply a stone’s throw from Portland, and only a bit further from the technologically enhanced Seattle.  Yet, black and white can not even begin to explain the difference between where I lived what people think when they think of this region.  And if you live here, you know that the Cascade Mountains might as well be the equator that divides heaven and hell, which could be on either side dependant upon how you want to look at it.  If you don’t live somewhat along the coast, you live in a prairie farm town nobody has heard of (at best, you live in Spokane), which millions of people will find hard to believe.

So, why is it important to note that Spokane is definitely NOT one of these cities?  Well, for their own damn good really.  One walk through the downtown area of this city, and you will see what is obviously a collection of medium-sized buildings with the influence of the cities it can never be, but so obviously yearns to be more like.  There are more bars than you could throw a hooker from Sprague Ave. at, and also has certain commodities that you just really wouldn’t expect to see in this region.  Say, an Apple store.  One street is lined with concert venues (including a Knitting Factory, which always surprises out of towers) that rivals in comparison to the scene in Portland.  They’ve also managed to make Spokane a pretty walker friendly city, even when temperatures are known to drop well below freezing in the winter with several buildings being connected by enclosed walking bridges.  Yes, as I have clearly stated, the potential is there.  It would actually become a bit lengthy and wordy of a description if I tried to acknowledge all the positives of this city, as they are indeed plentiful.  But, alas there is still a probable.  Let’s all it, an identity problem shall we.

Spokane, Washington

Novelist Jess Walter epitomized the brilliance of his hometown of Spokane better than I, or anyone else probably, really could have in his harrowing novel, Citizen Vince.  How did he do this?  By explaining to us why Spokane is probably one of the greatest cities for somebody in the witness protection program to hide out at.  Why?  Well, it’s not a large city.  But, it’s no small town neither.  It is a city that you can actually go your whole life without really knowing anybody in, and be just fine.  You don’t have to stand out if you don’t want to.  And the resources to live a meaningful yet unnoticed existence are definitely there.  The problem?  This element of simplicity over extravagance is simply not an American way of thinking, is it really?  Canadian, definitely, but not in this country.  No, we are a capitalist nation.  Our goals are supposed to be ever-expanding and more than likely never reached prior to our demise.  That being said, for many Spokanites, the fact that they will never “accomplish” (for a lack of a better word) what Seattle or Portland has “accomplished”, is something they will never be able to look past.  Which, as we all know, is not a far self-realization at all.  This is not to say that there isn’t anybody around here who appreciates the surroundings they DO have.  They are there.  Likely enough, they are probably the same people who feel as though Spokane has been suffice enough to reach their every single need.  And this is can be a good thing.

Case in point: Every year Spokane’s free weekly newspaper, The Pacific Northwest Inlander (one more fine commodity Spokanites should greatly appreciate if they don’t already) does a “Best of 20_” for everything in the area, especially when it comes to food.  There are indeed some amazing eateries in this area.  Maybe not any sort of special forte, but some really good places.  Places that could easily rival neighborhoods in Seattle or Portland based on quality itself.  But, when this list is revealed, what do you think is there?  For best burgers, fries, Mexican food– Red Robin, Zips, and Azteca respectively.  And while this may simply

Spokane, Washington

be because people really dig these chains because they hold some sort of special quality around here that others don’t (Idaho and Washington DO have amazing potatoes), this is simply something you are not going to see happen in the twin cities Spokane seems to live in the shadows of.  That and throw in the fact that Spokane is consistently on the list as having more fast food restaurants than you could really imagine (don’t believe it, take a drive down 3rd Ave and count them out, and try not to get in a wreck).  Simply stated, a small independent newspaper in Portland would never see this sort of thing.  And what does it matter?  Shouldn’t Spokane truly embrace its differences from these other sacred holy hipster lands?  Shouldn’t the lack of pretentious fortitude be a celebrated thing?  Spokane has the little nooks and coffee shops with guitar strumming, angel headed hipsters lurking about, just like every city on the planet!  Why do we care what the residents of the city choose as their favorite french fries?  Why can’t they be proud of what they do have, and stop worrying about what they don’t, or how the outside world looks at them?  Yes, this is about food, but it’s not as simple as that.

Spokane has its arts community.  It has events that bring joy and love to its residents.  It has good food, plenty of things to do.  It is located on a beautiful river and amongst some pretty exquisite nature.  But, it is not Seattle.  It is not Portland.  Just as a pig can never be a cow, Spokane can never been these cities.  But, don’t some people prefer pork chops over a steak?  And until all Spokane’s residents realize this idealism to be self-evident, I’m afraid Spokane will never have its own identity.

Spokane, Washington

But, with the potential in place, it’s not time to give up hope.  Call me Barack Obama in 2008, but I still have hope for this city.  Even if I am abandoning this metropolis for what will probably be for good, I will still hold hope this fair city, and for the fine folks who see it for what is it, and not for what it can never be.

To be continued…..

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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