After my first day on the road, when I grappled with loneliness, came the second day, when I grappled with boredom. There were long stretches of US 2 between tiny towns, with nothing to see but sagebrush and cattle.
To deal with the boredom, I thought about boredom. One of my favorite sayings is, “Only the boring are bored.” If I was bored, then I must be boring. I’d begun this trip with a whole bucket full of thoughts to occupy me. Boredom seemed to indicate that the bucket was empty.
I mentally turned the bucket upside-down and shook it, then turned on the radio and searched for a non-country music station. I wondered if I should go around Spokane, or through it. Then I started thinking about Shirley.
A few years ago, my friend Tina and I discussed the possibility that we were doppelgangers. She started a list of all the things we had in common, including the fact that we have the same hair color and complexion and birthdays a couple of days apart. To this, we added first boyfriends with the same name and the fact that our first cars were brown Volkswagen Rabbits. At the time, Tina knew she was adopted, and I secretly wished that she was my twin sister.
Then Tina discovered her birth mother, Shirley, and reluctantly, I gave up the idea that we were secret twins. When I met Shirley, who is from Spokane, I realized that Tina had lucked into the coolest mother on the planet, and I decided this was someone *I* wanted to adopt.
So that Friday, on my way into Spokane, I called Tina’s partner Will in Seattle. “Hi, Will! I’m in eastern Washington, and I need Tina’s work number, so I can call her right away.” “OK, let me see if I can find it,” he said, sounding awfully sleepy for 11 am. “Hey, Tina, what’s your work number?”
“Will? What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m asking Tina for her work number,” he said.
“What’s Tina doing there, instead of at work?” I asked.
“We’re going camping this weekend,” he said.
“Well, if Tina is at home, then I don’t want her work number,” I said.
“OK,” he said, maddeningly. He didn’t get the hint.
“I. Need. To. Talk. To. Tina.” I said. Finally, he handed her the phone. I think he needed coffee.
Despite admitting to still being in her jammies, Tina was more coherent and was able to give me Shirley’s phone number. With some trepidation, I called Shirley — and she remembered me. “Would you be free for a cup of coffee or some lunch today?” I asked. “Sure!” she said, giving me directions to her house. “I’m still in my jammies, but I’ll wash my face and be out on the front porch. You’re only about 10 minutes away.”
At 11 am, I wondered if I was the only person awake, alert, and dressed in the Pacific Time Zone.
I pulled up in front of Shirley’s house, which I recognized from a photo. It’s a glamorous 1903 Craftsman with a front porch big enough for a pool table. I know this because there was a pool table on the front porch. It was probably 11:15 when I arrived, and we started talking and drinking iced tea. Shirley asked me where I was planning to stay, and I said I was going to continue on the road and find a place later that night. “I have a guest room, and you’re welcome to stay here,” she offered. It sounded heavenly, but I felt badly about dropping in on such short notice and declined.
We talked for a couple of hours, nonstop, and she offered the guest room again. “Oh, no, I really should keep going,” I said. After my morning of boredom, here I was talking with one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. But I didn’t want to be a bore. I’d said I was just stopping by for a cup of coffee; how could I admit I’d love to stay for days?
Then we went to lunch at an amazing diner called Frank’s. It’s an actual railroad dining car that has been converted to a restaurant, and Shirley knew both the owner and the craftsman who’d done the intricate wood inlays. Despite the fact that it sits next to railroad tracks, so that it routinely rumbles and shakes authentically when another train goes by, it was brought to Spokane by a semi.
We were on a conversational roll, with hardly a break between fun topics, when Shirley asked me, “Did you hear about the man at the State Fair?” I shook my head.
“There’s a state hospital near here for the mentally ill. Yesterday, they took a group of criminally insane patients to the State Fair, and one of them escaped. He’s a murderer who once decapitated a little girl, and they still haven’t caught him.” “Are you serious?” I said. I thought she was teasing me, since I was adamant about camping in my little tent.
A little while later, Shirley said, “Are you sure you don’t want to come see a play with me and spend the night?” I realized she really meant it. “Well, it does sound like a lot of fun. Twist my arm!” And she did. I was glad to be safe from the axe murderer, but mostly, I was looking forward to the play and more conversation.
Back at the house, I had gotten my overnight bag out of the car when Shirley asked me a strange question. “How do you feel about clowns?” she asked. I wondered if this had something to do with the evening’s activity. Did I have to dress up as a clown to go to the play?
I admitted that I didn’t have a lot of feelings one way or the other about clowns.
“You’re not afraid of them, are you?” she continued. Now I was really wondering. I’d heard of people who were clown-phobic, and I may have been one as a child. But I’d gotten over it. My only phobia is dogs, and Shirley’s adorable shi-tzu was helping me overcome that one.
It all made sense when I saw the purple and lavender guest room decorated with Shirley’s clown collection. There must have been over 100 clown statues and dolls, plus many clown paintings and two hilarious clown slippers. I was surprised by the sensitive and artistic renderings (except for the slippers, which were pure kitsch), and I could have spent days studying them.
That afternoon, I spent a couple of hours with my notebook and laptop, trying to capture some of the things we’d talked about. But I couldn’t remember it all. In just a few hours in Spokane, I’d gone from the emptiness of boredom to mental overflow. Thanks to Shirley, my thought bucket was completely full.