Klamath Falls, OR
The Oregon road trip complete, I have a train from Klamath Falls to wait for. The south bound Coast Starlight comes through once a day, at 10pm, so a whole day of waiting looms.
A sunny start brightens the place. They’ve had a very dry winter, which means struggle for the farmers all around and explains the parched look of the earth in the basin. That look offsets obviously poor living accommodation in town and scenes of dereliction.
Walking out of the Maverick Motel, a right turn takes me away from Main Street and past disused or shuttered buildings. The railway line is obvious, with a bridge carrying it over the road, but the station doesn’t hove into view quite as quickly as I thought it would. But there it is, the size of a couple of small houses and, at midday, shut. The north and west bound trains go through in the morning, then the place is shut till half eight at night.
Up along Oak avenue and over a road fit almost to be a motorway, along which a lone truck rolls. There are several freight terminals here, trucks poised to serve the freight trains that rumble through. Welcome signs of industry in town, and they offer hope that the loud whistles I heard after 10 last night were from a freight train rather than mine, running late. Those at 4 in the morning were certainly freight. They love their train horns.
I’m near 11th street, making for the library on south 3rd. Opening at 1, it’ll stay that way till 8, so is a perfect spot to wait without cost, but is shut for now. As are several shops, also opening at 1-maybe that explains the town seeming so quiet, there’s sport for all on Wednesday mornings, just as universities have it on Wednesday afternoons. That would also explain why those people who are walking around are so large.
But I grant it is unlikely. The first national bank has turned into a Mexican restaurant, Pacino’s, taking a delivery from Henry’s brewery. With the tailgate stashed, a lengthy procedure that involved taking it halfway up on battery power then finishing with help from the engine, after an agonisingly slow walk up to the cabin and then back by the driver, the truck roars off, out of town. Two hours later we spot him two streets away on the phone while again lifting the tailgate, presumably after another delivery. I’d love to see the time-motion diagram that could explain that piece of scheduling.
Back along Main Street, posters advertise the theatre’s anniversary celebrations, with two broadway stars in town at the weekend for song and tap, followed by the Irish national dance group. Or ‘******* Riverdance’, as they are more usually now known. A band has reformed for a tour, one night here proudly trailing their four country and one billboard number one hits. Those were back in 2003, the members now look comfortable, dragged from a retirement drinking beer and eating, though it’s unlikely they were ever edgy, occupying the country genre.
Back near the motel, the Main Street market looks not to have opened for some time, while the old Ford dealership, like the first national building, wears its logo with pride, looking odd next to the vivid decoration of palms trees and Egyptian figures. Whatever took this building over is lost to time. Boards cover some of the windows, but run out halfway along, so the deserted, empty interior is in clear view.
This part of town reminds me of Christchurch. Not the bits they’ve rebuilt.
The centre of town, then, holds places to eat, a couple of beauty parlours, a jeweller’s, camera shop and ‘Crave’ for cakes sit alongside popular meeting spot, Rick’s Smokes. For chains, only Subway has bothered. And has a queue.
Behind the library is one treasure, a shop selling off old books, cassettes and videos, nothing more than a dollar. Open four hours a day, it is run by volunteers, and visited by the mentally ill, it seems, which may explain why today’s volunteer is so happy to talk to us once the 1.00 rush has abated. Lovely lady, here from New York having married a Klamath man in the airforce. I didn’t ask which she preferred.
That done, lunch at Hidalgo’s – the smaller of two Mexican restaurants – and I was in the library for 3. I read a Stainless Steel Rat book that I’d picked up in the shop and then left it in the library, which should be nice and confusing-“but we already cancelled this one?” and browsed before deciding that the place was now so quiet at 7 that I should go outside before it got fully dark and seemed still more depressing. I walked the streets feeling mildly sorry for myself before heading in to the Oregon pizza company. The poor waitress couldn’t quite understand my blundering attempt to say yes, a table please (as opposed to squatting in the bar area), yes in the window would be lovely, but we got there. The bar area was busy, and other tables held families feeding their kids, so I’d certainly found the life of the town. Even better, once I’d finished and killed an hour with a book, the manager came over to chat, intrigued by the accent. It turned out he was born on an Air Force base in Sussex, albeit having left when he was four, so has joint nationality. He slipped in a couple of seamless “see ya, mate”s to let me feel at home.
By the time I made my way through dark streets to the station, all was right with the world and in the waiting room I made the acquaintance of a large American family-just four people, but you know what I mean-who were off back to California. Hadn’t been for 40 years, chipped in mum, to my left, over her book. “What do you call a group of crows?” asked Bob, by the door. “What do you call two crows?” he followed up with*. Teresa, sat on the row behind me, was very taken by a young family who came in, three kids all in pyjamas though not yet too tired to take some Amtrak Casey Jones hats to accentuate the cuteness. Lisa, sat in front of me, translated anything too American for me, and we all boarded at 10.30, assigned our seats by the porter and joining a quiet and darkened train. My seat mate didn’t seem overjoyed to have me there, and I couldn’t even cheer her up with a positive answer to ‘do you have candy?’ That’s not what was rustling in my bag, sorry. She was soon asleep as lights and dark countryside slipped by.
Reading: Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat gets Drafted.
* Attempted murder