Spokane County, Washington – Traveling With Fish

Astonishingly little has been written on the topic of traveling over an extended period by car with a cargo of fish. This is most likely because it’s a foolish – and potentially dangerous and disgusting – endeavor. Never one to shy away from dicey encounters with food that spoils easily, I find myself on day 2 of a cross-country road-trip, at Sleeps Cabins in Sandpoint, Idaho.

Thank you Spokane's Montvale Hotel, for the three bags of ice...

My challenge, with regard to food storage and consumption, is that I’m only home half the time, and when I am back home, I can’t help but buy ridiculous quantities of food at the Portland Farmers Market, held each Saturday in the “Park Blocks” adjacent to the campus of Portland State University (PSU).

Inevitably, as the days at home before a trip count down, I find myself in a kitchen packed with highly perishable treats I’ve snapped up at farmers markets or at my favorite Portland grocery store, New Seasons. Trying to consume all this food during the remaining days before a trip always proves taxing (I live alone). This explains my salad at 1 am on Saturday night, hours before I set off on this trip, of roasted beets, sundried cherries, bacon, and Rogue Creamery blue cheese (not bad…but I’m not sure I’d do it again).

But prior to this current trip, I wasn’t able to finish everything in my fridge, which explains the small insulated container I carried with me on Sunday morning containing a banana-size piece of smoked “Irish-style” salmon from the farmers market, along with three small parcels of artisan cheese and a container of green olives marinated in lemon and basil. Eh, so it might all rot en route. It’s worth the risk. As I’ve planned an ambitious many-months road trip, I also stocked up on dry goods: six bottles of wine (mostly $8 to $12 reds from Rhone Valley, Portugal, Spain, and Argentina), two bags of salt-and-pepper Kettle Chips, a giant container of mixed nuts, 12 cans of Starbucks espresso shots, a case of bottled water, and assorted energy bars.

Having before carried significant quantities of stinky cheese on trips of several days, including a particularly ambitious journey with my friend Alison through Hawaii (it all went smoothly until we accidentally left a jar of Maui’s Surfing Goat MacGoatNut cheese in the fridge of our room at the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island – a teary, somber day for both of us), I feel pretty confident about keeping food from spoiling while on the road. When I arrived in Spokane last night at the boutique-y Montvale Hotel and realized my room lacked a fridge, I simply went to the ice machine and bagged three small parcels of ice to keep my bounty chilled. I would have eaten it last night, but my friend Rob, who developed the Montvale, insisted I eat at the hotel’s Catacombs Pub.

So in the morning I dumped more bags of ice into my carrier of aromatic edibles and continued on my journey up through Newport, Washington and across to Sandpoint, Idaho, where I am now – and where, thankfully, my cabin overlooking shimmering Lake Pend Oreille has a big refrigerator. I’ve just now snacked on the olives and one of the cheeses, following dinner with my friend Lisa, and her husband, at convivial Eichardt’s Pub in Sandpoint (seriously delicious garlic-parmesan fries, followed by a hearty elk burger and accompanied by a bottle of Walla Walla’s L’Ecole No. 41 Recess Red). When will I get to the salmon, which has probably withered slightly in my valiant effort to keep it fresh and edible across state lines? Maybe tomorrow night, when I land in Kalispell, Montana…at a motel TBD.

The nice thing about traveling alone is that bouts with food poisoning can easily remain self-contained and confidential.

Last night, Autumn appeared suddenly in the form of a powerful, crisp gust through Spokane. I’d arrived around 8 pm to a moist, drippy metropolis (the third largest U.S. city in the northwest, trailing only Seattle and Portland). By the time I’d eaten at the Montvale’s Catacombs Pub and spent a few hours working on various assignments in my hotel room, the clock was pushing 2 am. I decided to step outside for a stroll through downtown Spokane, which I hadn’t visited since 1996. This city of about 200,000 reminds me a lot of the old northeastern blue-collar cities I grew up near – on a scale of Worcester or Syracuse, but with a smaller, more localized sensibility, like something out of a Richard Russo or John Irving novel, but not quite so depressed.

Spokane had a population of 104,000 in 1910. At that time, it was just half the size of Portland and Seattle, and many times bigger than Sacramento, San Diego, and Phoenix. Even Los Angeles had eclipsed Spokane in population only a few years before. And so it makes sense that the architecture and feel of the city reminds me of cities farther east, which developed most prominently in the 19th centuries. In this sense, Spokane feels very different from most Western U.S. cities, as it lacks a contemporary skyline and is less dominated by sprawl.

The mighty Spokane River, as it roars through downtown

I like it, especially the downtown frontage and island pierced by the cascading Spokane River and redeveloped in the early 1970s, just in time for 1974 World’s Fair (to this day, Spokane is the world’s smallest city ever to host a World’s Fair).

Busy rail tracks cut right through the heart of downtown Spokane – they passed no more than a block from my hotel, and the happily (to me) familiar din of freight trains lulled me to sleep until a friend inadvertently pocket-dialed me three times consecutively at 4:45 in the morning. During my late-night walkabout through what had become a slightly frigid Spokane by Sunday night at 2 am, I encountered a virtual ghost town. A few beer-sodden revelers tumbled out of a low-keyed gay bar called Irv’s when I walked by. The city’s most famous hotel, the Davenport, appeared desolate. In 2007 it was the site of a sex scandal between Washington GOP state Rep. Richard Curtis and a male prostitute. This occurred just a year after disgraced Republican ex-mayor of Spokane, James E. West, took his life not long after coming out as gay and enduring allegations of sexual abuse (of boys) some years before that.

An old-school bastion of railroad and lumber, Spokane differs markedly from progressive Portland and Seattle. It’s a conservative city, but one that’s seen a considerable resurgence – and an increased dose of liberalism – in recent years. Whereas most working-class cities of the Midwest and Northeast have seen steady drops in population since the post-World War II urban exodus, Spokane has rebounded – growing 10% from 1990 to 2000, and significantly more over the past decade. The Davenport Hotel sat empty for two decades before investors brought it back in 2002, and a much-touted mall (with an Olive Garden, Banana Republic, Nordstrom, and Apple Store…etc. etc.) opened along the nifty riverfront in 1999. Spokane feels weirdly contradictory to me – dated but post-urban-renewal, adherent to the age of Leave It To Beaver but experiencing modest degrees of the same boho-rehab that’s made Portland, Bend, Walla Walla, and other Northwest destinations darlings of hipsterfication in recent years.

My favorite building in Spokane, an 11-floor open-air parking structure named – in full-kitsch glory – the Parkade, dates to 1967 and captures everything that’s both quaintly and hideously dated about this city.

The Parkade!

The gently graded structure topped with a squared turret that vaguely resembles an air-traffic control tower was the sight of a much-publicized suicide in 2009. The hapless victim fell onto the roof of one of the city’s practical but ugly skywalks (elevated pedestrian ways connecting adjoining downtown buildings, designed to keep humans cloistered from the elements). The Parkade and surrounding skywalks look stupid against the backdrop of otherwise dignified early-20th-century and sleek postmodern buildings.

The Davenport Hotel, built in 1914 and named for local businessman Louis Davenport (for whom the dish Crab Louis is named), is a genuine architectural champion.

ugly downtown Spokane skywalk - no bueno

So are several of the Victorian mansions west of downtown in the Browne’s Addition, and the opulent buildings that anchor the campus of Spokane’s Jesuit college, Gonzaga University. It’s nice to explore a city, as I did this afternoon on foot and by car, that hasn’t been completely co-opted by latter-day urbanism (and that’s coming from a guy who lives in a “green” condo tower built in 2007).

As for road-tripping with fish, my best advice is to carry your quarry inside a tightly sealed container, and to surround it with bags of ice. Better yet, prior to embarking on your journey, eat your fish at home, or leave it in your refrigerator if you think it will keep long enough, or present it graciously to a neighbor.

Special thanks go to the bottle of 2008 Collegiata Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that kept me company throughout the creation of this blog.

This entry was posted in Bars, Lounges & Nightclubs, Cheese, Farmers Markets, Hawaii, Hotels, Idaho, Restaurants, Washington, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Spokane County, Washington – Traveling With Fish

  1. Valynne says:

    Andrew, I enjoyed this post immensely (you are rolling through areas we have on our wish list and I am a sucker for room, food, and architecture scoop) however I now find myself obsessing over the rotting salmon. That’s just gross. I am going to try not to think about the salmon any.more.

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