Monday, November 16, 2009

Shhh, don't bother me, I'm very busy

An alert came from all over that there is a storm gathering out over the Pacific and we should be prepared for gusts up to 90 miles per hour and sustained winds through Tuesday of 40-60 mph. I am giddy with happiness, as long as no one is hurt, no property damage, etc.... The generator's been primed and is full, 15 gallons in reserve. Propane for the backup heaters is ready. Food in the pantry, freezer stocked. Even an extra can of coffee bought. Ready as we ever will be to ride out another small gust up.

A storm that keeps all indoors and maybe knocks out the electricity and just sort of, you know, legitimately throws this little corner of the world off the grid for awhile, making it legitimate that I don't do a lick of work, don't answer the phone, don't think about editing a single article or fact check or write or or or ....

All I have to do is curl up with my book and read, read, read. Ironically, the book title is The Gathering Storm. Twelfth in the Wheel of Time series started by Robert Jordan (aka James Oliver Rigney, Jr). I hadn't even heard of the series until four years ago and didn't start reading until I had assured myself that the author was young enough to be writing for years to come. He was young enough, being born in 1948. Relieved that I would have books to read for decades to come I plunged into the series and was up to date by the second or third month.

Jordan's books average 700 pages with a couple dozen main characters and about 1500 bit part characters, fleshed out with towns, cities, states and countries along with unique cultures, politics, dialects and  even languages (of course translated so we can understand). Absolutely fascinating. Jordan rarely uses his words superfluously making reading each paragraph integral to some part of the whole. Also making rereading the books good reading because you are always finding something you skipped over too quickly the first or second time through as you devour the book to get to the character's story that has grabbed you at the moment.

Sadly, Robert Jordan died in 2007 of cardiac amyloidosis. He died before his Wheel of Time epic series was completed, leaving behind copious notes, according to his widow, along with taped interviews of how he wanted it to end and where he wanted each character to be at the end of the series. His widow chose Brandon Sanderson to finish the series and according to the reviews on the first of the three books that will finish the series Sanderson has done an outstanding job. I am just finishing re-reading book 11 (will quickly scanning 700+ pages of the book) and am anxiously trying to get to this newest book while trying to remember who all of the characters are and what they were up to when I last read about them. 

As the storm gathers outside I am treasuring the Gathering Storm inside. Now shush, everyone. Don't bother me. Find your own book, ride the storm out, then we will pick up the pieces together and go about life again.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Remembering the Supermarket Trinity: Haukes, Safeway, and Three Boys?

USS YMS-422, a 270-ton YMS-410 class auxiliary motor minesweeper, was built at Astoria, Oregon. Commissioned in September 1944

With all of the talk about "big box stores" putting "everything else" out of business I have been thinking about the evolution of grocery stores in the area and where they are now. Thinking back my first thoughts are of three main "supermarkets", stores where you could actually get dairy, produce, meat and dry goods all at one stop! What a concept! There was Safeway, Haukes and I think it was called Three Boys. But now more grocery stores suddenly crop up in my minds eye. Hmmmm....

Thinking waaaay back I can remember Haukes, when it was on the corner, across the street from what is now (was it always?) the ESD building, east end of town 32nd and Marine Drive-ish. Public Market was where Hunts is liquidating now. Safeway was where, as most of us now know it, the "Old Safeway Parking Lot" is. At the foot of the south slope was an ever changing store. We lived on 19th & Irving, went over the hill to Tapiola and I don't remember going to that store much. I remember it vaguely as an IGA, a Thirftway, Three Boys and finally as "The Other Hauke's Sentry Market".

Favorite store was Hauke's and the stamps. You filled a card and got a discount or something for free. Every five dollars you spent you got a stamp. And, as most locals know, Skip carried many a family through tough times running a tab. I don't know if he ever got stiffed (I imagine, now that I am older and more cynical, he must have) but from the stories I hear until the year he sold to Safeway, Skip was still helping out the fishing and logging families.

Hauke's had the first bakery and deli in their stores, too, if I remember correctly. Safeway was quite small but they introduced a new innovation. If you wanted to try a taste of something they would actually open whatever it was and allow you to taste it before buying it! At both stores most of the clerks knew you and while others bragged about "five finger discounts" I honestly never took anything from a store that I didn't pay for. Never even dawned on me to "pull one over" on these people who were often friends or even family.

The smaller stores in the area were Bob Overby's Astor Court up on Alameda, Peter Pan up on Niagara, Hunts Market out in Svensen and Maize's Market over in Warrenton. There's Mile's Grocery in Alderbrook and Mile's Corssing out in Jeffer's Garden along with Pete Peterson's Grocery and Gas. Lovvold's Grocery in East End (what is now Astoria Coffee Company). Lums market serving China Town and I'm sure I am missing a dozen of the old Finn, Nordic, etc., markets.

Bob's had been there for eons. My father tells of his gang of friends stealing beer from Bob and the neighbor seeing them and calling up Bob and telling him who took a couple cases of beer off the stack waiting to be carted into the store. Gossip beat the boys back to their party before they got there with the beer and they shamefacedly brought it back. Can you imagine what would happen nowadays? Hell, CSD would be involved along with Juvie, the boys would have criminal records.

For a time we had Prairie Market over at what is now the Coast Guard Exchange. Another new concept was introduced at this store. When you entered you picked up a wax marker and marked your own prices on the product based on the tag in front. You boxed or bagged your own groceries. The theory, "We use less labor and pass the savings on to you." Less employees. Can't remember how long that one lasted.

My mother reminds be I am forgetting Thrifty Market which is now the empty lot across from Grover's Ace Hardware store. Modern Cash, owned by Dick Aho, was downtown Astoria.  Another neighborhood store was on Grand around 27th, the Parker Place Store that was between Irving and Jerome on 14th street. Also, Clarks at Hilltop (8th & Madison) a candy and soda shop w/deli, bread and milk.

What happened to these markets? Safeway come in and wipe them all out in one fell swoop? Fred Meyer and Costco deliver the coup de gras? No, our culture changed. These markets filled a nitch, which several of them still do. They served mothers who didn't drive and could give the child twenty-five cents to run down to the store for milk, eggs or bread. They served a certain population that didn't speak English and went to the shops to converse in their own Finn, Norwegian, or Chinese and to get the specialty foods from the "homeland". We just recently are seeing these shops crop up again locally, this time with the Hispanic population. We still have a few of the neighborhood markets, like Svenson's Hunts, Jeffer's Garden's Miles Crossing, Niagara's Peter Pan, and once again Alameda's Astor Court (hmm, can't remember its new name, sorry).

Also, back in the day, our population was much bigger and, until very recently, much more diverse. We had the Navy, the Military Hospital and the Coast Guard all here with the Air Force right across the river.  We had Job Corp. The Coast Guard had so many people here all of Emerald Heights was their housing plus some. When we lost the Military Hospital contract to Madigan and the Coast Guard downgraded this area was hit hard. Bumble Bee moved out and Alumax didn't move in. Those opposed to it promised us something else. We got, I believe, according to Mr. Marquis, heroin and a culture of apathy and drugs until he moved in in the mid-1990s and "cleaned the area up."

I think that our area continues to change. The small markets that listen to their clientele will continue to flourish or "hang on" as long as there are people that want what they are providing. While I know there are many who like Fred Meyers I, for one, will be pleased to see it have some competition. It is sadly lacking in customer service. I will continue to shop at Grovers (Ace/Coast to Coast) for most of those items of "doodads" that have no name only descriptions that the women know exactly what you are talking about and can find within minutes. I will encourage new specialty shops that cater to special quirks: marbles, herbs, teas, candies, bakery goodies, etc.

I won't presume that all can afford to support what I chose to support. I won't pretend that spotted owls only nest in old growth just to get my way and keep a land owner from doing what he chooses with his land. I won't pretend that looking at a grove of weedy alders is more beautiful than looking at a manicured lot before a supermarket. I will enjoy the fact that the elk will more than likely cross through the lot in the evenings, if they so wish.

We are always changing. What drives us is us. Who drives us is who we allow to drive.  We can go backwards or forwards. I am shooting for forwards.