Sept. 1-2: We’ve been on the road in the northwest, enjoying the state of Washington. However, timing is keeping us east of the Cascade Mountains on this journey. Maybe another year we’ll take in the crabbing and beautiful west coasts of Oregon and Washington. But for now, there is one historic little town in central Washington that fell right into our path – Roslyn. This one has a slight connection to our recent trip to Alaska. And where better to have a birthday lunch than at The Brick, in the shadow of KBHR and Ruth Anne’s General Store. Come on. Let’s go!
This trip of about 250 miles kicks off in Omak, Washington, continuing south on SR 97 and 17 through the grandeur of the Grand Coulee ( Learned that a coulee is a steep-sided ravine formed by glacier erosion. This one stretches for sixty miles.) and the rolling amber-colored hills of central Washington. The drive was pleasantly flat, sparsely populated and offered beautiful Columbia River views. Turning west on I-90 at Moses Lake, we passed by George, Washington, (We smiled about that one.) and then on over to the eastern edge of the foothills of the Cascades, to the small town of Roslyn. Herein lies the connection of which I spoke above. Some of you already know my point. We can see the grins appearing on your faces as you conjure up images of “Chris in the Morning” at KBHR, Holling and Shelley at The Brick, Dr. Joel and Marilyn in the town’s clinic, and conversations between Ruth Anne, Ed, Maggie , Maurice, etal. For anyone still wondering, Roslyn is the setting for Cicely, Alaska, the fictional town of the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. Many of us were greatly entertained by the situations dealing with life in the tiny remote Alaska town and the sometimes peculiar, but captivating backgrounds of the people who made their way to Cicely. Perhaps the series might be equated with small-town Seinfeld, a story about nothing, yet so much.
By late afternoon of September 1 we pulled into the town of Cle Elum, about three miles south of Roslyn. One of our Internet sources for overnight boondocking sights recommended a spot near the Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant. We found it just right, safe and quiet. After settling into our spot, we walked across the lot for some tasty enchiladas. The next morning we drove over to Roslyn in the Jeep to see how friendly the town is to rv parking. After talking to a couple of residents, we got the message that there would be no problem: “Just pull out of the way and enjoy.” We were soon parked off a side street just two short blocks from “town center.”
Of course, the true history of this coal-mining town contains many dramatic human-interest tales of immigrants and natives building lives that extend into today’s descendants. I looked into that story, too. But for now, we’ll talk about our short time of getting in touch with Cicely, Alaska and its inhabitants. We walked around the corner from Ferd and came upon the Roslyn Cafe. The cafe’s familiar mural started each episode. And then there was the moose walking down the middle of town. Remember that mug? If only the moose had appeared for us!
At the other end of town, “The Brick” played a major role as a gathering place for Cicely residents. You will recall it was the saloon owned by Holling Vincoeur, a robust octogenarian. He lived at the Brick with Shelly, the waitress, a 20-something, flamboyant fashion statement. Our activities at the Brick for September 2 also involved Jerry’s birthday. But actually, we’ll call it the somethin’ day because he would rather not pay special attention to this day. :) Regardless, we wanted to have lunch and sample the Roslyn Brewery beers. The food was well above average, jalapeno cheese burger for Jerry and more halibut for Nancy. The stout and the pale ale were excellent, went down smoothly. Although we weren’t mentioning the birthday, it was a happy time. The bartender and patrons we chatted with were very hospitable. The social atmosphere of this establishment seems to be carrying on today.
The Brick is actually the oldest operating saloon in the state, established in 1889, just after the town of Roslyn was founded by the Northern Pacific Railway. I learned at the local historical museum that there were 24 saloons during the heyday of this coal-mining-railway town in the early 1900s, each one a social spot for a different ethnic group. One feature of this particular bar that stands out is a running spittoon stretching across the foot of the bar. Jerry said, “I’ve seen many spittoons in my day, but never one equipped with a constantly running tap and where you don’t even have to get up from your bar stool to use it.” (See, just in front and below his foot. There’s a portion of this long metal crevice that runs the length of the bar, about 40’. Water is flowing in it.) I guess it served the purpose, but glad it’s just for show now.
But back to Northern Exposure, walking around in the three blocks of the main business area of Roslyn, we came across other reminders of the show. The General Store is there, where Ruth Anne offered citizens various staples, and more importantly, her sage advice. Today the store provides souvenirs and a selection of wines and still has friendly merchants. The gift shop in town is identifiable as Dr. Joel Fleishmann’s medical clinic, with his name still inscribed on the front window. The set for the KBHR Radio station, owned by Maurice’s Minnifield Communications, still exists. The radio broadcasting gear is just as it was when the TV crews pulled out of town. It doesn’t take much to imagine Chris Stevens, the DJ and ex-felon, at the microphone offering his philosophical tidbits in the morning.
Just next to the Roslyn Cafe I found the local historical museum with a knowledgeable hostess. I learned there were 24 ethnic and fraternal cemeteries established by the folks who built the town of Roslyn between 1886 and the point of maximum population of 3,000 in 1920. Many of the miners were recruited from eastern Europe and an African American group migrated north as well. Don’t you think cemeteries tell stories too? These sounded unique and were just a few blocks outside town. Sure enough, there are graveyards covering several hills and signs explaining the background of each one. But the divisions weren’t apparent. They all blend into each other, seemingly making one large resting place, just as the variety of people who came together to make the town. It seemed that the real people of Roslyn were somewhat similar to the mix of folks who made up the fictional town of Cicely. Everybody has a unique story, but everybody can relate.
See you later.