How do you break up with a place?
How about Seattle? I woke up one day and everything I loved in our city-home had been demolished. The place that raised me for half my life had basically packed my bags for me. Luckily, I landed someplace better. And now my old hometown of Arlington, Virginia is Amazon’s new frontier. There’s no going home again.
There are places that I can never visit again, yet they will never leave me. My doomed beach property, my great-aunts’ house. I always knew they were perishable. My photographs are proof of them, and a comfort. I remember their musty, friendly smells.
Washaway Beach has always been complicated.
I bought 3 lots there, with an old boyfriend, in 2002. There, on that land we knew wouldn’t last, we built a compound of trailers and shacks that was, to us, magical. It lasted until 2014, longer than our relationship. Washaway Beach was a place that made me feel something. Of course, I am notorious for feeling things.
I got the Airstream in 2004 for $400 from some junk-collecting friends with a penchant for scrap metal in Grayland. A young guy had mysteriously died in it. It needed some serious work. You can read the strange story in my blog post, “Birds of Prey.”
By 2012 the ominous Washaway Beach falling-into-the-ocean nip was in the air. My local friends, my Hosts, offered to put the Airstream, the hippest and most labor-intensively, expensively restored of our three trailers, on their property, for safekeeping and as a cool guest cottage for them. Were it not for their generosity, it would not live today. Despite later complications, I will always be grateful. Local legend Les Strange moved it those few blocks to their place with his pickup at top speed. It made it.
In December 2014 my property did, indeed, fall into the ocean. I always stayed in my ancient and beautiful Vagabond trailer. That’s a place I visit in my mind to keep it alive. I hired Les Strange again to move the Vagabond to the seemingly-less doomed 3rd lot of my three lots. “May we be gypsy wagons,” I wrote, “transient as the beach itself.”
Gypsy Wagon Fail. The Vagabond broke. The hitch broke off, about 10 feet onto the road. Then people came and trashed it. Shot holes in it, broke windows, broke in, peeled off the golden paneling. Why would you destroy something that someone had loved, shortly before it falls into the ocean? Is there really nothing left to lose? I took the windows and doors off the Cookhouse to convenience the thieves. You can’t rip me off if I give it all away.
It hurt. Badly. All of it. Losing my sanctuary, losing my fearlessness, having everything either ripped off or trashed. It also clearly indicated that what sucks about Washaway Beach is not the ocean’s wrath, but its people.
The grief and loss of my compound was greatly softened by having the Airstream already tucked in at the home of my Hosts. The Host is a great guy, a good egg, handy and generous. He built me an awning and an outhouse and ran power to the trailer. He was always more than willing to help.
The Hostess is an artist, and she and I share many similar interests, yet have very different personalities and styles of communication. She is funny, but with a prickly manner, a coldness I ascribe to Michigan. She would routinely make blunt, insensitive remarks that often seemed disrespectful, even hurtful. She called me the “Queen of Unemployment,” then wanted to know how to apply.
“She doesn’t mean to be mean,” my love explained. “She’s just not nice.”
A Guest is beholden. In recent years, on my beach visits, it seemed that the Hostess was almost always in a bad mood. Was it personal, or just the daily travails of a princess?
In an effort to ingratiate myself I made a point to come bearing gifts, every time: nice bread from the city, tomatoes from my garden, gazpacho, birthday cake, Jim Beam. My goal was to be the most generous and low-maintenance Guest ever.
“Hey, can we talk? We’ve had a good run. Nothing personal, but we’d like our privacy and this back corner of the yard back. What do you think about moving it? How can we help? Give it some thought. Let’s have some cake and adult beverages.” That would’ve been a diplomatic way to bring up moving the Airstream. This did not happen.
It was August and we were tarping the Airstream on a fine summer day. I had just bought $200 worth of new tarps, at the Host’s (correct) suggestion, to batten it down for the winter from leaks, planning for the future.
“So,” Hostess asked, as we worked on our project on a golden afternoon. “What are you gonna DO with this thing?”
“Do?’ I asked. I didn’t understand the question. “We’re tarping it,” I said, by way of explanation.
“It’s been eight years. It’s time,” she said, and said that she wanted it moved “by spring.”
I was shocked by the out-of-nowhere timing, the tactlessness, her careless summoning of the old gypsy wagon Washaway dread, and the fact that I’d just brought her a very nice goddamn cake for her 60th birthday.
- Will it move? Ancient, beloved trailers have been known to break.
- How would it move?
- If it moves, where to?
- If it breaks, what then?
Good thing I had that corporate gardener job, whose HR department taught me phony but effective phrases.
“I am sensitive to your concerns,” I said. “We’ll be looking for property.”
It was only half bullshit, as I AM sensitive.
So we started looking for property. Our friend Steph, a real estate agent, had some ideas around here on the peninsula. Elfendal Pass. Toanados Peninsula. Dabob Bay. Tahuya. All fun names to say.
We checked out assorted “vacant land” and found something beautiful in Tahuya, on the north side of Hood Canal. 2.5 acres of mostly ravine. Through the ancient trees, you can see the sparkle of the water. The serenity, privacy and beauty are intoxicating. We found some land that makes you feel something.
A friend told me about a company called U-Ship, where truckers with trucks look for side jobs. I ran an ad, posted decrepit photos of the Airstream, explained the fragility, flat tire and rusty hitch, the need for a flatbed.
I got a response!
I emailed the trucker, and reiterated the fragility, the fear and the sadness of having trailers break.
“I have faith,” the trucker replied, “that we can move this easily and safely.”
On a trip in December to move out some nonessentials, I had a run-in with the Hostess.
“What are your plans?” she pressed. She was seemingly trying to pick a fight. It was not helpful.
“They’ll never get a truck down here,” she insisted. “It’ll never move.” And then there was the matter of the Airstream needing to be moved out through the neighbor’s lot, due to the Hosts’ zealous fencing.
“You’ll mess up the neighbor’s grass!” she cried. “He’s my Facebook friend!”
“Too bad,” I said. “Do you want this thing moved or not?”
She went storming off. I was touched that I had never known about her caring sensitivity and concern for the neighbor and his grass, after all these years, taking, as it were, priority over helping out an old friend like me.
I quickly remembered that money greases all wheels. I contacted the Facebook Friend-Neighbor (FFN) and offered him $100 for grass seed and to soften the blow of general inconvenience. He was keen. He is a reasonable person. He would drop off the key to his gate. We had a nice chat.
I don’t know why she thinks FFN is her new BFF. During our conversation FFN and I had some catty good fun at her expense.
Todd and I rented a U-Haul and got everything out of the Airstream. U-Haul is only 24 hour rentals now, so we drove 3 hours, unloaded 24 ft. of heavy stuff into a 15 ft. trailer, drove home 3 hours, unloaded it, returned the truck. It was exhausting, expensive, and overwhelming. But it did not rain, and I’m grateful we did it. We got everything out.
“Think about everything bad that can happen,” my buddy V advised, while suggesting getting supplemental insurance. (Ultimately, I didn’t). “It could be dangerous. A part could fly off. someone could be hurt. You could be sued.”
He had a gig on a movie set a few years back, and was tasked with driving a box truck to a marina for a delivery in the very early morning hours. He fell asleep at the wheel.
“You’re just jumpy because you drove a truck into a boat,” I teased.
“It was six or seven boats,” he replied.
“I’d like to see it taken further.” Throw around this handy phrase and save yourself a trip to art school! Obviously, I needed to take my worrying further, though it has been proven not to change the outcome.
As our move drew near, I was brained by anxiety. Sleepless, heart-pounding, brain-racing nights led to stressful days. I cried. I threw up. I hyperventilated. I had chest pains. I noticed I was doing this conspicuous, involuntary, annoying loud sighing. “HUH!” I remembered having made this noise before, and I suddenly remembered:
This is grief!
And why not? I’ve been going to the area since 1993. I bought my Washaway compound in 2002. I have beach keys, a beach purse, beach hat, beach boots, dedicated beach-walking socks with permanent sand. Why wouldn’t this hurt, again?
I knew that if I had to deal with being bullied by the Hostess during the move that my head would explode. I requested her absence, and my wish was granted.
It must be noted that our Host, once again, meanwhile, was going out of his way to help, weedwhacking FFN’s blackberry brambles that were in the way, borrowing an air compressor to try, but sadly, fail, to inflate the broken tire, taking down fencing. He was a true diplomat between warring factions. A rare breed.
Deep in Washaway, on February 9, Mustard Seed Trucking showed up. They are a husband and wife team that have worked together for 40 years.
When I worked in building salvage, we had what we called “the Chatter”, whereby, using a secret language with coworkers, you could move very heavy things through excellent communication.
“Tip it up.” “Tabletop.” “Vertical.” “Rotate.” “STOP!”
Mustard Seed’s trucking Chatter was evolved to the point of telepathy. Tracy drove the massive truck. Curt was outside, talking his magical Zen Chatter. It was astonishing to witness.
“Turn left 2 inches.”
“Hard right all the way.” And there Tracy was, right precisely where my rusty hitch needed to be to connect to the ball of the truck.
It made frightening and terrible sounds as it began to roll, creaking and cracking.
I think I was either in shock, or in some kind of sleep deprived trance, but it was like watching a brilliant chef, or like watching Regnor throw a beautiful pot out of clay on the wheel. The undeniable presence of mastery, a lifetime’s work. “Wow,” I said, to no one in particular. “Wow,” as Tracy rolled the Airstream, its flat tire shredded like the fringe of a go-go dancer, in reverse up the ramp of the flatbed.
“You are artists!” Todd shouted.
They demurred to have us follow them to Tahuya. “We need some coffee,” Curt explained. So, sadly, we did not get to follow them while singing the 1978 hit “We’re in a trucker’s convoy! Ain’t she a beautiful sight!”
As a consolation prize, we went to Big Bubba’s in Shelton and got burgers, fries and shakes. “We earned this!” I declared, sucking down my 3,000-calorie peanut butter shake.
110 miles later, Mustard Seed arrived in Tahuya. Our property is 700 ft. up a very, very steep, narrow hill. For those wondering if/ when I’m going to fall into the ocean again, I say “NOT TODAY!”
I had delegated part of my worrying nights wondering how the trailer, if, having survived all other initial perils: breakage, wheels breaking, hitches breaking, crumbling rust, parts flying off on the freeway, hurting someone, getting sued, after all that, how would it make up that last leg of the journey, going up that very, very steep, serious hill?
Masterfully. Tracy and Curt unloaded it off the flatbed on the scary hill, hitched it to the pickup and pulled the truck and trailer in. Then they needed to do a multi-point U-turn. One of many tricky maneuvers for the day. Our 2.5 acres are mostly ravine.
I’m going to drive off the cliff,” Tracy protested.
“No,” Curt said. “You’re not.”
They got the Airstream set on the new property, and spent time carefully finessing its parking, much longer than I would have. I tipped them $100, which Curt tried to refuse.
“Guess I’m buying her a nice dinner,” Curt conceded.
“That was a miracle,” I said as we drove home.
“Mustard Seed,” Todd mused. Think they’re religious?”
It did sound familiar, so I checked. It’s from the book of Matthew.
“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.”
Well, that’s a mighty good ad for a trucking company.
I’m sure I’ll go back to Washaway Beach now and again. I have some nice friends with a cabin there. What’s different is that there’s nothing of mine left anymore. I wonder if, as with my vanished old property, I’ll keep wandering around the grounds where there’s nothing, looking for me.
The sign to the woods by my childhood home in Virginia used to say, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but tracks.” Maybe it still does.
There are new adventures afoot. Join me.