— August 12, 2012
Never overpromise when taking a trip
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
— Robert Burns
The dog days of summer usher in what has become for me a dreaded ritual — the August vacation. While others head out to the Oregon coast for brisk walks along the sandy shores of Cannon Beach, I prefer more pedestrian pursuits. Take, for instance, my trek last August to Lake Roosevelt with my wife, Leslie.
Despite detailed preparations, it turned into a bad reality TV show. I committed the No. 1 sin of vacation planning. I overpromised — guaranteeing fine dining and fantastic fishing.
While my late wife loved to camp along desolate stretches of Lake Roosevelt, Leslie’s idea of roughing it is to reserve a corner room at a four-star hotel with fluffy bathrobes and 24-hour room service.
I figured I had to find just the right spot for her. I set my sights on Seven Bays, a summer resort area with a marina and several housing developments along the southeast shores of Lake Roosevelt, some 60 miles from Spokane.
But where to stay at Seven Bays? With no plush resorts in the vicinity, I sat down at the computer and typed in four letters that every vacation planner has memorized: VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). In a minute I was scrolling through the amenities for a two-bedroom rental at Seven Bays. At $99 a night, it was a steal.
There was one hitch. It was a manufactured home. Would Leslie veto the rental? Though there was no mention of a bathrobe in the closet, Leslie lowered her standards. “OK, hit the buy button,” she said, her voice tinged with a note of resignation.
Our arrival to Seven Bays began on a high note. A party of six deer welcomed us. Leslie shrieked with delight. Not a bad way to start the vacation, I thought to myself.
That, sadly, was the high point.
Stepping inside the manufactured home was like walking into a time portal from Star Trek. It reeked of the 1970s. The only thing missing was the disco ball spinning wildly in the living room. What it didn’t lack were stuffed bears. They were everywhere.
Matters got worse the next day. Fishing proved challenging. We had more luck snagging the bottom of the lake than hooking a trout. During one of those snags, I somehow got the thin fishing line wrapped around my wristwatch. After uttering a string of curses, I turned off the motor. Not a good idea. Leslie’s line also got stuck on the bottom. Both fishing lines then snapped in unison.
In the face of such adversity, Leslie decided to pose for a photograph. She held up a bag of Goldfish crackers. That proved to be the closest we ever got to a fish at Lake Roosevelt.
Still determined to salvage our vacation, I decided to take Leslie to dinner. We learned from the clerk at Seven Bays marina that the only decent place to eat in the area was the Fort Spokane Restaurant. “It has great prime rib on Friday,” she exclaimed. I told her we were leaving on Thursday. She sighed and said, “Well, their hamburgers aren’t bad.”
That was good enough for me. After a short drive, we arrived at the restaurant, a dilapidated wooden building with a Bud Light logo in one window and a crude drawing of a bare-chested woman high above the entrance.
Inside we weaved our way down an aisle cluttered with bags of Doritos and canned Spam. We were met by a young man in his 20s, who greeted us with a smile and a story we found hard to follow and even harder to believe.
The young man said he was there with his older brother after a weeklong criminal trial. Apparently his brother had been involved in a terrible boating accident two years earlier on Lake Roosevelt. His brother and a friend were speeding along in a jet boat when they slammed into a huge rock. His brother was knocked unconscious and suffered busted ribs, punctured lungs and a crushed leg, which he eventually lost.
What happened to the other guy, I asked. He died, the young man said. That’s why there had been a trial, he said. The county prosecutor wanted to convict his brother of causing the death of his boating companion. But his brother had no memory of the fatal crash and no one could determine who was driving the boat at the time of the accident, the young man said. That’s why the jury set his brother free.
I felt like I was taking part in a therapy session, with the young man unburdening himself after weeks of anguish over his brother’s tragic accident and the ensuing trial. I stared down at a canister of Pringles potato chips that I was clutching in my right hand. What am I doing here, I asked myself. I put the Pringles back on the shelf and patted the young man on the shoulder. A smile returned to his face.
Leslie and I found a table at the back of the restaurant, on the other side of a partition where the young man had rejoined his brother.
Though we sat alone at our table, we had company. Above us hung the outstretched wings of a wild turkey and, on a shelf along the wall, a Canadian goose and a cougar, whose glassy eyes peered down at us.
After a half hour, the waitress delivered our order. A trail of smoke rose up from the sizzled meat. I bit into my hamburger and nearly lost a tooth. It had been charred beyond recognition.
“That’s him,” Leslie whispered, grabbing my arm.
Who, I asked, wondering why her eyes had bulged to the size of Walla Walla onions.
“The older brother,” she said.
Sure enough, there he was, skirting by our table in a tortured gait caused by his artificial leg.
“Great hamburgers,” he hollered to the cook.
I gazed up at the gobbler, its long neck stretching out over my plate. A thin strand of cobweb, which had clung to its yellow bill, suddenly broke loose and floated down, landing in my french fries.
Some vacation, I muttered to myself. I can’t even get a break from a stuffed turkey.