A trip to potato country brings an experience that steps away from Las Vegas excitement
For Spring Break, I decided to take a trip to a place that was out of the ordinary. More importantly, I had to go to a certain kind of place where I could empty my mind and relieve myself from all the stress I’ve accumulated this semester. So, I thought of my friend’s place in Moscow, Idaho. “It’s quiet, tiny and cold,” said Randall Gunn, a native Las Vegan and long-time friend of mine. I’d never been to potato country before, but I imagined that anywhere would be better than Vegas for a few days. Little did I know just how quiet, tiny and cold it would be in this part of the country.
As I was making my way through McCarran Airport, I was reminded of why I was glad to leave town. The place was riddled with college students returning to their universities since Spring Break was coming to an end, on top of the usual tourist types that come to Sin City on a regular basis. The hallway I had to walk down to get through security was filled with the scent of cheap Victoria Secret perfume, Axe and a slight hint of booze. I was so glad when I got on the plane and escaped a group of students who couldn’t have been older than 21. They’d been making small talk about the usual pop culture news bites and how Las Vegas was the best idea for a vacation that they had ever had.
When I got out the Spokane Airport, I had a taxi take me to the Greyhound bus terminal. On the way over, the driver reminded me that the bus ride would be an hour and half — plenty of time to take in the open Podunk plains. As he was talking, I took a good look at the Spokane, Wash. area. The town is a kind of a flashback to those old, late 1940s/1950s All-American small towns you see in the movies: lots of old style mom and pop shops, hardware stores, lots of buildings made out of bricks, etc. When the taxi reached the bus terminal, the driver told me, “Be careful. There are a lot of weirdos in these parts.” I smiled and said that I would be on my guard. Little did I know that he had a point; the Greyhound terminal was a sketchy place to be waiting for a bus. Thankfully, I was able to get on the bus without any issue. On the ride over, I reread Hunter S. Thompson’s essay “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” On the inside I was secretly hoping to have a “gonzo” experience. Out of the ordinary things are bound to happen, even in small towns.
A few stops later I arrived in Moscow where Randall was waiting for me at the bus stop. We were talking about me coming to visit before but I struck out twice for one reason or another. I figured the third time would be the charm and I managed to book a flight for cheap when I came back from Istanbul. Since I arrived late at night, the local bus stopped running so we took the long way back to his apartment. As we walked down Main Street, we passed the store he works at called Hodgin’s Drug and Hobby store. It was a small store with a large display of toys and a large blue neon sign that said “pharmacy” on the back wall on the inside.
I asked if there was anything else in town one can do for fun, but fun things to do were on short supply. Randall told me, “In one night you can see the town.” That didn’t sound good to me at first, but when I asked about the bar scene, he said that he likes to go to the more quiet places. Not a bad idea since the town was infested with mostly 21-and-under people, making the most of their purgatory in this tiny environment.
The most fun I had was going out with Randall and his roommate, David Lee, to a bar on Main Street called Mingles to play pool. It was a simple hick bar, with some biker types smoking cigarettes outside and cracking jokes. The worst part was the music. The mix of Nicki Minaj, bad classical music and random one-hit wonders from the ‘90s made it the worst iPod shuffle in the history of the world.
When it came time for the drinking, I decided to go native: whiskey sours, whiskey shots and lots of beer. In between rounds of pool, I spent time people watching, mainly at the kinds of girls that were coming and going into the bar. I had a few days left and I had to find out what the story was with this place. When I asked David before I left for the airport what his thoughts on this town were, he said, “the town is crawling with 21-andunders and it gets old. You can’t go anywhere on a Friday night. If you live here, it’s totally different. When you’re in school you have more free time … sometimes. Unless you’re working; it’s uncomfortable to meet new people.”
As I sat in the airport waiting to leave Spokane, I felt a sense of irony as I thought about my whole experience. I remember what someone told me about the book version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Just like the “American Dream” didn’t make it past Vegas, I felt that the town was so tiny, it was to the point of suffocating. I saw a place that was a wasteland, like what David described. Everything in that 6.85 square mile radius was full of wandering potatoes waiting to be harvested.