Welcome Back

There’s a big hill right before you drive into the Wenatchee Valley on Highway 2/97. It stands out because up until that point  it’s a relatively flat drive after you leave the mountains behind at the Big Y.  The hotel at the top of the hill used to have a blonde gal diving off the side of the sign and into the pool. It’s a different hotel now, the main sign is still there, but no more bathing beauty—heard she got sold to a hotel down south, Yakima I think.

Warm Springs Inn on the Wenatchee River, just before the big hill.

Warm Springs Inn on the Wenatchee River, just before the big hill.

I’ve driven up this hill in at least twenty separate cars and it’s always a little different. In my ‘79 Toyota Tercel, you had to speed up then drop it into 3rd when the grade really took off. We drove it many times in Mike’s ‘82 Cruiser. Mike was a tall, thin guy who had a mop of curly brown hair and a hard cut jawline with one inch lamb chops.

There are two things I remember about Mike and that Cruiser. The first thing is that it had a major oil leak. When you drove it around a highway cloverleaf it got all over the engine and started chugging copious amounts of thick, black smoke from under the hood. The second thing is how Mike used to buy eight ounce, double Americanos at every possible occasion, top them up with cream and refuse to put a lid on the cup. He’d set those things on the center console, right behind the stick, fire up the engine and we’d hit the road. Land Cruisers are boxy, especially those older models; with a manual transmission they’re downright  jumpy.

Wenatchee's best coffee can be found downtown at Caffe Mela.

Wenatchee's best coffee can be found downtown at Caffe Mela.

So there I’d be, bouncing around with Mike and that Americano, expecting it to spill on my lap at any moment. But it never did. Not once. I don’t recall he ever spilled a drop. He’d just bounce along, lit up with a sparkle in his eye, head rolled back with a crazy toothy grin on his face, all the while knowing my apprehension as he defied physics with that damn Americano on the center console.

Anyway, when you drive up the hill you kind of expect to see something at the top, but it just levels off and you only catch glimpses of the city, here and there. You can see neighborhoods on some of the hills, but you really don’t see the town. Pretty soon the hotel is coming up on the right hand side and then in a heartbeat the world opens up. The Wenatchee Valley is sprawled out before you like an open book, ready for adventure.

On one particular day, just before the hotel, Mike turned to me and said something I’ll remember my whole life. “I’ve lived in Seattle a while now, but as soon as I’m over this hill I feel different - alive. There’s just something about this this place.”

“Yeah.” I thought, “That’s how I feel too.”