Through no fault of my own, I was born in Los Angeles. But I got over it. And I got out. I was born a fisherman, but the only way an angler can endure life in Los Angeles is to wear one of those Valium-on-a-Rope bars around your neck so you can lick it while stuck in traffic. I'm told relief is on the way for those West Side commuters all jammed up between Tacoma and the I-90 off ramp these days. Starbucks is going introduce a new coffee: a Triple Thorazine Mocha.
With the hot breath of the paving machine on the back of my neck, I escaped from L.A. and headed north by northwest in search of trout streams and an education, in that order. I stopped off at a couple of universities to pick up degrees (Utah State and WSU) and then, one day, drove from Pullman to Spokane in search of Mexican food.
In 1965, I didn't find any quality enchiladas, but I did find one helluva city. I'd never seen a city like Spokane. For one thing, you could get in and out of it in less than 20 minutes and keep all your marbles. Standing on a bridge and looking down into the river that runs through it, I watched a trout rise. A trout! Georgians love to say that when they die they don't want to go to heaven, they want to go to Atlanta. But that's only because they've never been to Spokane. Here was a city with a river in its pocket.
Some who know me say I am obsessed with fishing. I do not deny it. I have tinkered around with several obsessions in life, but fishing is the only one that has worked out. Most of the others didn't give me the high I needed. When I was a lad, I didn't so much catch my first little rainbow trout so much as it caught me. The headline in my head screamed: TROUT CATCHES BOY! I have never been the same since, nor wanted to be.
So imagine my reaction at seeing trout rising in a river in the middle of a city. I was like a junkie accidentally locked up overnight in a drugstore. After moving to Cheney (closer to the lakes), and with my Spokane office only two blocks from the river, there were many spring days when I earned perfectly good wages while dreaming about fishing instead of listening to my patients. (I practiced as a psychotherapist for 30 years and paid attention to my customers most of the time.)
A fishing buddy once asked me, "How can you sit and listen to people's problems all day with hungry trout rising only two blocks away?"
In an unguarded moment, I blurted, "Who listens?"
The only way out of this ethical dilemma was to stop seeing troubled people during the fishing season and take up with the trout. I began to pack a rod and a pair of waders in the trunk of my car. I kept my work schedule open from noon till two and, in good weather, developed a reputation for "disappearing" from the office for a couple of hours. Sometimes coming back, my hair would be a little wild and my tie askew. Several of the receptionists who kept my appointment book spread it around that I was having an affair. Grateful for the flattery, I didn't bother to correct them.
For people born and raised in Spokane, the river that turns and swirls and flows and falls through the heart of the city may not seem like much. You don't hear people bragging about it. You don't see them playing it up, building it up and raising it up in the minds of strangers as I'm sure the ancient Spokanes once did — and still do, come powwow time. Perhaps when you're born in heaven you don't notice the streets are made of gold.
New Yorkers may lunch long on rare beef and martinis, Los Angelenos may idle away midday swigging Perrier in open air cafés on Rodeo Drive, but only in Spokane can citizens break for lunch, reach into their back pocket and pull out a river to fish or float or walk along while holding hands and dreaming... about a river too beautiful to believe.
Publication date: 06/05/03