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July 02, 2007

Los Gatos (home) vs Road Trip: Part One, Spokane (this is part 1 of a 3 part series on our recent road trip to the northwest, with reflections about the difference between life in Silicon Valley and San Jose/Los Gatos and points north) Recently my family and I took a 10 day road trip to the Pacific Northwest. As with many vacations, it was great to get away – and it is great to be home. Jim and I love to travel, and so do our kids, but each time we do so, we also return with a renewed appreciation as to why we love to live in Los Gatos. Today I’ll share with you a little about our trip, and also a little about how this reflects back on our experience here in The Cats. Gonzaga University sign, Spokane, WAThe trek north had a few purposes: (1) to show our teenage kids a half-dozen or so colleges and universities (2) to expose them to a part of the US they’ve never seen (they’ve been all over the east coast) (3) to see some folks we’ve missed a long time and (4) just to get away. Itinerary: Spokane, Seattle, Portland, and Ashland. Jim’s working at starting up his own firm (semiconductor market research), and he stayed home the first few days of the journey and worked while the kids and I put about 1400 miles on the car driving to Spokane and then Seattle, where he flew in to join us. It’s a 2 day drive, about a thousand miles, from Los Gatos to Spokane and as we began the journey, I popped on a Willie Nelson CD: “On The Road Again“. The kids groaned…they laughed a little, but mostly they groaned. What was a two day car ride (with a stop near Eugene, OR) going to be like? Desert flower in Eastern Washington. Photo by Mary Pope-HandyDriving to Spokane basically means going to Portland, cutting across the stateline while following the Columbia River through The Dalles, then veering northeasterly through tremendously dry, eastern Washington toward Spokane, which is tucked into the northeastern corner of the state. Eastern Washington is indeed semi-arid and desertlike and in late summer there can be duststorms when the bare earth is kicked up by winds. Those duststorms are as thick as fog but nastier in which to breathe. There are miles and miles of rolling hills of “dry wheat” farms – that is, non-irrigated wheat farms. There are hardly any trees or creeks. Towns are small. The bugs are many. It’s been 25 or so years since I last did the Spokane drive when my brother, sister, and I attended Gonzaga University in Spokane. (And my great-grandparents were married at the parish church next to Gonzaga University, St. Aloysius. And my uncles went to school up there too so there’s a lot of family history connected with the area.) The bugginess and dryness of the area truly made me appreciate how lush is our Santa Clara Valley, and especially the Santa Cruz Mountains with the rich redwood trees and the ocean so close by. Even in our driest years, we are a sub-tropical climate, not a desert one. Seeing and staying with an old friend and his daughter in the tiny town of Ritzville (a small,2000 person place, self-described as a “second class city”) was a lot of fun. They spoiled us rotten and we had a great time visiting there. Looking out from the front porch at the houses and wheat silos, my youngest exclaimed how unreal it was. Truly, this was not a typical Los Gatos view. Spokane Clock Tower, June 22, 2007. Photo by Mary Pope-Handy.My car liked it so well it would not start as planned to make it to the tour at Gonzaga the next morning and had to be towed the hour from Ritzville to Spokane. Happily, the car only needed a battery. Unhappily, I did not have the AAA extended towing plan, so that was one expensive battery! (We missed the tour but I knew the campus fairly well so showed them through myself.) There are many good things to be said about life in the city of Spokane (and attending school there). Spokane is much more lush than the miles of rolling wheat fields to the south, and there’s a large, gorgeous park along the Spokane River where a World’s Fair was held in the 1970s. Riverfront Park features places to walk, cycle, and so on but also includes ice skating in winter, kiddie rides in summer, a delightful merry-go-round (built in 1909), a gondola ride over the Spokane Falls, an Imax Theater, a huge water fountain that kids can stand in and play under, and on and on. Spokane offers some beautiful architecture, both in homes and churches and othe places. Additionally, the downtown has some great shops and is quite nice with indoor bridges linking one tall building with another against the freezing winters and the warm – if late – summers. Skiing is not too far away at Mount Spokane. Coeur d’Alene Idaho is only 30 minutes east (a lovely resort town on a lake) for boating, golfing and more. And here’s the kicker: Spokane is an affordable city. So there are a lot of reasons why someone might want to move to, and stay in, Spokane. When I moved to Spokane in 1977 I experienced a little bit of culture shock.The regional focus is farming, not high tech. I recall vividly listening to the news on my first day in Spokane as a college freshman. The lead story was about wheat futures. I felt like Toto hearing “we’re not in Kansas anymore”. The ocean was far away. The area was not terribly diverse (to be blunt, it seemed that most everyone was of Irish or Italian descent. Where was the rest of humanity?) The weather was an adjustment too. Winter came early and stayed long. But I should have expected that – it’s a thousand miles north of where I grew up! No palm trees in Spokane! Spokane Falls (from Gondola Ride), Spokane WA. Photo by Mary Pope-HandyWe are spoiled living in Silicon Valley and Los Gatos especially. We are used to exceptional beauty (redwood trees, the bays, the beaches, the mountains for starters). We are accustomed to (and appreciate) a lot more cultural diversity than you will find in Spokane. We’ve got more opportunities here for “things to do” outdoors generally since our weather is so favorable most of the time (snow skiing is a little far away, I’ll grant you, though). This is a place where it’s sunny 300 days year. And oh, the high tech that goes on here. . . . But it sure is affordable in Spokane, and more so in its suburbs. Homes there cost 20-20% what they cost here. Spokane is the kind of place where I just won’t look at the homes magazines or ads. I just don’t want to know. And having lived through three very long Spokane winters, I know that no matter how affordable or lovely it is in that fair town, it’s just not home for me. It was a great place for college, though, so I’m glad my kids were able to see and explore at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, and to experience rural Washington first hand. I’d be happy to lend them to Spokane for three or four years. I know they’ll never forget this trip … or a longer stay. It was great to go. And it’s great to be home. Tomorrow: Seattle (and Los Gatos).