A noteworthy eBook before I return to my vacation ranting
No Direction Home
I mentioned a Mike Sheridan eBook I'd read and enjoyed last year, Winter's Edge. Winter's Edge is a post-apocalyptic novel set deep into the post-apocalypse. This week I finished reading another Mike Sheridan eBook, No Direction Home, and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed this story every bit as much as Winter's Edge, and probably even more because it wasn't set in a fictional, no matter how likely or real-feeling, future, but the scary-enough present.
The characters are fairly well-developed, the prose flows well, and the editor did a good job. There were a few clumsy passages here and there, but it is, overall, a well-written book - something that's pretty hit-and-miss with many eBooks I've read.
There's another semi-apocalyptic eBook story, Race Wars by DW Ulsterman that I mentioned a while back which is similar in many ways to No Direction Home, but the underlying premise for the horrific events in each story is completely different so don't be dissuaded from reading No Direction Home if you've read Race Wars (which is an on-going story that I've lost some interest in because of its odd a-few-chapters-at-a-time release schedule). Premise-wise, this story is also very similar to The Last ship TV series, though No Direction Home is told from the perspective of civilian survivors, not those in the military who are relatively safely isolated from the diseased population centers.
No Direction Home follows several groups of people (this is the primary similarity to Race Wars), ranging from wide-eyed and innocent to vicious and horrible, as they deal with an Ebola-on-steroids illness labelled "vPox" that wipes out most of the population of the United States. We're left unsure of just how badly the rest of the world has been affected by the quickly-spreading illness, though a few of the characters are European visitors to the U.S. (Jonah, probably my favorite character, seems a more authentic version of my mental image of Mad Sweeney than we're getting in the American Gods adaptations). Our protagonists are a handful of the tiny percentage of immune people in the population who are not affected by the illness. Similar to The Walking Dead and One Second After (mentioned briefly last year), the events in this story take place in the southern U.S./southeast U.S. states. No Direction Home is very much like the later seasons of The Walking Dead, where zombies have almost become an afterthought and it's just survivor on survivor crime in a world full of stuff, ripe for the taking (another common theme in The Walking Dead). We see the best and the worst in people who find themselves in a world without rules or any grown-ups who will tell them no.
Here's a passage with my favorite character not long after the world falls apart...
Jonah and Colleen walked north up Kirkman Road. They were on their way back to the Sun Ray after spending the past hour in the Publix supermarket. Each wheeled a large trolley in front of them, laden with the provisions they would need for their journey.
Many of the stores they passed had been looted, though most still looked to have plenty of stock left inside. It indicated to Jonah just how few survivors there must be. Earlier, he'd glimpsed a few of them scurrying across the deserted streets. Most appeared to be on their own, a few in pairs. Some wore surgical masks, who Colleen surmised mightn't be immune to the disease but rather had barricaded themselves in their homes to avoid it.
On the way to the supermarket, however, he'd spotted a group of four men that had turned down a side street and disappeared from view. Something about the way they'd strutted down the middle of the road made him wary. Jonah could recognize a skanger a mile away, and he was thankful that, with their backs to him and Colleen, they hadn't spotted the couple. Colleen was right. Tomorrow, their top priority would be to get to a gun shop and arm themselves. In the meantime, in his shopping cart was a baseball bat he'd grabbed from a sports store along the way. A Louisville Slugger, the label said. Sounded good to him.
"Another thing, love," he said, their trolleys rattling noisily down the street. "When we leave town, let's head north. I want to get someplace where I'm not sweating like a pig twenty-four hours a day. Agreed?"
Sadly, the story ends before much has happened beyond bringing all the divergent groups together into a common location in Tennessee. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, Eastwood (which we are treated to a brief taste of at the end of No Direction Home). There's also a excised chapter available for free from the author, which provides background on vPox - along with another post-apocalyptic novel, Outzone Raider - which I haven't read (the excised chapter or Outzone Raider).
Warning: There is a fair bit of profanity in this book - the thugs communicate as thugs do - and a light dusting of sexual content, though nothing graphic. This isn't really a book for children, though I'm sure teens with an interest in post-apocalyptic survival would enjoy it.
We started our first full day of exploring Astoria with a trip to the Flavel House museum (pronounced "Fluh-vell" if you want to avoid sounding like a knucklehead...as I did). From the exterior, it looks an awful lot like Disenyland's Haunted Mansion, minus all the graves and mausoleums on the grounds. On the inside, it also looks an awful lot like the Haunted Mansion - or at least what the Haunted Mansion would look like if it was a real place and you could get off the ride and wander around.
There's a video in the Flavel House Carriage house that gives you background7 on the Flavel family and especially George Flavel, the patriarch of the family. As for the house, the one part of the house that is off-limits is the tower that George used to climb up inside to spy on everything and everyone in town. It's still there, but it's roped off (so I guess you could get up there if you were rebellious enough). The museum house is a little pricey for what you actually get at $6 a head, but is still an interesting piece of history to explore. I'd recommend checking it out if you find yourself in Astoria.
Here are some photos of the exterior of the Flavel House museum. It's pretty spooky.
And here are a few photos of the interior of the Flavel House museum. It would be a spooky place to stay the night, but the craftsmanship of everything in this house is super-impressive. They certainly don't put anywhere near the same effort into building now that they did back in the late 1800s.
After the Flavel House, we headed over to the Bridgewater Bistro11 for some lunch. There aren't a ton of fast-food places in Astoria, so you'll probably be eating in a lot of real restaurants during your stay. The Bridgewater Bistro was a much more upscale restaurant then the previous night's venue. There is a ton of seating and pretty much all the seats have a great view of the water and the Astoria-Megler bridge that crosses the Columbia River (more about that in a minute). The food was delicious. I only had a cheeseburger and fries...but man, was that a cheeseburger! All the ingredients are locally sourced and you can really taste the difference. Emeli had a cheeseburger with a gluten-free bun and said she couldn't tell the difference from a normal bun. her bun did actually look like a normal bun, unlike most of the crumbly, dry, horrible gluten-free breads we've seen. Satiated, we continued our explorations.
Astoria actually has a couple of theaters. One, in the middle of downtown , apparently only has one screen and plays older movies. The other, on the eastern side of town, is newer and has multiple screens. This is the theater we set out for to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, a fine piece of cinematic fare. I'd blather on about the movie, but there's still too much trip-related blathering to be done...
After the movie, we set out to see a few more things before it got too dark to really appreciate them. First, we headed over to the Oregon Film Museum (yep, it's a real thing), which is pretty much just a Goonies museum with just a few non-Goonies points of interest. Unfortunately, it had already closed for the day, so we had to postpone that adventure for the following day. We decided to go check out the shops in Astoria's little downtown area and discovered that by this time (almost 5pm) pretty much every shop on the main street was closed. We found a music shop (instruments), a used book store, and an arcade/comic book store that looked like fun...alas, 'twas not to be. And on top of everything being closed, it was raining. So we were getting a little damp.
We did finally find a bookstore that was still open and popped in to see if there was anything of interest to be found. Man, I've never been anywhere that was more infested with the stench of hippies. From the incense (both in use and for sale) to the hippy posters stuck to the ceiling, it was thoroughly hippified. We looked around for a few minutes, but none of us really found anything worth picking up, so we headed back out into the now-non-rain on a quest to find some ice cream.
We'd parked near a shop with both "ice cream" and "chowder" painted on the columns beside the front door, so it wasn't a very auspicious beginning. Once we were inside the shop, we realized out initial instincts were correct - this place was even more hippy-stench-filled than the bookstore. We backed out slowly (never turn your back on a hippy, if you know what's good for you), and set out again.
We discovered Frites & Scoop just down the road. It was definitely a much cleaner and much-less hippy-infested ice cream shop. We were offered multiple samples of different flavors with fancy little metal spoons at the proprietor's insistence. And they were all amazing, but I settled on Hokey Pokey (the girls each had something different). I didn't try a frite, so I don't know how those were, but they were probably delicious.
Our next destination was the Astoria Column. So we drove up the crazy winding road through cool neighborhoods full of both interesting and haunted-looking houses. At the top of the hill, we could see in every direction for miles. the tower was another 125 feet above the level of the parking lot, but nobody seemed interested in climbing the 164 step spiral staircase to the top, so we didn't see anything from the tip-top of the column. On the way back down, we saw some wildlife.
I almost forgot about one of our movie-related stops. On our way up to ther Astoria Column, we drove past the elementary school used in Kindergarten Cop and took a few photos. It is, apparently, a real school that's full of real...well, kids.
We were trying to see everything else from our list of "Amazing things to see in Astoria" before it got dark, so we drove around looking for the Doughboy monument, but couldn't find it8. As we circled around looking for it, we decided to drive across the Astoria-Megler bridge into Washington. A word about the Astoria-Megler bridge - I don't usually get nervous driving over bridges, but this one had me feeling a little on edge. This sucker is tall. And narrow. And scary, at least until you get about halfway across the 4-mile bridge and it drops down to water level. Man, that would be a bad place to be when the tsunami hits9.
There wasn't a whole lot to see on the Washington side of the bridge. Mainly just trees and mossy dock piles (without the docks) and abandoned boats pulled up on the bank of the Columbia. But on the way back to the bridge (after driving down the road for a few miles with nothing new to see, we decided to turn back) we found the Dismal Nitch! And a couple of dismal hoboes sleeping against the wall of the Dismal Nitch restroom.
As far as the Dismal Nitch goes, it's basically a cove where Lewis & Clark were stuck for weeks because they couldn't get past it. It would have been pretty impassable back in the day with no roads, a lot more trees and the wrong weather, fer sure. Yeah history!
The boats on the Astoria side were in much better condition (which is an unfair comparison, since there's an actual town there).
We returned to our Motel and Emeli entertained everyone in the Atomic Motel lobby for an hour or so. I suspect these performances were probably her favorite part of the trip.
Day seven: Oregon Explorations, day 3
Our final goal for Astoria - despite the long list of forts, shops, and the other museum we hadn't made it to yet - was the Oregon Film Museum. We had purchased an "all-access" pass to the three Astoria museums when we visited the Flavel House museum because it cost the same as admission to two of them anyway, and we knew we wanted to go to the Film Museum...so why not10?
As I mentioned, the Oregon Film Museum is pretty much just a Goonies museum with a few non-Goonies-related items. The museum itself is an old jail that was used to film the opening scenes of The Goonies. It's divided into three main sections: the hot sets, the jail cells, and the gift shop.
The hot sets were probably the most fun. There are three film sets and you get to film five takes of yourself using any of the sets. You pick a scene from different Astoria-filmed movies to read on the teleprompter - we picked scenes from Kindergarten Cop, The Shining, Point Break, and The Goonies. I can believe I didn't take a single photo of the hot sets. We were just having too much fun. Sadly, some of the scenes we filmed didn't record because we didn't know what we were doing. And the ones we did film are going into the vault and will never to be shared with anyone because they are so ridiculous. You can sign up to get an email with a link to all the videos you created (MOV format).
Two of the three jail cells were filled with Goonies memorabilia, and the other one you can go look around. The other room was filed with Goonies character cutouts and a Goonies arcade game. The gift shop had a bunch of Goonies stuff and a little bit of stuff from the other Astoria movies.
I was almost done with this long, monotonous sorory about our adventure, but then I realized this post is already a million miles long, so I decided to save the rest for the next post. That will be the end, I promise. And maybe I'll even mention a thing or two other than details of my Excellent Adventures on the PCH.
7 Speaking of background of the Flavel family, I was provided with a few interesting stories from Barb, at the Atomic Motel, when she was giving me a gigantic list of things to see. First was a story about George being 30 years older than his bride, who was 14 when he married her. The video in the Flavel Carriage house does admit to him being 20 years older which is still weird, but only just a little less weird than 30 years would be. The other story was about the son of George Flavel being nuts. He apparently went after his mother with a butcher's knife and notched the banister of the stairway as he was threatening her (but not in the Flavel house - this was in some other house). And had a crazy temper, killing a local and then escaping conviction by hiding out in Europe for many years. There was no mention of either at the Flavel museum, so who knows if they were true. But I like to think they were...
8 We actually did find it, but since I didn't know what I was looking for, we kept looking for something completely unlike what I thought I was looking for.
9 You will see a ton of signs all long the 101 through Oregon that warn you about being in a tsunami danger zone.
10 It's a great idea! Unless, of course, you don't have plans to spend more than one whole day in Astoria and don't make it to the museum before it closes the full day you're there. If you're a miser like me, you will force yourself to go to the museum on a day that you had planned to spend doing nothing more than driving...
11There's a bar or restaurant somewhere in Astoria (maybe it was the Bridegwater Bistro - I'm not sure) that is rumored to still have a trapdoor in the floor that was used by press gangs to shanghai people into the local fleets' crews. Legend has it that the room beneath this establishment is haunted and the locals will not willingly go into this space alone. Or at all, if they can help it.
When we last heard about our daring trio, they were on their way to the mythical land of Astoria...
Day five continued, still day one in Oregon After several more hours of driving though the never-ending greenery, we finally arrived in Astoria, Oregon - our northernmost destination. We had originally planned to go as far as Vancouver, but couldn't get passports in time so we scuttled the Washington/Canada part of the adventure.
We checked into our motel, The Atomic motel, and after chit chatting with the owners for a while, we went out to a restaurant they recommended. The food was okay (the fish was tasty, but deep-friend and too greasy for my empty stomach), but the floor of the restaurant was the real attraction. The restaurant is on piles over the water and had a small glass floor section with a viewing area of the water below. And lying on some boards above the water was a couple of Sea Lions. There was also a Sea Lion under the bridge we walked across to get into the restaurant, which was pretty cool.
I think the Atomic Motel deserves a brief description before I continue. Although it wasn't really comparable to the Best Western in Garberville, it was definitely the most unique place we stayed on our adventure. The whole place, from the lobby to the rooms, was decked out in a 1950's motif. The lobby has old TV shows playing on its big definitely-not-a-50s LCD TV. There are cut-outs of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra standing in the corner of the lobby. The furniture and colors are possibly more 60s than 50s, but definitely a page out of history. And there was a guitar on a stand in the lobby, which Emeli admired as we were checking in. The Managers/owners, Barb and Dan, encouraged Emeli to play a song when they saw her admiring it, so she spent quite a bit of time in the lobby entertaining everyone with the songs she knew by heart (or almost knew by heart - Blackbird was their favorite).
Emeli was enjoying our stay so much that when we returned to our room the first night, she asked if we could stay a second night. This is the only place we stayed for more than a single day and it's a good thing we did, because Astoria had a lot of cool stuff to explore that we would have missed if we had just been there a single day. We didn't even see it all with two days to explore. Barb gave us a map the night we arrived and highlighted (literally - she used a highlighter to note things on the map) all the most noteworthy things to see in and around town.
We didn't have time to see anything other than the Sea Lion restaurant (not its actual name) on the day we arrived in Astoria (it was later than it looks in the photos), so here are some photos of the things we saw on our drive along the Oregon coast to Astoria (and possibly a few from California - sometime it's hard to tell). We stopped and explored pretty much every beach we could find a pull-out for and also stopped several times in wooded areas just to snap pictures and marvel at nature.
I had really planned to finish blathering about our trip by now, but giving captions to all the photos, organizing the photos, remembering what we did, etc. is taking a lot of effort. I've never posted this much blather at one time other than maybe for ComicCon years ago (and that's a one or two day outing at most). So I'm going to stop with only one day chronicled. And pick up with day six later. There are a whole lotta photos of the many points of interest in and around Astoria, so that one's gonna be a bear to finish.