From Seattle to Shakespeare (Day 15)

Columbia River, from the iconic spot at the Red Lion Hotel, Hayward Island. Photo by Karin Kallmaker.

Technically, this part of our Left Coast Mosey is about traveling in Oregon from Portland to Ashland, but it sounded better to use two words starting with an S. I guess I could have called it Salem to Shakespeare, since Salem was our first stop, but the drive started at the Columbia River. As the skies cleared for a brief spot in the morning, we were finally able to take that river picture from our Portland-area hotel before setting out on this five-hour drive.

Also, in the interests of fair disclosure, Shakespeare represents the site of our destination, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, at the southern border of the state, but there will be no other mention of Shakespeare in this post. That may frustrate some, but will probably relieve many. Hash tag Not About Shakespeare.

Drive Time History

We have driven before from Seattle to northern California six or seven times, usually taking three days: Seattle to Portland, Portland to Medford, Medford to the Bay Area. It’s a twelve-hour drive in total, so it could be done in two long days, with a stop somewhere near Corvallis in Oregon, though that’s the perhaps the least interesting place to stop. Or the most picturesque, since it’s slightly more remote.

In the early nineteenth century, the Oregon Trail was forged by so many pioneers, who labored for six months to schlepp their household from Kansas or the Missouri River, over the Rockies, then north through the Cascades or south through the Sierras. Most of the historical records talk about moving from the east to the western horizon, while few discuss the north-south corridor.

Still, that secondary route trailing north/south must have sprung up. Thousands of people were expanding into the Oregon Territory, from the “Spanish” lands of California, all the way to Alaska (the 54th parallel) in the 1820-1840s. Once gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in the California Valley, which gave birth to Sacramento where I spent my formative years, millions of “forty-niners” were drawn from around the world. Apparently, many even made their way cross-ocean, going through Panama or even around Cape Horn. It must have taken at least a few weeks to walk and lead a team of horses with the furniture and seeds if you were migrating down from Puget Sound. I-5 today makes that much easier.

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She Plays Sports, But…

Famed science fiction writer Joanna Russ once laid out the arguments against the value of women writers in a series of essays detailing typical criticisms of women’s work, which started with “She didn’t write it….” This list* came to mind as I pondered the discussion about the phenomenal achievement by the U.S. women’s soccer team in winning this year’s World Cup. With a nod to Ms. Russ, I offer my version of “She plays sports, BUT…”  Each time a complaint is leveled about women’s sports, women provide the answer, only to create a new variation of the “Yes, BUT…”  Call it, “She isn’t worth the sports money because…”

Kajmeister take-off of the famous litany by Joanna Russ: “She writes, BUT…”

The US Women’s National Team kicked ass every which way but Sunday, last Sunday. They want the adulation, respect, and money that goes with it. They’re getting the adulation, but the respect and money will be harder to get.

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Beat the Dictionary

In 1936, the winning word was eczema. In 1967 and 1970, the words were chihuahua and croissant, commonly viewed words in TV ads for Eucrisa, Taco Bell, or Burger King.

Somewhere along in the 2000s is when the spelling bee contestants stepped up their game so much that the words became more difficult, less recognizable. In 2003: pococurante. 2011: cymotrichous. 2017: marocain.

2019 spelling bee winners
The eight winners of the 2019 Scripps spelling bee, photo by Erik Lesser

In 2019, as you may already have heard, there were eight winning words because the 2019 Scripps Spelling Bee resulted in an eight-way tie. Just for the record, those words were Auslaut; erysipelas; bougainvillea; aiguillette; pendeloque; palama; cernuous; and odylic. I’d be surprised if you even recognize anything besides bougainvillea.

Social and technological changes have created a competition that seems otherwordly in difficulty, yet there are more ties and more winners than ever. Contestants hustle to cram as many words in practice as they can, use special computerized services, hire coaches, and reportedly spend 30 hours a week looking up the meanings of prospicience and antipyretic.

One question widely circulating is: Should we do anything about it?

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Courage is a Muscle

What doesn’t kill us make us stronger

–old adage sung recently by Kelly Clarkson
Wrestling kids from movie Fighting with  my Family
Wrestling teenagers from Fighting with My Family, photo at Rolling Stone

There’s a temptation with sports movies to call them derivative, Rocky knock-offs, as if Rocky invented the concept of striving, training, working past obstacles, and succeeding. All good sports stories—and today’s blog is about two of them—reflect life, which is striving, working past obstacles, building courage, and succeeding. Then struggling again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The key element to well-made movies about athletics isn’t just about the success at the end, but about the development of character by the participants along the way. How they get there is really the story. Two films I recently watched, 2011’s Best Documentary Undefeated and the recently-released Fighting With My Family, both did an exceptional job of demonstrating how this works.

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Beautician, Roller Derby Queen, Olympic Medalist: A Tribute to Earlene Brown

Earlene Brown 1956 Olympics
Earlene Brown at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, photo from Australian archives

When they make a movie about Earlene Brown, and surely someone must, the opening scene would be in a bowling alley, July 1964. Two immense women, one dark-skinned and the other pale-skinned, stand at the head of a lane, each gesturing at the ball and the pins. Both are laughing helplessly with wide, gap-toothed smiles; neither speaks the other’s language. Another older woman, small but wiry, comes up, speaking rapid Russian to her compatriot. She turns frequently to the other, asking in thick, broken English, “Here? Fingers in here?”

They all hold bowling balls as if they were oranges, tossing them abstractedly from palm to palm, seemingly weightless. The black woman explains and points. “Yeauh, yo thumb and these two heeah…” Her accent is a little Texas, a little southern Californian. She winds back and whizzes the ball down the lane; it slices through the ten pins, sweeping them up like dust off a broom.

The other tall one, Tamara Press of the U.S.S.R., awkwardly holds the twelve-pound ball downward, letting it hang from her fingers. Her wind-up looks the same, but when she lets the ball fly, it spins hard off the lane into the gutter, then into the wall, leaving a dent.

Of course, no record exists of this scene, when Olympic medalist Earlene Brown escorted her Soviet competitors from Tokyo through the Bowlarama in Compton. Yet a quartet of the world’s best shot putters at a bowling alley is fun to visualize, particularly if three are Soviet and the tour guide is African-American and speaks no Russian. Can’t you see the bowling alley owner, a grizzled little fella chomping a cigar, come out to protest the ding in his wall, only to run into the Soviet handlers–*coff KGB*? After all, Wikipedia notes out that Earlene’s tour of her Russian friends was “unsanctioned.”

Photo from Getty

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