A Warm Summer Night
By the time we arrived at the log raft, it was nearly dark. I was squinting for a place to pull up to the outside boom when the fiberglass hull thudded three feet out of the water to announce our arrival. The lights from the port were just enough for the five of us to scramble out of the boat and haul the case of Olympia Beer across two acres of logs to the ‘party deck’. That was Steve’s job as he was the most athletic, and we stood by as he hopped the huge timbers both hands secure on the carton with an open eleven ounce ‘Stubby’ bottle held tightly between his teeth.
This was my third summer out of high school and classmates were dwindling away. This warm July night it was just me, Angela, Marcy, Mike and Steve, who we called Boo for no apparent reason. He was the only one of the gang that was over twenty-one. The others were behind us in school, and I was an age-delayed October baby. And so we sat on the logs in the middle of the bay away from the law and offshore from the uncertainties of the daunting real world we would sacrifice to once we grew up..
Summer memories in my hometown run deep. I can still hear the shriek of the mill whistles announcing the graveyard shift and feel the logs that would pitch and roll every time a harbor tug set out from the docks to welcome the cargo ship that might load up and haul our temporary island sanctuary to Japan in the coming days.
I am happy to report that for all the times we walked the logs in the dark to the ‘restrooms’ at the north end of the boom, everyone returned from the shadows to pop another bottle cap until the case was empty. Should anyone doubt this mid bay coming-of-age tale, there are multiple shards of brown glass on the mud floor of the lower harbor that lie peacefully in testament.
It’s The Water
I still find it amusing that a whole town could be so thoroughly branded by a malt beverage as was our little capital city (1970 population of 23,111). Most of my grade school classmates’ parents worked at either the state offices, the wood mills or the brewery. Olympia Beer at the time was the best selling adult beverage on the west coast and enjoyed a reverence and loyalty that was never matched. The local fire departments still have a logo that mimics the classic lettering style of the iconic label. Olympia High students, whenever we could get away with it, would use beer advertising slogans to cheer and promote the football team. The ‘Bears’ were the OHS mascot in name only. The brewery tours in the summertime drew visitors from all over the world, and was the biggest tourist draw between Portland and Seattle.
Maybe it was the exotic airborne odor of cooking beer mash that walked me to grade school on so many damp mornings, or my dad and his fishing buddies’ devotion, or my crazy Uncle Jim, the make believe Irishman, who rewarded ‘first sips’ to his preadolescent beer-fetchers up at the lake cabin, but eventually I too would become an Oly kid. Thus it was with a great deal of hometown pride I joined the suds-sipping crowd once I got to college. “The Drink of Moderation” and I became quite familiar. A goodly number of ounces later, I can tell you there are malt and hops-flavored memories that stretch for many miles of my wandering history.
I have ceremoniously toasted Washington’s windy mountain tops, swirling rivers, basalt canyon walls, sunsets, lightning storms, freight train rides, backroads, and strangers-but-only-temporarily in small town taverns. There was an old beer poster and billboard advertisement that depicted young handsome folks who worked hard, while vigorously enjoying life, nature, and freedom. The clever hook line was my kind of arm-twisting: “You Owe Yourself an Oly.” And so we would.
Olympia Beer, as we knew it, is no more. The sad corpse of the once proud brewery sits empty above Tumwater Falls that powered the brewhouse in 1898. But then, large-scale production of quality anything is lost in the past. And though aging and grownup good sense have tempered my proclivity for drink, I still have my rituals.
I can’t imagine who would want to be anyone anywhere else my twenty-first summer. A skinny cocky college brat who got a pass on a summer job because of back surgery that somehow allowed me to play but not work. I would hang out around town and eye the girls hanging out around town and pretended they were eyeing me back. I remember having a secret crush on Angela while Marcy had a crush on me. I would have been fine with Marcy, but she dyed her naturally blonde hair cinnamon red for some stupid reason which no one did ever in 1969. But I digress.
Based on “seventy measures of livability,” Washington State has recently been declared number one in the country. Number one “best place to live.” Yep, I read it in The Times. If you’re a native like me, you hold both vanity and nostalgic despair as you mourn the millions who have wandered here in my lifetime. Because apparently the metrics of livability have changed.
I’ll make you a deal. Kindly return my uncrowded freeways, and I’ll take back my sawmill smoke and low-cost blackboard classroom. Ditch the waste and haste, fashion and fluff, and get back to ethical trade and the value of Enough. Tear down the snobby nine-dollars-a-brew pubs, and set me on a raft of fresh-cut fir logs in the middle of the bay with with my high school homies, our small town big dreams, and a humble, cold, honest beer.