Sunday, July 24, 2016

Down and out in Aberdeen

I had never been to Aberdeen, Washington, before.
I'm not sure if any of you are familiar with this place. It's on the inside of the long Willapa Bay embayment that forms the far southwest part of Washington State, where the Chehalis River empties into the big estuary.

Aberdeen clings to the south edge of the Olympic Mountains massif and appears to be a very typical sort of Northwest coastal town; wedged between the mountains and the sea, shoved into the shelf of flatlands that are entirely too likely to disappear when the inevitable tidal inundation rises up from the dark Pacific beyond.

I wasn't sure why the sign at the end of Washington Highway 12 read "Come As you Are" until I turned into 2nd Street looking for one of my drilling locations and came across "Kurt Cobain Landing", the truly bizarre and tacky little park at the end of a dead-end street in the Felony Flats neighborhood.

The effect on a passing stranger is unsettling. The Flats have not materially changed since Cobain's time; the little houses and cheap apartments are dingy and rundown, the streets weave drunkenly as the shoddy paving crumbles away. The "park" itself is nothing more than a stand of trees behind the crash barrier at the end of the street, a sign with a picture of Cobain, a fugly cement guitar standing strangely erect from a dark block, priapic fretboard pointed skyward.

The Young Street Bridge further on is supposed to have a thicket of Cobain-inspired graffitti underneath, but I was busy and couldn't take the time to wander over and peek at others' necrophilia.
I spent the better part of a sunny afternoon driving around Aberdeen and neighboring Hoquiam and marveling at the sheer unattractive poverty of the place. The place is, for lack of a better word, a dump.

Don't mistake me; I've lived in the Northwest a long time now and I understand what most of these coastal towns are. These are the land's end, the far edge of the wealthy nation that sprawls across the continent behind them. This is hardscrabble land, Trump country. There was never much here. Timber and fish, for the most part, the land too steep and stony to farm, the great cities behind the wall of mountains too distant for commerce.

The fishing was never easy; the salmon runs hammered flat by fishwheels and gillnets, the ocean cold and cruel as the storms of winter claw down out of the Gulf of Alaska, and the timber...the locals will tell you that the hippies and the tree-huggers locked up the timber.

The reality is that the first lumbermen felled all the huge trees with careless greed and never restored the mountains. The forests, when they were replanted, were steep and costly to log, and the timber companies found it more profitable to ship the logs they did fell directly to Asia. The big mills closed, one by one, and never reopened.

The jobs are gone, the wealth - what little there was of it - is gone, it seems like even the hope is gone. The people are gone; Aberdeen has never regained the people it lost after the Depression. About sixteen thousand grim, grungy looking people still live here but even in the cheerful July sunshine Aberdeen looks depressing.

No wonder Cobain killed himself.
At least there's work for me here, and beginning tomorrow we will do it, our drill roaring and grinding through the dumpy streets of Felony Flats.

As Cobain might have said; nevermind.


Big Daddy said...

It's very similar inland too, whenever I drive through the little towns on Highway 22 between Salem and the Santiam Pass, I wonder what people do for work. With the mills derelict and not much else, where are the jobs? Gas stations, grocery stores and hairdressing can only support a few people. ODOT must be keeping some people afloatn and at the Western end there are probably commuters to Salem, but what keeps people in Idanha putting food on the table?
Prineville is in an even odder position,with pricey new subdivisions going up a few blocks from the derelict mills and the left behind poor people being priced out of a place filling up with wealthier retirees, commuters, and a coterie of data center workers.
Unfortunately for these places none of them have produced a cultural icon, although Oakridge has at least figured out how to make tourism work for it.

FDChief said...

The Aberdeen-Hoquiam area also appears to be a secret portion of the National Strategic Obese Caucasian Reserve. Aside from schlumping about looking impoverished and depressed about 6 to 7 out of 10 locals, male and female, are immensely, morbidly obese. I have no idea why moreso than the shittier parts of Portland, but there it is....