Spokane, Expo ’74 and Henry Fonda

Spokane Fair

Sometime in the summer of 1974 we took a little roadtrip. My wife and I packed up the Roadrunner and headed east. We stopped down in Renton and borrowed her parents’ camper trailer and hitched it to our car with the black racing stripes.

Before hitting I-90, we picked up my sister and her fiance to take them along for the trip. Our destination was Spokane and Expo ’74 which had opened three months prior. We sped along at the 55 mph speed limit set after the fuel crisis precipitated by problems in the Middle East the year before. We did not go into Spokane the first day, but set up the tent at a wooded campground somewhere west of the city.

The next day we left the camper trailer set up on its site and took the Roadrunner into town unencumbered. The fair had been built right in the center of Spokane along the Spokane River, on land reclaimed from blighted industrial and railroad properties. One of the sights was a clock tower left standing when the rest of the Great Northern railroad station was taken down. We spent the day walking the grounds or in the skyrides, seeing the sights. One of the skyrides went over the river falls and underneath the Monroe Street bridge, the same street that was the bete noir of my childhood when my family lived in Spokane.

The US pavilion had an IMAX theater which ran a film entitled “Man Belongs to the Earth.” This was in keeping with the stated purpose of the Expo, a focus on the environment. Chief Dan George narrated and appeared in it.

Of all the exhibits, I was most intrigued by the one offered by the Czechs which, oddly enough, was housed within the Washington State pavilion. Called Kino-Automat, its small auditorium was rigged for audience participation. Each viewer had access to two buttons. At a half dozen points in the film “One Man and His World,” you were given the opportunity to decide between two options as to what would happen next. The vote was tallied live on the screen before it continued on its way. A good thing it was a comedy.

We returned to the tent camper for dinner and to prepare for the evening event. We had tickets for the Spokane opera house, the largest venue in the Washington State pavilion. On its stage that night we saw Henry Fonda in the one man show Clarence Darrow. Our seats were in the balcony; so we had a fine, but distant view of chairs, a rumpled suit, a necktie and suspenders. And a very recognizable voice. The fact that it was a monologue did not help my attention span. It had been a long and tiring day, so at points I nodded off. We were soon to get a closer view.

When the curtain dropped, we gathered together and picked up the Roadrunner in the adjoining parking garage. At the moment we emerged down the exit onto the street, we almost ran into a passing limousine. We realized at once that Henry Fonda was sitting in the back seat of the limo. He leaned forward and stared out at us. We returned the favor, sped up and took this shot.

Henry Fonda in his Limo

Thus ended our memorable day at the fair.

Fireflies and Ticonderoga

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First you placed two chairs, preferably wooden with high backs, some three to five feet apart, and then stretched between them a blanket or a sheet that you could either secure to the chair seats, or if big enough pull them out as wings forming a larger structure. And thus you had a fort. And there, especially on rainy days, with your toys about you, you entered the joy of an imaginary realm.

But what was better was visiting an actual fort.  

One summer day, Dad loaded us up in the car and we set out westward to Cambridge in Northern New York. My Mom wanted to visit an old classmate from her hometown of Colville, who now lived there with her family.  I remember two things about our stay there. I was fascinated to meet my Mom’s friend, because she told us all ahead of time that her friend had been born a Hanks, the same family related to Abraham Lincoln’s mother. I was a little awed. It was strange to realize that here was someone in the present connected to someone from the past that I had heard about in school.

The other – was my first sighting of fireflies. In the cool of the evening they flitted among the trees at the back of their property.  It was eerie to see them as they moved. Their luminiscence blinking on and off in a totally random fashion, but somehow in a left-hand kind of way revealing an intricate pattern, a choreography of dots to which your mind’s eye supplied the lines.

From there it was on through the countryside and towns named after falls – (but no Bedford Falls and no Jimmy “George Bailey” Stewart), up to Fort Ticonderoga, a stone edifice alongside Lake Champlain. Originally built by the French, it fell to the British in 1759, and to the Americans in 1775.  On this latter occasion its cannons were transferred to Dorchester Heights and were instrumental in breaking the British seige of Boston.

Standing inside, it was difficult to see the beauty of its design. Being limited to the two dimensions of Flatland, you needed to be lifted up to a point above to see the star like configuration. The map helped in that regard. But the mind wandered to other things, like the view from the walls outward from the fort – and in the mind’s eye seeing Hank Fonda (Jimmy Stewart’s good friend) slipping out of a beseiged fort to go for help in the film Drums Along the Mohawk. An imaginary realm you could reach out and touch.