Work used to take me to Centralia quite often, but in recent years we rarely get down to Lewis County. We would normally stay in Centralia and then make the short trip to the sister city of Chehalis for lunch and a visit to one of Peg's favorite book and art store combinations. This trip was for fun and family and it took us just a few miles south of Centralia to parts of Chehalis we had missed.
We made reservations sight unseen at the Relax Inn. The location was the main factor. We were looking for something close to the Red Barn, a rural event center where my niece was getting married on Friday afternoon. Everyone else was coming just for the wedding, but Peg and I made a two day adventure out of it.
When I checked into the Relax Inn I had a chuckle to myself. They use viturally the same registion cards my parents used for their motel decades ago. I grew up in the family motel, which is why I usually prefer hotels. Once in a teenage argument about home I told my mother, "We don't have a home . . . we have a motel." She reminded me of this conversation many times over the rest of her life.
The Relax Inn is owned by Azad and Geeta Patel. They've owned the motel for 19 years. In 2012 they were presented with the Chehalis Community Spirit Award Tuesday by Chehalis Mayor Bob Spahr. I would imagine they are a very hard working couple. My parents were. Running a motel means you need to enjoy yourself there because you don't get much time off for good behavior. The Relax Inn had a very nice homey feeling.
We had left Tacoma at 1:30 in the afternoon and moved through light traffic down the sixty some miles south. We checked in and then drove back to the historic downtown area of Chehalis to visit Peg's favorite Lewis County book store, The Book and Brush, which also sells art supplies. As always Peg was able to find just what she was looking for. She picked up two Donna Leone books (her current favorite mystery writer) and a heart shaped punch to decorate a wedding card for my niece Lisa and her husband to be, Austin.
I wandered around and visited a pawn shop and looked in windows, while I waited for Peg to finish her shopping.
On the street I stuck up a conversation with David Hartz, who with his wife, Beverly are the owners of The Book and Brush. Chehalis is a very small community. David had been on the committee that put together a local attraction brochure and so was able to advise me on the best places to eat. He pooh-poohed one of my old favorites, but recommended half a dozen more. He's a great salesman. He caught my attention when he had been talking to a customer in the shop. He was explaining about the local movie theater (just a few steps away for his store), which has having a classic movie showing of All About Eve, a favorite black and white film starring Bette Davis. Unfortunately, the showing was not scheduled until after Peg and I were leaving.
Peg came out and met David and we decided on his suggestion for dinner at Ocean Sky, a Chinese restaurant located about a block away.
In the past we had never eaten there. I think it always looked closed. Perhaps, it was several owners ago.
The prices were very, very reasonable. The food tasted fresh. We both had flower drop soup and barbeque pork. Peg had a combination plate of chow mein and prawns. I had a combo plate of sweet and sour pork along with almond chicken. Peg and I should have just shared one order. When we were done, the prawns were all gone along with the barbeque pork, but we had plenty of chow mein, almond chicken, fried rice, and sweet and sour pork left over. We declined take-home boxes. For most of our adventures, we want to sample and leave.
Back at the Relax Inn Peg worked on the artwork for our wedding card and envelope. I think she used a quotation from an Australian movie I had seen earlier in the week, "Life is a symphony. Come sing with me." The card had two birds on it. She added birds to the envelope. It was a nice card . . . from the heart.
While Peg worked, I made an early night of it and went to bed. The TV had a "closed caption" feature on it, so I was able to watch TV with the audio turned down to not disturb Peg. I dropped off soon, but paid for it by waking up about two hours before breakfast. I made mental notes to myself and then dressed and drove to a nearby restaurant.
When I entered the Kit Carson Family Restaurant there were only about three people sitting at the bar. The rest of the restaurant was empty. I was greeted by Deanna and seated with a menu and a verbal list of special. I chose the chicken fried steak for $7.99. I always order my hashbrowns the same way, "Burnt, burnt, burnt . . . with an onion cut up in them." I also use chopping gestures when I mention the onion. Even though I am very specific, most restaurants simply ignore my request and serve me their version of hashbrowns.
I tricked up my coffee with the vanilla coffee creamer in the little blue plastic containers. I didn't order the orange juice because I didn't see that it was fresh squeezed. Frozen concentrate has too much sugar for me. Even fortified, I don't think the trade-off is worth it.
As I drank my coffee, I saw people being served. Of course, these were people who came in well after I did. Deanna stopped by to tell me the hashbrowns were taking a little longer to brown than normal. I was in no hurry. I was transfering my mental note down to a "to do" list.
My breakfast arrived. The chicken fried steak was a little dry, but that was probably because it was left on the grill to keep it warm while the hashbrowns were browning. And browned they were. They were dark brown and crispy. I peppered my gravy and my potatoes and then scraped much of the gravy over onto a portion of hashbrowns. As I was contentedly munching, Deanna stopped by to appologize, "We forgot the onions. We were so worried about burning the hashbrowns. Shall I take them back?" I was quite happy. As I munched on them she returned and asked, "Too crispy?" I just shook my head.
I watched Deanna in action. She was a one-person Olympic serving team.
She was a greater, hostess, server, message taker and phone answerer. She was constanly in motion and always friendly. Deanna would be a great example for many of the restaurants we visit. She was not alone, however. When Deanna wasn't there we were treated to Laura, who did everything herself as well. I heard her comment to one of her guests, "You're earlier today than you were last week." I loved Kit Carson's and their friendly and well-trained staff.
When Peg and I first arrived off the freeway we had a chance to drive around a little bit. I had noticed little pond between I-5 and a local roadway. I wanted a nice photograph of the pond, so after breakfast I drove a couple of hundred yards to the edge of the pond. Where I pulled up was a nice shot of the pond as well as a flood measuring guage.
The Chehalis River spills over its banks about every four or five years. When that happends, the freeway around Chehalis is usually underwater. You can usually count on all traffic, even Amtrak, between Portland and Seattle coming to a soggy halt during excessive rains.
I love the little catchment ponds along roadways. They provide not only relief from minor flooding, but also habitat for wildlife. I saw about a dozen ducks paddling around as I moved about the banks of this little pond.
Also on my must visit list was the Vintage Antique Motorcycle Museum. It was located directly across the street from The Book and Brush in the Washington Hotel. I returned to the downtown historical district. Inside the hotel I found shop after shop either bustling and busy, or found a door wide open and no one around. The hotel has long since ceased to operate as a hotel. It has shops and individual businesses. I poked my head in two open doors and said, "Hello."
I finally stepped inside a salon and asked a hair stylist about the museum. She motioned to a stairway just off the entrance that I had missed. She said, "It's upstairs, but they would have closed ten minutes ago. If you see an open door, just shout around a bit. If there is anyone there, they'll probably just let you in.
I went up the stairs and found myself in a large banquet room, but felt no closer to motorcycles.
As I was about to give up, I saw an office door open near the front of the room. I poked my head in and said, "Hello." Barbara Mason was hard at work, but she looked up and quit what she was doing. She collected five dollars and then took me to a little ramp in the banquet room and opened a door to the musuem. She turned on the lights and turned off the burglar alarm. The museum is absolutely fantastic.
I saw bicyles and motorcycles that I had only heard of. There was even an amphiCar, which could drive from the road directly in the water and continue on. The museum even had a mock-up of an old motorcycle garage and workshop. Harleys and Indians AND many more that I met and learned of at the same time. What a great place to visit for anyone who appreciates transportation and history.
Friday afternoon was the wedding everyone was coming down to Chehalis for. What Chehalis? Everyone wanted to know. Why Friday as also a burning question. The Red Barn is an event facility that looks and feels like an actual barn. This is what Lisa and Austin wanted. The bride and bridesmaids all wore cowboy boots. Why Friday? It marked the five year anniversary that Lisa and Austin had met and fell in love.
The Red Barn Studios was only a few miles off the freeway. The Chehalis River runs along the property line and a small backwater forms a backdrop of the barn itself. The barn has a rustic feel, but is solid and turned out to be a great place for the wedding. There was a nice mixture of family and friends. Everyone seemed to have a good time.
While Peg slept in on Saturday I went for a small breakfast at Kit Carson's. This time I walked. There is a passage way from the motel directly to the side of the restaurant. It took less than a minute to shut our room door and walk into the restaurant entrance.
I think the next time we come to Chehalis, we'll book our room and ask for one west of the passage way. There are several rooms side by side there that have a small balcony that over looks a well kept yard and face the setting sun. This might make a fantastic summer adventure. We could order some fried chicken or barbequed ribs and have a delightful little picnic all to ourselves.
Later both Peg and I walked over to the restaurant. I ordered the golden fried oysters, while Peg order the four ounce chicken fried steak. Peg had the larest four ouncer we had ever seen. It must have been ten ounces. In addition we had gigantic helping of green beans. I ate all of my green beans (cooked with bacon, of course) and some of Peg's. I shared my oysters with Peg and she shared over half her steak with me. Again the service and the food was excellent.
I had to ask, "Is Kit Carson a franchise?" I got a confused look. The answer was in the negative. The next time we drive down to anything in Oregon, I think we'll be stopping for something to eat at this great local and friendly restaurant.
We reluctantly checked out of the Relax Inn and drove through Chehalis on our way to Centralia. We wanted to visit some of our favorite places in Centralia, too. Before we completely drove past the Yard Birds Swap Meet in Centralia, Peg made me stop. We walked around inside the huge facility, but we only left with a small ceramic pitcher for Peg. Many of the shops were closed. Their gates were closed. It made me wonder how they could sell anything when they weren't even open on a Saturday afternoon. It seems like that would be prime selling time. However, there didn't seem to be that many people walking around looking or buying, so perhaps the booth owners knew more that we did. All I have to go on is a comparison of the Lewis County swap meet with the Starlite Swap Meet in Tacoma. In Tacoma most of the sellers are outside, which means limited selling season, especially in the rainy weather (a lot here in Washington), but still there seems to be more potential buyers in Tacoma. The prices seem better, also.
In Centralia we found some new art. There was a rain garden with some large metal sculpltures. I didn't find any information on the artists, but I loved the layout. Around the pieces of art were native grasses and flowers. It was quite attractive. The garden was constructed to take advantage of rain (small depressions acting as catchments). There were some small round seats made of concrete. If they were a little more comfortable, I think they might attract people to just sit and enjoy the beauty.
Like the pond in Chehalis, I love places like the rain garden where you can sit, relax, and think. The Pacific Northwest is so beautiful, but sometimes our lives are so busy, we sometimes forget to stop and enjoy it. The rain garden would be great place to read and meet people. The Centralia community is to be commended for this piece of quiet beauty.
We visited a few other sights in Centralia (our meat market where we used to order applesauce pork sausage links, an apartment building that was built over an active creek, and a home owner who uses found art to decorate his home and yard). On our way out of town I was surprised when Peg suggested we have a hamburger. She was suggesting Burgerville. They are always busy. In the past we could always order sweet potato fries, but not this time. Instead they had rosemary shoe string fries. Peg and I shared an order. Burgerville is a great place for cheese burgers. They use Tillamook. I had the Pepper Bacon Cheese Burger with an extra order of bacon. Peg had a regular cheese burger. She also had a mocha strawberry milkshake, while I had a three berry shake. The burgers were excellent as were the fries. The milkshakes were just what we needed to fisish off Lewis County adventure. Peg didn't finish her shake until we were half way back to Tacoma. Mine didn't last through the meal. Oh, well.
We enjoyed Chehalis, the wedding, some great food, meeting new people, and visiting our old haunts in Centalia.