Things to do in Spokane, Washington

One of my dreams is to own a cabin on the side of a mountain by a lake. Alternatively, I suppose I could marry a man whose family owns a cabin on the side of a mountain by a lake. Then we can simply show up in the middle of a month-long road trip and not have to worry about silly things like winterizing and stuff.

I slept until somewhere around nine. I took a cup of coffee out on the deck and watched a neighbor kayaking in the still water. Jim got up and we talked with his parents and sister and brother-in-law about Uncle John. We told a few stories from the journey out, and finally, around 11:30 or so, we left for Spokane.

We probably should have left earlier. There were all sorts of museums and things we were supposed to see, but we were tired. Good grief Gertie, as my grandma used to say, we were tired.

Our first stop was a quick visit to Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture to see if we could come back another day. Kate at Visit Spokane had arranged a pair of tickets for us, and the woman at the front desk told us it would be no problem.

That left us just enough time to meet Kate at Central Food for lunch. I dug into their PNW Lentil bowl, a healthy infusion of local spinach, lentils, and roasted beets, while Jim ate a smoked ham and cheese sandwich and Kate extolled the virtues of Spokane. Her passion was infectious. When we’d finished eating, we strolled with her along the Centennial Path towards the Spokane Falls. Yes, there’s a waterfall in downtown Spokane, because this is the west, and waterfalls are everywhere.

Overlooking Spokane Falls from Centennial Path

Wishing we had time to ride our bikes, we got back in Jeannie the Jeep and crossed the bridge to Riverfront Park. Jim knew this park. His parents had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary (pre-me) at Looff Carrousel. It was an appropriate location for the celebration: Charles I. D. Looff had created the hand-carved wooden carousel in 1909 as a wedding gift for his daughter and son-in-law, Emma and Louis Vogels.

I was happy my dad made Jim and me a gorgeous table when we got married, but a hand-carved carousel? That’s an extravagant gift that borders on the obscene. Unless you take into account that the newlyweds owned an amusement park and that Looff was the guy who built Coney Island’s carousel. For almost sixty years, Looff’s gift to the Vogels delighted visitors until their Natatorium Park closed. The carousel languished and in 1975 it was moved to its current location.

We weren’t sure it would be open. Renovation of the entire Riverfront Park began in 2016 and included a new building for the carousel. Luckily for us, construction on the glass rotunda was completed a month before we arrived.

I expected a slow, stately, leisurely spin. Not on this ride; there’s a reason there were straps. I squealed and gripped the pole with both hands and we flew around faster and faster, and every 360 degrees I’d pry one hand free and try to snatch a plastic ring from the dispenser. Jim turned around and grinned. He grabbed more than I did. He was disappointed, though; the rings used to be metal, and if you pulled a brass ring, you won a free ride. Jim always goes for the brass ring.

Tiger from Looff Carrousel

After a quick stop at Dry Fly Distillery to try whiskey made with Washington wheat, we drove to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. It was closed, but we had to be in the area anyway. Jeannie the Jeep needed some attention. We had driven enough miles, around 4,400, that we needed to bring our rental car in for an oil change. Conveniently, we thought, Hertz had an account with Firestone and there was a participating location down the block from the museum.

While we waited, the lobby television broadcast a news story about children being separated from their families at the U.S. border and put into cages. There was an older woman and a younger man in the waiting room, and I heard her say that parents shouldn’t put their children in that situation. “It’s sad, but it’s their fault,” she said.

I silently fumed. “Do they think these parents want to be in that situation?” I thought.

It’s easy to be judgmental. It’s harder to be empathetic. Empathy requires an emotional investment. A willingness to think “what if” and extrapolate beyond your daily experience.

White privilege is real, and so is American privilege.

On our way out I turned to her and said “You don’t know their situation. Maybe empathy would be kinder instead of judgment.”

I walked outside. I have no idea what her reaction was. I felt sick to my stomach, but I had to say something. Silence meant tacit approval. We neared the cabin and slowed as a cougar crossed the road. Before dinner, my brother- and sister-in-law took us out on their boat. A bald eagle snagged a fish and we followed it across the lake as it flew high above the fray, watching it land safely. It was a magical moment that felt like freedom.

Oh, the irony.

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