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Time-shift to the Spokane of olden days

Sat., Sept. 19, 2009, midnight

I’ve been immersed in Spokane history recently and, occasionally, when I emerge from the library, I feel like a regular Rip Van Winkle. In fact, there are times when … (commence the spacey music and wavy lines, indicating dream sequence):

What in the name of Grover Cleveland? I went to sleep last night in 1890, and now I’ve woken up and it’s – I don’t know what year it is. All I know is, I’ve been asleep for a long, long time. And nothing in this town seems the same. One thing for sure, nothing in this town seems as much fun or as wild.

I’m walking down Front Street, although according to the sign it’s now called “Spokane Falls Boulevard.” It’s nothing but nice, fancy restaurants and big “shopping malls,” whatever those are.

When I went to sleep last night, Front Street was like one big, long party. So were most of the blocks adjoining it. In fact, I spent most of last night at Dutch Jake’s beer hall/chop house/ gambling establishment. It was just me and about 1,000 of my closest buddies from the mining camps and logging camps.

I spent two hours playing the wheel of fortune and I darn near lost a fortune: $10! All I remember is a crowd of sweaty, beer-soaked men, hanging over the railing, hollering like fury every time that wheel was spun.

Then I went to the faro table, where the dealer shouted things like “a trey, a nine spot, the king is high!” and I dumped another $5 down the privy.

Did I swear off gambling? Not by a long shot. I’m in the big city of Spokane, known throughout the West for its dens of iniquity, and I still have a silver dollar burning a hole in my dungarees.

The problem is, I’m walking along Main Avenue and I swear, I can’t find a single gambling hall. I stop a passer-by.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” I say, doffing my hat. “Do you know where a man could find a gambling establishment?”

“Sure,” she said. “There’s Northern Quest Casino up in Airway Heights, or the Coeur d’Alene Casino down in Worley.”

On further inquiry, I learned that neither establishment was within walking distance. I didn’t want to waste a nickel on a trolley, so I decided to just walk on down to Trent Alley, or what a lot of people call Chinatown.

You can always have a good time there. Last time I was in Trent Alley, I slipped into the back room of one of the Chinese noodle shops, where a rattling game of fan tan was being played. Yup, lost $10 that time, too.

Some fellow tried to talk me into sneaking into the basement; the smell of opium wafted up the stairs. But that stuff ain’t for me. Sherlock Holmes, in one of his new stories, said that opium is bad, bad stuff, although he was partial to cocaine.

So now here I am, at the corner of Front and Washington, where Trent Alley should be, and there’s – nothing. Just a big old empty acre or two, with a lot of newfangled carriages parked on it.

Speaking of opium, the only thing I ever put in a pipe is tobacco, and lots of it. Right now, I could use a cigar.

“Could you direct me to the nearest cigar store, sir?” I ask a passer-by.

He says he can only think of one, and it is many blocks away.

What? When I went to sleep last night, I couldn’t walk a block without strolling past three cigar stores. Then the passer-by gave me a rude look and said something about “secondhand smoke,” whatever that is.

I was getting a bit depressed about this new version of Spokane. In desperation, I stopped another citizen and asked where a man could have some fun in this town. He said the Spokane Interstate Fair was currently operating. He said it was plenty of fun, although he also added that a “violent mental patient” went on the lam at the fair that day.

“Violent mental patient”? Sounds like what we used to call an outlaw.

Hey, maybe this newfangled Spokane ain’t so tame after all.

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