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Paul Turner: Mission for last-minute gift ideas a mild success

Imbued with a commitment to real-world reader service, photographer Kathy Plonka and I sallied forth from the Review Tower late Monday morning on a mission to help holiday season procrastinators.

Yes, it was time for a little man-on-the-street journalism.

And who better to ask for last-minute gift ideas than the American people? Or, at least, a few shoppers we dragooned in downtown Spokane.

Here is a full and faithful narrative of our adventure.

“I’m the totally wrong person to ask,” said the first person we approached, a pleasant sixtyish woman walking north on Lincoln Street. “My husband and I are very low-key. We don’t celebrate much.”

She didn’t want to give me her name.

So, with that, we were underway.

But Lisa Miles-Conrad, on the sidewalk across Main Avenue from Nordstrom, was happy to cooperate.

“Today is my husband’s 50th birthday. And he got a tractor for his birthday and I wrote ‘50 reasons I love you.’ ”

A real tractor?

“A real tractor,” she said. “A 1962. He gets to play with it at his cabin.”

So there’s one idea: a tractor. Though it wasn’t really last-minute.

Oh, and a let-me-count-the-ways list.

Jessica Conrad, a student at Washington State University standing with Lisa, told us what she got for her boyfriend. I’ll keep that to myself.

She did, however, have a couple of other ideas: candles and jewelry.

A mail carrier in shorts said she is not allowed to speak to the media. Which makes sense. Because, really, if this got out? Shudders.

But down the block, West Central resident Peggy Tamblyn spoke up. “Give something to the poor or do something nice for somebody else.”

Across the street in front of River Park Square, a small brass band played “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Deer Park’s Dean McMinn, a database administrator, had a ready answer. “Gift cards.”

Next, a woman who may or may not be able to speak English, made a face that eloquently said, “Please, God, leave me alone.”

I released her from custody and sent her on her way.

The next interview subject proved to be friendly, engaging and more than happy to help. Now we’re talking, I thought.

Naturally, it turned out the young man in question works for The Spokesman-Review’s circulation department and so isn’t really a kosher survey respondent.

Steee-riiiike, as the umpires say.

The band was playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as I accosted a fellow who said his name was Jason Barley.

“Scratch tickets,” he said. “I’ve done it before.”

Kimberly Merrifield, whose intriguing headwear covered her face, said, “A hoodie just like mine.”

I suppose. Maybe you could wear it while riding your tractor.

The next few victims were friendly enough but said they had no ideas.

Then I introduced myself to Tom Leonard, who has worked for the city of Spokane’s water department for almost 40 years. He has been in The Slice column a time or two and we got to talking about this and that. After we shook hands and wished each other a happy Christmas, I realized I had forgotten to press him for an answer to my question.

Heading back west on Main, I cheerfully addressed three well-dressed women marching toward me. Without breaking stride, the one in the middle cut me off mid-spiel. “I’m not from here,” she hissed.

Apparently, this whole gift-idea thing must sound like panhandling or petition-signature gathering.

Anyway, though I considered it, I did not fire back, “Yeah, I can tell.”

Another out-of towner, a guy named Seth from Chicago, would not give me his phone number. (It would come in handy if I had follow-up questions or wanted to double-check the spelling of his last name, et cetera.)

But he did have a decent gift idea. “Kitchen stuff.”

I started telling Seth and the woman he was with about having had good luck giving high-quality knives as presents. They did not seem overly interested.

Heading back to the newspaper, I hit up one last stranger, a woman carrying a shopping bag at the corner of Lincoln and Riverside next to the post office.

“Got any good last-minute gift ideas?”

“No,” she said softly as she pivoted away.

At least I think that’s what she said. It might have been an expression that starts with “Go.”