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Doug Clark: At the price of a pack, Plaza smokers deserve a lot

Hanging out on a downtown Spokane street corner, smokin’ ciggies with my new best buds, Tony and Rock.

When I heard the bus Plaza (aka The Garage Mahal) was going to drop 70 large on restoring the smoking area that was taken down awhile back, well, I thought I’d help speed the process along by getting some decorating ideas from some of the nicotine fiends who’ll actually be using it.

Tony and Rock were smoking away when I ambled up to the corner of Sprague and Wall, just across the street from the Plaza’s intended smoking area.

“A big-screen (TV) would be nice,” agreed Tony in between drags on his smoldering Marlboro. “And maybe a padded bench so I can sit with my girlfriend.”

Tony pantomimed one of those romantic “arms around an invisible lady” gestures just in case I missed his point.

Rock laughed.

You guys.

“Gimme a light,” I asked Tony in my best tough-guy voice.

He obliged by igniting the Camel dangling from my lips with a quick flick of his well-used black Bic.

For the record, I don’t smoke cigarettes.

But wanting to fit in with the folks I’d be interviewing, I stopped at the quickie mart for some coffin nails.

This was no time for sissies.

“What’s your strongest brand?” I asked the young woman behind the counter. She recommended Pall Malls or those unfiltered Camels known as “Straights.”

I went with the Camels out of nostalgia for my Uncle Austin.

He incinerated three or four packs of Camels a day from age 14 right up until a stroke did him in at 74.

Hmm. In fairness, 60 carcinogenic years is a pretty good run.

Of course this was back in the days when cigarettes were dirt-cheap. Uncle Austin would have probably had his stroke a whole lot sooner if he knew what I paid for my packa smokes.

“That’s $11.14,” the counter girl said. Plus tax.

A crack habit would be more affordable in the long run at that price.

“These things taste terrible,” I said, drawing more yucks from Tony and Rock.

Plus not having a filter means you keep getting specks and flecks of “Turkish and domestic blend” tobacco caught in your teeth and stuck on your tongue.

“This isn’t just a cigarette,” I told the boys. “It’s also a salad.”

Others I spoke with – Matt, Bryan, Sean – indicated that just a humble place to smoke out of the elements would be fine.

And maybe a little more love.

“They treat smokers like we’re a bunch of junkies,” groused Paul of the security cops who enforce the state’s tough clean air laws that keep smokers 25 feet away from just about everything.

“They’ll kick you off every curb they possibly can.”

Yeah, life can be a real drag sometimes.

But Tony and Rock are right. When you consider the amount of taxes that Washingtonian smokers contribute to the economy, the Plaza’s new smoking area should come with a popcorn machine, padded reclining chairs and a wet bar.

That would certainly be in keeping with the STA tradition.

Take the Plaza itself.

That idea grew from a simple downtown bus barn to a bazillion-dollar cavern with imported marble floors and an escalator/waterfall with sculpted wildlife and a truly horrible chlorine stench.

If you tried to sell this dump today you might get two cents on the dollar.

And as long as we’re on the subject of economics, get a load of this recent news nugget from U.S. News & World Report.

And I quote: “The highest paid in the bus driver profession work in the metropolitan areas of Spokane, WA, Olympia, WA, and New York City, NY.”

The story goes on to report that $54,040 is the “annual median wage” of a Spokane bus driver, which is “$18,320 more than the average pay in the profession.”

Olympia’s median is $52,510, by the way, with the Big Apple coming in third with $49,050.

All together now:

We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1! Or not. The STA claims the U.S. News & World Report figures are too high.

Why, it’s enough to drive a taxpayer to smoke.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432