I have been living in Port Orchard, Washington since June 28, 2015. It is my base of operations as I make repairs to the RV, get experience driving it, go on those final camp outs with friends, outfit the toad for towing, and wrap up medical appointments before I hit the road.
I love it here, but only because my friends Izzy and Trudy and Rhonda and Ken are here, and because the open spaces at Rhonda’s house accommodate my rig. I moved into Nellie in mid-June, which is the absolute worst time of year to try to camp in Washington without a reservation. If I could I would be at campsites overlooking the water, and I would gladly pay for them, but none are available. Even the shitty campsite with no hook ups at Lake Wenatchee State Park was a reservation I made in February, and it was the very last spot available.
So here I sit, in Poor Tortured as Rhonda and Ken call it, feeling rather forsaken by my Seattle friends who act as though I moved to the end of the world, when a ferry ride and short drive are all that is required. (A big shout out to Darren and Nathan, Jill & Don, Dave and Teresa, Margie &Terry, and Lydia for making the trip!)
Port Orchard is a bargain when compared to the Seattle metropolitan area. $200,000 will buy you an awful lot of house here. Parking is plentiful, and free. Gas stations are large and some even include RV dumping stations and propane. But, there is no question that many of its 10,000 or so residents live at or near the poverty line.
I lived in a rural and poor community as a kid, but returning after being a city dweller for so long was a shock to my senses. Families of five or more walk along county roadways, because there is spotty public transportation and vehicles are expensive. Obesity runs rampant. Main Street has a few antique stores and lots of empty storefronts, even though it is near the water and rather picturesque. Vape stores and vape bars are popping up everywhere (for the uninitiated, vaping is the new way that cigarette smokers are killing themselves). Large housing lots are filled with the hulks of rusting vehicles and appliances and the fractured skeletons of party canopies. Monday night bingo at the Eagles Hall is packed.
A perfect microcosm reflective of the community is the local Chinese buffet restaurant. Posted prominently on the wall at the entrance are grainy security cam images of “Runners” – customers who did not pay for their $11.99 meal. The patrons wear shorts and T-shirts. Most are overweight. Muzak of an Asian variety plays over the ceiling speakers, which curiously includes a version of Auld Lang Syne on lutes and zithers, in July. A customer asks if saltine crackers come with the wonton soup. Her husband mocks the waiter’s accent as he leaves the table. At the dessert counter a child points to a pudding, asking, “Mommy, what is that?” The mother replies, “I don’t know,” apparently not recognizing tapioca and not reading the label on the sneeze guard, snatching her child’s arm to move along.
In a grocery store, the sounds of a crying, clearly frantic infant reverberate up and down the aisles. It is the sort of cry that makes even a non-mother like me want to seek it out to provide comfort and solace. A mother walks by, barely 24 years of age, with three young ones hanging on the cart. She is holding a newborn, slung over her forearm and facing forward like a sack of potatoes. The child is positively in distress, but the mother’s affect is flat and her eyes are dull. I reconsider my thought of offering assistance. In another aisle, a mother with three young children is pushing a cart overflowing with Hungry Man frozen dinners. At first I assume she is one of those extreme couponers, because all the meals are the same. Then it dawns on me that it is the first of the month, when public assistance checks and food stamps are issued. In the parking lot, an arrest is being made for a meth deal.
Is it all bad? Certainly not. There are a few decent restaurants that serve decent cocktails, beautiful vistas, and even a couple of good happy hours. I have found a passable coffee shack, and the people are friendly and kind. The farmer’s market on the waterfront each weekend, though small, is pleasant for a visit. Movies at the theater are five dollars on Tuesday nights. Down the road there is one of five remaining drive-in theaters in the entire state.
Port Orchard works well for Rhonda and Ken, who largely telecommute for their jobs, and Izzy, who is retired and makes the journey to work at Safeco Field for every Mariners homestand. I am thankful for their friendship and for this little place to call temporary home, although I doubt the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce would put me on their payroll after reading this entry!