Casey’s bar on Monroe Street is full of wrap-around couches. The tables are black, the floor is black tile, and the walls are crimson lit by weak gold lamps. At the table next to me are four thirty-somethings. They’ve had a couple of drinks and already have those far-away grins. One man’s wearing over-sized NFL gear and the women’s pants fit too tight. Up front, a woman in a black cowboy hat dances to somebody singing karaoke. A light pink shirt covers her cascading tummy and is tucked into her jeans. She doesn’t dance wildly – it’s more like she’s happily and comfortably at home.

And that’s the thing about Spokane – it’s not dancing for you.

There’s nothing about the way Spokane looks or its culture that will make you pay attention. I grew up living in the foothills of Pikes Peak – nine degrees south and 5,000 ft higher than Spokane. The Rocky Mountains and the intensity of the Colorado sun confront you. It’s like coming out of a long tunnel and gulping for air. Seattle also confronts you with its tall reflective buildings, winding exits, and deep green trees. And the Sound, going from light blue to steel grey, catches the city up in itself. Both places demand recognition for their beauty. Colorado shows off with its sunshine and clear air, and Seattle does the same with its moodiness and narrow streets.

But Spokane tends to be dark for five months. The sky matches the asphalt – all slate except for the half hour at dusk when the clouds light up pink and the gold street lamps come on. The old brick industrial buildings let restaurants and offices gut them and move in. Smokestacks stand unused.

If you go a few minutes south of downtown, you run into massive silos, the only buildings with curves. One to the east on Market has graffiti of Obama and McCain looking like buddies.

A couple of minutes towards Argonne open up into wheat fields. After harvest, the rolling fields glitter like Rumplestiltskin’s gold, and the power lines stand like resting giants. The fall light is so long (The sun is so low in the sky that the light goes through a lot of atmosphere.) that everything is red-shifted. Blues and greens hardly show up – the pine trees look black.

Spokane doesn’t care what you think. It’s not going to lose twenty pounds and put on a miniskirt. The brick sits through snow that won’t melt and doesn’t hear complaints. It’s fine with its Monroe dive bars and getting dark at 4:30. As long as you’re expecting it to impress you, it won’t.


  1. I was pretty impressed with that grungy dive-those women with square torsos and blue eyeshadow wrinkles, 150 hairs pulled back in a scrunchy dancing like Lust herself to some beat-up t-shirts and a guitar.
    there is a rich culture there, you just have to mentally make the leap to see it that way.