Last weekend I moved from my house, friends and family in Olympia, to Walla Walla. It was a huge endeavor to move somewhere that I know almost no one, but luckily my job moved with me. Life had become stale in Olympia and the 9-month rainy seasons of Western Washington took a greater toll on my mental and physical health each winter. I relocated as both an expression of my freedom from spouse and kids, and an attempt to treat seasonal affective disorder naturally.
The rural community of Walla Walla-College Place is about 40,000 people and established in the late 19th century. For the Westsiders, that is bit smaller than Longview-Kelso but a little bit bigger than Bremerton. Costco is an hour away in the Tri-Cities. For my Arizona friend, it’s about the size of Prescott, but full of college students, oenophiles and wheat farmers.
I haven’t had to learn a new community from scratch since I moved to a Portland suburb after graduating from college in 1993. (That only lasted 4 months before moving to the more-familiar King County). Back then, the unwieldy paper map was my constant companion. This week I leaned on my phone GPS very heavily. After 4 days of commuting, I could get between work and home without assistance. Just 2.5 miles, but it takes 6 turns because Walla Walla streets don’t adhere to the simple grid system beyond downtown. I can also find downtown based on just my sense of direction, but it is just on the other side of my neighbor, Whitman College.
It’s been interesting to observe my mind apply its navigation skills. I was disappointed at its failure to get me around Monday based on sense of direction alone after my two weekend trips to this town in the last three months (granted, one of which found me chauffeured about by my boyfriend-to-be). I find street names to be about 40% of my clues, while landmarks are the greater portion. Turning at that beautiful colonial house with a three-port carriage house or the extra-large, hilly park become my milestones rather than searching street signs.
I have already experienced a chic (or maybe just cheeky) haircut at Misbehaven Salon, decent poutine at Marcy’s, heavenly breakfast feta pita wrap at Olive, addictive “hot shrimp” at Red Monkey and I write this entry from the Mill Creek Pub, which has great music (AC/DC and Tom Petty to Bobby Darin and Nat Cole) and free peanuts and popcorn. There are no “box stores” in Walla Walla, but just over the city limits in College Place are Home Depot and Walmart. The local Ace Hardware is part hardware, part bargain basement. The Goodwill looks like a chichi San Francisco warehouse-turned-retail space. Downtown is full of walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and dogs on leash. I jaywalk readily because of the lack of automobile traffic, just don’t tell my friends at Lacey P.D.
I simply don’t comprehend why everyone does not try to move to Walla Walla. Maybe I will change my tune at the peak of winter (or summer), but right now I could not be more satisfied with a community.