When I was in high school, our marching band took part in a parade held as part of Spokane’s annual Lilac Festival. I distinctly remember telling my then-girlfriend that I couldn’t imagine many things worse than having to live in Spokane. Years later, I penned a piece for a now-defunct magazine in which I wrote something like, “Despite a multitude of trees and a river running through town, Spokane has managed to become one of the ugliest cities in the West.”
I thought I understood “Spokane Motel Blues,” even though I’d never stayed in a Spokane motel. In retrospect, I wish I could say that I was acting like those Oregon folks who “complain” about the rain as a way of trying to discourage others from moving to the area. In truth, I was simply ignorant.
Now I can’t imagine a much better place to live than the city where we’ve now spent more than a dozen years. Sure, downtown parking can be a pain, and the conservative political nature of the region means that streets, schools and conversations often aren’t as good as they could be. There are too many homeless folks. We will be stuck with perhaps the worst Congresswoman in America until she retires or dies, and what was once a great small-city newspaper has become a flimsy and embarrassing shadow of its former self.
On the other hand, Spokane has more per-capita park space than Seattle; there are three good-sized parks within a few blocks of our home. Traffic is rarely a problem. I can drive downtown, to my office, to a state park, to any of several golf courses, or to the airport within 20 minutes. We can camp or fish in numerous lakes or rivers within a couple of hours. Two universities, a couple of community colleges, local theater groups, a symphony, a good regional museum, and great downtown concert venues offer educational and entertainment options virtually every night of the week. You can get the same quality coffee as in Seattle or Portland, with less snobbery from hipsters and Yuppies. As much as we might make fun of the city’s motto, “Near nature, near perfect,” it nearly fits.
I’ve long been a Tom T. Hall fan, and “Spokane Motel Blues” mentions some of my favorite performers and cities. And Joanna and I definitely understand that it’s no fun to be stuck in a motel. Considering that we ran one for a few years — meaning that we could almost never leave it at the same time — we may understand the feeling of being trapped in one better than most. But “T” should have got out more when he was in Spokane.
Lyrics here, with video below.