Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart
Seattle, Washington, USA
Tom Stewart is a writer, actor, playwright and comics journalist covering the comic book world for over ten years. He has written for the Eisner award winning Comic Book Artist Magazine, TwoMorrows Publications, M.A.I.N. Magazine, Changes Newspaper, has contributed to the Jack Kirby Collector and Alter-Ego Magazine, and is a regular writer for Back Issue Magazine. Tom won an award for fiction writing from the Washington Press Association, and has had several of his plays produced in the Seattle area. His current project is a one-man show on Robert Kennedy. In his spare time he likes to write short bios in the third person. He lives in Sunny Seattle


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MAY 20, 2010 5:34PM

The Town That Wouldn't Die!

Rate: 3 Flag

  Kindergarten 1970

              Hot, dry, and dusty.

            Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco. The three towns that are the Tri-Cities Washington. And that is the way most people list them too. Richland, the land of federal buildings and their workers, the town closest to Hanford, (their High school football team is named the Bombers. I don’t know what they were thinking), Richland likes to think of itself as the cultural center of the Tri-Cities, after all, they have the community theatre group, and the light opera. Kennewick, on the other hand, its claim to fame, for years, was it had the biggest shopping center. It had to fight Richland for it, (It's in my city limits! No, mine!) but they annexed it fair and square. Pretty much. Now it's a city made of malls, strip and otherwise. They do have the Tri-Cities Arena, where all the big acts who stop by the town play. It seemed like a good idea to the city council at the time.

Then, last on the list, there is Pasco. A town that provides a place so Richland and Kennewick can feel superior. Pasco gets to feel superior to Grandview.

            But, if it's really any consolation, Pasco was first. It was founded before the turn of the Twentieth Century, using the discarded people and bricks of Ainsworth, (a town that didn't survive when its mining petered out and the hope that the Columbia would become the outlet for trade, the 'Mississippi of the Pacific West' fell a little short). When Pasco rose, small but strong, in the early part of the twentieth century, it was to be a modern Mecca, stopover on the way to Seattle and the Far East. Its small weekly paper was as ambitious as its colorful masthead. Pasco: ‘Gateway to the Great state of Washington’, woolly stopover on the Columbia River, and a great place for family and friendly people. It had its Carnegie Library, and an ambition to be the state capital.

 Pasco: Gateway to the Pacfic

            Washington, Then only some twenty or so years old, launched a 'who will host our state capital' popularity contest. Pasco and its civic boosters spun out its campaign: headlines in the paper, banners, signs, a regular get-out-the-vote push.

            No luck. Olympia won, adding to the east/west state feud (as an admitted Eastern Washingtonian, I think the fix was in). The eastern part of the state really had no chance. The dustbowl East against the cooler, wetter, hell the GREENer West. More people lived in western Washington, most of the politicians came from there, the east was screwed before it got its pants down. The IQ test for the longest time was the dividing line of the Cascade Mountains. The east was treated as the remedial class of Washington, and its farmers took a perverse and stubborn pride in it. Still do. Both sides mooned each other across the back window of the Cascade Mountain range then, and are still at it today. The deck was stacked, but the east wasn't even at the table. Pasco had no chance.

But they tried.

            The little town that almost could. That was Pasco’s story for a long time. Richland and Kennewick sprang up, the old bridge was built, linking the towns (I'm sure that this death trap built for model T’s and horses bridge had a name, but I only heard it called ‘the old bridge’) and things went on at an even keel. Until WW2 started. The Government came in, took an old sandy piece of land, and built a plutonium plant there.

 Oh, there was a town there, a little place called, of course, Hanford. It's not there anymore. The steps of the old Hanford high school are still standing, or so I've been told, ain't allowed around unless you got a pass, ya know.

            Well, the Government needed workers for this plant, and the nearest town, Richland, swelled. And Pasco began its slow hourglass drain. Kennewick built Columbia Center, the first mall in the Tri-Cities, which didn't help Pasco a whole heck of a lot. It seemed overnight that downtown Pasco became a wall of plywood windows, for lease signs, and swirling trash devils.


            The young left, or worked out of town, usually at Hanford. 'The Dry Shities' was how the town is referred to by those who left, or those who wish they could leave. Pasco is the town referred to as the driest, and shitiest, of the three. Pasco also took on an ugly rep as to race. If you were black or brown, it was a place to watch your back after dark, rumors spread faster than sand at summer. The local politicians (mostly republican, mostly white) took pride in shutting down the local 'english as a second language' courses in the schools, supported by the local paper, the Tri-City Herald (which, for years struggled painfully to be the Seattle Times). Black or brown politicians were judged on how they voted on their own people, by all races.

            Whites saw nothing wrong, and couldn't figure out what the fuss was about, "I mean, that sign on the old bridge was a myth. 'Don't let the sun set on you in Kennewick'! Oh please! Next you'll have us riding down from the hills in sheets, holding a cross and asking for matches!"

White people figured that they have paid enough, that they provide jobs, services, free schools to migrant families, and all they ever get told is how it's not enough. They see a hand out, forever empty, no matter how they fill it, it still isn't enough. They ask "When does it stop?" There is a section, out around Road 68, a place formerly of sand dunes, sagebrush, a stretch where my dad kept his bees, now home to a small town, full of shops and blocky apartment houses. It’s called ‘White Pasco’, mockingly, but with a knowing nod.

Blacks and browns, seeing white people check their wallets and purses at their approach, watching white people move from neighborhoods, and play musical schools with children, ask "When does it stop?"

 The Patient Refuses to Die

            But there is a little Rasputian in the place, a little of the boxer who doesn't hear his trainer calling to ‘stay down, damn it!’ Pasco has been taking the full nine for decades. But every time I go back, someone is building another new building, U-Haul has too many trucks and people, guardedly, say;

            "Well, the towns establishing a new retail center, moving out farther. The City Council will have to annex some more land, extend the limits, keep up with the movement." It just doesn't know when to stay down, people keep whispering, "The town is dying, doesn't have long to live..." The weekly and dailies of the west print its' obit, write '30' on the end of their annual death warrant articles, but it seems someone forgot to tell the Tri-Cities, and Kennewick and Richland doesn't bother to inform Pasco of it's death sentence. So it just keeps getting on getting on.

The east and west pretend to get along better now, the politicians found that they need each other, if only to block the other party. It's an uneasy alliance at its' best, it's a cuss 'em out behind their backs, tell the voters at home that nothin' would go through without your input,  kinda, sorta, pact. Say nothing too bad, but nothing too good either. At the Pasco High School reunions, the sides feel sorry for each other:

            "How could they stay here? Have they no ambition to better themselves?"

            "How could they leave? They have no respect for the land, for their own kind."

So It Goes...

... so the town creeps out from the old, decaying roots of it's boarded up downtown, now filled with lively Spanish businesses, and fills in the pastures with much needed dental offices.

            I see the fields pave over and fill up. The houses that were built a few years ago sub-divide and spawn more houses, each with an ever smaller yard and a design that goes against the xerox theory, becoming more and more depressingly sharp with each copy. A tree gets its' roots cut to stop it from breaking the sidewalk. It grows still, but only away from the sidewalk, away into the back yard, leaving it's cut, buried roots to die. But the sidewalk is sure nice where they fixed it up.




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You should be southern. Your gothic (in the original sense) world-view would be more forgivable by the conventional if you were from somewhere that they had already decided was declasse.
Small town American slice-of life lives!
Well, having grown up in small town America (and towns even smaller than Pasco) I've seen what little hot beds they can be. This started out as an introduction to a collection of short stories that I may get back to one of these days.
You tell a great Northwest story in the tradition of Kesey with a twist of Faulkner.
Thank you.
There's no question that there are two Washington's, east and west. I'm just over the mountain from the Tri-Cities and spent a lot of time there when I was in the propane business, selling propane to hops growers.

The best cherries on the planet come from the Yakima Valley.
Yep, great cherries, and a ton of skunks around there as well.
nicely done Tom - there is a lot of pulp here without venturing into overly sentiment territory.