Monday, May 06, 2013

The Days of Wine and Onions

I’ve done many travelogues from major cities like New York, Paris, and London.  (You're welcome to buy the book.)  But today comes one from a small town, Walla Walla (along with a lot of photos). I was there to speak at the kick-off banquet for their summer college league team, the Sweets, and visit my good friend Mr. Great Big Radio who moved there when he entered the Witness Protection Program.

First – the flight. New feature at the Alaska terminal in LA – Monet’s California Deli. How can anyone think of French Impressionism without thinking of a pastrami on whole wheat with mustard and sprouts?

Flew first to Seattle (where I’m already forgotten) then took a prop plane to Walla Walla. By “prop” I don’t just mean propellers. I think this might have been the exact plane we used on WINGS. Steven Weber’s lines may still be taped to the flight panel.

Walla Walla is located somewhere in Washington, fifty miles north of Hooterville and thirteen miles west of Pixley. It is known for its onions, wine, and prison. And it’s the home of the Tidy Bowl Man!

The town itself is very charming. Population: 30,000. The Jewish population doubled when I arrived. Now that it boasts 150 wineries Walla2 has gotten very trendy in spots. Picture Carmel with grain elevators.

One winery -- Cayuse – is so snooty there’s a waiting list just to get on the mailing list to let you know if you’re maybe eligible to join their wine club. This is not a joke. Unless their Edith Grenache Rose is also the Fountain of Youth, an orgasm with every sip, and can cure eczema, I for one would tell them to stick their waiting list where the grapes don’t grow and make do with the other 149 spectacular vineyards in the area.

Former NFL quarterback, Drew Bledsoe is the owner of one. Doubleback. Everyone is welcome to join his mailing list except Tom Brady.

All of Walla Walla’s historical figures fought for peace, were then brutally slaughtered, and now have statues. TV’s Batman, Adam West hails from the area. If reviews count, Adam deserves a statue too.

The place to go for breakfast is Tommy’s Dutch Lunch. From the outside it looks like the shack where Jeffrey Dahmer stored his victims, but the food is delicious. We sat at a large table and three guys who could easily have been Larry, Daryl, and Daryl just sat right down. “Yeah fellas, don’t be shy. Squeeze in here. They serve biscuits and gravy so this must be Benihana’s.”

Nice touch on the wall behind me – a fly swatter.

City charm extends to the maximum security prison. It looks like a racetrack. They even call it State Penitentiary Grounds. Lovely white picket fences and serene rolling lawns. Alas, “backstretch”, “in the money”, and “pick three” mean very different things.
One must-see attraction is the Museum of Un-Natural History. Founded by Gerry Matthews, America’s beloved Tidy Bowl Man, it’s one of most impressive collection of worthless tchotchkes in the world. Bizarre figurines, surreal kinetic mobiles, questionable art pieces, and junk are arranged in dazzling displays of satire, political statements, and the need for meds. This is like a CT-scan of Terry Gilliam’s brain.

They have a restaurant called Mr. Ed’s. I’m sure business was booming during the horsemeat scare.

I was there during Release Week, which thank goodness didn’t mean all the inmates were set free. It meant the wineries released their spring lines. And Cayuse deleted their waiting list.

Jacobi’s is an Italian restaurant in a train car (Mussolini promises that all entrees will be delivered on time). The night I was there one table of nineteen people all wanted separate checks. Yeah, we’re the cheap ones.

The Walla Walla Sweets banquet was held in the former Lincoln Logs factory, which explained why none of the corners matched. Where are Lincoln Logs made today? China.
There’s nothing like the purity of college league baseball. You sit close to the players, watch them live out their dreams, and what’s a ballgame without a salmon burger?

Eighteen times I drove by Popular Donuts and there was never a single car in the lot. Just how popular can they be?
Ever notice that roads to vinyard tasting rooms are always winding? Customers are asked to sample five wines then negotiate hairpin turns.

I imagine the road to the Cayuse tasting room is unmarked. If you can’t find it in the dark with your lights off you’re not the type of person worthy of sampling their vintage Merlot.

Thanks to Mr. Great Big Radio, Bonnie of Bonnie’s Survival Cookies (kicking Popular Donuts' ass), Zach, the Walla Walla Sweets, and of course, the Tidy Bowl Man for reminding me again how terrific small town living can be. No traffic. Free parking. Only one Starbucks downtown. And everyone is friendly… well, almost everyone.

Hey, if any of you convicts from the prison are reading this blog, do me a favor and apply for the Cayuse wine club. Say: “Although many of us in cellblock D find your Armada Vineyard Syrah lacking in nuance, some of the murderers enjoy it at mealtime. It especially compliments Sloppy Joes.”


emily said...

Well Well, Walla Walla. Bravo! Bravo!

Mike Barer said...

By the way, Walla Walla visitors can check out the Barer Building. It's kind of a joke, my Dad bought the building on 5th and Main. The tablet on the upper building had a name and the year 1887. When the building was reroofed. It was made to say Barer 1887, even though there were no Barers in Walla Walla until early in the 20th century.!/photo.php?fbid=10151638937854251&set=o.2347161287&type=1&theater

Mike Barer said...

One fact a little more interesting about Walla Walla is it was, I believe the last town in Washington to outlaw prostitution, which was brought up in a Life Magazine story in the late 50s. It was an embarrassment to the Mayor, Raymond Borleske to whom the Stadium where the Sweets play is named after.

Robert Pierce said...

I'm pretty sure that the "Dear Leader" doll is actually to scale.

Mac said...

Cool. I could see the Crane brothers applying for membership of the Cayuse Winery, and having nervous breakdowns as they try to work out why they haven't heard back from them yet.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

So well written, I feel as if I was there. By the way, Cayuse is now just making robocalls telling everyone in town they've been denied. They should be hitting your area code Thursday.

Michael said...

First, I think Jim Murray would be proud of you, Ken.

Second, you needed to mention that it was one of the favorite cities of the Warner Bros. cartoon gang because it sounded so funny.

Mike Barer said...

Walla Walla was also mentioned in the Alvin And The Chipmonks classic "The Witch Doctor"

iain said...

I can't hear the name Walla Walla without thinking of George Carlin's brilliant "Wonderful WINO" radio bits.

chris said...

Bledsoe and Brady are actually very friendly. I better name to use for the joke would have been linebacker Mo Lewis of the Jets who almost killed Bledsoe (and gave Brady his chance to play).

Tom Quigley said...

Being orginally from New York, even when I lived in L.A. I always considered the words "California" and "Deli" to be an oxymoron. "California" and "Veggie Pizza"? -- More appropriate.

Tim W. said...

I have to admit, I looked up Hooterville to see if it was a real place or not. One never knows.

RCP said...

Really enjoyed this - and the roads to wineries DO tend to be winding. Wasn't the Tidy Bowl Man from Flushing?

Brent said...

Another great travelogue, Ken. Who else but you would do one of Walla Walla?

Loved the architecture in the downtown photos. Such great character. So much better than soulless glass rectangles.

Mark said...

So, if there's a Boerleske Stadium is there a Boerleske Theater as well?

And isn't George Carlin's Wonderful WINO set in Walla Walla?

It all makes sense now.

Tom Quigley said...

"Eighteen times I drove by Popular Donuts and there was never a single car in the lot. Just how popular can they be?"

Wonder if it might be that if you pulled back farther on the shot it would look like it was located next to the Bates Motel?...

tb said...

Top Ten Travelogue for sure!

Jake Mabe said...

Years and years ago, my hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., had a chewing gum company that produced (what else?) Walla Walla Chewing Gum.

Nobody seems to know how or why the name was chosen.

Great piece, as usual. Love the travelogues.

cjdahl60 said...

I'd just like to say, Ken, that we haven't forgotten you in Seattle. Although Rick Rizz's new radio partner is OK, I much preferred your work on the Mariner's broadcast.

And I loved your baseball post about your home run call from a few days ago. I'm one of the few who enjoy your baseball posts. Keep them coming!

Terry Benish said...

Ken, good stuff as usual.

Whitman College plays their DIII baseball at the same stadium and it is a great place to watch the Sweets play in summer. Great kids! One of your radio predecessors on M's radio broadcasts was Ken Wilson. He started the West Coast Collegiate league that the Sweets play in. You are sorely missed in the radio wasteland that is Mariner broadcasts.

Wine For Normal People said...

Dammit! I was just there reporting on wine stuff for my podcast/blog and I missed you.

What you didn't mention was that Cayuse has a pretty tasting room downtown that is apparently never open because they are always sold out of wine. It's like a tease for people walking by. Who does that?

I skipped the prison. I also skipped Popular Donut. Wasn't a great pairing with all the Merlot I was drinking, sorry to say.

Our trips were only a few weeks apart and that sucks because had we been there at the same time we could have tripled the Jew population, potentially even creating some kind of pop-up latke stand, bagel operation, or rhinoplasty shop. At minimum, we could have group kvetched -- that would have been a show for those nice people, no?

Although I hung out with other winos (it's my job) and didn't see as much of the town as you did, I agree, the people are so spitting nice. My brassy, New York attitude may have scared them a little but they never let on and for that (and for the kick ass wine) I thank them!

Elizabeth Schneider
Wine for Normal People

chuckcd said...

So, how was Mr. Haney?

404 said...

Ken, this is off-topic, but I think you would enjoy this. This is a link to a picture taken on the Dick Van Dyke show during one of the show productions. If you click on the "view full size" link it blows up quite a bit. I though you might like this interesting look at one of your favorite shows.

(By the way, this site has thousands of old vintage images dating back to the 1860s or so, and some of them blow up into quite stunning detail. Those of you into this sort of thing should check it out).

Chris Muir said...

When I think of Walla Walla, and you can guess how often that may be, I always think of "Deck us all with Boston Charlie"

Powerhouse Salter said...

My roommate and I co-hosted a soft rock radio show on Whitman College's KWCW (K-Dub) in the early 1980s, and at least once a week we'd get a polite call-in from someone at the state pen. It was always the same voice and the same request: "Play some Hendrix!"

Jennifer Feldmann said...

This is great, the one true representation of Walla Walla that I've read.

I grew up in Walla Walla and go back to visit now and again. After one visit, I returned to find Walla Walla featured in the NY Times Sophisticated Traveler. I read the review and man, did I want to go THERE (even though I'd just been there) because they described an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PLACE!

You've gained a new subscriber.

J Hill said...

I actually live in Walla Walla and if you love wine you'll love visiting here. Although for some good wine without the snooty-ness of Cayuse, you can head to Reninger, Saviah, Cadaretta, Waters...I could go on for about 144 more wineries. Popular Donuts is actually Popular despite no cars. There is a drive through in the back and they are usually sold out of most donuts by 8 am so you better get there early. Other must trys while you're here, Ice berg Drive through for the burgers and shakes, Andrae's Kitchen (the gourmet food located inside the local Cenex gas station and mini mart) and Public House 124 for its great food although the menu changes every few weeks so you better enjoy it the first time since you may never see that same thing again on a visit.

Sherri said...

I'm looking forward to more visits to Walla Walla over the next four years because my daughter starts college at Whitman in the fall!

Terry said...


In another comments section on this site someone posted a link to the CBS Syndication Bible. I was looking around there and noticed that they don't list Almost Perfect at all. Tons of shows there, as far back as I Love Lucy and Our Miss Brooks, but no Almost Perfect. Does that mean the series is no longer available in syndication? That's a shame, if true. I'd like to see it again and had hoped some station somewhere might pick it up.

Al in Portland said...

Walla Walla ... the town so nice they named it twice. Of course, it's not all that isolated, at least compared to Washington State University, where I went to school (a few years before Tom Tuttle). WSU, is actually 30 miles from a community called Dusty.

Jarrod Sumerlin said...

Glad you enjoyed our little town, "The town so nice they named it twice".
Tommy's is the place to eat, it's the food you want when you go out but can't ever seem to get. Try to imagine what grandma might have made and you got it.
The wine industry has exploded here. I remember when we had 29 and thinking we couldn't possibly sustain anymore.
As for the prison, that's my home, not literally, but it's where I work. I can assure you, it's always release weekend...everyday. We might even make more fermented alcohol there than all the wineries, but I wouldn't drink it.
If you ever come back we can treat you to a tour in our 59 cadi, you know the one with the big fins. Stretch limos are for big cities, you got to do it in style out here. A prison tour could also be on the list, no sampling the wine.
Carlin did perform here, but that was before all the wine, unless he got into some of the old Italian vino, only one step up from prison mash.

Johnny Walker said...

I still can't get ever over Monet's California Deli. What's next, Rembrant's Lobster Shack? ("We don't know if Rembrant enjoyed fine quality sea food, but if he did, we'd like to think he'd eat here.") Boggles the mind.

Mark P. said...

Names mean nothing. At the Trump Taj, they have the "New Delhi Deli". There is not even a single piece of Indian food on the menu.

BOB said...

Someone had actually never heard of Hooterville? Everybody knows its near Springfield!

Next you'll tell me they've never heard of Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo and Betty Jo!

Cap'n Bob said...

A guest took the stage on the Tonight Show once and said Jayne Mansfield was from Twin Falls. Carson quipped, "Either that or Walla Walla."

That's the only Walla Walla comment I have, even though I live in the same state.

Paul Duca said...

Lincoln Logs production has just returned to the U.S.--a factory in Maine is.making them