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A Step Back in Time - Auburn Washington Vacation
by Don and Peggy Doman

A historical mural in downtown Auburn, Washington.


At the core of Auburn, Washington, is a connection to yesterday . . . working men . . . the good old days. I love the small town feel with Main Street and little interesting shops on the side streets. As a teenager my high school, Clover Park, and Auburn High were rivals in the South Puget Sound League. I attended several football and basketball games in Auburn. Although a number of my clients are in Auburn, as an adult, the majority of my visits are mostly to Messiah Lutheran Church for fundraising and theatrical events in their community meeting room. My daughter-in-law and her extended family attend, volunteer and worship in this downtown church, which rests directly across the street from Auburn High School, just a few blocks from Auburn Way.


A planter in downtown Auburn, Washington.This was a first time overnight adventure for us in Auburn. We've stayed in Sumner before, which is just a little further south in the valley, and although Sumner has planters of flowers in their central downtown, urban sprawl is much more evident in Auburn, than in Sumner. Sumner is the rhubarb pie capitol of the world, but I have no idea what Auburn has as a claim to fame. Most people by-pass Auburn. Highway 18 passes over Auburn on its way to joining up with 90 near the Snoqualmie Falls Casino and North Bend and continues on to Ellensburg and eventually to Spokane. Highway 167 runs north and south less than a mile from the valley cities of Pacific, Algona, Auburn, and Kent.

Like many Washington cities, the boundaries of nearby Native American reservations make jigsaw puzzles of municipalities and original tribal lands, from which have sprouted casino after casino.

The Cedars Inn hotel in Auburn, Washington.We had reservations at the Cedars Inn, which is located a few blocks east of Highway 167 in the northern part of Auburn. Our grandson Riley would be joining us for the second night of our adventure. The first time he joined us for a hotel stay it was in downtown Tacoma at the Murano. From twenty-some floors up we had a commanding view of downtown Tacoma, the Tacoma Dome, the start of the Puyallup Valley, and the Emerald Queen Casino.

At the Cedars Inn, we were on the ground floor looking out at Taco Time, and a couple of different casinos across the street. The hotel was originally part of Nendel's, a hotel chain in the '70s and '80s. The prices are exceedingly reasonable. I'm guessing much of their clientèle are contractors. The hotel has single night rates and extended rates for longer stays.


Excellent soup at the Starting Gate restaurant in Auburn, Washington.Not only is the hotel close to the freeway, fast food restaurants, and casinos, but between the I-5 freeway and our hotel is Emerald Downs, a horse racing track. Because of the proximity of horse racing, a number of businesses have equine related names. After unpacking and taking a short nap, we began looking at local restaurants and chose the Starting Gate for dinner.

We squeezed into a parking space fairly close to the front door. From the number of cars out front I expected a full house, but when we entered we spied two booths near the far wall. We did the three bears routine and found each one too small. We next re-arranged two tables at a larger booth and made it "just right" for us.

The waitress came to the table immediately. She was friendly and gave us a run-down on the night's specials, gave each of us a menu and then left with our drink orders. We ordered the specials as soon as she returned and soon afterward Peg had an excellent cup of chicken and dumpling soup, and I had an enjoyable cup of clam chowder.


The look of a 1950s dinner in Auburn, Washington.We looked around the diner. There was a long counter with stools covered in red vinal running the length. I remarked that the diner could have been in Fossil, Oregon, where Peg has visited Harrington family relatives many times. "No," she replied, "nothing looks over a hundred years old and everything is in good condition." The diner did look like a throw-back to fifty years ago or so. We remarked that both our fathers would have felt right at home with the middle-America "Breakfast Served 24 Hours a Day" menu and homey service.

The specials for the day involved steak and seafood. Peg ordered the sirloin steak with fried oysters and our normal request of "burnt" hashbrowns, while I ordered the rib eye steak with fried oysters and a baked potato. We could also have ordered the steaks with fried shrimp. In the early days of our marriage we lived across the street from Browne's Star Grill on K Street (now, Martin Luther King, Jr Way) on the hilltop in Tacoma. The food and service was very similar. The over-cooked green beans and mushrooms were served in a little side bowl. They were just like Peg loves them.


Excellent steak dinner at the Starting Gate restaurant in Auburn, Washington.Peg's hashbrowns were delivered brown and crispy just as she ordered. The oysters were crispy on the outside and moist in the middle. My baked potato was delivered with sour cream and butter . . . and more butter when I asked for it. The steaks were under-cooked just like we ordered. We were in heaven and listening to the waitress joke with a regular about pie, so of course I had to get a piece of pie (pecan). I shared a bite with Peg. Peg sat and drank her tea, while I drank my Sprite. We both listened to the waitress and her customers. One of the older gentlemen at the counter was reading the sports page. The waitress asked if he was reading about basketball and he responded with "No, too many - - - -." The final word was a racial slur I had not heard in thirty years.

Peg and I looked at each other with mouths agape, while dinner service continued in the diner. Truly, dinner on Friday night was a step back in time. When people talk about the good old days and tradition, they often forget about the rudeness and hurtful words and gestures that accompanied those times. Or, perhaps they don't.


Winter tree damage in the hills around Auburn, Washington.Our wonderful evening wasn't destroyed, but it did put a little damper on it. The next morning with the customer's words still echoing in my mind I drove past the Starting Gate with the same number of cars out front and went looking for some place else that served breakfast.

I drove both north and south and found no other little cafés. I even drove east over the Green River on Highway 16. I found nothing in the hills either, but I did see a ton of broken trees from ice and snow in the middle of January.

I didn't know exactly where I was but guessed that if I headed west I would find myself once again in the Auburn-Kent Valley. The road turned this way and that, crossed the Green River and deposited me a block from the Cedars Inn. I almost drove back to the hotel in defeat, but went looking instead for the old part of town.


Oddfellas Pub and Restaurant in Auburn, Washington.The old part of Auburn is now the new part of town as well. Business is booming with rail traffic (Amtrak Cascades and the Sounder), again. This is something from the past that has revived. (Auburn used to be a major boarding points for the Empire Builder as late as the 1970s.) I crossed the tracks and found myself looking at Oddfellas, a pub and restaurant. I thought perhaps it as part of the "Odd Fellows," a fraternal organization, again from the past, but if there is a connection it must be remote. I parked my car and found myself looking across the street at the Sun Break Café, a breakfast place I had read about on the internet. There were dozens of cars parked nearby. I tucked away the location knowledge. Looking down the street I saw a bistro that Peg and I had also read about.

I walked along the sidewalk to the front door. I was a little confused because it looked more like a tavern, but when Peg and I had stayed in Port Orchard, the best breakfast place turned out to be a tavern, so I wasn't put off too much.


Corned Beef Pub Hash from Oddfellas Pub and Restaurant in Auburn, Washington.I walked into the dimly lit pub. TV screens showed the news and sports scores. I was greeted by a nice red-haired waitress and chose a seat near a big screen. There were only two other tables with people eating breakfast. All the other tables were empty. I looked over the menu and ordered Pub Hash, British Bacon, coffee, and Diet Coke.

The Pub Hash was made with corned beef and potatoes. Surprisingly corned beef was the main ingredient with a ratio perhaps of ten to one. It was a little too strong even for me. I should have upended a ketchup bottle on it, but that's not what I like to eat for breakfast. The British Bacon was excellent. I nibbled a little on the sourdough toast. If there had been more butter on the toast and been delivered with some jam, I might have eaten more. The waitress must have inquired half a dozen times about my meal. I wasn't hungry, so didn't feel compelled to be a member of the clean plate club. I gave her a nice tip, so she knew that the food was not a problem . . . nor was the service.


Comstock Book and Bindery in Auburn, Washington.I returned to the room with yogurt, bananas and granola, but no spoon. Although, the Cedars Inn has a continental breakfast, the only eating implement is a stirring straw. Peg ate a banana and drank a Tully's mocha I bought for her. She was somewhat fortified for shopping.

On an initial drive-thru of town I had spied a hobby store about a hundred feet from the Comstock used book store. We went to in and Peg loved it. I think she even got a kick out of seeing the fat tortoise shell-colored resident cats. She scored big time with a signed copy of Graham Clarke's Grand Tour, "Presenting the sundry etchings drawing verses and critical notes concerning the cultural curiosities of certain parts of France & Italy observed & executed in the anachronological mode by a person of considerable gorm." I think this book is a now a personal treasure of Peg's.

Sample drawings by Graham Clarke.


The Main Street Thrift Store in Auburn, Washington.On the same street, but across Auburn Way Peg had spotted a thrift store. The store featured some original books from several generations ago. There was an early edition of Tom Swift. Tom Swift was an early 1900s science fiction action hero, who's exploits and the author's writing style launched a series of jokes called Swifties, which feature punning adverbs. For example, "I think Republicans are conservative, Tom replied rightly."

Peg was able to resist purchasing books, but did buy a pamphlet size book entitled, Grandma's Old Time Recipe Book. The eight page book was a handout from "Your Leonard Refrigerator Dealer." The Leonard Company was founded in 1881 by Charles H. Leonard in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company merged with Kelvinator in 1926.

Interesting recipes from the book were Veal Collops, Spiced Grapes, Parsnip Fritters, and Gooseberry Ketchup. I wonder if Auburn might consider going for the title of Gooseberry Ketchup Capitol of the World?


Grandson Riley carrying messages in Joust.After we finished shopping we put in a call to our son, Patrick. baseball practice was over and grandson Riley was free to join us for the rest of our stay. Although, he had seen the same play the night before, he was more than ready to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, again.

Wednesday evening he had been in school production called Joust, a medieval comedy. He played the part of the messenger. He came on the stage three times with announcements.

As soon as our grandchildren can act semi-civilized we like to take them to live theatre. That Riley and his two sisters are involved with school productions is a giant plus.

I think what got Riley hooked was the Seattle Children's Theatre production of A Year with Frog and Toad when he was three years old.


Fresh trout from Northern Fish in Tacoma, Washington.We picked up Riley and since he had not eaten lunch before practice, and it was late afternoon, we asked him where he would like to eat. He chose Pick Quick. Pick Quick is our favorite place for burgers, shakes and fries in Fife, Washington. The problem with Pick Quick in Fife, however is that you have to stand outside and order. Plus, they close during the coldest months of the year. In Auburn, there's a new Pick Quick where you order and eat inside AND they are open all year round. Riley chose a deluxe bacon cheeseburger with fries and a root beer milkshake.

Peg had a deluxe bacon cheeseburger with fries and water. I had two deluxe bacon cheeseburgers and a small lime creamsicle milkshake.

Everything was really good, but afterward Peg and I agreed, "The fries weren't greasy enough." How true. How true.


Call to Duty of Modern Warfare 3.After lunch/dinner Riley and I left Peg at the book shop, again. We went to a place called InTrickIt, where they repair gaming devices and sell new and used games.

We asked the salesman if they had any XBox 360 cheat code magazines. The answer was "No, but try Safeway." Riley was looking for information to improve his game scores. He next looked at new and used software games. He had $17 to spend. With some minor pleading I agreed to increase the amount to $31 for a used game. Riley handed the salesman the empty box and after he was unable to find the disc, he asked us to return on Monday. When he found that we were only visiting . . . and after he considered the problem . . . he offered to sell us Riley's original choice of Call to Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for $40, a savings of $20. Who can turn down a good bargain . . . and the joy of a grandchild? Riley walked away repeating, "I can't stop smiling."


Science kit for the inner ear.I knew paying for much of the XBox game would raise Peg's eyebrows because of establishing such a prececent, but I also knew that she was busily buying more books, which I had no problem with. My own reduction of the family wealth was a $7 model of the human ear at the Hobby store.

As a member of Rotarians for Hearing and the current vice chair, I thought that a larger than life model showing the inner workings of the human ear would make a nice display for our next convention or Rotary Club presentation. I bought the model from the bargain table, where I saved about $14. Of course I will have to put the model together myself, which should be a piece of cake . . . I hope. But then, it's not really a model, but a science kit.

My organization provides education about hearing and funding for hearing regeneration. Birds can re-grow haircells of the inner ear. Humans can't. Research scientists at the University of Washington want to know why. So do we. I'm sure my $7 model . . . I mean science kit, will help . . . really sure.


Director Jack Lippard in Auburn, Washington.After relaxing at the Cedars Inn where we read (Peg), played games on a Kindle Fire (Riley), and napped (me), we drove for less than five minutes to church. We were early, but we won the best parking space . . . a small victory. Inside we explained that we had left our tickets at home and we were waved in. Another small victory. Our daughter-in-law Wendy, Riley's mother, had been the house manager for both prior evening's performances and the 2 PM matinee, so I'm sure instructions were already issued.

Our daughter-in-law introduced us to Jack Lippard, who was the director of the musical. Jack was fun to talk with. He's had professional experience with a Seattle improvisation group. A friend of our's, Tim Hoban, was involved in a Tacoma group. Jack was familiar with their efforts. Like most people in the theater, Jack has a full-time job. Unlike most people in the theater, his job is with Homeland Security.

Jack could not say enough good things about the hard working, no devisive drama cast of his production. We have never been disappointed with any production at Messiah Lutheran. We weren't disappointed in this one, either.


Redheads Bailee and Wendy Doman in Auburn, Washington.As the production started I realized that one of the box office team who waved us through was Laura Kniss, one of the leads in the production. This was not really surprising, the church has a strong volunteer base. My son's father-in-law, Brent, almost always works with the sound booth and scene construction. Patrick's brother-in-law, Scott, usually works with Brent and in this production was also on stage as the husband of Mrs. Coneybear played by his "real life" wife, Christie. Their stage and real life daughter Marin, was also involved. Another stage daughter was our granddaughter Bailee.

After the production Bailee joined her mom and Peg took this wonderful photo of the two of them. Just as the picture was snapped, Wendy flipped Bailee's long hair up.

Bailee has joined us on similar adventures before . . . and will again. Her little sister, Laci, will be in the next production at Messiah Lutheran in a few weeks. She and two other granddaughters will join us for a weekend of fine dining and entertainment.


The Sun Break Cafe in Auburn, Washington.After the production we drove back to the hotel and although Riley enjoyed the Kindle Fire again, he and Peg created some sketches and other artwork. In addition, Riley downloaded three new games for his grandmother. My favorite mental image of the weekend was Riley sitting in the hotel's easy chair with Peg. Her arm is wrapped around him as he sits on her lap showing her something called Office Jerk. We all got to sleep about midnight.

Sunday morning saw Riley waking up while I checked my emails. We dressed and then drove to the Sun Break Café. A year or two ago, in a survey of 38 Auburn restaurants, the Sun Break Café was chosen #1. From our experience they should be in no danger of losing that status. From the minute we were greeted to our exit, we had great service, huge portions, and excellent food.


The hot chocolate from the Sun Break Cafe in Auburn, Washington.Riley sat with his back to the kitchen, so he didn't see the cup of hot chocolate making its way across the dining room. I'm guessing the whipped cream on top towered more than half a foot. This photograph of Riley was taken when he had eaten about half of the whipped cream. While he eventually ate the cream down to the cup level, I don't think he actually had more than a spoonful of the hot chocolate.

Riley ate a small section of his plate-sized pancake before folding it over and stuffing it into a "to go" box. I ate perhaps a third of my hashbrowns and gravy. I ate the inside of my biscuit and my sliced ham. My only complaint was that I would have made the sausage gravy a little thicker.

We left with Riley's pancake box, another box containing five pieces of excellent bacon for Peg (which she never shared by the way), and a fantastic loaf of freshly baked banana bread, which lasted maybe twenty-four hours.


We didn't have the best weather for a vacation, but it didn't really matter. We're pretty much used to gray skies in the Pacific Northwest. We had a wonderful time in Auburn, anyway. Entertainmentwise, we missed out on a sold out Buddy Holly tribute presentation, and we probably should have checked out the performing artists at the Muckleshoot Casino, which often has big name entertainers. During the summer the White River Amphitheater has top notch entertainment as well. And a friend of mine plays regularly at a little night spot in the nearby town of Pacific . . . I don't know the name of the night spot, but how many could there be? Now that's a really SMALL town.


Mid-winter tree damage on the hills surrounding Auburn, Washington.

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