In Forks

The best news this morning is that Messrs. Adobe now make document signing easy (yes, I sound like an advert)…which is no small boon to your typical quadriplegic landlord. It had been hanging over me, getting a lease signed and back to the tenant. But now it’s not. My faux signature, rendered entirely on screen, is a Disneyesque improvement on my left-handed, semi-paralyzed scrawl. I needed an improvement in something. My body has been aching ever since its return from Forks, Washington.

Oh, you know Forks. The ‘Twilight’ films, none of which I have seen and about which I know nothing, were from there. Handwritten signs proclaim this as one enters the town, providing a phone number to arrange a tour. There is, if nothing else, a sense of accomplishment in rolling into town. It doesn’t matter where you start rolling, you have been rolling a long time when you reach Forks. The town is in the extreme upper left of these, our continental United States. What brought me there? The graduation of my cousin’s son from Forks High School. My cousin, a civil engineer, builds stuff for the Hoh reservation. Dave must love building stuff. He must love working with the Native American tribe in this remote and staggeringly beautiful rain forest. For the isolation of this corner of the West Coast is hard to describe.

Not that this really matters to my back. This being where the residue of the long journey still resides. A wheelchair is a wondrously enabling technology, no doubt about it. Still, being transported in a sitting position turns out to be remarkably fatiguing. It doesn’t matter whether you are rolling down a hill in San Francisco on your way to the subway station…bouncing through an airport…then another airport…on the Seattle light rail en route to your hotel…then rolling uphill to dinner with brother and family…then crossing Puget Sound on a ferry…then lashed to a wheelchair-accessible van for a three-hour drive around the perimeter of Olympic National Park. In the end you reach Forks, but you are so exhausted that the origin of the curiously named town…an intriguing question as recently as that morning…has become utterly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter, or if it does, you don’t care.

You really don’t care by the time you are inside the Forks High School Auditorium. There is no air conditioning in this otherwise modern assembly hall. Why? Because the climate, consistently cool and one of the rainiest in North America, necessitates only heating. Except this very odd day, the only hot one in many months, when the class of 2015 decides to graduate. There are only 60 of them. And we learn about each in astonishing detail, which may be one of the real strengths of small-town life. There is a mini biography read aloud for each kid, his prospects and…one groans…the dollar amount of any scholarships.

To a relatively urbane type like myself these descriptions…’$121,688 awarded to Timothy by the US Army’…’Rosie was given a $86,291 scholarship by the Western Washington Fund’…sound tasteless. But I don’t live in a small-town disaster like Forks. The lone employer, the lumber industry, has shut down. No one is trained for anything else. Teenage boys still dress like lumberjacks, all boots and braces. They’re heading for the military, of course. The girls, for cosmetology school. Surely we can help a town like this. Surely we won’t.

The new industry, if there is one, is tourism. Olympic National Park draws thousands each year. It doesn’t draw them beyond a few restaurants and hotels, unfortunately. And just south of the last tourist road to the Hoh Rain Forest, traffic on Highway 101 virtually ceases. As my brother and I drove south, in 45 minutes…about 50 miles…we encountered two cars.

Not that I was counting cars, miles, or even the worthwhileness of my Washington trip inside Forks High School’s gymnasium, indoor temperature easily in the 80s. But I was counting on being home by 8 PM Sunday night. Incredibly, my departure was delayed three hours by a faulty aircraft heater. And then once repairs were completed and the loaded aircraft had began taxiing…well, dammed if there wasn’t a problem with the brakes. Back to the gate, of course. Now my real fear was that after arriving in San Francisco I would miss the last subway train home to my neighborhood. I didn’t, of course. Nor did I miss three days of aching shoulders and back, the legacy of too many hours spent bouncing in a wheelchair.

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