It was supposed to be a symbolic gesture that would have some sort of real meaning amidst all the commercially charged angles of the commemoration that is the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. What it turned out to be however could be the perfect symbol of what this event really has become.
We've only been talking about, writing about and gossiping about how great this event would be for the last two years - or more. All the cool things that would happen, all the money it would generate.
I must say that my personal favorite moment in the lead up to all of this was when former Long Beach City Manager Nabiel Shawa straddled the bronze "Clark's Tree" and rode it through town waving at the crowd like the rodeo queen. This image is indelibly marked in my memory thanks to the photo taken by former Observer staffer Timm Collins.
But Lewis and Clark finally arrived at the Peninsula - literally. There were at least two Corps of Discovery at the beach, three if you count the National Parks traveling exhibit of the same name. I've gone to some events that were packed with people - the Ocian in View series at the dilapidated Hilltop Auditorium were filled to the gills, some people being turned away at the door. And yet others didn't seem to attract many at all, including the aforementioned Corps II exhibit. In fact, I heard that some people who came out to go clamming in the storm two Saturdays ago didn't even know the bicentennial was going on.
But the real kicker was the event scheduled for the Megler Bridge Sunday morning, Nov. 13. Dubbed "Consider the Columbia," the event was to offer "a singular moment of shared reflection, providing a life-long memory for those who participate," according to the explanation in the official commemorative guide.
Some may remember that Saturday Night Live skit from the early 1990s where the host Steve Martin sits in an easy chair next to a fire and ponders, "if I had one wish this holiday season, it would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace." This is the first thing that came to mind when I was reading about this event and making my plans to photograph it for the paper. Coincidentally, the next line of the skit goes, "and if I had a second wish this holiday season, it would be for $30 million a month to be given to me, tax-free, in a Swiss bank account."
So I got up early that Sunday morning and got ready to drive over to the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, where they loaded everyone on school buses and sent us back toward the bridge. Here we would wait until they closed the 4.5-mile span over the river to traffic. It was then that things started to go bad.
The chairwoman of the signature event in Astoria got onboard with a bowl of wapato, a potato-like vegetable. She said that the original plan of having a reenactment of trading Native American food items for trade beads would take too long so they decided just to let people see what would have been traded.
When we did get on the bridge, the buses were parked five lengths away from each other, thinking that people were going to join hands in the spirit of harmony and peace. Instead, people took shelter behind the buses from the strong winds blowing off the ocean, leaving huge gaps of nothing. No hand holding, no "Kum-Bi-Yah." Just a lot of people freezing. And waiting.
Waiting for the fishing vessel Shamrock, which was to be carrying VIP-types who would be pouring waters collected from the Missouri and Snake rivers into the Columbia to represent the journey westward up those waterways. Did I mention we were supposed to be done and on our way back by 8:30 a.m.? The boat didn't arrive until 8:40 a.m.
And when it did, it couldn't get close to the bridge because high tide was still over an hour away and it would have gotten stuck. So who knows if they poured anything or not - heck, you could barely see the boat.
Thank goodness for the souvenir bags everyone got though, without those, the whole thing would have been lost...
Inside each bag was a pencil with some colored streamers attached to it. Out of nowhere, a voice from the boat commanded "Wave your streamers!" and they did. For about a minute people were waving their little streamers in the spirit of harmony and peace - and then we got back on the buses.
Wow, what a let down. Basically everything that had been planned for the event didn't happen. Only a few hundred people showed - a few thousand less than originally planned. A helicopter fly-over with colored flares didn't happen - it was too foggy.
But you know, a funny thing happened as I was sitting on the bus thinking of how I only got five hours sleep in order to do this. People were talking about how cool it was.
They were excited about having been on the bridge, of experiencing weather probably similar to that which the Corps of Discovery came upon 200 years before. And then it all came together for me, the parallel I'd been looking for.
Despite grandiose plans for events, inordinate numbers of people flocking here, all the money that could be made, the people who are coming here from elsewhere are having a good time, regardless of how many there are. They are enjoying our area.
Granted, it's not necessarily what we had planned, and it may not be a statement of harmony and peace, but it does say something about our area. Now if we could just do something about that $30 million a month ...