The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Living Up to its Name

January 22, 2007
Enterprise, Oregon

ENTERPRISE...(3,755 alt., 1,379 pop.), living up to its name, is the bustling trade center for ranchers in the Wallowa Valley. . . -- Oregon: End of the Trail, The WPA Guide, 1934

Forgive another dateline opener, but this one's just too good to pass up: I'm sitting alone before dawn in the darkened reception lounge of the Wilderness Inn, blogging for the Big Read. This would be unremarkable, except that I'm a guest of the Ponderosa Inn across town (i.e., three blocks away). Because the Ponderosa's wireless internet access isn't all it might be, I shuffled through the empty streets to its sister hotel to try my luck. That's where I found the door unlocked, the wireless impeccable and the couch beckoning. The coffee wasn't on yet, but all the fixings were there if I felt ambitious. For somebody well-acquainted with hotels where the night clerk dozes behind an inch of bulletproof plexiglass, Oregon hospitality suits me down to the ground.

Craig Strobel shows off a traveling exhibit of Dust Bowl-era photos of local workers and families, including works by Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, and other federally-employed photographers of the 1930s. The photos are from the Wallowa County Museum archives; the exhibit is displayed at the museum and in schools, storefronts, libraries, and municipal offices in five local towns. Photo: David Kipen

But I've known that since yesterday, when Big Read organizer Rich Wandschneider met me at the Lewiston, Idaho, airport with a handshake like to impair my typing skills. After I put away a 1-lb. Wimpy Burger (2 counting garnish!, per the menu), Rich put the truck in gear and commenced to regale me with stories of shaking hands with old-timers who'd themselves shaken hands with Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Rich is the founder of Fishtrap, a literary center the envy of cities a hundred times the size of Enterprise. Fishtrap won a grant last year to do Fahrenheit 451 for the Big Read's pilot program, and now they're back for seconds with The Grapes of Wrath.

Bulletin -- the night manager just bleared into the office and tactfully suggested that the Wilderness doesn't open till 7. More down the road, where I hope to use the hand that shook the hand that shook Chief Joseph's to shake the hands of Enterprise High School's AP English class?