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Fear and Lunching on the Fruit Loop 10/13/20




We were somewhere around Bridal Veil on the west end of the gorge when a vague awareness of the whole situation began to take hold. I remember thinking “I should never have even answered that stupid phone.” My friend Allison is smart and she’s full of good advice, but she’s also a little on the crazy side. As far as I know she’s still wanted by Interpol for an international incident on the frontier of a small Mediterranean country back in 1998. She still claims she wasn’t responsible. I know better. She has never steered me wrong, but I suspect she will someday, so when she told me I had - absolutely HAD - to make a trip to the Hood River Fruit Loop I knew there was a good chance the whole thing could go sideways. But every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on caffeine and then drive like a bastard from the safety of your own home to that very seat of debauchery and depravity, the Hood River Valley.


The Fruit Loop is a route through the town of Hood River and the surrounding valley that takes you by dozens of fruit stands, orchards, vineyards and farms where you can stop and sample what each has to offer. The history of the Fruit Loop actually began in the hills east of Sacramento - Sac-town - The Big Sacatomatoes. In 1964 a bunch of farmers in the Sierra foothills decided that if they got together and created a single big destination for people looking for fresh fruit, nuts, pumpkins and baked goods, those people would come in droves to buy what they had to offer. Apple Hill has expanded in numbers of vendors and offerings over the years and is still going strong. It’s a beautiful part of our neighboring state and when the temperature in the big city approximates the surface of the sun, which isn’t uncommon, Apple Hill near Placerville is a good place to go for some relief even if you’re not a fruit fan. In 1992 farmers and merchants in the Hood River Valley decided to try something similar in their own area as a way to promote the products of Fruit Loop member businesses. Today, in those few miles between the mountain and the Columbia River there are 26 official stops on the Loop, with a harvest season starting with berries in early June and running through pumpkins and pears in October.

I had hung up the phone thinking it would be an easy job. Grab Mrs. Ednold, load up the Bucket with enough hot, black coffee to drown an elephant, meet up with a few friends and drive around for a couple hours looking at fruit and tasting some wine with a giant mountain looking over our shoulders. As these assignments go, it was as easy as apple pie. It would be a perfect opportunity for me and Mrs. Ednold to take a scenic drive with another couple; my friend Gonzo Dave and his wife.


Then Mrs. Ednold had a change to her schedule and wouldn't be able to make it. No problem, I think. I can improvise. I decided maybe a mens’ day out would be the way to go. I am always ready for a testosterone-filled day of carousing with an old buddy, and if I knew Gonzo Dave, which I was sure I did by now, he would be up for it too. Just a couple of guys out together looking at fruit and sipping a little vino. Two extremely straight men out together poring over produce stands and sampling jellies and syrups. Yep. This would be interesting. I’ve been on road trips before, but this trip would be different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country – but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.


I’ve known Gonzo Dave since we played football together in middle school. He was a star student in high school and I... well, I shared a locker with him. So, if I never achieved academic stardom myself, it was always in close proximity, and if it never rubbed off on me it wasn’t his fault. Later, in college, we were roommates in an old house that had somehow, inexplicably at that point, escaped condemnation by the housing inspector. It did have it’s amenities, though. I always looked forward to the squishy layer of moss on the bottom of the shower stall, and the fact that the stairs to the second floor could only be accessed through the bathroom made for some interesting moments when we had guests. One small detail of our time there together may provide some insight into how our house operated: Early in the year our third roommate attended an auction at which he placed the winning bid on a giant box of individually wrapped plastic spoons that kept us from having to wash any eating utensils for an entire school year. That box was enormous, and it soon became apparent that there was very little we couldn’t eat or cut up with a plastic spoon if it meant not having to clean any dirty silverware. With the right incentive, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.


Fast forward more years than seem possible. That house finally did receive its due attention from the housing inspector and has since been replaced by an ugly modern home. The new tenants probably have no idea what they’re missing. And Gonzo Dave is now a big-shot in Portland with a job that you and I wish we had. It would be weird and creepy to say that you and I also wish we had his wife, so hopefully you’ll understand what I’m trying to say without me having to say that. Mrs. Dave is almost as wonderful as Mrs. Ednold, and the two are great friends. Which is why, when I was ordered to make this trip and before Mrs. Ednold was caught up in other plans, I thought it would be perfect for the four of us.


Before unveiling my Plan B suggestion to the two Mrs., I was concerned they would put the kibosh on the whole thing. After all, what woman in her right mind would allow her husband to spend a whole partnerless day with his male friend driving around in a babe-magnet of a car (Gonzo Dave would be driving), participating in the non-stop bacchanalia that is the Hood River Valley? I needn’t have worried. Consent given, the trip was on.


But implicit in that consent was the notion that we were too tame to really have a good time. Why would they let us do this? Did they think we were incapable of raising a little hell out on the open road? Hmmm. Me, Gonzo Dave, some wheels, and the entire partypalooza that is the Hood River Valley. Challenge accepted. Hunter Thompson, that guru of gonzo, would not be making this trip with us, having appropriately arranged to be shot out of a cannon 15 years ago. But he would be with us in spirit and was one reason I knew this trip would be one big, totally gnarly, kick-ass autumn day.


We flew up the gorge past the geezers and losers hogging the fast lane to exit 64. Yes, there was trepidation as we left the freeway and drove straight on through to Pearl’s Place. Yes, there was a sense of foreboding as we drove down Pearl's gravel driveway. There were 26 stops ahead of us. That's a lot of fruit and stuff made from fruit ,and other fruit-related stuff. Could we hold up under all that fruitiness? We steeled ourselves as we parked the car and walked in to meet Pearl. As stop #1 on the Loop, Pearl has the added pressure of needing to make a good impression. This is the welcome mat for the whole shebang. Things could all fall apart right here if Pearl’s not on her game. But with her smallish, low-key stand Pearl set a positive tone for the morning. We could have picked our own apples off the trees, but why? She had several bins in her little shop full of different varieties we could choose from. There were preserves of all types and the yogurt-covered hazelnuts were especially tempting. After ten minutes or so we made our purchases and hopped back in the car. As we took a few minutes to peruse our complimentary Loop guides and broke out the first cigars of the day, we were feeling pretty good. One down, 25 to go.

Continuing on down the eastern side of the valley on Highway 35, there was the Mount Hood Winery, Smiley’s Red Barn, Fox-Tail Cider and Distillery, and Packer Orchards and Bakery, to name a few establishments. In between, Dave was driving like he had pilfered one of Smiley's apples, and for some reason it seemed apropos that Dire Straits were blasting at top volume from the speakers. By the time we eventually rolled up at Draper Girls Country Farm and Cidery, this entire fruity world was beginning to alter our consciousness. We’d seen apples before. And pears and grapes and berries. And gourds. But not like this. This Loop was making us loopy, and this was only the halfway point. “What kind of gourd are you looking for, sir? One that looks like a giant green twisted peanut? One that just looks like a pumpkin that melted? Or maybe the orange and white striped one with a bad case of hives?” I didn’t know. It was all too much. Again, we looked over the bins full of more varieties of apples than I would have thought possible, dodged the children and families and couples crowding the aisles to check out the shelves full of every conceivable fruit-based product, sampled more cider than was probably advisable, and lurched back to the car.


A few more white knuckle miles of Gonzo Dave tearing through the community of Parkdale landed us in the parking lot of Kiyokawa Family Orchards, where we donned our masks and headed for the end of the Entry line. “I hate to say this,” Gonzo Dave said as we took our properly-distanced place at the back of the line, “but this place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the Fear.” “Nonsense,” I said. “We came out here to find the American Dream, and now that we’re right in the vortex you want to quit.” I grabbed his bicep and squeezed. “You must realize,” I said, “that we’ve found the main nerve.” Good God, there were a lot of apples, and Gonzo Dave was having trouble holding it together. “Relax”, I told him. “In a town full of bedrock crazies, nobody even notices an apple freak.”


Andre the Giant Apple

Sensing that time was of the essence, I ignored the plum-sized grapes and the apple-sized plums and made straight for the melon-sized apples: The Hanner’s Jumbos. They were huge. They were grotesque. They were exactly what we were looking for. American Dream, indeed. We bought the biggest one in the bin, carried it between us back to the car and strapped it into the back seat where Hunter’s ghost could keep an eye on it. It wouldn’t fit up front with us and it could knock us both unconscious if we left it to roll around in back on its own. The presence of our overgrown friend in back seemed to have an immediate effect on Gonzo Dave, and as we pulled back out onto Clear Creek Rd. he appeared to be regaining his composure.


That was a good thing, because I was starting to lose mine. Why had Southbound Again come on just as we had turned to make our way back north? And why were our next two stops closed? Lavender Valley was locked up tight, though we could look through the fence and see row upon row of the stuff. And Mt. View Orchards and Brewery, our intended lunch stop, wasn’t serving anything for another two hours. Despite the fruit we had sampled I was ready for a meal. And though we had an apple in the back seat that could sustain a family of four for a month, we weren’t touching Andre (that was his name by now). But there were a few more stops to make and more food options ahead.


The Old Trunk store was one of those stops. To say the store is an antique shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain would be accurate, but wouldn’t convey the atmosphere inside. If you find most antique stores a little depressing and wonder who the hell would pay THAT for THAT, then you need to stop here. I wasn’t in a buying mood, but even I saw two or three things that I might have bought if I’d been in a different state of mind. As it was, I had promised Allison I would bring back a copy of Playboy from her birth month. I won’t divulge what month that may have been, but Gonzo Dave and I spent a good 45 minutes going through that pile of old magazines with a fine-tooth comb before finally admitting defeat. This journalism thing is more work than most people realize, and only the most masculine of men would have so doggedly stuck to that task for so long. By the end of our search we were both ready to get out of there, check on Andre, and be done with the Loop for the day.


We didn’t have time to hit every stop on the Loop, but I might suggest that the Fruit Loop be expanded to include a few more stops which are not on the official map which we may or may not have stopped at. The whole thing was becoming a blur and I’m not really sure anymore. For instance, it might be quite possible that we included a stop at the Japanese Garden at the OSU Extension office in Hood River.


As the valley became known as a perfect place to grow apples and berries in the early 20th century, land owners employed Japanese immigrants to clear the land in exchange for plots of less desirable land. Eventually the immigrants began to own their own farms and became a little too good at farming for the comfort of many of their white neighbors. By the 1920s their success led to the passage of a bill preventing people of Japanese descent from buying or owning property. During WWII they were rounded up and forced to sell or lease their farms prior to being sent to internment camps for the duration of the war. Afterward, they weren’t exactly welcomed back with open arms. So this little garden is a good place to come and ponder that history and think of all the hard work of all the different people who turned this valley from forest to farmland.


We also may or may not have included a stop at the Tropicannabis Club downtown on our way back to the freeway. I don’t know how much it costs or what the rules are for getting your business on the official map, and it may be a place you’d like to skip if you’ve got a carload of kids, but surely that’s as much of a fruit as lavender. It’s already on the route so they might want to consider becoming an official part of the Loop.

Did we stop at the Oak Street Pub in the middle of town? Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t. Like I said, things were getting a little fuzzy. But if we did I’m pretty sure we both would have had the pulled-pork nachos with a pint of Fuzztail Hefe from Sunriver Brewing, sat out under the outdoor shelter and discussed the state of the world. The edge of a gorge was an apt place to be talking through our masks about where we had ended up. We would have looked over into the abyss of the coming months and the aftermath of this cursed year and it would have been hard to see anything that provoked optimism in the near future. There was a time when ignorance was something to be ashamed of, not flaunted. How long would it take for those days to come back? And it used to be there were two choices of apples. You want a red apple or you want a green apple? But that was some other era, burned out and long gone from the brutish realities of this foul year of Our Lord, 2020. A lot of things had changed. And now I was in Hood River writing about fruit and fruit-related stuff for some reason that nobody claimed to understand. “Just check it out,” Allison had said, “and we’ll take it from there. …”. Right.


Gonzo Dave and I lit up our last cigars, strode manfully to the car, checked to make sure Andre and Hunter were comfortable in back, and put the HRV in our rear view.


P.S.

This was only our experience on the Fruit Loop (or was it? Who knows?). Your experiences may vary, but I recommend it. Especially during the summer when everything is in-season and the mountain is seemingly right in your lap. If you aren’t satisfied with this lame gonzo imitation, you may want to check out the original at https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/fear-and-loathing-in-las-vegas-204655/ .


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gilromastew
gilromastew
Oct 14, 2020

Ednold, you always amaze me. I didn't even know there was a Fruit Loop. Sounds like my kind of place..............Do you and Gonzo really smoke cigars?

You did it again!

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gilromastew
gilromastew
Oct 14, 2020

To think we normally whizzed right through Hood River and on to points east. We did Parkdale once, long before the Chamber of Commerce got so organized.......which seems to be more than you and Gonzo Dave managed.


Chances are Mrs. Ednold is considering a shorter leash when turning her guy loose. But I'm glad she relented this time, allowing a journey many of us wish we had made. Well done!

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