If you live in Seattle or Portland or even Boise and you haven’t yet visited Walla Walla, you are about as on-trend as Rachel’s haircut in season 2 of Friends. Based on the large crowds of tourists that can be seen sweating and strolling through the tasting rooms of Main Street every weekend, Walla Walla is the hottest holiday get-away of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve personally helped stock the wine cellars of houses that line Lake Washingon and Hawthorne by getting aging parents drunk on samples of strong wine and convincing them that they need to have their own bottle of cab franc for their collection. Then I sent them off to exquisite dinners at one of the five nicest restaurants this side of the Cascades.
They come for the obscene amount of really really good wine, for the food, for the sunshine that they all seem to forget also makes for higher temperatures, like high enough that you start sweating the minute you step outside. They “discover” (somewhat similar to how Columbus “discovered” America) the small-town charm, the quaint local, friendly population, and the aesthetically American vistas of wheatfields and vineyards on rolling hills that look like the old Microsoft screensaver, and then they can’t stop talking about it.
Most of the tourists that I interact with I like–which might be due to the fact that they seem to put on a pleasant layer of intoxication as soon as they enter town, and they don’t shed it until they get back onto Highway 12 Sunday afternoon. There are definitely a fair share of creepy old men, one of whom once kissed me on the cheek and another who said he wanted to marry me as I turned around to pour his wife a glass of wine. But then there are plenty that are absolutely lovely, telling me what their own 20-something children yearn to hear: that I don’t need to pick a path in life right away, that I should enjoy what life has to offer right now.
“And Walla Walla is such a great little town!”
“You must love it here!~~and your parents must love visiting you!”
“You have better taste in wine at 23 than I did at 35, you’re so lucky you went to college here! Did you like play beer pong but with wine? Woww honey we should do that!”
They wear gorgeous earrings and statement necklaces, golf shirts and cargo shorts, expensive J Crew t-shirts of the bands they liked in the 80s. They are purely in the business of enjoying themselves while they are in Walla Walla. They want to spend the loads of money they’ve made at tech start-ups or hospitals or helping Amazon take over the world, and they want to be wine-buzzed while doing it.
Here’s the secret I don’t want them to find out: living in Walla Walla is way better than visiting it. Instead of paying for really nice wine, I hit up my friends that work in tasting rooms. Instead of coughing up a bunch of money for a five-star meal, I go with my friend who works there and gets a discount. Instead of being pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the rolling hills driving in and out of town, I can bike out during dinnertime, take a burrito and marinate in the sublimity of the Walla Walla sunsets. Instead of sitting in traffic on the I90 bridge for eighty-six minutes at the end of my work day, I walk home barefoot through the warm briskness of July air that’s freshly cooled.
Maybe someday they’ll all realize this and then Walla Walla will be overrun by the hipsters fleeing the mediocrity of working for Amazon in a city full of hipsters trying to avoid mediocrity. Maybe. For now I’m more than happy to facilitate getting them drunk. And to have tastes of their ’95 Leonetti.