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Elaine and I got to know Tom Rousseau when we operated the Rock Inn, located at the corner of Sprague and Vista, nearly 10 years ago. During our four years there, he often walked the short distance from his office to our place for lunch. It was fun to get to know the guy who had been putting up witticisms for the whole Valley to ponder for years and years on the reader board sign in front of Rousseau’s Insurance.
After the Rock Inn, when I began writing one-page biographies on local interesting people, I looked up Tom because I thought it would be interesting for people to learn about the guy who had been getting into the heads of hundreds every day if only for a passing moment.
I always liked this soft-spoken, dapper elderly fellow with a twinkle in both eyes, but I had no idea of his amazing depth of character nor his equally amazing breadth of experience until I sat down and asked him to give me his story. That is when I discovered that I had never met anyone like him.
After graduation in Dearborn, Michigan in 1943, Tom was ready to serve his nation at the age of 17 but his father refused to sign for him and so he went to New York to study photography until he was old enough to sign up on his own, which he did the day he turned 18. His father’s reluctance kept Tom out of harm’s way during  what little time was left of WW2 because the training he received in New York landed him an instructor’s job after he completed Marine bootcamp.
“They sent me to the Naval photography school because the Marines did not have one,” Tom told me as we sat alone in his office after hours, ” Pretty soon my instructor realized that I already knew the stuff and said that I would be more use to him as a teacher.” It turns out his instructor was actor Leif Erickson who many years later played Big John Cannon in the Sixties western High Chaparral.
When the war ended, Tom prudently sent out job query letters to small companies in several cities with populations around 100,000. ” I figured they would have more opportunity for me,” he said, adding that he chose Spokane because of the Falls. Tom rode the train out alone, bunked at the Y.M.C.A. and quickly found work as a Culligan Man.Then he sent for his wife and their small child.
While Tom continued to serve his country in the reserves, work full time and attend Kinman Business University. He also began serving his new community by coaching American Legion baseball, which he would do for 22 seasons.
At the outset of The Korean War, Tom went back into full time millitary service. Tom went to Korea, serving this time as a combat Marine photographer, an experience he politely refused to talk about that evening.
At his wife’s insistence, Tom left the Marines for good with the rank of Sargent Major in 1955. Before discharging, he again wrote back to Spokane concerning his future. “I knew I needed a job,” Tom said,” and so I wrote Early Dawn Dairy and they said ‘come to work’.” And so for the next 11 years he worked delivering milk in the Valley.
In 1963 he went to work nights at the post office while teaching himself the insurance business, which he also began in 1963 out of his basement.
Meanwhile, Tom and his wife were raising their 3 children in Edgecliiff and he saw that the neighborhood could use his service. Tom was instrumental in the establishment of Edgecliff Park, serving on the committee and volunteering his labor. He also noticed that Pratt Elementary had little to offer the kids after school, and so he worked to get a cub scouts organization established.
“I worked with the principal and we sent out a letter to all the parents,” he said, “We got enough people to organize 14 cub packs. It was a great success.” After leading the group for 3 years, Tom was awarded the rare Acorn award by district 81.
In 1965, Tom had established his insurance business enough  to open an office on Sprague next to Taco Time near the freeway. Luckily for the rest of us, it had a reader board sign, on which he began his writing career.
It wasn’t long before Tom found a new way to serve. In 1972 he became a Shriner and when they discovered his photography background, they  put him to work. At the time of my story , Tom, who still worked full-time at age 81, traveled more than 30 days a year doing volunteer work photographing such events as the Shriner East-West senior all star game, which he hadn’t missed since 1984.
As chairman of the Shriner International Photographers, with 22 photographers to keep track of, Tom earned the highest award that can be given a Shriner. That night in his office he showed me his small clustered work area with scissors and paper cutters and hundreds of 2″ x 10″ wooden cubicles containing thousands of photos from all 191 Shriners organizations and 22 hospitals. These were just the photos Tom did not use when he put together thick keepsake albums for each organization and hospital.
As I sat there trying to comprehend the hours of work involved in creating all those albums, Tom told me about how he had established the Spokane chapter of the Shriner’s 10-Gallon Club, 30 years before. Since then he had given 105 pints, or 18-plus gallons, of his blood, one pint at at a time.
I left him in awe by how much he had given all through life serving  country, community, family and friends.  Before learning his story I had only known that he was a Shriner but not much else other than he was a supportive customer. He never talked about himself.
On November 20th Tom turns 90. He is about as young as a WW2 veteran can be, having enlisted at the youngest possible age a year before the war’s end but he is certainly a part of the quickly disappearing “Greatest Generation”.  In fact, he is the embodiment of what was special about that generation that humbly and courageously and repeatedly served their nation and their communities.
I just wish we could all go to his birthday party and wish him a Happy Birthday and tell him thanks for the decades of tireless, selfless  service. After all he deserves so much more, and all of us in the Valley and across America are in his debt.

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I was on a bike ride this summer one evening and saw Tom out in his lawn and I stopped to chat with my old friend. After a while he mentioned he had several of his pictures and mementos on display in a small outbuilding in his backyard and so I asked for a tour. What I saw caused me to appreciate this wonderful man more than ever.

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Tom is still very active in the Shiners and has an entire wall full of plaques and awards recognizing his years of service.

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Tom’s father owned what Tom called a convenience store in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom was nearly always the shortest member of any organization he was a member of including his high school football team. Despite his size, Tom played guard on offense.

He told me about one play that called for him to pull around to the right and run ahead of the fullback. He said he popped this 6’2″ would-be tackler so hard the guy went sprawling to the ground and the fullback sped by. The guy got back up and Tom knocked him back down. When the guy complained to him, Tom replied “I didn’t hear no whistle.”

I could just see Tom, who might be 5’2″, doing that.

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Tom saw more than he cared to talk about through the lenses of his cameras, both motion and still.

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This is a great picture with only the baby looking at the camera.

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This is another great shot that depicts a Korean peasant washing her  husband’s shirt in a hole she broke in the ice.

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I took Elaine back there recently to see this Shriner’s shrine. When he showed her the picture of the woman cleaning her husband’s shirt and explained how she would beat the shirt with a rock and then dip it into the icy water, Elaine said, “Gee Tom, sometimes I feel like doing that to Craig’s shirt too while he is still wearing it.”

Long before we met Tom, Elaine went to the Shriners Circus at the Coliseum with our four small kids and one of their cousins. When she found out how much the tickets cost she was upset because she did not have any money left over to buy any treats or souvenirs and she let the ticket person know about it.

Tom, who was a stranger to her,  happened to overhear her. Without hesitation he pulled out his wallet and politely offered her a 20 dollar bill.

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Tom has moved his scrap booking operation from his office to his home and he is still at it.

Ownership of The Roadhouse recently passed from one of my friends to another, and everyone is better off for it. While Fred Lopez had the money, vision and desire to raise up The Roadhouse from the smoldering ash pile that was once the hottest niteclub around known as Hotties, he did not have the time to run the place himself. I watched from a front row bar stool as he went through four managers who, despite The Roadhouse’s initial success managed to run off a lot of business after two and a half years.

Meeting with Fred nearly every week at the time for a drink, I told him straight out that he would one day regret getting into the nightclub business. I owned one for four years and since the day I bought it 14 years ago, I have been watching nightclubs come and go left and right. I tell everyone, not just Fred, contemplating getting into the nightclub business that they will regret it. I would have told Joey the same thing if he had asked but he did not.

But I know Joey well and have appreciated his talents and abilities since we met many years ago at my old place, The Rock Inn at the Old Plantation. He coaxed and coached me into the world of karaoke, teaching me how to host and participate. He insisted that I would sound as good as him if I found songs that suited my voice and practiced them all the time. Though I eventually hosted karaoke at the Rock Inn four nights a week and sang my heart out on the three slow nights to help keep things going, I never came close to sounding as good as Joey.

After we pulled up stakes at the Rock, I went back to being a contractor/carpenter and hired Joey on a big remodel project. I learned first hand that Joey is truly a jack of all trades. The guy could tile or plumb or paint and he was a good carpenter, but it was his skill as an electrician that blew me away. I can still picture clearly the sight of him standing on a step ladder with exposed wires going everywhere as he worked on the garage door opener ceiling outlet. I would have gotten shocked five times just pulling everything apart, let alone putting it all back together. Joey did not even turn the breaker off, every one of the twelve or more wires were hot. He never got a shock and he fixed the problem.

On top of what I used him for, Joey had mastered other trades as well. He had been a sound technician for a long time, starting years before when he ran the sound monitors for the bar band he sang for and toured the West coast with. He ended up going much further with his hearing than his singing, as he went on to run sound for local concerts and even touring with Kenny Chesney. During the time we were working on my remodel project, Joey was running sound for Paul Rogers, former lead singer of Bad Company and the Firm. Paul Rogers did not need to tour steadily and so it was just a part time deal for Joey.

I have heard a hundred stories on a  hundred Monday mornings about what a wild weekend some wide-eyed and overly animated co-worker of mine just lived through, but no one topped one of Joey’s weekend weekend adventures . There he was with his tool belt on, saw in hand as he told me about riding in a limo somewhere in Japan with Paul Rogers and his wife during his long four-day weekend. The amazing thing was that he acted like it was no big deal, just like the twelve hot wires that would have been the shocking death of me.

From that job I continued being a carpenter here in Spokane and Joey went to work for Eddie Money for several years. He hired on as his sound guy and then eventually became his road manager. Unlike Paul, Eddie needed the money, and so Joey had a full time job flying and bus riding all over the nation organizing all of the thousands details involved with each of the 150 plus shows a year.

He was still in town a lot and always looking for a good side job and so I introduced him to  Fred when he needed some help with the sound system at his new sports restaurant and bar, The Ref, here in the Valley. To make a long story short, the two have worked together ever since as Fred soon opened The Roadhouse nightclub and then The Palimino and found himself, like Paul, Eddie and me, needing the the skills and talents of Joey Shalloe, who had grown weary of the road and left Money behind.

So my two friends became friends but whether they remain friends remains to be seen because they have gone to a place I would have advised them not to go, but they did not ask my advice. Fred was tired of being a gentleman nightclub owner and Joey needed something to do. I would have told Joey that it looks a whole lot funner than it actually is, which is what I told Fred and what I tell anyone who will listen. However, if anyone can pull it off it is my old friend Joey the jack. So far he is doing everything right and once again I am impressed.

During a recent shutdown  due to a lapse between Fred’s liquor license expiring and Joey’s arriving, Joey went to the great effort of pulling every piece of equipment out of the kitchen, thoroughly scrubbing it down and then repainting the floor. It is a fairly new and unused kitchen and he did not have to do that. He did it because he has high standards not because it will make him any more money, because it won’t. He also painted the bathrooms and made lots of other  subtle improvements.

What I am most impressed with is the food he has been cooking up in his pristine kitchen. I should have known Joey could cook and had the gumption to create a great menu and then take shifts working the kitchen. Rather than go on and on how good his food is, I will just say two words – Taco Tuesday. He took something that every other bar in the Valley is doing and came up with a whole new standard. Every Tuesday The Roadhouse hits the cycle while all the other players  are happy with just hitting singles. He does a black bean chili quesadilla for $5 bucks that is so good I now resent Mondays even more for not only ending the weekend but now getting in the way of Taco Tuesday at the Roadhouse.

To lastly prove my point about Joey and his knack at being a jack of all trades, including his current one, consider today’s benefit concert for the firefighters at the Roadhouse. It is a smart and worthy move and one I did not see any of the competition making. Probably the best times Elaine and I had at the Rock were the fundraisers we were fortunate to be able to host. In hindsight I wished we would have figured out how to do more. We let people who had a cause come to us, but The Roadhouse has seen a cause and took the lead since the Washington forest fire crises began. Today’s concert which begins at 2 is part of their impressive efforts.

I recently learned that Joey did not jump into the bar business by himself but rather took on his buddy Joe O’Conner  as a partner.  If you have to go into it, might as well spread the risk and the worry and hopefully the riches. I know that I could never have run our place alone because there is just too much to do and try to be good at. Joey is good at a lot more things than most people and certainly than I am and so I give him twice the odds I would give anyone else at The Roadhouse, which still only gives him fifty fifty. I would not bet on him and I would not bet against him but then I never bet on anything, but I love to root for a good team and I found one at The Roadhouse.

Elaine and I have a long history at this odd-looking builing. When we were children, we there with our parents to annual budget dinner meeting for Pines Babtist church that both our families attended.

Elaine and I have a long history at this odd-looking building. It was a smorgasbord  when we were kids and  we went there with our parents to the annual budget dinner meeting for Pines Baptist Church that both our families attended. Later  when it became Sea Galley Elaine worked there as a waitress and I spent too much  time at their round salad bar and the regulguarantee sitting bar.

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Later it became the Valley’s hottest spot just as Elaine and I moved into the neighborhood and had just reached that blissful time when the oldest is able to babysit the others. We found ourselves there often and were bitten by the niteclub bug. We even made Scott Lane, the owner , an offer that he at first accepted and then reneged on when we wrote him an earnest money check for $10,000. That is what sent us down the road to The Rock Inn.

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Years later Fred Lopez bought the building  for less than what Scott turned down for just the business that The Rock Inn started on it’s path to destitution. I went there many times as Fred gutted the building and rebuilt it . I found this caricature lying on the desk in the empty office where a decade before Elaine and I had sat down with Scott and his Dad, who owned the building, and offered them our earnest money check. Having competed for four years against Scott I can say firsthand that he was not the fun looking guy to play with that he looks like in the picture.

Fresh start starting with fresh food.

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Scott has gone on to that big nightclub in the sky or perhaps he’s with the Big Hottie down below, and Fred learned to appreciate my powers of prophesy. Now it is Joey’s turn, and I can safely say that no one with his get up and go and high standards has been there since Elaine waited tables there 30 years ago.

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All I know for sure about this whole deal is that as long as Joey’s Taco Tuesday is there for me, I’ll be there for Joey.

Trail Guide to Reduced Fat

Posted: August 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

The cold months are the growing season for my belly and so I set my mind to the task of harvesting twenty five pounds of winter weight this Summer.  Though the size of my goal was bigger than normal, the size of my belly was typical  following the festive feasting months when my work consists of sitting in front of a computer drafting house plans. During the warmer months I venture out and get to build one or two plans and so it is easier to burn more calories than I stockpile.

Since I am not an “official diet” kind of a man, if there is such a thing, I figured I would wing it like I have had to often over the last 26 of my 56 years and just try to burn thousands more calories than I consumed. Losing weight is such a simple math equation on paper, and yet such a difficult problem to solve in reality.

Based upon an interesting discovery I made while contemplating my upcoming battle of the bulge, I decided to allow myself one meal a day. I also decided to only eat salads because they can be low in fat, healthy and the variety is endless. Furthermore, I love salads, as I do all dish types, and coincidentally I was asked to write a piece about healthful eating out and about in the Valley.

So as the heat turned up I began a three-month quest to find the best salad spots in the Valley. I was looking for intriguing original salad creations and I also paid close attention to how places handled their version of the Caesar salad, by far the most  common denominator of all salads and one of my personal favorites right up there next to the Chef with Thousand Island and the Cobb with Blue Cheese.

Salads, I discovered, are a stronghold of the local independents in their food fight with the national chains, which makes sense considering salads benefit from local freshness more than anything else on the menu. So while Applebee’s, Denny’s and the others could not compete in my Salad Bowl , the fast service chains were a different matter.

Not being a fast foodie, however, I devoted little time to the ambitious and affordable offering’s of McDonald’s and all the rest, but I did come away flavorably impressed with the Wendy’s lettuce lineup. Their Asian Chicken Salad was a worthy repast especially since it only induced into my system 380 calories before the tasty Thai vinaigrette dressing added a mere 45 more. I did not get any further than that tasty offering and another nummy number, their BBQ Ranch Chicken salad, but the rest of their long and varied line of salads on the menu board made it clear that Wendy takes her salads serious.

Panera Bread, which just opened on Indiana east of Sullivan is a fast growing franchise that specializes in healthy salads and sandwiches as well as fresh baked pastries and breads. I went opening day and was amazed at all the people there eager to try them out. I had a Thai Chicken salad that I could not eat fast enough until I hit the wall, making it through about 350 of its 460 calories.

One interesting place I checked out for this story was the salad bar in the deli section of the Rosauers at Sprague and University. In years past, great salad bars were featured in popular Valley restaurants like Chapter Eleven and the Sea Galley. Rosauer’s pay-by-the-ounce salad bar reminded me too much of those cherished but wilted salad memories and I piled up such a monster of a  makeshift Chef with Thousand Island into my large to-go container that I actually gained weight that day.

I decided quite early in my salad sojourn that if my one self-allotted meal per day was going to be a salad then I was going after the big game lurking on the menus of the Valley’s sit-down restaurants. The locals came through for me and it was happy hunting as I broke many  24-hour fasts while waging my war on weight during which I came up with this field guide for the trophy salad spots here in the Valley.

Max at the Mirabeau – Believe it or not, there is a $26 granddaddy of a salad lurking in the depths of this classy establishment’s menu. There resides a massive Crab Louie complete with fresh King Crab legs. It was a phenomenal meal  and if I were a $26-dinner kind of a guy, I would go there just to have it. But I am the kind of cheapskate who finds it hard to spend $26 for a hammer that I will put to good use for years. I never spend that much money on one fleeting dinner that is regularly long gone by 8 the next morning.

I went with the wife one hot afternoon and we sat out on what I believe might be the Valley’s nicest outdoor patio. Despite the fact that Elaine was in a fowl mood and chose a Thai chicken appetizer, and that I was getting very crabby, we had a nice dinner date. I went back a few days later in the name of research while Elaine was working and I had their WSU Cougar Gold and Apple salad for $8. While it was not the whopper of a salad the Crab Louie was, it hit the spot taste and cost wise.

      Charlie P’s– Though I often I eat at Charlie P’s, I never have salads because their white cream sauce for the seafood fettuccines and calizones and omelettes is so good I can’t bear to order anything else. But in the heat of my summer fight on fat, I went in to try a salad off the menu. I opted instead to go with a steak and shrimp salad the cook made up for the nightly dinner special that was so flavorful it almost made me cry. The moral being that everything that comes out of Charlie P’s kitchen is good.

The Liberty Lake Trinity- The only reason that I lump True Legends, Barlow’s, and Hay J’s together is because I consider Liberty Lake to be out of my Valley beat, but this little city is our sister in salads, especially seafood ones which appeals to me being a total sea foodie. The Biscayne Bay Shrimp salad at True Legends has ingredients – grilled  shrimp, pineapple and Mandarin oranges- that I never would have put together in my head but when I put them carefully together on a fork and then on into my mouth, I loved it.

If you have not been to Barlow’s stylish new digs next to Albertsons, their original Ocean Beauty salad with its sauteed prawns, fillet of salmon and tasty crab cake is a destination salad worth the drive. Hay J’s is well-known for its excellent recipes and their Seafood Cobb is another stellar example. Elaine, who always gives me reliable input on her intake when I am researching food stories said it was her favorite salad.

    Ambrosia- I place Ambrosia further up the list because they make my favorite salad which they proudly call the Ambrosia Salad. Like so many I tried during my tussle with the tummy, this salad is a unique rendition of a familiar salad type. I love their take on the candied-walnut, dried-cranberry, richly-flavored salad topped with  house-made raspberry vinaigrette. Elaine, who happens to waitress there, says they have a Beet Salad that customers rave about.

   Darcy’s- I cannot say enough good things about this place in regards to the salads they serve their fellow man. In my combat against calories, Darcy’s always gave me the ammo I needed for the day. Their Chicken Caesar is a solid hit and their one-of-a-kind Oriental Chicken, blanketed under a sinful layer of fresh bacon chunks, is an absolute grand slam of a salad. The kicker to dining at Darcy’s is that they opened about 3 years ago with great prices and have not touched them since. Their salads cost less than those at Panoni Bread, which had very up-to-date prices.

Obviously, this is a list but I did not enumerate it so far because I don’t like that there is a negative connotation to the lower numbers. Being a former owner, I am  a critic of local restaurants like Casanova was a critic of women. But I will say that my number one love for a salivating salad is the Iron Horse, several hands down.

During my quest for the best, I tried the Blackened Salmon Caesar at every place that put out this luxury model sedan of a salad. No place came within a length of the Horse where their version features a generous and richly seasoned slab of their house specialty grilled Salmon. They also have the Valley’s, if not the World’s, best Cobb salad. If you favor the flavor of Blue Cheese dressing and have never tried the Iron Horse’s chunky, homemade version, then you need to do yourself a solid and hit the Horse up for a Cobb.

All the fore mentioned places and meals were just a sampling of the dozens of salads I have been eating since mid May. Salads were my cavalry and infantry in the civil war waged between mind and stomach.  My belly, while relatively small in today’s world of Boone and Crockett bellies everywhere you look, was the sole casualty.

I am less of a nutritionist or dietitian than I am a food critic but I did discover my own diet that I might call the Craig’s Salad List Diet. In the Time magazine special addition that was on sale in grocery stores last Spring titled the Secrets of Living Longer there was a story on how humans should be eating.

We are built to eat just once a day. The modern luxury of three square meals has led to a very round America. I can now testify, after dropping the sought-after 25 pounds, that if you eat just one meal and make it a salad, you will lose weight. Now my challenge is to wage that perennial 3-pound-plus-then-minus skirmish on the 148 to 151  playing field where I have a clear line of vision to my belt buckle instead of the 170 to 173 arena where the belly always bullies over the belt.


More on my diet:

  Basically, my diet was a Spartan diet meaning I took in as few calories as I could manage each day before my one salad meal. This made the salad taste incredible  and it filled me up.
    When I am working on the job as a carpenter it seems very easy for me to not get hungry and I have always found it easy to skip breakfast and so most days I did not really think about eating until around two when I left the job site to go to the office. As soon as I jumped in my van I wanted a snack.
    Fortunately for me I can eat anything and like it. So for my diet and to this day my go-to snacks are baby carrots and dry cereal. Right next to my seat in my work van there is a box of either Wheaties or Honey Nut Cheerios which I am reaching into before I ever turn the ignition.
    I am so calorie conscious that I only eat cereal with 110 calories per cup, which there are plenty of but it is amazing how many have 120 or more. Rice and Corn Chex are two other 110’ers that I am partial to. Elaine swears that more cereal hits the floor than my mouth. I tell her that is another dieting trick since my hand and arm are working away but only half the amount into my mouth that my brain thinks it is supposed to be getting.
    Baby carrots are not as difficult to eat and not quite as tastey but they are a great bargain caloriewise. Nine of those little guys have a grand total of 35 calories and they are very cheap. I also drink a lot of V-8, or rather the cheap version of vegetable juice that all grocery stores sell. I love the stuff, it’s healthy, cheap, filling and most importantly, low-cal.
    I got into my Spartan Salad diet so much that when I hit my goal and the story’s deadline, I just kept going. When I got done to 143 pounds I figured I needed to start eating so that I wasn’t losing weight.
   Maintaining a constant weight is also a battle but now the battle is waged on a thinner field and I have mastered some good tactics. Fasting off two pounds is something I now know I can do at will and it is amazing how fast I can put on two pounds.
   The proof to my diet is in my Puddin’, or as everyone else calls her, Elaine. For months she watched me diet and could not believe her eyes. Finally, long after I was done, she secretly set her mind to trying my Spartan diet without the heavy emphasis on salads.
   She found her own ways to eat just one meal a day. For example she is big on Slim Fast, which I think has too many calories for what you get and is too expensive. But I am not complaining. When she lost her first five pounds she came out of the closet and admitted she was trying to follow my example.
   She said she was amazed at how easy it was once she put her mind to eating less.She was also amazed at how much everyone around her at work eats which is something you do notice when you give up the got-to-have-3-squares-a-day mindset.
  Now my little thing has lost another 5 pounds and is at her ideal weight she has only dreamed about for the past 10 years.


This Thai Chicken salad from the newly opened Panera Bread was more than I could fit into my reduced food storage space though I gave my all.

This Thai Chicken salad from the newly opened Panera Bread was more than I could fit into my reduced food storage space though I gave my all.

Elaine and I often split our salads as we did this Seafood Cobb at Hay J's which Elaine held in the highest regard saldly speaking.

Elaine and I often split our salads as we did  Hay J’s Seafood Cobb  which Elaine held in the highest regard saladly speaking.

Pat and Denny McDonald also split their salads like this steak and shrimp humdinger that I managed solo. They did confess that they normally stick to Charlie P's broasted chicken which they and many others claim to be Spokane's finest.

Pat and Denny McDonald also split their salads like this steak and shrimp humdinger that I managed solo. They did confess that they normally stick to Charlie P’s broasted chicken which they and many others claim to be Spokane’s finest. I wouldn’t know since I can’t get past the white sauce on his seafood dishes.

I completely maxed out at the Max with this Crab Louie. I highly recommend their patio especially during Happy Hour when appetizers like the one Elaine had are quite reasonable priced.

I completely maxed out at the Max with this Crab Louie. I highly recommend their patio especially during Happy Hour when appetizers like the one Elaine had are quite reasonable priced.

Barlow's aptly named Ocean Beauty salad is all that a sea food lover could ever hope for.

Barlow’s aptly named Ocean Beauty salad is all that a sea food lover could ever hope for.

Even when I went on an overnight backpacking trip, I stuck to my game plan and only ate one salad that I packed in on ice. A person gets hungrier than normal camping and so this rather wimpy Winco salad tasted like manna from heaven, which was much closer than normal at the altitude of 6,200 ft on Harrison lake at the head of the Pack River in Idaho.

Even when I went on an overnight backpacking trip, I stuck to my game plan and only ate one salad that I packed in on ice. A person gets hungrier than normal camping and so this rather wimpy Winco salad tasted like manna from heaven, which was much closer than normal at the altitude of 6,200 ft on Harrison Lake at the head of the Pack River in Idaho.

This Blackened Salmon Caesar rules like a mighty Romaine emperor over all other salads I sampled at great length.

Iron Horse’s Blackened Salmon Caesar rules like a mighty Romaine emperor over all other salads across the land.

This story is part one of a three part series I am doing on my friend  Tom Walker. He rates this treatment not because he is an extraordinary fellow, though he is quite capable  as  his diverse career, which includes twelve years as a paramedic,  bears testimony . He rates a three parter because of three extraordinary episodes he has lived through.

Like everyone, life has given Tom a varied hand of cards to deal with, but three of his are once, if ever, in a lifetime cards. They make fascinating stories by themselves and then it is fascinating that one person was given all three cards. He is one of those guys that lightening keeps striking.

Who do you know that was kidnapped and forced at gunpoint into a car trunk with four other naked teenage boys? Then there was the time he was a prime suspect  in a tragic Spokane  murder case that was so scandalous NBC’s Dateline did an episode on it. Lastly, does anyone know someone who won $3,000,000 playing the Washington Lottery?

Of the three bizarre cards, winning the lottery may be the most common and some may know or know of a lottery winner but do they know them well enough for the lucky winner to tell their story from the moment they bought the winning ticket on a lark through to 8 years later until now when all but $6,000 a year is long gone with very little to show for their extraordinary windfall.

The first story, the one that eventually culminated with his abductor being sentenced to life for the crime of kidnapping Tom and four other teenagers, began late in the night on the 4th of July, 1975.


Tom was 14 and his buddy and co-worker, Alan, was 15 that summer and they both worked in the kitchen at Strobels, an upscale downtown restaurant.Getting off around 10:30 at night on July the 4th, the two buddies made the short jaunt over to Riverside and Washington where they locked up their bikes. It was fun just to hang out while taking in the slow-moving, bumper-to-bumper flotilla of cars cruising back and forth on Riverside.

After an hour or so they went back to their bikes and discovered someone had taken the opportunity to flatten the tires on Tom’s bike. It had to be Tom’s bike, everything  happens to Tom. So they headed south up Howard to call Tom’s grandfather from a pay phone at the PM Jacoys store at Sprague and Howard.


Just as they walked by the small alleyway behind PM Jacoys,  a man passed them on the sidewalk heading north.”Hey, did you guys see this?” he said  after the boys walked past him. They stopped and turned around to see the man looking intently in a store front window. Curious and unsuspecting, they walked back and peered into the window to see what they had missed.

“I have a gun,” the man said quietly. They saw he held a gun in the right pocket of his light jacket when the medium-height , black-haired man turned towards them with a menacing look on his deeply tanned face. He forced them back into the dark alleyway, and demanded them to give him what little money they had, but it wasn’t enough for what he was after that night.

“I want enough money for a case of beer, and you guys are going to help me get it,” the man said and then pulled out the gun to show them that he was deadly serious and meant business in regards to getting drunk that night.


Positioning Alan on his right and Tom on his left, the man walked a half step behind  as they all headed back down to Riverside where the two freaked-out teenagers would be forced to panhandle at gunpoint. They futilely did as they were told  for a few minutes and then happened upon three older teenagers standing together on the sidewalk that they knew from Ferris High School where they all went to school.

Allen asked them how it was going and if they had any beer while Tom on the other side and slightly behind the armed man tried to motion with his eyes  while mouthing to their schoolmates that the guy between them had a gun. When one of them looked at him funny and started to say something, Tom quickly stopped as the man turned to look at him while asking the new boys, “Hey do you guys mind giving us a ride to a store so we can buy some beer?”

The three new boys were more than happy to take a willing adult on a beer run. Tom and Allen did not share their enthusiasm as they piled into a mid-60’s boat-of-a-car Chevy  Impala with the man with the gun sitting between them in the backseat. “I have a gun,” he told the boys in the front seat as soon as the car pulled out onto the road.”And to all of you guys my name is Seattle Slim.”

He instructed the driver get on the freeway and head west. From the backseat he navigated their way off the freeway at the airport exit and eventually well off the beaten path to somewhere in the middle of nowhere. On a dark and empty stretch of road between Airway Heights and Medical Lake, he ordered the driver to pull over and everyone out of the car.

The beer run from hell took a nasty turn when Seattle Slim ordered them to give him all their  money and jewelry, then take off their clothes and climb into the trunk one by one. It is a testimony to the incredible carrying capacity of the 60’s Impala trunk that all five naked teenage boys were able fit as Seattle Slim closed the lid and began to drive off to who knew where.


The five boys had no idea what would happen next but they were very fearful it could be bad. Would he back down a boat launch and drown them. What if he abandoned the car somewhere secluded where noone would find them for days or weeks or years? Tom, who had been the last one to get in, pulled  the tail light wires with his hands and feet in hopes of getting Slim pulled over by the cops.

After  several minutes the boys felt the car slowing down and pulling over. “Don’t anybody make a sound,” Slim hollered back to them. “If you do, your’e all dead.” Then the boys heard the passenger door open and someone get in. They could hear Slim  carrying on a casual conversation for several miles and then the car slowed down and pulled over. Thanking Slim for the lift, the hitchhiker  got out and went on his way unaware of the five terrified boys crammed quietly in the car’s trunk.

Slim didn’t say anything more as he drove on for several minutes and then he stopped and they could hear him talking to someone on the roadside. The next thing they know the trunk is open and there stands Slim with his gun pointed at a tall and heavy- set transient looking dazed and confused by not just the sight of Slim and his gun but even more so by this new sight of five naked boys looking up at him from the trunk of Slim’s car.

“Take off your clothes and get in,” Slim commanded him to the astonishment of the five boys who were now somehow supposed to make room in the trunk for this soon-to-be nude heffer of man.


As the big man disrobed , Tom was trying to think of something to do that might help them get out of this crazy and dangerous situation.”I gotta take a pee,” he said even though he did not. “Go ahead and get out,” Slim told him. “Pee right over there and you get in the trunk,” Slim said as he turned and pointed the gun at the big and now nude man. Barefooted and without a stitch of clothing on, Tom went to where he was told and then through the motions while Slim tried to stuff the man into the trunk with boys.

Tom recognized his surroundings as he looked around and saw that they were back in town in a storage and moving company’s parking lot at Pacific and McClellen close to the Gatsby’s nightclub. By the time Tom had drained the last drop from his fake pee, Slim had given up on squeezing the fat man into trunk. “You drive,” he told Tom out of the blue. “Sure I can drive,” said Tom who was too young to have a license. “But I better put on some clothes so I don’t get pulled over.”

Seeing Tom’s point and everything else, Slim allowed him to quickly put on some clothes. Then he closed trunk, got in front next to Tom and told him drive south. They left the big transient shaking bewildered and nude, standing in the parking lot. At the last minute Slim benevolently tossed his clothes out onto the road.

As they approached the downtown Sambos restaurant just a few blocks up the road, Slim asked Tom if he wanted to get a cup of coffee. “Sure, I could use some coffee,” Tom said though he had never tried it before. Tom pulled into the Sambos parking lot and they both got out.

“We are going in the restaurant, but you will not know if I am  standing here or inside so don’t make a sound,” he said to the trunk loud enough for the boys inside to hear. ” If I hear a sound, I will kill you all.”  They walked twenty feet away  and then he made Tom stand silently with him for a couple minutes. “O.K. now we are really going in. Maybe.” Slim told the boys in trunk. “Don’t make a sound.”


Slim wanted to sit at a booth table at the far end of the restaurant next to the windows that looked out to the parking lot. He had his back to the door so he could watch the Impala parked just a few yards away. He wanted to discuss how Tom could help him get money for the boys’ jewelry which did not amount to more than three inexpensive watches, a thin gold necklace and a copper bracelet.

But first he wanted a smoke and so he got up and walked to the cigerrete machine by the entrance. Just as he was putting in his money, he saw a waitress in her early twenties bring waters to the table where Tom sat alone more than a hundred feet away. He saw them talking.

“That man has a gun and four people in the trunk of our car,” Tom said casually as he watched Slim watching him.

“What did you just say?” she asked with eyes as wide as a Sambo’s pancake.

“I said that man has a gun and four people in the truck of our car,” he said and then watched her turn and leave without saying another word.

“What were you saying to the waitress?” Slim asked as soon as he sat back down.

“She asked if we were going to order food and I told her I didn’t know,” Tom improvised.

“Well if any cops show up, I have my gun pointed right at your balls and I will blow them off first thing, ” Slim warned.

Tom quickly turned the conversation back to the ideas he had been thinking about in regards to fencing the boys’ valuables so Slim could buy that case of beer. He kept up a steady stream of chatter and did not let on as he watched two cops enter the front door and quietly walk right up behind Slim.

As one cop put his hand on Slim’s shoulder, Tom stood up and quickly got behind the other cop. “We understand you have a gun and four people in the trunk,” the cop said with his other hand on his unsnapped gun holster.

“That is right,” was the only thing Slim had say and he peacefully let them handcuff him.


It only took a few more minutes and Sambo’s was lit up like the Griswald’s at Christmas  as cop cars streamed in from every direction. Ironically, while the two cops had approached Slim with their weapons holstered, the ten cops who surrounded the trunk as it was opened all had their guns drawn and aimed even though Tom was standing there telling them no one had any guns and the boys inside were yelling out to their rescuers that they were unarmed. Why would they have been in a trunk if they had had a gun to shoot whoever was trying to put them in a trunk?

Although the oddity of seeing the cops with their guns drawn as the boys saw freedom for the first time created the most memorable moment of the entire episode for Tom, it passed almost unnoticed to the ecstatic boys as they scrambled out and began hugging each other and Tom and the waitress, oblivious to their nakedness. All that mattered was that the nightmare was over and they were safe.


The article below appeared in the evening newspaper. The account above is Tom’s firsthand account as he has remembered it since he was 14. The news story below was far briefer and inaccurate about a few things but it does reveal two things that will surprise you. One about the age of the Slim and the other about his weapon.


crime article


The next article appeared at the end of the Summer covering Slim’s plea bargain and sentencing. It fleshes out who Slim really was and is surprising in the state of mind Slim claimed to have been in during the kidnapping.

sentence article



For a few years the five boys met with the waitress, Annette Lynn Hall, on the anniversary of the kidnapping at the Sambo’s downtown. Eventually the waitress moved on and the boys all graduated from high school and went their separate ways. Tom lost all track of everyone.



Good Job, Black Diamond.

Posted: March 12, 2015 in Uncategorized



Elaine  and I had the good fortune to attend a trial run night at the Black Diamond just before  it opened four and a half years ago. While eating free food is always good fortune, the truly fortunate part was meeting Steve and Kenna Legalt who were preparing to open their new billiards/ restaurant /bar establishment where McQ’s had been  hustling in the pool hall business  for several years.

There really is nothing not to like about this hard working down-to-earth couple, but what I  find exemplary about them as operators as I watch them over time is how much pride they have in their place and how they have worked so hard at tweaking and improving it.

They have worked harder than any other owners that I know of at constantly  upgrading their establishment and trying new things. Many owners shoot their wad just to open up and then lack the energy and ambition to keep their building clean and maintained, let alone making any improvements which nearly all places this side of Red Robin need.

The Legalts have been the opposite and they have wound up with what I would consider one of the nicest places to go for a drink or a meal or just some fun. If you want proof, go into your favorite local, independent hospitality place and look and smell carefully about the room the owners have set aside for you to answer nature’s call. Then do the same at the Black  Diamond.

While there are those unfortunate occasions when no one can do anything about the odor but hand out nose plugs, in a Diamond can, the offensive odor is gone not long after the offender has left the room. Having been every place and used everyone’s privy, I  rate the Diamond’s at number one or maybe number two, and, all jesting aside, an establishment ‘s bathrooms give you the straight poop about how much the owners care about their place and their guests.

If you need further proof about how much the Legalts care, go play a game or two of shuffleboard there on one of the Valley’s only shuffleboards. After scouring Craigslist for months Steve  finally found an old one in a guy’s basement for $1,000. It took 7 men to get it out of that basement and into Steve’ s where he sanded and sanded with a palm sander. Then he he carefully and painstakingly applied 6 coats of varnish.

Slide that little whatcha-ma-call it down the board and see how far it glides and keep in mind that you are looking at in that one instance the results of more effort and pride than a lot of owners will put into their places their entire career, and that is why I say very good job Steve and Kenna, you are to be commended.

Things to do on st. patrick's day in the spokane valley

   It is more than a wee bit ironic to me that St. Patrick’s Day, which honors a saint, is the most hell-raising holiday on the calendar. The Spokane Valley, a family- orientated place if ever there were one, will be stage to a scene replicated in every town of any size across the nation.

Amazingly, St. Patrick’s Day is a two-part party on every year that it does not fall on a Saturday or Sunday. The St. Patrick’s Day parade is always held on the Saturday before the holiday and it is also a day when the top o’ the morn will be toasted to with a good stiff drink by many who imbibe. For most it is the only day of the year for such day-long shenanigans and that is why when the holiday falls the next day on Sunday it is barely celebrated since so many revelers are still suffering.

On years like this, however, when the holiday falls on a weekday, St. Patrick’s Day will be a two-day celebration. There is ample time between Saturday and Tuesday for all but the feeblest to recuperate and then recharge for the St. Paddy party part two.

With my finger on the pulse and plenty of opinions on the matter of Spokane Valley wining and dining, I can offer a few tipsy tips for them that tip their glasses and some tasty tips for the hungry and sober but fun-loving folk.

A crowd will be forming at eight in the morning at the Trent N Dale Pub as the early birds begin to gather for the establishment’s annual pre-parade breakfast. The Trent N Dale, located at Tent and Dale, serves as the Valley’s rabbit hole to the downtown revelry which features a parade for the young kids and a full-town, day-long pub crawl for the older kids.

For $30.00 the TND offers a buffet style breakfast, commemorative tee shirt and a round trip bus ride hither and yon twixt their parking lot and the corner of Division and Main, which is a fair walk to the parade route but right smack dab in the middle of the crawl.

With the first bus leaving for town at 10 and the parade starting two hours later, it is likely that several of the unseasoned would not make it to the parade even if it ran right past on Division. If they did, they would be seeing two parades by that time.

For those wanting to whet their whistles at a festive Valley site, O’ Doherty’s Irish Pub and BBQ will be a spot of gold on Saturday from morning to midnight. Several times during the day, the Spokane County Fire Fighter’s Pipe and Drum group will be blowing and tapping the roof off with their bagpipes and snare drums. They play about 10 minutes and are as inspiring as they are loud.

O’ Doherty’s is our version of the Irish pub, a global phenomenon which numbers 1,694 in America, 861 in Ireland, 100 in Asia, 18 in the Middle East and 11 in Africa, according to Irishabroad.com. Though Ireland would only be the 23rd largest if it were one of our fifty states, this leprechaun-sized country’s drinking establishments apparently set the bar for bars globally.

Our Irish pub was Porky’s Barbeque when Terry and Renee Best took over several years ago. With that business in the pits they teamed up with the downtown O’Doherty’s and transformed it into an Irish pub with southern style barbeque and traditional Irish vittles, drinks and decor.

Personally, I never have strayed from their savory barbeque until writing this story. I tried an item on their menu called the Butte Pasty, a lunch meal that Irish wives in Butte, Montana, lovingly prepared for their hard-working miner husbands. Why so many Irish migrated to Butte and how they came up with this scrumptious ethnic beef brisket delicacy, covered in rich brown gravy, I was not able to clearly Google.

The robust atmosphere at O’Doherty’s on Saturday will treble if not quadruple on Tuesday, the day a clock on the wall has been counting down to by the tenth of a second since last St. Patrick’s Day.

If you can’t get a seat there, and do not want to stand like many will, ride on down the road to the Iron Horse. This horse of many colors celebrates all holidays with flair and once again starting on Saturday the 14th it will be so green it should be temporarily renamed the Irish Horse.

The best answer, however, to the question “how green is our Valley?” is Conley’s Place, the local icon amongst independent restaurants. The owners, Jennifer and Ed Conley have been jauntily dancing to the tune of their own Irish jig since 1992 when they bought the Pioneer Pies restaurant that Jennifer had been managing for seven years.

Like the Bests at O’Doherty’s, the Conley’s reinvented their place and took up the Irish flag while keeping a delicious remnant of the old business, which in their case was the Pioneer Pies actual Pioneer Pies’ pies which sell like hot cakes by the slice or by the pie.

While it is a comfortable, fun and tasty place to dine all year, during March it looms above the rest like the jolly green giant of the Valley dishing out tasty Irish niblets all month long from a special St. Patrick’s menu featuring all the traditional Emerald Isle staples like pork chops, baked salmon and corned beef made with Conley’s private recipes and personal care.

As in years past, the month-long celebration reaches a lofty false summit on parade day with live entertainment by The Crooked Kilt Ensemble and Irish Dancers starting at 5:30 and then peaks on Tuesday the 17th when they return and get things rolling at 4:30 in the afternoon.

At Conley’s Place that day it will be a gaily Gaelic scene running simultaneously at thousands of venues across Spokane and the Northwest, and across North America and apparently across the globe. There really is no other holiday of the year quite like it with so much global goodwill and good cheers, which befits a holiday honoring a saint.

Their Irish flags will proudly be displayed on St. Patrick's day, on this day however, they were not so much.

Their Irish flags will proudly be displayed on St. Patrick’s day, on this day however, they were not so much.

This Butte Patsy I had at O'Doherty's was did a lot more for my tastebuds than it did my eyes. While it looks like part callizone and part burrito, it ate like a savory pot pie.

This Butte Patsy I had at O’Doherty’s  did a lot more for my tastebuds than it did my eyes. While this plain little dish looks  part callizone and part burrito, it ate like a savory beef brisket pot pie.

When the timer on the wall hits zero hour, O'Doherty's expldes.

When the timer on the wall hits zero hour, O’Doherty’s expldes.


This is the October cover of Spokane Valley's Current monthly news magazine which the following story I wrote.

This is the October cover of Spokane Valley’s Current monthly news magazine which the following story I wrote.


When I was asked to write a story on the state of breakfast affairs in the Spokane Valley, I knew I was the man for the job. It is a story I have been dining to write since I was about four years old when I decided nothing was cooler than hotcakes.

Considering that I am very Fifty-something now, that was a long time ago. There were few franchises,  fast or slow, serving breakfast or any other meal. I remember only one restaurant in the Valley from those earliest-memory days. There were others but Smitty’s Pancake House was the only one I cared about. When I had the occasional good luck to be an eager participant in an after-church family meal there, it was the most sacred and blessed moment of that Sabbath day.

Not old enough to understand what our pastor was selling in the Lord’s House, I certainly understood what Smitty was selling at his Pancake House. If it had been up to me, I would have put Smitty before the Lord and gone there prior to church for breakfast and then headed back for lunch.

Maybe it was that deprivation of my early inner callings for more pancakes that has made me a lifelong breakfast believer, and now, after weeks of intense and rapturous research, something of an expert on the meal or at least on how it is offered to us here in the Spokane Valley.

If you think about it, there are two ways to buy a hot, made-to-order breakfast. One way it is wrapped in paper and handed over the counter at a fast food place and the other it is delivered on a plate by a server in a restaurant. I have always preferred both.

I was there eating breakfast at the University McDonald’s when your choice for a breakfast sandwich was an Egg McMuffin . Back then in the early 70’s, it was your only fast food choice for breakfast. Talk about a revolutionary idea. The humble, eternally popular Egg McMuffin was the match that lit America’s fast food breakfast explosion.

According to a report on MarketWatch.com, breakfast is the only growing segment in both fast-food and casual dining with a 5% increase last year. Leave it to the highly competitive players in the fast food industry to notice that.

Subway is now open for breakfast. You can get a waffle taco at Taco Bell or a breakfast burrito at Taco Time. Schlotsky’s is offering their breakfast sandwich, the Eggsky on their patented bread. Carl’s Jr. has a massive new ad campaign attempting to put their new cinnamon pull-aparts into the minds and mouths of breakfast lovers across America

.eggsky'staco bell waffle

Amongst the national franchises, my loyalty remains with McDonald’s. I did, however, do a sandwich switch from the Egg McMuffin to their egg, bacon and cheese biscuit as soon as they invented it. For me, eating that blissfully stuffed biscuit dipped in syrup is like having a little bite of the Kingdom here on earth . No other new concoction has lured me away, try as I have most of them.

I did come upon an undiscovered fast food gem here in the Valley. A while back I had noticed that Zip’s had entered the fast service breakfast fray and so in doing my due diligence for this story I stopped in twice and that is why I know it is undiscovered.

Zip’s is going for a hybrid between fast food and casual dining. At the counter I ordered French toast and not long after sitting down, they were delivered on a real ceramic plate that also carried a little pitcher of syrup. I appreciate that this local enterprise is boldly Zipping while everyone else is zagging.

2014-08-11 07.20.16

The second breakfast-in-the-field category, casual dining, is where I spent most of my mornings for this story. I group these breakfast purveyors into three catagories: national pancake powerhouses,local weekend wonders and local full time breakfast joints, which I list in order of personal favor.

There are only three national breakfast restaurants doing business in the Valley, Denny’s, IHOP and Shari’s. I love them equally and have spent many glutinous mornings at them all. I still mourn the passing of Perkins and fondly remember Sambos, which became the second memorable restaurant of my youth when it opened in the Sixties selling breakfast 24 hours a day right there just east of Sprague and Bowdish in the heart of the Spokane Valley.

The three active national players are a far cry from the Sambo’s of my youth. Back then it was straight forward All-American breakfast meals, but now days their menus are packed with gooey and rich concoctions described in mouth-watering euphemisms and pictured in too-good-to-be-true close-up photos.

Shari’s has invented something they call Cinnama-sation french toast that is half cinnamon roll and half french toast. Alert to the same cinna-trend, IHOP recently came out with what they call cinnamon swirl brioche french toast. Denny’s came up with a new cinnamon pancake and then upped the sweet ante with a “peanut butter cup pancake” which is two pancakes filled with white chocolate chips,smothered in hot fudge and topped with peanut butter sauce.

I think the nationals pursue these new breakfast inventions because it separates them from the local independents who can’t waste their time in the laboratory to keep coming up with this crazy stuff. In Spokane Valley, and I would guess everywhere, breakfast is where the locals battle the nationals the hardest. There are a lot of big, national players like Applebee’s and Red Lobster serving lunch and dinner but that is not the case for breakfast.

I would not take the time to mention establishments that only serve breakfast on Saturday and Sunday except that there are a lot of them and one of them, Charlie P’s, is probably my favorite place to have breakfast in the entire Valley. I love Seafood omelettes and have tried them where ever they are attempted locally as well as when I travel. Charlie P’s is the best local seafood omellete and as good as any I have eaten even in coastal  restaurants so close to the sea that the crab tasted like they had just pulled it out of the ocean.

Elaine, my best buddy for 32 years, has never one time joined me for an early morning breakfast out because of a serious conflict in interest between getting up or sleeping in. But in a wonderful twist of fate, she loves Charlie’s Eggs Benedict and they serve breakfast all day. So while she is having her benedict with a glass of milk and a happy hour beer for her breakfast, I am having a heavenly omelette for my late afternoon lunch.

Breakfast Elaine stylecharlie p's omellet

Three other family-friendly bars that have built up a weekend following are The Iron Horse, O’Dohrtery’s and Bolo’s. They all do a good job but I think some of their appeal is they serve Bloody Mary’s and other drinks that many of their customers sometimes begin drinking quite early on weekends.

For the clean livers with big appetites, there is no place like the weekend breakfast buffet at Timber Creek. The crowd there is over the top and lined out the door.

But these weekenders are not the main contenders in the breakfast battle. There are actually 10 locals that serve breakfast everyday. Most just serve breakfast and lunch but some serve dinner as well. I think that during the week most of them do better at lunch or dinner but on the weekends they all do big breakfast biz. I was amazed how many people go out for breakfast on the weekends.

Having been solidly converted to breakfastism by St. Smitty long before the age of accountability, I reverently observe the day’s first supper at any place that will serve it to me, but I did come up with a Letterman’s list. And so here are my top ten reasons to go out for breakfast in the Spokane Valley.

Reason #10- Black Pearl Casino. The reason the Pearl holds the ten spot is because they are a casino first and restaurant second. They do have great decor and really good food. If you are dating and have found someone who is the opposite of Elaine and wants to go out for breakfast, this would be the Valley’s best early date spot.

Reason #9- Skyway Cafe. My only problem with Skyway Cafe is that I don’t like crowded places and this place is crowded, especially for weekend breakfast. I love a comfortable, private and well-lit booth like at Shari’s on Sullivan or the old ones at my beloved Perkins. The Skyway Cafe has no such getaways but that does not hurt them one bit. I would tell visitors to the Valley that this is a local favorite for a reason. Located at Spokane’s original international airport, this place has the best setting and unique feel on the list.

Reason #8- Dave’s Bar and Grill. The reason Dave’s is at 8 is because I think they only do breakfast because the Valley can’t get enough of Dave’s food. He does his famous specials at dinner, not breakfast. There are no great bargains for breakfast but like the other two meals he serves, the breakfast there is all great food served in porpportions built for two.

Reason #7-Conley’s. This is the last member of the Valley’s trilogy of local breakfast-serving icons. In an industry with a high mortallity rate and short life expectancy, Conlely’s has been around longer than almost anyone. Conley’s is a creative and tastey example of something that is nice to see: local independent operators that have built a hospitallity treasure that has been Opportunity’s opportunity to have been enjoying all these years.

Reason #6-Egg It On. This is the Valley’s newest restaurant located in the west half of the old Hooter’s building. I think they got off to a rocky start but I have been there 5 times since they opened and always go with a group and I can tell you that they are worth a try. Their Salmon Benedict is, as Elaine says, fricking fracking good and if you like a bloody good Bloody Mary, they have her.

Reason #5-Little Euro. Living these past 20 years near the corner of Bowdish and Alki, me and the kids were hit hard when The Old European closed many years ago just down Bowdish on Sprague in the house that Sambo’s built. The kids had grown up on their crepe’s and I had a love affair with their stuffed french toast. Imagine my delight when they recently re-opened as The Little Euro just down Alki on Pines.

Reason #4-Cottage Cafe. Though they have been around 5 years, I group the Cottage with Euro and the Egg in so far as being the new places. The Cottage opened as successfully as anyone I have ever seen. They pretty much did everything right. Elaine and I went in there at one o’clock on a Wednesday and sat at the bar to avoid waiting, which is amazing considering they close at 2 oclock.

Reason #3 Terry’s Breakfast and Lunch. Having owned and worked a place for four years with Elaine, I most admire the owner that puts in shifts on the front lines of their place. If you want a lot of good grub and want to watch the owner cook it for you, go to Terry’s. The only reason Terry is not higher on the list is because he is not nearly as good looking as the top two.

Reason #2 Jenny’s Cafe. The first Saturday I went into Jenny’s she had her hair down and was waitressing as only a natural can and then the next Saturday she had her hair tied back as she cooked in the kitchen just as naturally. Jenny started there when was 16 when it was Waffles and More and bought it 14 years ago. The main reason Jenny is at number two on the list is because at 24 years in the business she does not yet have half the years in as my monarch of the morning.


Reason #1 Donna’s Diner. Donna starting waiting tables 50 years ago in Troy, Montana after school when she was 12. If you want to see Donna, don’t go on the weekends because she takes off Friday through Sunday. Donna’s is the only breakfast and lunch place open from 5 to 3. All the rest are 6 to 2. Donna is there for all 10 hours Monday through Thursday waiting on her customers.

Donna jpg

Donna does a great job serving a great breakfast, as do the Valley’s other nine great reasons to dine out in the morning. I didn’t bring up price because they are all within a buck on any given meal and I didn’t bring up quallity because breakfast is a pretty easy meal to get right as they all have accomplished.

Judging by the numbers I saw crowding into all of these places on the weekends, I would say that I am not the only one who did not get enough pancakes when I was a kid. And while I love them all from Ronald to Donna, I will always remain most smitten by Smitty.








Family Meal at Denny’s




10560348_1480160212222428_54388910838582447_o2014-08-07 18.56.192014-08-07 18.57.342014-08-07 18.56.092014-08-07 18.18.43


One Thursday last August  Elaine’s brother and sister-in-law and niece, Craig, Beth  and  Kelsey Clark ( first three in selfie) , were passing through and wanted to get everybody together for dinner on the fly. After a bulletin text was sent out and attendance was confirmed or declined, a group conversation began about where to eat. I did not get into the discussion as I was withholding my final decision concerning my own attendance  since I had a lot of work to do and had just seen these particular out-of-towners just day or two before and so had had enough  hugs from these lovable and quite publicly demonstrative family members for the season, at least from one of them.

Then final decision to make it Denny’s it on Argonne came buzzing in on my phone .  One of the things on my ongoing to-do list was researching the story above and so doing Denny’s with a group was a great opportunity. I texted back that  I was in, resigning myself to one last round of heartfelt farewells. I had work to do at Denny’s and besides, my old childhood buddy-turned-brother-in-law, Craig, isn’t bad company once I get past his initial mandatory man hug.

As I drove there I pondered why Denny’s was the group concensus. I wouldn’t have thought of it and I was further intrigued upon arrival to see two large family groups besides ours. After  conversing and dining with the family and analyzing the menu and the selections made from it, I came up with an hypothesis.

First of all Denny’s prices are reasonable and secondly the menu’s range goes from dawn to dusk and back again. I found it telling that out of 10 of us, only one person went past the breakfast pages and ordered a dinner entre. I would guess that ratio was a little unusual, but I can see where Denny’s anytime and all kinds of breakfast offerings makes it a family favorite especially ones with children.

The children within our adult family ordered across the breakfast board that day. I discovered that Faun,Elaine’s mom ( fifth back in the selfie),  often eats at Denny’s and usually orders the breakfast sandwich in the second photo above. She said she most often has coffee and breakfast at the Hi-Co Subway. Of all fast food breakfast  choices she thinks Subway is the most tasty, healthy and affordable, furthermore my mother-in-law who is a woman of many opinions is of the opinion that Subway on Argonne serves the best food out of all the local Subways.

My little inside guy  had to try the Strawberry Pancake Puppies with cream cheese and so I ordered them as an appetizer to share though after tasting the first one I did not share as many as I had intended. Elaine went for one of those flashy but tempting menu items called the Red,White and Blue Slam pictured in the fourth photo. For $7.99 she got two blueberry pancakes topped with cream cheese and strawberries along with two eggs, hash browns and  sausage . Elaine’s Slam did not land on the table with the normal two links as I had devoured one of them whole after deftly snatching it away while she talked in the other direction.

The R,W & B Slam that Elaine had is yet another version in a long and creative line of Slams. The original Grand Slam is still on the menu and remains the Slam I go back to time and again. As a hungry teenager, I mentally and emotionally consummated my relationship with her midway through our first encounter.

Though not as old , The Grand Slam is the Egg McMuffin of casual dining. Denny’s keeps pumping 0ut and glossily photographing one new invention after another such as what I have always thought was the cleverly named  ” Moons Over My Hammy” . But I love it in name only having never been tempted to cheat on my Grand Slam by its alluring picture and personal information on the menu.

The selfie above was taken outside the front door after we had all indulged in our personal pleasures and great family visiting. It is a picture of a group of well fed family members happy to have had another opportunity get together break bread and waffles and pancakes. What I was mostly thinking about in that shot was I knew I was only minutes away from having that mug in the front approaching me as he comes in for his obligatory  farewell embrace.

  An explosion will be going off at 2 this afternoon at the corner of Sprague and Raymond. This is not a bomb threat.The explosion will be one of creativity and talent and individualism and self expression as the second annual Hopped Up on Art outdoor festival gets started. Talk about a talent show.
   The first one last year was a huge success and so the main organizer, my son Jesse Swanson, decided to build on it this year.
     Last year there were 4 bands. This year their will be 7 bands and 4 acoustic singer/songwriters. That in itself is crazy. If you stop and think that every single person performing today is a dedicated and talented musician who loves their art, that in itself is a lot of creativity and talent and self-expression.
    Then you have all the painters and photograghers and sculptors and carvers  who will be displaying their works. Having a child who is one of them, I am in awe of their passion and drive to express themselves through the artistic talent that God gave them which they dedicate themselves to develope. This year’s gathering of artists will be more than double last year’s.
   This is not Hopped Up Brewery’s festival, that is just the fortunate business where the festival has been held the first two years. Though it was Jesse’s idea and he is the driving force behind it, the festival is not his either. This festival belongs to the local community of artists that Jesse has helped organize and bring together for the day.
   As they perform and display their art for all who attend, they will also be visiting and celebrating amongst themselves. They all share a bond as artists and this would be a fun day for them irregardless, but it helps to have the party at a brewery.
   Next year Jesse wants to spill the party out into the street and over into University City North’s parking lot. He wants  10,000 to attend. Judging by last year’s blow out attendence and this year’s sign up of talent, today’s festival should be the next step to building a local annual event that lives up to his ambitions that are as big as his talent. Those are two things every father likes to see in his son.

The barrel-topped building just south of Sprague and Bowdish, birth and burial site of Ringo’s Casino, is about to become a beehive of activity when a group of marijuana merchants open shop. Now the games of chance at the old casino site are really getting interesting. Legal pot peddling is a new and wide open field that has beckoned an odd array of creative and bold players like Tim McKinney and his associates.
The first time I met Tim McKinney was about 10:00 o’clock a few Friday nights ago while I was walking peacefully with an absent mind down to the Iron Horse to meet Elaine who was getting off work from her job at the Ambrosia Bistro. I had already noted the one car parked out front of the building and so when I saw the lights go out inside, I crossed Sprague. I figured some body was working late at the renovation project that I had surmised was taking place for a week or two.
I made it all the way across the 200-yard parking lot and right up to the door before he burst out. Despite the late hour and being caught off guard, he was as open as a steamed clam and as energetic as a minor league baseball mascot when I asked him for the lowdown. Perhaps no scoop that I have uncovered snooping around has raised my eyebrows quite as high as Tim’s disclosing and detailing of the dealings that he and his associates where preparing for.
Tim told me that this spot on Earth, one that I have known as well as any spot since earliest memory, was about to become what up until just now was not available anywhere in the entire nation. Most of my life I have wondered what it would be like if the whole world were like Amsterdam where people had the choice of catching a buzz in public using alcohol or pot. Now Tim was telling me that Amsterdam was not just coming to somewhere in America, it was coming to my neighborhood. I could not keep track of many more details that he enthusiastically went on about. My mind was blown.
I did, however, have presence of boggled mind to tell him I that I wrote the occasional blog and he asked me to give him at least two weeks. That was easy because it took that long to wrap my noodle around just the basic idea that I was soon to have a pot bar within walking distance, while the rest of the nation will just be watching and wondering what it would be like to live where I live. So after two weeks I dropped back in during working hours to find Tim bustling about. I wanted to get more details on how this was going to work and once again Tim stopped what he was doing and focused on trying to help my scattered brain to see their master plan.
First of all it is going to be a private club called The Members Lounge . There will monthly dues since our liberal state of Washington only allows us to partake of pot in private and not in public. Secondly, it will take a marijuana medical card to buy pot onsite. Apparently, lawmakers decided Spokane should only have three establishment where you can buy your pot and smoke it too. Tim said that he and his gang were fourth on the list, though they are much further along than the three parties that got the much sought after licenses.
As he toured me around the building he took me to the southwest section where for the last few years I had seen gambling folks playing cards and where before that I often heaped my plate at the oriental buffet line and where 20 years ago I splurged on a company Christmas party in the banquet room of the Chinese Restaurant the building was originally built for. This quarter of the building, he told me, would soon be transformed into a farmer’s market where medicinal marijuana will be the harvest for sale.
Tim and his partners won’t sell any pot themselves, but rather provide space to merchants. It makes sence to experiment with an antique mall setting considering that we are at the starting line of this industry and, like in the gold rush days of the 1800’s it has drawn in the little guy with little resources but eager to strike it rich. Tim then guided me into the northeast quarter of the building, which has always been the dining area. This, he told me, is where members will be able to consume their cannabus, be it from home or purchased from the adjoining marketplace.
I went away from our second chat with a sense of foreboding. I worry every time that a brave soul puts thousands on the line and opens a new pace. It is bad enough that they are always based on some new and untried idea for a restaurant or bar or coffee shop, but this new venture is also based on a whole new social experience for America, let alone the Spokane Valley. Will our local pot smokers who have been forced to hide in the closet all the lives now come scurrying out and smoke in public?
Will partiers in general find consuming pot in a lounge setting as comfortable as they do the bars they have been going to for years? I can see the young crowd embracing it, but the older generation seems set in their love of alcohol which is not an option at Tim’s new joint.
Regardless, our society is about to undergo a transformation and this little private club in my backyard is leading the way onto the battlefield of Spokane. I am sure the fight will one day be won, but I fear for the those emerging out onto the front line, there has to be casualties. It was not until my third trip to this rabbit hole that I saw the light or at least a glimmer of hope.
We were driving by at about 9:00 last Saturday and the parking lot had several cars. My curiosity drove me into the parking lot and right through the doors where once again I found an obliging Tim among a large and informal gathering . He welcomed us with open arms to a meet and greet party that had been going on for two hours.
I knew that the pot that was to be consumed at the new place had to be ingested as a vapor since servers could not be exposed to smoke. But it had not dawned on me that the technology of the e-cigarette had been applied to pot. To paraphrase an old Cheech and Chong bit: No smoke or smell that you don’t need, vaporized pot is bad-assed weed. The age of the e-joint is upon us.
As vapor puffs frequently appeared from the mouths of the happy laid-back crowd, the smoke cleared and I saw where this place might have a chance. If vapor lounges have been around for years and have been able to survive and prosper how much better are their chances now that the law allows for the granddaddy of all vapor-able substances? For Tim’s sake and the sake of all the Marijuana Sooners preparing to race for their stake in this new state of affairs and for the sake of Washington’s bold step towards common sense, I hope our town rises to the occasion. I say let’s Amsterdam it.

I believe most eateries are like people in that most have hidden gems to offer the world if only the world can find them. The Black Pearl certainly has a lot of great food and drinks to offer in plain on the menu, but one has to get up at least kind of early in the morning to find what I found because it is only on the breakfast menu.
Their seafood omelet is the black pearl among the ivory pearls of plates their worthy kitchen offers. Every time I eat breakfast at a new place, I always look for a seafood omelet. It is seldom that my effort is rewarded and so when on occasion my dispirited search is rewarded with a genuine seafood omelet on the menu it is my unfailing selection. Normally I get so excited when I find it that I begin waving frantically to the waitress to quickly return and take my ecstatic order so that no time is wasted in getting that thing in front of me.
What finally showed up after perhaps 10 minutes that seemed like ten hours was pure pleasure on a plate. I rarely see food like that seafood omelet and I did not see it for long as it quickly disappeared beneath my nose as one fork-full followed another down my throat with such speed that that little hot-dog-eating Oriental dude would not have dared challenge me to a seafood omelet eating contest. At least not if it was the Black Pearl’s omelet.

This photograph is a show of willpower as every atom in my body screamed out to have the atoms in that omelet join them. But I had to pause for the pic but to heck with a prayer. No sooner had the light from the camera’s flash subsided and this beautiful masterpiece and I were one.

Like a ravenous lion ripping the quivering red meat from the steaming body of a twitching, barely-dead Gazelle, I could hear my animal subconscious growl menacingly at my nerdy, blogger side that had to interrupt my feeding frenzy to take this picture. But I had to take it. Who would ever believe the chef’s generosity with the fresh and very real crabmeat. And I knew a thousand words gushing on and on from my pen could not capture the rapture of this gift from God like one quick picture.