On July 23 of 2006, my son and I flew up north to Seattle then across the mountains to Yakima, WA. After a night at my mother’s house in Zillah 20 miles from Yakima, my brother took us down to Boardman, Oregon to camp at the marine park there and go boating on the Columbia River.  The Columbia is a huge river that separates Oregon and Washington and has several hydroelectric dams.  Also in the campground were many members of my brother’s wife’s family, whom I had joined on camping trips the previous two years.  The first three days we were able to go boating.  My son likes tubing, which means riding on a large covered inner tube that is pulled by a boat.  My nieces like wake boarding which is similar to water skiing but having both feet on a board like a snowboard.   The first day it was so hot that I spent a couple of hours reading in front of the air conditioner in one of our group’s motor homes, although my son and I were sleeping in tents. 

The last three days it was too windy to on the river.  When the waves have whitecaps, it means that the boat will bounce hard.  So on Friday we drove an hour to Pendleton, Oregon, which is famous for an annual rodeo, to see the Underground Tour there.  I had been on an underground tour in Seattle years ago, in which we walked under sidewalks in and out of basements.  In Seattle the underground was created when they decided to raise the streets one story due to constant flooding - the tour included a toilet that was on a pedestal because the water back flushed when the tide came in!

In Pendleton the underground was created to provide a means of delivering freight and transferring money to the bank.  It also housed 80 Chinese workers who were not allowed to be above ground after dark.  Men had been brought from China to work in the mines during the Gold Rush of the 1850s and to help build the railroads, but faced tremendous discrimination.  They weren’t allowed to become citizens or to bring wives to the US.  In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration and restricted employment opportunities.  It was not repealed until 1943 when China was an ally during World War II.

During the Prohibition era of the 1930s, when alcohol was illegal, there were many “speakeasies” where you had to speak a password to get in.  Some speakeasies and illegal card rooms for gambling were in the Pendleton Underground.  The underground also served as a storage area for businesses upstairs, and had a refrigeration unit for making ice in the summer.

The Pendleton Underground covered at least four blocks on each side of Main Street.  There were rumors of other tunnels, but many areas had been filled in by the time that teenagers were exploring the underground in the 1960s and 1970s.  In the 1980s some men were sharing stories of their prior explorations and proposed developing an underground tour.  They convinced the townspeople to support it, even though many were initially ashamed of the town’s shady past.  In addition to the speakeasies downstairs, there were 18 brothels on the second floors of buildings in town.  They served miners, sheepherders, and military men from a nearby airbase built during World War II. The brothels were closed in 1953 when a Presbyterian minister compiled a list of the “working girls” and their patrons, and showed it to the mayor and city council.  That night the women were bused to other towns. 

At least one brothel remained secretly opened until 1967 when the madam retired.  It is now part of the Underground Tour although it is on the second floor.  It has a room with a closet that opens to a closet in another room for easy escape.  The sheriff raided the brothels periodically to appease townsfolk, but he always warned when raids were coming.  He also was a customer.  After being arrested and paying a small fine, the women would be back in business.  It reminded me of the delightful 1963 Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacClaine film, “Irma La Douce,” about a cop and a prostitute in Paris.

On Saturday there was a group of medieval history buffs in the campground, who wear medieval costumes and enjoy reenacting battles.  First was a battle between two men in armor.  Later two groups fought with fencing swords that had caps to blunt their points.  Finally, there was a larger battle using Japanese kendo sticks made of bamboo, which are safer for beginners to fight with.

On Sunday we went back to Zillah, WA where my son and I visited my mother for three days before flying back to Los Angeles.  Now I am trying to catch up on email, mail, and newspapers again, while also finalizing course syllabi for fall semester.  On August 19 my wife, son and I will fly to AUSTRALIA for two weeks.  My wife will be presenting a paper at a geology conference in Melbourne.  But that’s another story!