Mistress of the Mix: Stranded in Eastern Oregon

Oh, the things we’ll do for sex love.

Years ago, when my boyfriend hadn’t yet been promoted to husband, he was sent to the far northeastern corner of Oregon to build a pole barn for his boss at a large highway construction company in mid-October. He was bunking with another laborer in a motel room, not his favorite thing to do. He’s not a really good at sharing the TV remote. In fact that probably held up that promotion for about a year. But I digress (already). The job was supposed to take about a month to complete. His cell phone didn’t get any service, so he had to borrow a phone from a co-worker to call me every other day for 15 minutes.

He wasn’t a very happy camper, and mostly it was because he had to go without the physical embrace of his mate, unless somehow I was able to get to him.

So I checked it out.

I could book a flight on Alaska Airlines, leaving Redding November 1st, a Saturday morning (because I would never shirk trick-or-treating duties with my daughter Friday night). I could catch the 7am flight to L.A. where I would change planes, heading to Seattle, where I’d change planes again and end up in Pendleton, Oregon at 5:45 pm.

Then I’d rent a car and drive 119 miles to his hotel, where we’d definitely have to book a separate room. Google said was a 2 1/2 hour drive. Allowing for just 15 minutes to fill out paperwork at the car rental place, and knowing how fast I drive, I estimated that I’d finally get to kiss my sweetheart at 8:30 pm Saturday evening if everything worked out perfectly without a hitch.

Then, because I still had those pesky motherly duties to attend to, I’d need to return Sunday. The only flight out was at 6:10 am, going to Seattle, then Portland, and arriving back home at 3:25 pm. They tell you to arrive at the airport a good 2 hours in advance, but this is Pendleton. I think I could’ve pulled it off if I showed up at 5 am, meaning I’d have to kiss my honey goodbye at 2:30 am.

So I was looking at two days of travel to spend six hours with my sweetheart. I guess back in 2008 I was at least willing to contemplate that. So I priced it out.

Breaking it down conservatively, the cost of spending approximately six hours with my sweetheart came down to about $154.00 per hour.

That trip didn’t happen.

So here we are, 11 years down the road. That man finally got the promotion to husband, but we still don’t technically live together. He’s still working for that same highway construction company. And most of the time it’s a pretty cool gig, because he’ll be working in some fabulous spot just a few hours away in Southern Oregon. One year he was in Sunriver. For a couple of years he was on the coast in Brookings, and last year he finally finished a three year project revitalizing the rim road around Crater Lake. Sometimes he’d drive home to me on the weekends, sometimes we’d meet in the middle at my parents in Ashland, and sometimes I’d drive to him, enjoying a mini-vacation at a national park.

But not this season.

This year my husband has been sent back to that little spot in the corner of northeast Oregon to fix a particularly treacherous curve on Highway 82, near the little community of Minum. Here’s what I found when I googled Minum and took it down to street level, no joke.

Although he’s living in a spot with slightly better cell service, my husband is once again in cowboy country, once again a few hours east of Pendleton. Home of the Pendleton Round Up and the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, which is located pretty much right in the middle of the city, much to my surprise.

I know this to be true because after six weeks without my husband’s arms wrapped around me, I was more than willing to once again research a way to travel all the way to see him.

Turns out it’ll take six days, close to a thousand dollars, and one minor panic attack.

The routes have changed, and Alaska Airlines no longer flies out of Redding. In fact you can’t fly north to Portland from Redding at all. The most convenient and economical way for me to make this trip was to leave Redding early Thursday morning and drive to Ashland. The plan was for me to host my radio show from there, then drive to the Medford airport to catch a 7:30 pm flight to Portland on Horizon. By then the last flight to Pendleton for the day had already left, so I had to wait until Friday to fly. In fact, I had to wait until Friday evening. Eddie had to work anyway, and then drive several hours from Minam to Pendleton to pick me up, so I booked a 6:30 pm flight, arriving in Pendleton two days after leaving my house. But don’t feel sorry for me (yet).

My best friend from high school and her husband promised to entertain me with a massive whiskey tasting event to keep my mind off of the anxiety that was creeping over all of the ways this trip could go sour. What if my volunteer, who had agreed to sub for me Friday and Monday got sick or injured and couldn’t host my radio show? That had happened before. What if the weather turned bad and flights were delayed? Rain was in the forecast, it could happen! What if a wildfire broke out on the freeway and shut down the freeway for several days? Give me whiskey, and lots of it.

For the record, my favorites were Heaven Hill, Bernheim and Rabbit Hole. And then we moved on to Bourbon.

The next evening, I showed up for my flight from PDX to Pendleton on Boutique Air. Turns out my flight didn’t leave from PDX, but rather at a smaller facility just across the way. They weighed my luggage, asked me what I weighed, and that was the extent of the pre-flight screening. No TSA. I didn’t have to take my shoes off or put all my electronic devices into a separate bus tub. I just set my bag down on a metal cart, and waited to be invited out onto the runway to get onto the little jet with the other five passengers.

My flight from Portland to Pendleton.

Our flight attendant was an 11 year old volunteer, who probably had more hours in that plane than the pilots. She made the trip every two weeks to visit her dad. She knew the drill, and gave us the pre-flight safety speech, then started handing out sodas and water during the trip. The young woman sitting across the aisle was on the Pendleton Round-Up court, and was flying back home to participate in a Memorial Day parade on Monday. Another passenger was a budding singer/songwriter from Wyoming, meeting up with a friend to record an album. That hour long flight was probably one of the most fascinating traveling experiences of my life, with the rodeo princess, acting as the perfect ambassador, filled me in on all the fun things to do in Eastern Oregon, and the future rock star picking my brain on breaking into the music business. I might have felt differently about the flight if I had tried to use the plane’s lavatory, which was accessed by hobbling to the front of the plane on one’s knees. But since I stayed in my seat during the duration of the flight, I’ll be honest with ya, I felt a little bit like a celebrity in my own private jet.

I arrived, husband picked me up, we ate dinner at a steak house in downtown Pendleton before heading to the Red Lion. They gave us a room with a view of a concrete wall and an electrical box, but we didn’t complain. After all, we weren’t there for the view.

I’m going to gloss over a lot of what we did that weekend, mainly because I covered it in the very first sentence of the column. But other than that, we put a lot of miles on the car driving to the bosses’ house in Lostine for barbecued ribs on Saturday, then all the way over to the town of Joseph and Lake Wallowa, stopping every 15 minutes to take a photo of the beautiful scenery. It really is gorgeous territory.

Scenes from a weekend in Eastern Oregon

All too quickly, the weekend came to an end, and we made the drive back to Pendleton again for my flight out on Monday afternoon. And then I got the call. It was Boutique Air, cancelling my flight to Portland. They didn’t have a jet, they said. They didn’t elaborate. My guess is that one of the pilots didn’t show up for work, or they didn’t have enough passengers to cover the cost of the fuel. Regardless, I was suddenly stranded in Eastern Oregon.

The woman on the phone assured me they’d get me on the next possible flight. But I already knew there were no other flights to Portland that day, and I had a red-eye from PDX to Medford at 10:30 that evening. I still had to get to Medford, retrieve my car and drive all the way to Redding before my radio show started at noon Tuesday.

That was when the gal on the phone dropped the real bomb on me. The next available flight out wasn’t until Wednesday. Oh, and by the way, since I’d booked my trip through Travelocity, I’d have to take up any changes to my itinerary with them. Have a nice day, buh-bye!

My heart started pounding, I was sweating profusely, and I started pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in downtown Pendleton while trying to figure out what my options were. I was panicking just a little bit. This could not be happening. I could not get stranded in Eastern Oregon!

I got on the horn with Travelocity. They told me not to worry, they’d sort things out. Hold, please.

I paced some more. Fifteen minutes later the agent came back on the phone to tell me what I already knew before I called her. There were no other options. There was no passenger train. I couldn’t even take the Greyhound, because there was only one a day, and it had left hours before. I asked if they could just rent me a car so I could drive back to Portland, hopefully in time to make my connecting flight. Indeed they would. Was there a car rental desk at the airport, they asked?

Turns out there was. The same airline that had cancelled my flight was also the Hertz agent for Pendleton. They only car rental agency in Pendleton. And they had exactly one car. Only they didn’t rent it out for one-way trips. I was screwed.

So we did the only thing we could do, which was to jump into the car and start heading west, for the 3 1/2 hour drive along the Columbia River back to Portland. Eddie was very cranky just thinking about what was in store for him – an eight hour round trip journey to take me to Portland and then head all the way back to his little trailer in Elgin. I was still panicking a little bit, thinking that the universe was doing everything possible to keep me from getting back home on time, so I kept thinking What Next? “Well, at least I’ve got something to write about,” I said.

Fortunately, the best friend from Portland was able to do what best friends are best at: she dropped everything immediately and hopped into her car to meet us half way in Hood River, shaving three hours off of Eddie’s time. He dropped me off on a corner in the middle of Hood River. We started towards Portland on I-84, and for a short time, things seemed to be going okay again, until traffic started backing up a half hour into the journey. There was a major car accident ahead on the freeway. At least it wasn’t us, I thought.

We turned around, backtracking to Hood River. Then we drove across the Columbia River and into Washington, before heading west again. Somehow, miraculously, we still made it back to Portland before my initial flight was even scheduled to land.

My story should end right there. But you already know it doesn’t. Later that night when I got onto the Horizon Air flight to Medford, a woman from Grants Pass was in my seat. I watched as she stumbled into the seat, and by that I mean she actually face-planted into the lap of the poor young woman who was supposed to be sitting next to me. She was the most inebriated person I have ever encountered on a plane. I ended up across from her. Inebriated, but still quite talkative.

She zeroed in on a pair of teenage twin boys sitting in the row ahead of me and exclaimed, “Look! There’s something on the wing!” They both whipped their heads around, and I told her I thought they might be too young to get the Twilight Zone reference, but ha ha.

Then she said, “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter. We’re all going to die anyway. I hate to fly. This plane is going down. We’re gonna crash.” She kept repeating this morbid mantra over and over again as the plane took off, and then complained loudly during the entire flight because everyone around her was offered beer or wine, but for some reason the flight attendants would only give her a choice between apple juice and water. “It’s not like I’m driving or anything,” she yelled, “I’m taking an uber to my friend’s house!” I tried really hard to bury my nose in a Nicholas Sparks novel for the rest of the flight.

Since you’re reading this now, you’ve probably already guessed that we did not crash, nobody died, and around midnight I was finally able to pay a hefty ransom to collect my car and start the rest of my journey home towards California. I wasn’t fazed much by the drunk passenger’s predictions, but I was hearing the nagging little voice in my head loud clear that had been telling me since I’d left home last Thursday that this wasn’t going to be an easy journey. And it wasn’t, from beginning to end. But like I said, people are willing to do a lot for love.

But you probably won’t find me risking a journey to Eastern Oregon again anytime soon.

Hope you enjoy today’s Stranded in Oregon streaming playlist. If you’re a fan of my playlists, follow me on Spotify!

Valerie Ing

Valerie Ing

Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.

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