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 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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17 Responses

  1. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    YUP . . . your title about sums it up!!
    Although you are absolutely right, Northeastern Oregon has some absolutely beautiful spots (witness the pics you included), but between here and there lies what I like to refer to as the ‘Ever-gray state.’ High desert has it’s own kind of beautify but, like oysters, you kinda have to develop a taste for it. UNusual for me, I couldn’t think of a single Oregon song to add to the list . . . . but the name “Oregon” replaces “Galveston” quite nicely . . . . although I can’t quite hear Glen Campbell singing it. LOL!!

  2. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    I used to drive my motorcycle from Sacramento to Coeura d’Alene Idaho, about 900 miles, nonstop, all in one go. Crossing Eastern Oregon was like riding on a mobius strip. It’s like you’re never going to get out of there. The quickest I ever made the journey was 14 hours, which means I was driving over 100 mph much of the time, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” ringing in my ears.

    • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

      900 miles?! Sheesh, my record on a motorcycle is 700 miles–with stops–and at the end of the day I felt like someone had hung me from a tree and used me for piñata practice.

  3. Avatar Tim says:

    Your ordeal kind of reminds me of the 70’s video game Oregon Trail (“You have died of dysentery”) which, apparently, is now online: https://classicreload.com/oregon-trail.html

    I’m with RV in that I’d prefer to drive to Elgin or Troy or wherever rather than fly commercial with multiple connections. If I had a lot of advanced notice, I might spread the word around the Airpark Cafe to see if any recreational pilots needed some hours, but that’d be a bit like the aviation equivalent of Uber where you don’t know what you’re going to get.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      What great timing that you mentioned that Tim! Know what my husband is doing today – because he unexpectedly got the day off due to rain? He’s toodling around more of Eastern Oregon retracing his great great grandfather’s journey on the Oregon Trail! There’s a historic marker about him over in Baker City, so Eddie is on the hunt for that. I’ll have to tell the story of his GG Grandfather sometime…it’s pretty cool. He kept a journal of his trip, which was published in newspapers back east and made into a book.

    • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

      Flew to Spokane by private plane for a recording session one time. About 3 1/2 hours as I recall (although, with my recall,that might have been closer to six!) Reminder here: Private planes do not have rest rooms . . . . and rest stops in the sky haven’t been mandated for private aircraft yet.
      Can definitely turn into a problem. Loooong story waiting to happen. Ask me some other time!!

      • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

        Even though our little jet did have a lavatory, I think it was probably more on par with the kind of little potty seat you might train a toddler on. When the co-pilot pointed to it to let the passengers know it was there, I knew that with my girth it was pretty much an impossibility. The room itself was more like a 4 foot high gym locker with no space to maneuver one’s body or clothing to use the seat. Good thing it wasn’t a 3 1/2 hour flight!!!! While I would have loved to have taken a private plane from Redding all the way there, I don’t envy having to try holding it for that long!

  4. Oh, Val. When it’s your column day, I get a cup of coffee, sit back and take it all in. You, Mistress of the Mix, are gifted with the gift of story-telling, and you do seem to be like Velcro for weird happenings and experiences.

    I literally laughed out loud a few times. (And sorry that with our system’s excerpted version on the home page, your word strike-through doesn’t appear until we read more … which kind if makes it funny, as in, “Oh, the things we’ll do for sex love.”)

    What a great way to start a Friday morning. Thanks, Val.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      Shucks, thanks! And from now on I’ll just have to keep a mental note to craft my opening sentence not to contain any strikeouts! I sort of am a magnet for the absurd aren’t I?

  5. Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

    I hiked the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail in one month, but that’s probably not going to help you. . .

  6. Avatar Candace C says:

    Thanks for this bit of respite. You always make me laugh. Looking forward to your next column.

  7. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Another great story, Val!

    For the first six years my wife and I were married, my employer had a base at Santa Barbara airport. Rhonda would sometimes fly down to visit during a weekend, and although the trip was usually much less onerous than what you faced, there were still a couple of trips she made that involved weather delays. One time, she flew down to Santa Barbara to visit me, only for me to get weathered in in Crescent City on a mission to get a part to a supertanker 50 miles offshore.

    Looking back, it’s kind of funny to think that despite all of her efforts, Rhonda and I ended up farther apart than if she’d just stayed in Redding. But, at the time, I don’t recall doing much laughing.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      Oh that must’ve been a huge disappointment!!! That reminds me of some of the weather-delay stories that happened to folks I knew when I lived in Alaska. Imagine flying home for Christmas on Dec 23rd, only the weather wasn’t cooperating, so you ended up having to overnight in some other Alaskan city, then boarding a jet the next morning to try it again to no avail…having to spend Christmas Eve in some city you weren’t intending to go to, and because the planes don’t fly on Christmas, eventually just giving up and flying back home to the lower 48 on the 26th because you have to be back at work on the 27th. Its one of the reasons I’ve never been back to visit since leaving 17 years ago….there’s no guarantee I’ll actually get to set foot on the island!

  8. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Great story Val. Thank you so much for a great read. Too much “to and froing” with air travel from Redding. The plans for your first visit to your beau made me dizzy. Like Clint said in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge” you improvise, adapt and overcome!

  9. Avatar Janine Hall says:

    Love your story. You keep me reading with anticipation of what will go wrong next.

  10. Avatar Milo Johnson says:

    You should not have been exposed to the inebriated passenger on that flight, because the airline employees that permitted her to board were in the wrong. From Federal Regulations:
    “The boarding of a passenger who appears to be intoxicated is a violation of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR).” And from the Federal Aviation Regulations is the following:

    Ҥ 121.575 Alcoholic beverages.

    (a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.

    (b) No certificate holder may serve any alcoholic beverage to any person aboard any of its aircraft who –

    (1) Appears to be intoxicated;

    (c) No certificate holder may allow any person to board any of its aircraft if that person appears to be intoxicated.

    I am glad you got home safely, with plenty of material for a good article!

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      I agree Milo, and I’m kind of surprised they let her on. One thing she shared with everyone on board about 45 minutes into our hour long flight was that the reason for her flight to wherever she’d been was because her mother had died a day or two before. So maybe people felt sorry for her….and she had to teach the next day. Its no excuse though. You’re absolutely correct, she should not have been allowed on the plane. Her seat mate (who came from the same town but they didn’t know each other) was an angel.