“Jake the Alligator Man’s Birthday Celebration (3rd Aug. 2019) in Long Beach, Washington, USA” by Richard F. Yates

in photography •  2 months ago  (edited)

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[This photo, like all of the images in this piece, was taken by me. It’s an event poster for the Jake the Alligator Man Birthday Celebration, and it was in a shop window on the main drag---that ONE road, which is the heart of Long Beach, Washington… It’s not a big city… But I forgot to write down the name of the shop, and now I can’t remember it. Dang.]

First off, let me just say that Jake the Alligator Man probably isn’t that well known around the world, but he’s a cultural icon in the Pacific Northwest, and you can see people wearing Jake t-shirts or cars with Jake bumper-stickers all over Washington and Oregon. If you’ve never heard of the Alligator Man, don’t worry. I have actual PHOTOS of this extraordinary fellow below!

SECOND!!! This is a REALLY long post. (Like more than 2,000 words long. Sorry!) I almost considered breaking it into two posts, but I ultimately decided just to push on and get the whole thing done in one. There are a LOT of words here, so if you ain’t much of a reader, just scroll through the pictures, and maybe read the parts with images that catch your fancy!

Now, on to our TRIP. On Saturday, August 3rd, 2019, my wife (Mariah), younger daughter (Elise), and younger daughter’s then boyfriend (Gabe---I’ll explain what I mean by “then boyfriend” below), and I piled into our automobile early in the A.M. for the drive from LongVIEW, Washington, to Long BEACH, Washington. Due to some odd topographical features OR because of poor planning on the part of the designers of Washington’s Highway 14, which goes from Longview, where we live, all the way to the coast, it’s much quicker and easier to hop the Columbia River and travel west on Highway 30 to the coast, then turn right at Astoria and hop BACK across the Columbia on that one giant bridge---(which I didn’t get a photo of because I was driving), and then continue up Highway 101 to Long Beach. So that’s what we did.

We arrived in L.B. a few minutes after 10:00 A.M. and found a parking space, almost instantly, next to an old mini-amusement park. (By "old" I mean, so old that it’s been there since I was a kid---OLD!) Ellie remembered a bumper boat ride being near where we parked from when she was younger that didn’t seem to be there anymore, and in it’s place was a weird, spinning ride, with hand painted carts that looked like apples! Things change. That's life. Regardless, and somewhat surprisingly, the parking lot was almost empty when we pulled in. (This would change within the next few hours as folks started to arrive for the festivities.) But we’d found our parking spot and could now BEGIN our Long Beach adventure.

Although I had grabbed a donut in Astoria, Elise hadn’t eaten anything yet and was beginning to exhibit signs of HANGER. What she WANTED was jo-jos, which she calls “Joseph-Josephs,” and I think that’s funny---but we couldn’t FIND any jo-jos, anywhere. We walked the few blocks that constitute Long Beach’s “downtown,” but none of the eateries seemed to have what the HANGRY ONE was looking for, so she finally just settled for a place that served chicken strips. We ended up at the Long Beach Tavern.

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Service was pretty good. Atmosphere was a bit loud (had a bit of “locals” thing going on, which is fine---but there appeared to be folks drinking already at 10:30 in the A.M., and I don’t know if that’s too good. When my burger came, I made burger art. (I don’t know why.)

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We got full. It wasn’t too expensive, and as I said, the service was pretty good. (One server in particular was very funny, which I appreciated.) I don’t know if I’d necessarily RECOMMEND this establishment, but if you’re just looking for some decent, kinda greasy, bar food, it weren’t too bad.

Just outside the tavern, however, I found some carved wood sculpture, which I thought was neat---in a very "quaint” sort of way. There is a ton of stuff like this all over Long Beach (probably all over EVERY beach community), and I didn’t catch the artist'(s) name(s), but I thought these were pretty cool pieces.

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At this point, it was time to go visit Jake, who “lives” at Marsh’s Free Museum!

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[Again, this image was snapped in a shop window along the main drag, and again, I forgot to get the name of the shop. I’m pretty shitty at this “reporting” thing! This particular poster is very popular in Long Beach and appears in several shop windows, AND Mariah bought one of the posters while we were at Marsh’s. I would take a photo of it, but it’s rolled at the moment. We’re planning to put it in a frame. Maybe I’ll take a photo of it then!]

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[The Mighty Jake!!!]

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[Elise and Gabe---maybe not completely impressed… But Mariah and I love that Jake exists and is close enough to our home that we can make the occasional pilgrimage!]

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As I was snapping a few photos, about a hundred people came crushing up to the Jake tank to try and make sure I couldn’t get any more clear shots. (It’s an important part of being a tourist, making sure you crowd everyone who is already looking out of the way so that YOU can see…) I heard one little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, say she didn’t like Jake. Another girl, perhaps a bit younger, was complaining about how he didn’t look very REAL. I appreciate the skepticism (for SURE), but at some point a good skeptic knows when to go with the joke…

Anyway, we wandered around Marsh’s for quite some time. This place a MASSIVE treasure trove of antique novelties, gaffs, stuffed marvels, and just plain weird stuff, along with all the usual beach junk, like shells and incense and key chains… Still, here are a FEW of the great things you can find at this free museum:

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There are a hundred other things inside and outside this cool building that I’d love to show, but I’m starting to realize that this post is getting super-long already… So let’s do some fast forwarding!!!

After Marsh’s, we went outside to a little mini-park on the corner near the store to wait for the Jake Birthday Parade to start. We saw a mermaid in a push-cart; a guy with a shirt on that said “Mermaid Security” (I thought that was funny); a dog in a colorful tutu; a marching band (with about four instruments); a woman with six foot tall, frilly, stilt-boots; a clown-lady conductor with a plunger for a baton---and that was about it. The entire parade. The woman who organized the event seemed a bit distressed by the smaller than expected turnout (she kept saying, “Where are the brides?”), but the band made a wonderful amount of noise (brass and drums might be all you really need for a marching band), and the small group headed off from the parking lot near Marsh’s Free Museum towards Veteran’s Field, where the car show and a few vendors and booths and a beer garden were already in full swing---about two blocks away.

The parade was small but sincere.

Following the parade route, we went back by the carnival rides I mentioned earlier (these are always in Long Beach, and although my kids haven’t been young enough to want to ride them in many years, I’m glad the park is still active. There USED to be a roller coaster in Seaside, Oregon, when I was a kid, but it was torn down before MY kids were born!) We walked past the carnival rides, stopped by the car to drop off our little bit of loot, and walked to the main celebration area, where the festivities were happening, with a stage all set up, and a DJ playing tunes, vendors, and folks walking around and chatting and having a good time.

Mariah, keen eyed and ready for adventure, spotted a trailer marked “Free Curiosity Museum,” so we headed straight for that! It was a cool “Oddities and Curiosities” type mobile set-up, with exhibits like various animal skulls, a giant hair-ball, old photos, various large bugs (pinned and framed), and a bunch of other cool stuff. UNFORTUNATELY, there were signs everywhere saying, “NO PHOTOS!” so I didn’t get any photos…INSIDE the trailer. Outside, I took several. Here’s some of the good ones!

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And when someone says to sign the guest book, I sign the guest book!

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I ended up buying three postcards from the guy running this little curiosity shop, and I hope his venture continues for many years to come! Even though I am inherently a skeptic and non-believer, I LOVE the stories of cryptids and folklore creatures and UFOs and ghosts and strange tales of most stripes. I’ve been to Bigfoot discussion panels, UFO conventions, the 24 Hour Church of Elvis (which is sadly gone now, but was once a majestic stop in Portland, Oregon), and various other weird destinations, and I’ll continue to explore these mysterious phenomena for as long as I live. I don’t have to BELIEVE in weird things to ENJOY them!

Moving on. My family watched the dog costume contest (Tribble took the grand prize, even though Growler, in the colorful tutu, was the odds on favorite to win! Do I smell a canine conspiracy afoot?), while I chatted for a few minutes with my friends Mike and Severin, who were manning a booth selling hand printed shirts and various other items of an indie nature.

It was decided, after the costume contest, that Elise and Gabe wanted to play some miniature golf, so we found an old, outdoor course, which was not quite as well kept as one would have hoped (several of the “holes” were slanted, so you had to smack your shot fairly hard to keep it moving straight---and on several occasions a quickly moving golf ball would hit a rock or piece of debris and leap out of the green area and into the surrounding gravel! Always good for a laugh!) Here are some of my favorite “course decorations”:

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And then we stopped for ice cream at a store called SCOOPS, which was huge and ridiculously busy---but the ice cream was excellent, so I get it. Next was the obligatory go-kart race!

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And….by the time the race was over we all decided that we were getting pretty damn tired. (As I’m sure you are. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Your attention span is better than most.) We stopped at a local grocery store for a few supplies, then headed for our hotel---which we’d book back in February, or somewhere around then. It was a modestly priced, slightly run-down place, about half-a-mile from the main drag (maybe a bit more), which we’d stayed at several times before. (An indoor pool and only a short hike to the beach were the main selling points for us.) It wasn’t as---luxurious---as we remembered, but it served its purpose. We had a place to sleep. (I’m not going to name the hotel because I don’t want to give it a bad rap.)

We checked in, found our room, sat for a few minutes, and then decided to walk to the beach---and the beach was WINDY! I wrote a post about trying to draw in that wind, and while I was trying to keep the cardboard from blowing out of my hands... AGAIN... Mariah and the other two went and played near the edge of the water… Northwest beaches, for those who don’t know, have a LOT of sand---like half a mile worth of sand before you get to the water, sometimes, and the ocean is COLD here. Not “a little bit chilly” cold, but FREEZE YOUR ASS OFF---too cold to feel your legs after just a few minutes in it kind of cold. It takes a brave soul (or a wet suit) to go very far in the water here---plus we have rip tides and undertows, which will straight up kill you dead.

But it’s kind of pretty, if you know how to look at it…

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And here was the view from our room:

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After we got tired of the sand blowing in our faces, we went back to the hotel and hit the hot tub. That was nice. Mariah, who got out of the hot tub and into the (comparatively speaking) freezing swimming pool, tried unsuccessfully to lure the rest of us into a swim for about half-an-hour. But once the pool area started filling up with people, (it had been empty when we arrived), we ditched. Went back to the room, ordered a pizza, and relaxed for a bit. Ellie, naturally, turned on a “murder show.” (One of those forensics programs that talks about how people are brutally slain, but eventually the guilty party is discovered thanks to SCIENCE! I approve of the message, even though I don’t like watching the shows, personally.)

As the sun was setting, Gabe and Ellie went for a walk on the beach by themselves. (Remember how I said Gabe was Ellie’s boyfriend, “AT THE TIME?”) When they came back from the walk, Ellie was wearing a ring. And a mighty big smile.

It will be three more years before they can actually GET married because Gabe was accepted into a Ph.D. program in Physical Therapy in New York (a LOOOONG way from Washington State), and they’re going to wait until he’s done with his doctorate before officially tying the knot, but it was still a nice moment for those two (who have been dating for something like seven years already---since Ellie was FOURTEEN YEARS OLD!) (She’s 21 now. Turns 22 in less than two months.)

So that was our exciting adventure to Long Beach, Washington! We might not have had gourmet food or the fanciest accommodations or watched the most elaborate parade or sat on some lovely, white sand beach with clear, warm water---but BY THE GODS we had a great time!

The trick is to learn how to have fun WHEREVER you are. Enjoy the company of the people you’re with---and don’t let stupid, little, unimportant details consume you or drag you down. We WANTED to have a great time on this trip, and so WE DID! That simple.

Sorry the post was so long, but I felt like I should try to get the whole thing finished in one shot. Regardless, I hope the meaning was clear. We try to look for the fun in the simple, weird, everyday stuff. Try to make the people around us happy, and don’t fret when things aren’t perfect. Might I suggest that folks just roll with it. Take a few pictures. Draw something, even when it’s too windy. Take a walk on the beach. And stay off the moors when the moon is full! If you can remember this advice, I bet you’ll do just fine…

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---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

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