Welcome to Orca Falls

Welcome to Orca Falls

Welcome to Orca Falls (formerly Stanwood), the happiest town in America. Come for our incredible natural beauty. And if you’re lucky, you just might catch a rare sighting of one of our orcas swimming up our waterfalls, as they do during mating season.

Welcome to Orca Falls (formerly Stanwood), the happiest town in America. Come for our incredible natural beauty. And if you’re lucky, you just might catch a rare sighting of one of our orcas swimming up our waterfalls, as they do during mating season.

I live on Camano Island in Washington state. There are no towns on the island and very few stores. To find a Starbucks, beauty salon, or tattoo parlor, you need to leave the island and head into Stanwood, the closest town. Like so many other small towns, Stanwood has been hit hard by the economic downturn caused by the COVID pandemic.

At the risk of offending the fine people of Stanwood, let’s face it. The town is not exactly a tourist mecca. It’s a hardscrabble, working-class community, whose stores are for the most part utilitarian and uninspiring. “Inviting” is not a word that comes to mind when you think of this place – unless you count Jimmy’s Pizza, which is always inviting – and full. When you think of a struggling small town like Stanwood, what comes to mind? Answer: Boring strip malls, a paucity of nice restaurants, and an unsettling number of “out of business” signs on boarded-up storefronts.

As my several million weekly readers will attest, I’m a humble man who is loath to boast about my impressive achievements. Heck, I never bring up my Nobel Prize unless you forget to ask. But it’s no secret I’m a nationally respected marketing / PR maven (because it says these words right on my business card). So, when Stanwood’s town council recently approached me for advice on how to turn around their flagging economy, I accepted my civic duty to save their town from disaster.

Now for some context. In the first half of the 20th century, there was a town called Leavenworth, nestled in the heart of Washington state’s Cascade Mountains. It was a thriving community with an economy based on logging. But by the 1950’s, the main railway had stopped serving Leavenworth, the logging industry collapsed, and the town came perilously close to bankruptcy. To avoid imminent financial ruin, the town reinvented itself into a Bavarian village, and all retail storefronts adopted a Bavarian theme.

Today it’s a bustling, highly sought-after tourist destination, annually drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors who apparently can’t tell the difference between an authentic Bavarian village and an IHOP restaurant dolled up with a lame Bavarian knock-off façade.

My point is this: What’s good for Leavenworth is great for Stanwood. When I think of the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, two things come to mind: breaching orca (“killer”) whales and craggy snow-capped mountains teeming with waterfalls. Admittedly, you might not think of these two things together, but just go with me, okay?

Ladies and gentlemen, WELCOME TO ORCA FALLS (formerly known as Stanwood). Doesn’t that sound charming? Of course it does. Forget about the Stanwood you thought you knew. It’s time to bring your family – and your credit card – to this heavenly, undiscovered Cascadian paradise we’ve rebranded to avoid foreclosure.

First-time visitors will receive $500 in ORCA BUCKS, which they can redeem at any participating store – sure to be a big hit! [Disclaimer: One Orca Buck = 1/100th of a penny.]

First-time visitors will receive $500 in ORCA BUCKS, which they can redeem at any participating store – sure to be a big hit! [Disclaimer: One Orca Buck = 1/100th of a penny.]

Are there really orca whales in Orca Falls? Technically no, but we’re working on it – just as soon as we can find a way to import 50 trillion tons of salt water – and a few dozen pods of orcas. And what about the towering waterfalls, you ask? Almost. We’re installing them as fast as we can. You’ll just have to visit to see for yourself.

As soon as the town council signs off on my modest $2.5 billion business development plan, before long, people will be flocking here like snow geese. Here are just a few of my brilliant plans for Orca Falls, which I am confident will win approval:

ORCA WORLD:  The largest – and only – amusement park for hundreds of miles, featuring the exhilarating Thunder Falls roller coaster ride and It’s a Small World. (I read that Disneyland is looking for a buyer for that ride). And we haven’t forgotten the kids. Make sure your youngsters get here early to beat the crowds waiting to ride on the backs of playful baby orcas – just be sure they jump off before the whale submerges. We’d hate to see them drown in such a magical setting.

For added fun, park visitors will enjoy imagining the sensation of being a salmon as they attempt to steer a rowboat upstream in the Ragin’ River Rapids ride. They will compete with other guests as they try to avoid being eaten by one of the park’s five adorably rambunctious grizzly bears. Don’t worry, our grizzlies are well-fed and wouldn’t hurt a soul – so long as you don’t make direct eye contact – or smell like salmon.

KILLER WHALE WAY: The town’s main street will be renamed and re-imagined with a fanciful whale theme. Store owners choose which whale image to carve into their storefront – orca, grey, humpback – or for a larger store, I’d go with a blue whale motif (it’s the largest animal on earth). Other storefront façade options include “Shipwrecked”, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Captain Crunch.”

Audiophiles will thrill to the soothing recorded sounds of whale clicks, whistles, and mating moans blasted at 150 decibels, sure to make you feel like you’re in the splash zone at Sea World (before they shut down the whale attraction on animal cruelty charges).

Visitors will thrill to the rides and shows at Orca World, where you will see our whales do things you never thought imaginable. [Park opening delayed indefinitely. Check back in summer 2031.]

Visitors will thrill to the rides and shows at Orca World, where you will see our whales do things you never thought imaginable. [Park opening delayed indefinitely. Check back in summer 2031.]

BUBBLES’ BATH: There’ll be no shortage of fun at Orca Falls’ giant public indoor – outdoor wave pool “where kids will have a WHALE of a time!” (I just made that up – that’s called marketing.) Visitors will delight to the hourly “Free Willy” playtime, as killer whales are let loose to mingle joyfully among the unsuspecting swimmers.

I’m confident my scheme will turn the town formerly known as Stanwood into a world class destination – right up there with Monte Carlo or Scranton, PA (another one of my success stories). But in the unlikely event the town council’s members aren’t quite the visionaries that I am, I have a fallback rebranding plan:

Welcome to Eagle Canyon. Come for the Eagles. Stay for our world-famous Eagle Pot Pie.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021

Travels With Grumpy

Travels With Grumpy

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

Hi, there. I’m Grumpy. No, not that Grumpy. I’ve never met Snow White. Do I look like one of her minions? No, I’m Grumpy the bear. My owner, Tim Jones, adopted me in 1980 when I was a mere cub, barely 4 inches tall (and wide). I’m still the same size today because he never feeds me.

I need to get some things off my chest. I’ve kept silent for the past forty years. That’s in part because, technically, I’m a stuffed animal, with no vocal chords nor, for that matter, a mouth – unless you call this tiny strand of yarn below my nose “a mouth.”

You see, I’ve been bounced around by Tim, his sister Betsy, and their pal Dale for decades. The three of them have traversed the globe, taking turns with me riding shot gun. I’ve been to five continents – six if you count Iceland. Go ahead – correct the brainless bear by pointing out that Iceland is technically not a continent. Why would you expect a stuffed animal to be an expert on world geography? I’ve had virtually no schooling, since Tim and his cronies never saw fit to take me to school with them – , or even so much as let me watch a TED Talk. So cut me some slack, okay?

Over the past forty+ years, I’ve trekked to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan (during a civil war, I might add), Indonesia, China, Machu Picchu, Bali, and Scranton, PA, just to name a few. (Gotta say, I was surprised how much I liked Scranton. Good people.) Oh, and one more destination: The North Pole. More on that later. Dale, through his contacts at NASA, arranged for me to ride on the Space Shuttle, but then they cancelled all Space Shuttle flights forever. A pretty extreme way of keeping the Grump from exploring outer space.

Lest you’re thinking, “Wow, Grumpy, what a charmed life you’ve led. I’m so jealous,” – don’t be. These were not exactly Rick Steves tours – with the exception of a Rick Steves tour we took of Northern Italy. Um, what was my point? Sorry. With fluff for brains, I get easily distracted.

My point is that most of these journeys were no picnics. While I have explored all four corners of the globe, it is usually in cargo, in the bottom of a suitcase, inside a shoe, with no view and no free soda and peanuts.

When Tim and I flew to Paris, sure, he took a selfie of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. But did he let me check out the view at the top? Heck, no. It was one quick photo, then slam – back in the backpack.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

One time, Tim, Dale and I trekked to Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the world-famous Matterhorn. I was stoked to join them skiing down the powdered slopes, taking in the incredible vista. But Tim shattered my dream,  claiming skis didn’t come in my petit size. I doubt he’d try that lame excuse on his true favorite stuffed animal, his brainless beagle Snuffles.

When Betsy ventured to Machu Picchu, she made certain to snap the classic tourist photo of me with the ancient ruins in the background. But before I could ask, “Is there a Starbucks nearby?”, boom again, back into the duffel bag, wedged between a leaking water bottle and her sweaty socks. I gave her a scathing Yelp review.

Throughout these wanderings, I’ve spent countless nights in dodgy lodgings. Man, these three people are cheap. They seemed to prefer hotels without elevators. Picture me scaling the stairs on my half-inch paws to Dale’s 4th story room in Jakarta. Whoever manufactured me didn’t know much about teddy bear paw design. But there was a bed – which  Dale wouldn’t let me snuggle in. I had to crash in the sink. Not even a pillow, much less a mint.

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

When Tim and I flew to China, I was exhilarated! Maybe I’d see the Great Wall, or perhaps the Terra Cotta soldiers. Wrong again. Turns out, he was there to adopt some cutesy baby girls, not travel with Grump. In fact, my presence was an accident as I wasn’t even supposed to be in his luggage. Guess how much attention he paid me once he stared into their innocent googly eyes? Correctamundo. None. I would have been better off back home hibernating.

Don’t ask me what the food is like in London, Lugano, Leningrad, or Lusaka. How would I know? Tim, Dale, and Betsy rarely took me out for dinner. I haven’t a clue how I’ve survived these 40 years without a proper meal. Oh right, because I’m an inanimate object made of stuffing. Duh!

Even my trip to the North Pole was bogus. A friend of Tim’s booked passage on a Russian cruise ship sailing out of Murmansk and I hitched a ride. The view from our cabin? One star. Nothing to see see see but sea sea sea. The unlimited buffet featured only unlimited cod. Do I look like a seal? No casino, no wave pool, no Trivia Night. A total bust.

We fought pack ice for seven days before finally reaching the pole. I picked the wrong time of year to shed my winter coat. It was freeeeeeezing out! But what a thrill to step onto a massive ice floe. Not bragging, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first fake bear to have set foot, er, paw, at the North Pole. Talkin’ to you, Fozzie. After that fleeting commune with nature, I was back below deck.

Through all these misadventures, I’ve stoically accepted my place as the quiet, accommodating sidekick. I never complained, despite the fact that not once in all of my globe-trotting did my travel buddies let me bob in the hot tub or order room service – or even use the remote. That’s why I had to set the record straight.

Uh oh. I just overheard Tim talking about another trip to Paris. Oh, non, non, non! Parisians are such snobs.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps my owner, Tim Jones, is off base.

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

[Author’s note: The story behind the story: When I was in my twenties, I bought a small teddy bear. Round and about the size of a softball, he had a frowny face. So, I named him Grumpy. I decided that all my closest friends needed their own Grumpy’s, including my sister Betsy and my friend, Dale. So, I bought them each their own. I wasn’t going to share mine! See photo.   

It eventually became an ongoing challenge between me, Betsy, and Dale to take photographs of our respective Grumpy’s in increasingly exotic locales. The three of us have been doing this for the past forty years. 

Many of the most extraordinary trips mentioned in this piece were taken by Dale or Betsy, both of whom share a love of travel. But it was my Grumpy who actually sat on the pack ice at the North Pole, having trekked there in a Russian ice breaker. Suck it, Dale and Betsy! – TEJ]

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.

Welcome to Portland

Welcome to Portland

[The following is a message from the Portland, Oregon Visitors’ Bureau.]

Welcome to Portland, Oregon, America’s Most Livable Liberal City.

If you’re planning to spend a few days in the Rose City, we at the Portland Visitor’s Bureau would like to offer a few friendly suggestions to help make your stay as pleasant as possible.

First, we might as well get this one right out of the way. In Portland, we’re slightly left of center in our politics. If you’re a lifelong Republican or you accidentally voted for Donald Trump, no need to apologize. But, you might want to rethink your travel plans. We hear Tulsa is a place you might enjoy, with its expansive plains and oil rig fields.

But if you’re someone who thinks Hillary should have been our 45th president, or better still, Bernie, or even better yet, Spider-Man, then you’ll feel right at home here. Our city’s motto is KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD. In case you thought that was Austin, Texas’ motto, you’re right. We don’t mind sharing.

One of our more iconic residents is The Unipiper. He can be seen pedaling around town on his unicycle, donning a Darth Vader helmet while playing the Star Wars theme on his bag pipes, as they shoot flames. In most cities, such a sight might be a bit unnerving. Here in Portland, we just wave and say, “Hi, Brian.”

We’re extremely laid back about most things – that’s because at any given time, roughly half of us are stoned. We don’t mind if you’re a couple hours late to work, so long as you remember to buy a latte for a co-worker when you stop at Stumptown Coffee on your way in. Continue reading “Welcome to Portland” »

Vacation Adventures for High-Strung Travelers

Vacation Adventures for High-Strung Travelers

Welcome, Tense Traveler.

Thank you for choosing High Anxiety Tours (HAT) to arrange your trip. We’ll take care of everything. Take a deep breath and relax. We understand that as a first-time international traveler, you may be a tad nervous about venturing into the unknown. At HAT, our mission is to ensure you have a 100% stress-free experience.

So, this is your first visit to Colombia. As travel experts, trust us when we say there is (almost) nothing to worry about. Word has it that the Colombian drug lords have no documented plans to kidnap or torture American tourists in the foreseeable future. Of course, their plans are subject to change without notice.

Before you leave for the airport, remember to go through a departure checklist so you can R-E-L-A-X while away. Did you …

  • Bring your passport?
  • Pack sunscreen?
  • Turn off the stove?
  • Get a sitter for your cats?
  • Refill your Xanax?
  • Are you 100% sure you turned off the stove?

You are now ready for a calm, peaceful holiday in tranquil Colombia– that is, if you make your flight. It is imperative to be at the airport a minimum of four hours before departure, in case of unforeseen glitches such as highway construction or a wildcat strike by baggage handlers. In rare instances, flights do take off a day or so early, to adjust for the time differences. The odds TSA Security will mistake your traveler’s trepidation for drug-smuggling jitters are 3-1, at best. So, don’t sweat. No, seriously, do NOT sweat! If they see you sweat, they’ll get suspicious and probably conduct a full body cavity search.

Continue reading “Vacation Adventures for High-Strung Travelers” »

Vancouver? – Ya’ Can’t Get There from Here

Vancouver? – Ya’ Can’t Get There from Here

[The following is a true story.]

Here’s a tip you might want to jot down: When your guests from Argentina want to hit the rails to Vancouver departing from Stanwood, Washington, the closest town to my home with a train station, you might want to make reservations. I didn’t – which caused the following chain of events…

It was the end of a very nice visit with Monique and Manuel. (Not their real names. Their real names are Maria and Jose.) I had already mapped out my day: Drop them off at the station to catch the 9:15 train. Get back home by 9:30. At 9:35 commence sleeping in the hammock. A perfect plan.

Except for one small miscalculation. I failed to make train reservations for my friends. I wanted to wave “Goodbye” from my car, but decided that might be rude. So, I walked them to the platform. That’s when I heard the conductor announce, “Passengers with reservations only! All Aboard!” Reservations? It’s a ten-car train hailing from tiny Stanwood. Who needs reservations? I immediately had my own reservations – something was not right.

There is a quaint saying: “The journey is the destination.” Except for that day when the destination was everything: Vancouver, CANADA – on CANADA DAY, the nation’s Independence Day – their biggest annual holiday after National Apology Day.

No biggie. We’ll just make reservations for the next train, right? Nope. It didn’t leave for another 10 hours. What about a bus? Sorry. The sole Vancouver-bound bus left 15 minutes ago. How about a taxi or Uber? Great suggestion, Tim. Problem solved – so long as my guests were willing to shell out 400 bucks (American) for a 178-mile drive.

I researched every transportation option I could think of: ferry, rental car, crop duster, Pony Express, you name it. None of them was feasible. And I had a gut feeling that my guests were not the hitchhiking type.

Continue reading “Vancouver? – Ya’ Can’t Get There from Here” »