Souvenir: A Ramble ‘Round Fort Astoria

Early one September, we drove south to Astoria so that Uda could finish off her PhD on John Wilmot, (2nd Earl of Rochester), the notorious Restoration poet-libertine. A direct heir apparently lived on an apple co-op near Astoria, Uda said, and she hoped to track him down and set up an interview for the End Notes of her thesis. We found a boarding house off the Main Street and next day, Uda made her way to the local library.

That gave me time to amble about a tiny town that had been hit hard by the Great Recession. Shops and store fronts were shuttered and shut down. It was clear that municipal leaders had taken steps to remake and rebrand the place as a tourist hot spot: coffee shops with catchy names, fudge, taffy, burgers, post cards and souvenirs.

Because the docks here could not accommodate the huge cruise ships anchored in the bay, sailors ran tenders to and from the vessels all day long. As a result, a parade of gawking visitors came ashore to wander the streets along the waterfront. It was hot for September, the sun had a liquid effect, soporific; people sauntered at half speed while others splayed themselves out in the long grass of a downtown park.

Just off the main drag could be seen a line of derelict cars and trucks. These rusting hulks had died, were not worth fixing -- or the owners had run out of money -- and sat in the empty street because city hall didn't have the money to tow them away.

Fanciful perhaps, but the grille of a Ford truck brought to mind a line from Shelley's Ozymandias: "....wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.'

"Nothing beside remains: round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare."

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