Fortune Is a Stranger
Forks has always been a strange place.
At least, as long as I’ve known it.
Six or seven years ago, when I romped with some locals on days off from a summer job at Sol Duc Hot Springs, the exhausted lumber town stank of cedar dust, whiskey breath, and the rogue meth wisp.
Nothing ever happened, and the solitary natural invigoration came from rumors of hauntings on the A Road, a retired lumber trail that only served as a refuge for drunks and high school students looking to evade the sheriff, who was said to strap a giant fan to his back and soar over the town with a parachute, eagle-eyeing keggers and speed-trapping stray tourists who never would agree upon why they came here in the first place.
Sometime after 2008, when the Twilight vampire film and book series became the new teen-and-then-some sensation, the clear-cut coven found new blood in tourism, which I once described in the San Diego Reader around June of 2010 thusly:
Not long ago, Forks, Washington, was among the dreariest and most unremarkable expired lumber towns in the country.
Teenagers would kill time getting twisted on the “A” road, a desolate lumber route rumored to be haunted on the outskirts of town.
Others would drive a couple hours east to Port Angeles in search of nightlife or west to La Push or Second Beach on the Quileute Reservation.
Discarded lumberjacks would submit job applications with resignation at Clallam Bay Correctional Center and take long drives alone to contemplate the clear-cuts, wondering where it all went wrong.
As if to accentuate the abject tedium surrounding the small town just west of Olympic National Park, the rain never stopped and the clouds never parted.
Which is exactly why author Stephanie Meyers chose Forks as the setting for her bestselling vampire love novel Twilight, the premise of which came to her in a dream. Having Goggled the rainiest place in the U.S. (121 inches a year), Phoenix native Meyers wrote the book without ever visiting the town of just over 3,000 residents.
Forks saw a 600% increase in tourism almost overnight after the book’s publication in 2005. Corner store profits doubled, shop windows posted signs reading “We love Edward and Bella,” and cafés renamed their menu items to include characters’ names as fanatics swarmed to Forks from all over the world.
The mania was bolstered by the 2008 release of Twilight the movie, which was never actually filmed in Forks. Regardless, buildings were designated as sites from the story for the Twilight tour.
The Miller Tree Inn became the Cullen House. Owning one of the few two-story residences in town, locals Kim and David McIrvin volunteered their home to be Bella’s house. Shop workers dressed up like characters from the movie. Forks fully embraced Meyers’ imagination of itself, and the money it brought with it. In a surreal way, Forks became the Forks of Twilight – a town modeled after a book inspired by a dream.
Now you can spot Bella’s red ’56 Chevy truck parked in front of the Visitors Center on the south side of town. You can contend with droves of predominantly female fans for memorabilia at the Dazzled by Twilight store. You can track down the police chief who happily plays the role of Bella’s father and stay at the Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast. You’ll probably need to make reservations.
But once the madness blows over, when the adolescent masses tire of chasing the vampire daydream, when Jacob’s blackberry cobbler is once again just a slice of blackberry cobbler in the middle of nowhere, and all that remains are the damp sidewalks and a few straggling tourists on their way to Sol Duc Hot Springs and the San Juans, what will become of eerie Forks, Washington?
Just how long does it take to clear-cut a dream?
As it turns out, not a lot has changed.
Every aspect of Forks is still sucking off the dream:
Some 40 miles on bike from Sol Duc, Z and I poke into the Mill Creek Bar and Grill. We drink cheap beer and whisky in a recently remodeled bar whose menu reads in Twilight font.
A bald and bearded local makes conversation.
“I used to work in the cedar mills as a boy. Then that all went under. Now, this Twilight thing? Yeah, it’s working this year. The people are still here. They come for Twilight. Then they come back for the area. For Forks, the area. They see what’s here. The falls, the trails, the beaches, the forests…”
Certainly, the Olympic Peninsula is one of the last remaining wonders of the wild, lesser-bastardized tracts of Good America. Much of it protected National Park, the place is set, for now.
Later, many drinks later, our bartender, a woman in her mid-thirties maybe, reiterates a similar idea.
“Everyone comes for Twilight. But they come back for this place. I’ve seen people from Sweden, Iceland, Portugal, everywhere. They all come back just to see what else is out here.”
The new metaphor is obvious.
When once Forks thrived on the gratuitous clear-cut of timber, the town now celebrates a return of vibrancy via the voyeuristic suckling of the area’s remaining natural virtues.
Vampires glimmer in sunlight.
These woods glow in Arizona eyes.
Ebb and flow.
(By the way - Don't you dare judge Forks for theme-parking this notion. You would do the same, and your dream would still have its own sanctity. Your daughter is an embryonic Dolly Parton. America dreams for you, etcetera.)
We catch a ride with two Wisco kids down to Kalaloch Resort on the coast – their summertime Aramark gig - and nearly drive up the asshole of a deer as it bounds off the highway at the last minute while our driver changes the Ziggy Marley CD to something more Dead.
Next morning – the waitress says the 101 highway ahead is more “clear-cuts and trees” – a contradiction we’ve encountered plenty already. So we hop a bus to Quinault, then Humptulips.
We quickly discover Humptulips to be a profoundly creepy nexus of humanity – the stuff of Dean Koontz coffee beans breakfast and R.L. Stine’s to-be-continued ellipses.
“I moved here twelve years ago,” says the storekeeper in a clinical tone, like he’s diagnosing an exotic cancer. “It’s quiet here. Unfortunately, since the lumber work went, probably because of the Spotted Owl, the industry has died. It’s mostly Hispanics now. Many people turned to the crank. I try not to judge. I see these people every day. Out of simple compassion, I can only see that some have chosen to take this path. It isn’t my path. But I see it every day. And it’s sad. These are capable men. Good men. You know, out here, I don’t worry about things. Not like in Seattle. I moved my family out here for a more simple life. I don’t worry about your regular city crime. That isn’t it. But we have our things like anybody else. Just last year, there was a murder across the street. One block from here. A man was shot in the back with a crossbow. Then they killed his wife with a hatchet. Well, I shouldn’t say ‘they.’ It was one man. He killed her with a hatchet.”
A slow silence as we check out our landjeagers and fire paste and sundries.
“Drugs?” I offer.
“He just lost it,” the man says, still both entirely involved and removed like a dentist.
"He just lost it."
These words follow us to the campsite down the street, as marked by our bike guide book from 2005.
The site, evidently, is entirely abandoned – the bathrooms overgrown and the cabins full of garbage and the only sound a horror movie sine-wave moan from the overhead metal-halide lamp buzzing into the surreal Humpulips clouded sunset night.
We bike away, west.
Note - Shit gets way better, but I don’t have time to write about it now. We are safe and sound in cosmopolitan Ocean Shores, Washington – the kite flying and razor claming capitol of the state – and we’ve some fine tales to tell. Stand by for the next installment.
on June 8, 2012
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