I had the cutest little outfit when I was younger. It was a dark aqua blue with a striped blouse of aqua and white to go with it. It was my favorite thing to wear when my mom and I would go to Olympia on the bus.
Our trek to the bus would begin early in the morning, but not too early, since Mom had to have some coffee and a couple cigarettes before she was ready to walk the mile or so to the bus stop under the Bonneville lines on Old 99. There was an old café near the bus stop at one time, but it was seldom open. We usually got to the bus stop in plenty of time, but if we cut it too close, we would have to wait for the next bus, or just go home.
One time, as we had just rounded the corner from Dennis Street, our eyes straining to make sure we were going to get to the stop before the bus came, we caught sight of a large rumbling white and blue motorized vehicle about equal-distant as we were to our stop. Fear of missing the bus shifted our feet into high gear and we arrived at the bus stop just in time….to see the vehicle go whizzing by us! It was a Wonder Bread truck, not the bus! Once we caught our breath and realized we had plenty of time yet to wait, we looked at each other and burst out laughing at our mistake. Forever after, it was a favorite tease to ask each other if we had “caught any bread trucks lately”.
Many times, our bus driver was Carl. A nice friendly man who always had a smile for Mom and me as we dropped our quarters into the fare container. :::Clink:::Clink::::: whoosh, the door would shut and the hurky jerky bus lurched and swayed as its engine again roared to life and we were off on our adventure to downtown Olympia, Washington.
In those days, people ‘dressed up’ to go to town, or to the doctor, or anywhere else they thought was important. Shoes were shined, hair combed and purses matched the shoes most of the time. Mom had a skirt she liked to wear that was in fashion for those days: a dreamy landscape of soft pastel hues of a small town or hamlet far away in Europe. I always thought of it as her “Queen for a Day” skirt. At that time of my life, still a naive young girl, I longed for the day that my mother could have a “Meyers of Mexico” skirt just like they gave away on the TV show. Wouldn’t she have dazzled them at the local supermarket?
As we rode along on the bus, stopping now and then to pick up more summer Saturday shoppers, there would be the occasional conversation by other passengers with the driver on which bus to take to a person’s final destination, but most often the noise of the diesel engine would just stifle any serious dialog for the remainder of the trip. We thought it was a pretty speedy ride, even though it compares to nothing we have today. No I-5 for us! It was Old Highway 99 all the way, and that became Capitol Boulevard upon reaching the city limits of Tumwater. Two way traffic of cars, buses and the frequent logging truck, with turn lanes an unknown quantity.
On the left hand side of the bus in Tumwater, we would see the Hostess Bakery store, which was always a favorite place for grade school kids to frequent after school to appease their empty bellies and that perennial sweet tooth we all seemed to have. A short distance further north was Hagen’s Sign Company, and beyond that was Emma’s café. A small place with just a lunch counter in a building that was so small, it is a wonder she would make any money at all. Probably the reason it was there though was that next to it was the Maxwell gas station with its white buildings with cobalt blue trim, attendants that would fill your tank, wash your windows and check your oil unless you told them not to. No doubt a hungry traveler or trucker on Old 99 could stop for a bite to eat and a cup of coffee at Emma’s before continuing on into Olympia.
Next was the Department of Highways buildings on our right, and a little further on past that, an auto court where there is now a bank and a fast food place. And a bit further, before it was Big Tom’s, there was a small hamburger place called the “In and Out” Drive In, aptly named for its speedy service as you drove up, ordered and got your favorite burger and you were out again quickly on your way. The Tumwater Inn was across the street with a small grocery across the Black Lake Road. An even bigger store, Southgate, was in the same area and where Mom did most of her grocery shopping during the week.
Next in our view was the Palermo valley, and the barely visible steps on a steep bank to our right that showed where the short-sighted city planners had once intended to build a new hospital. Those hopes were abandoned when it was found out that St. Peter’s Hospital held a 99 year contract with the city to guarantee that they would be the only hospital in town. The Deschutes bridge over the river, with its Indian motif carried us by the Olympia Brewery, and we might hear the noon whistle as we made our way ever further towards our destination of the day.
I am not sure where the city limits began for Olympia in those days, but maybe at the edge of the bridge across where I-5 now runs by the south end of Capitol Lake. Past St. Mark’s church, and the Green Frog grocery both on the right, and old stately homes of some of Olympia’s first residents of some means on the left. In the early 50’s you would have even seen Olympia High School in its location on Capitol Way, almost across from the Legislative buildings and the Capitol Dome. Further on, and to the right was the Thurston County courthouse, the site of my marriage in the (still) far distant future of 1970.
If I remember correctly, our final bus stop where we got off in downtown Olympia was in front of Sylvester Park. Just across the street from there was Miller’s department store, and we would dash in there quick to use the restroom before beginning our amble around town. Where to go first? Probably just down the street from Millers to Diamonds variety store. I loved going in there and glimpsing the window displays before entering the double doors, and being met by the busy sounds and enticing smells from the lunch counter that wafted around the store. Real hardwood floors resounded with the tap, tap, tapping of ladies high heeled shoes, and sometimes you would catch the sound too of someone with taps on the toes of their shoes and that distinct ::::tink:::tink, :::tink:::tink::: as the heel and toe hit the floor.
I always ordered a tuna or grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and Mom would let me have a chocolate coke sometimes. It must have been a craze of the day or something, to put cocoa powder in Coca Cola to make it more “coca”? It wasn’t too bad, if you kept on stirring it with your straw, but heaven forbid you forgot and got to the end and there was more cocoa than coke and you ended up with this gritty sludge. Yuk! Most of the time, I just played it safe and had a Coke with lemon in it, or a “green river”, which was some sort of soda fountain drink in a sickly shade of green. Mom had coffee, and probably a sandwich too, and followed that up with a cigarette. In those days, it was considered unladylike to smoke on the street, so my mom adhered to that custom. After lunch, it was time for another potty break and then off to do some shopping. Mom never had a lot of money to spend, and sometimes we would even make stops just to pay bills and look in shop windows. There were times too that my older brother Dave was along, and poor Mom probably had to put up with us picking at each other or “squabbling”, as she labeled it.
Dave liked to go to Crystell’s to look at model cars or planes, while I liked any store that might have clothes or dolls. I remember one time though we went in the hobby shop and I wore my mom down until she bought me a “girl-sized” umbrella. We were pretty mercenary kids really, but I suppose no different than most kids of that age and time. Crystells was on 4th Avenue, the three lane one-way street, and just a few blocks off Capitol Way to the east. On our way to the hobby shop we might also stop in the 88 Cent Store and look for toys. It was kind of a cheapo store, much like the dollar stores we have now.
One of our other favorite places to have lunch or a snack was the Spar Restaurant. I think it must have been one of the favorite watering holes for some of the local legislators of the day too. It was all wood paneled inside, with a few small booths along the street side and a very large lunch counter. Behind us, on the east wall would be a large chalk board with some local or national tallies of stock or something that was probably important to adults, but nothing to do with kids who just wanted a drink and something to snack on. The Spar was also a smoke shop, so it was a given that Mom would pick up a pack for herself and maybe an extra for Dad for when we got home.
If we walked back up to Capitol Way after imbibing something yummy at the Spar, we sometimes would cross the street and go into the Mottman building. I seem to remember it as a mint green building in those days, but it was the inside of the building that held the most fascination. A hold-over from earlier days, and probably a very handy time-saver too, was their unique system of purchase and invoice. Items were chosen on the main floor, put in a wire basket, along with the sales slip, and then in a system of pullies, it was whisked upstairs to where they would wrap it in a brown paper bundle tied with string, tuck in the final receipt and send it flying back down in the basket to the sales person and customer. They would cordially thank us, and we would be sent on our way with a genuine smile.
Hours flew by, and we needed to be thinking of catching the bus for home. We would all confer and decide which one to take, depending on what other side excursions we wanted to make. If we hadn’t snacked at the Spar, then we might walk up from the Mottman building to the Rexall Drug store and have a pop and a coffee in there. Depending on the weather, and if it looked like it might rain, we would opt to wait for the bus in front of Selden’s furniture store because they had one of the only awnings in town. Most likely, to protect their furniture from the early morning sunshine since the store faced east, but it was a boon to bus riders for protection also.
At last it was time to hop on the bus and have a time to rest our feet and legs before we got off again and had the mile walk home. It may have been a pain to all of us at the time that our mom didn’t drive, but it will always be one of my special memories of her and the fun we would have watching people and sharing a warm summer day in Olympia.