I hadn’t made any specific plans for the weekend which is usually how I like weekends to begin. There’s something about waking up to two whole days of potential and some money in the bank that always makes me feel extra ambitious. After making coffee and feeding the cats, I sat down in front of my laptop to start searching local listings for antiques of interest: typewriters and, lately, record players. Typewriters alone are a prolific hobby, but, for me, they seem to beget other kinds of collector behaviour including that of stationary, postage stamps, and now the desire to listen to music from the eras my typewriters were made in. What better way to do that than listen to the audible charm of the crackle of vinyl on a turntable?
The most eye-catching listing I found was for a 1930s Silvertone gramophone, but it was living in Tuckaway Attic Antique Mall in Cle Elum, Washington—about an hour-and-a-half southeast of where I live. I had never been out that direction and was hankering for a road trip, so I decided to take the drive not only for a new antique shop and the possibility of seeing others, but for a beautiful fall drive. It was a cool, cloudy October 1st, and a day that I knew would promise beautiful views of carpeted mountains and vivid colours marking the change of seasons.
Because the route to Cle Elum took me along where I usually go to visit my local antique shops in Fall City and Snoqualmie, I of course stopped at each on the way to see what had come in. Fall City Flea Market was in the process of reorganizing some of their vendors’ booths when I walked in, but I was pleased to see a black Corona Standard flattop sitting on a bench at the entrance. It was in its case with the lid up and an original manual included. It was in need of a good cleaning both on the outside and inside, but had I not already owned a Corona Standard flattop, I would have considered it a worthy purchase. Everything on it worked properly too. The shop also had a minty-looking Torpedo in a two-tone dark and light beige, but owing to my love affair with classic black typewriters, I just couldn’t see myself typing on it for long sessions. Both the Corona and Torpedo were fine examples of their kind, but I left them in the wild for another typospherian to find.
A stop into Fall City Vintage & Collectibles Mall didn’t yield any discoveries, but I had an engaging conversation with the shopkeeper gal, Denise. I didn’t recognize her from my past visits, so after she asked me if I had been in the shop before, I told her that I was a regular and typically on the hunt for typewriters. She immediately lit up and told me about recent activity next door (Fall City Flea Market), and about possible leads that she would happily follow up on. We spoke a great deal about how I came to be interested in typewriters and how I use them. As a former Legal professional, she told me about the days when she used them. Denise appeared to belong in my parents’ generation and had recently retired; helping to run the shop was more of a paid hobby than work, and her enjoyment of it showed in an infectious, optimistic, and inspiring way that I have seen only in a select few who have been able to artfully pair skill and purpose to fill their time. My conversation with Denise was enlightening on all counts, but the one thing we most agreed upon was that putting down a written record of something in a tangible way—be it handwritten or typewritten—was the best way to concretely memorialize what was being recorded. “I can go back to my notes from years ago,” she said, “and be immediately transported back to the exact circumstances before I wrote those notes.”
On the road through Fall City, Snoqualmie, and North Bend, there was an array of competing reds, yellows, and oranges on the deciduous trees in vast, sweeping strokes along the highway and further into the distance at the base of the mountains. These vibrant colours were vivid all on their own, but more so with a backdrop of rich browns and greens of the conifers that crowded together to scarcely leave space as their sharp shapes protruded into the sky, then became softer and almost caressable as my eyes followed them up to the peaks. As I drove along the asphalt and cement that cut through the green, I wondered what the depths of those forests sounded like once past the steady hum of the highway traffic below. What animals were in those woods in that particular place as I drove by?
By the time I was on the 90, the road had become longer and the views more majestic. After descending Snoqualmie Pass, I skirted Keechelus Lake on the left. Towards the southern end of the lake, I saw some sort of lookout tower that stood high on the bank over ground that looked to have once been under water given the light, barren appearance of the earth. There was also an assembly of dry, rotted tree stumps that must have once been waterlogged, thus giving them the look of thirsty sponges. Despite the natural beauty surrounding it, there was a deserted feeling about that lake that reminded me of the desolation of the Salton Sea.
I had my GPS set for arrival at Tuckaway Attic Antique Mall, but before I reached the destination (about a quarter mile away) I noticed a thrift store on a corner called Attic Treasures (seems Cle Elum attics are chock-full of stuff). Like most self-respecting antique shoppers, I’ll brake for the words ‘thrift store,’ so I parked and went in for a look. Since I’ve had a number of spontaneous you-never-know moments come to fruition while stopping at thrift stores, I would have considered it a careless oversight later had I not given it a chance. However, as it sometimes turns out, there was little in the way of typewriters or even record players, so after a quick browse through a sea of circular racks of used clothing and shelves of old appliances and dishware, I left.
A hop-and-a-skip later, I was in Tuckaway Attic. Earlier that morning, I had called and spoke with an older lady about the availability of the gramophone and whether or not they had any antique typewriters in their inventory. She confirmed the gramophone was still there and that they had just one typewriter—a Royal. Having a great affection for Royals, it sounded promising, but I’ve learned not to hold my breath until I’ve seen a typewriter for myself. I walked in and saw an older gal sitting in a chair in front of a cash wrap at the center of the shop who looked to have been a match to the voice on the phone. As soon as she saw me approaching her, I said, “Hi there. I called this morning about your gramophone and typewriter.” “Oh yes,” she said, “let me show you where we have the typewriter.” I followed her along and along the way she pointed out the gramophone that was prominently displayed across from where the Royal typewriter sat. Given our conversation on the phone, I thought it appropriate to introduce myself, so after giving her my name, she said, “I’m Bert.” She mentioned having a longer name that Bert was short for (Bertha or Bertie)—I can’t recall it, but she followed by saying, “but everyone calls me Bert.” Bert wasn’t a name I could forget because it was the name of a neighbour whose dog I used to walk for a bit of income when I was in middle school. Bert lived with her daughter, Mary (or “Nikki” as she was called), and their dog, Cinder, a sweet-as-can-be elderly black Lab. The Bert I had just met didn’t linger very long and left me at the Royal. The poor thing hobbled right back to her chair which made me feel bad for making her leave it in the first place.
The Royal was a 1930s standard model that looked redeemable on the outside, but after some basic testing, seemed inoperable beyond my ability to repair. As I already have one Royal standard and another on order, this one would have had to be in mint condition at a cheaper price than listed for me to buy it. Had it met those conditions, it would have been a unique addition to my fleet, but it would have also taken up limited space considering it could not have been as easily stored away as my portable typewriters. I was happy to have fondly acknowledged a member of my favourite make of typewriters, but left it with kind regards as I stepped away to examine the contents of the other alcoves of the shop. I knew the gramophone sat waiting for inspection, but I always like to do a full walkthrough of any antique shop to see what’s offered. Sometimes unsurpassable treasures can be found even when you are intent on finding something entirely different.
Upon closer look at the gramophone, I realized that it was larger than I originally thought, so its proper placement at home would have been a bit of a challenge. It was also crank-operated, so keeping it operable while playing an album seemed more labourious than I anticipated. Cosmetically, it was a fine piece of musical equipment, but I decided to pass on it as well. Before leaving the shop, I let Bert know that I would be leaving empty-handed and thanked her for the time spent during our phone conversation that morning. Rather unexpectedly, she graciously referred me to another antique shop nearby that might have what I was looking for. “I’m sorry that you had to come all this way for nothing,” she said. “Not at all,” I replied, “I wanted to take a road trip anyway and have never been to Cle Elum, so I enjoyed the visit.”
Having followed Bert’s instructions to get to the other antique shop, I took a right after leaving Tuckaway Attic and walked a block before I saw what she had been referring to. The building was a tall, pale-grey, stand-alone, masonry structure with an easel out front with ‘Antiques’ on it. There was an ‘OPEN’ sign, but when I went to open the door, it was locked. The dim sunlight shown against the glass, so I used my left hand to shade my brow as I looked in through the window to see if anyone was inside. Lights were on, but there was no activity. I started to feel awkwardly gawky, but I stayed pressed against the window looking for the slightest sign of easily decipherable typewriter keys. As soon as I backed away, ready to head to the car, a woman appeared from around the corner of the alley. “Oh I’m sorry.” she said, “We were out back and decided to lock the front door. But, we’re open.” She looked to be in her 70s, was thing, had short, grey-blonde hair in small, tight curls, and wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a loose, light pink, long-sleeved sweatshirt. She had a sweet, kindly face and wore glasses. Once we were inside the shop, she went on to explain that there was construction going on behind the shop for a utility flat that they were renovating. Apparently the previous tenant lived in this flat for sixteen years and was a chain smoker. “So, what are you looking for today?” she said. “Actually, I’m a typewriter collector. I first stopped at Tuckaway Attic to look at one they had, but it was more of a conversation piece. The gal there sent me over to your shop to see what you might have,” I replied.
Before I had a chance to peruse the shop, the lady and I had a lengthy conversation about why I collect typewriters, the writing work I use them for, and the still-relevant benefits of analog technologies. She seemed genuinely interested, so she asked a lot of questions in a pressing, but well-meaning way that I notice older folks often do when talking to younger folks. Occasionally she would catch herself talking at length and say, “I’m sorry; sometimes I just ramble, ramble on. Not too many folks come in.” I found this endearing and made me want to give her a hug as I would my grandmother. Older folks may opt for simpler lives than the rest of us, but they certainly deserve our attention, patience, and genuine empathy as they come from eras when social interaction didn’t involve the rapid-fire technology that it does now. It’s important to stop and just talk, especially if you know very little about someone; sadly, this seems to be dying etiquette as existing seems to have become a racing competition that ultimately spreads our efforts too thin over time.
By this time, an older gentleman came into the shop from the back, slowly approaching us as he laboured on a walker. “This is my husband,” the lady said. He too looked to be in his 70s (though, perhaps an older septuagenarian than his wife), was white-haired, and also kindly-faced with glasses. He seemed interested in joining, but went directly for a chair in the office so he could be comfortable. The lady seemed to be the talker of the two and continued our conversation. She briefly reiterated to her husband what we already spoke about, so that prompted him to ask his own questions on the same topics. I told them more about my interest in typewriters, how using them suits me better for drafting work, what I did for work, what I really wanted to do for work, traveling, and having come from San Diego, California. My place of origin seemed to prompt a side story about their own separate moves from Southern California (the husband came from San Diego himself, in fact) in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As conversations between separate generations often do, the topic turned to age. “I could be your grandfather!” the man said with a laugh after I mentioned having been an ’83 baby. His wife quipped by saying, “I won’t dare tell you my age.” I laughed and said, “I would never have asked.”
When we returned to my hunting for typewriters, the lady mentioned having just one, a Royal standard that was sitting in a corner to the right of the entrance. She walked over to take the dust cover off, revealing a beautiful Royal KMM. Initially, I didn’t know what the mode was, but after finding the serial number, I noticed the “KMM” prefix. I quickly pulled up The Typewriter Database on my phone and identified it as being a 1939. It was priced at $85, which I considered a fair price for a fine-looking KMM that seemed to be operable after doing the usual tests, but I remembered that I had one on order from EBay, so I decided to leave it, but hesitantly. While the three of us continued to chat, I noticed a hardcover, 1952 Doubleday edition of The Diary of a Young Girl on a shelf in front of me. I pulled it out from between other vintage hardcovers and flipped open the cover: $8. I was feeling a slight pang of guilt for having already spent so much time in their shop and passing on the Royal that I wanted to walk out with something. I had been meaning to read this book for years and found its slightly worn green cloth exterior with silver embossed letters tactilely beautiful despite my understood sadness of its contents.
The lady had taken a seat in one of the cushioned armchairs they had for sale while her husband stood with crossed arms over the ledge of the opening from the office to the shop. After inquiring about other interests of mine, I mentioned fiber arts, specifying crocheting, knitting, spinning, and weaving. This led to a surprising discussion about their two llamas and the lady’s former interest in spinning. She mentioned not having the time anymore with the recent construction, and the running of “their baby,” Little River Antiques, LLC. The two llamas they currently had used to belong to a larger herd, but when the herd was put in the care of someone else for a time, the ‘caregiver’ often left the herd to its own devices and many of the llamas died either from predators or neglect. Once the fate of their llamas became known, they look back the two survivors, intent on giving them the best care they possibly could in those llamas’ remaining years. I could see the stern grief in the lady’s eyes as she told me the story. I thought not to swell on the subject, so I mentioned having cats and that having ‘fur babies’ was a great part of my happiness. “Oh, we couldn’t do without animals,” she said. “That’s why we have so many animal-related things in the shop.” I started to notice these details, seeing a towel rack with cat-shaped ends, rooster statues, dishcloths with chickens on them, and a number of animal figurines.
As it was getting on in the day, I knew I needed a bite to eat, so I asked to pay for the book so I could get on my way. The man asked me if I was sure I didn’t want the typewriter, but I thanked him and declined. I suppose I could have bought it and sold whichever of the KMMs was in least favourable condition once the one on order had arrived, but the amount of space the standard-size typewriters take up is always more once you get them home. Instead, I bought only the book, happy with my modest purchase. It wasn’t until I was about to leave that we exchanged our names. These kind folks were Richard and Zera Lowe. I took their business card (which has a fun, tie-dye design) and said goodbye with the hope of visiting them again. Cle Elum is, after all, a relatively short distance away, despite feeling a world apart. I think it was its quiet country charm and one-horse town feeling that made it seem that way. Also, it’s rare to come across strangers in the city who are willing to give you almost two hours of their time to genuinely get to know more about you. That part of my visit, I think, was the most notable.
Before heading home, I stopped at Beau’s Pizza & Pasta for a meal. There were few people there, so I opted for a table at the window facing East 1st Street. There was a man in cowboy attire sitting at the bar, a middle-aged couple sitting at a table near mine, and a family of four sitting at a table against the wall to my one o’clock. I had a nice Cabernet Sauvignon with a chicken Caesar salad, and warm slices of French bread dipped in a plate of olive oil and red vinegar with raw garlic cloves that seasoned the mixture. The salad came with three slices of lemon which, when squeezed over the entire plate, gave a pleasant tartness complementary to the parmesan cheese on top. One should never judge restaurants by the size and location of a town because my expectations were exceeded by this gourmet meal.
I was on the road by 5:00pm and expecting rain on the way home. The evening sun showed brightly in patches, often requiring a flip of the visor. As the sun dipped lower behind the mountains, their grand facades became a rich purple that matched the darkening swaths of clouds that were coming in from the northwest. Now and then I would hit preceding showers ahead of the bulk of the rain. By the time I reached North Bend, the rain had started falling steadily. I wasn’t planning on any further stops on the way home, but when I was waiting at a red light, I noticed a bland, beige building with a lit ‘OPEN’ sign in the window and an ‘Antiques’ sign out front. I pulled over and parked in the tiny parking lot next to it.
When I walked in, I opened a heavy door with cowbells on it that rang more loudly than I wanted to announce for an entrance. There were fluorescent light fixtures that hung overhead and, upon first glance, this antique shop seemed more haphazard and scattered than the others. Behind the cash wrap sat an elderly gentleman who wore jeans, a flannel shirt, and a cap. He looked to have been in his late 70s. He slowly got up from his chair to greet me and asked what I was looking for this evening. Before I could tell him, I noticed two typewriters out for display just ahead of me. “Typewriters,” I said. “I collect typewriters and just happened to see your store, so I thought I would stop in to see what you had.” He pointed at the two I had just seen and said, “Well, we have those two over there,” then he took me to the back of the shop where he showed me a light grey Royal Quiet De Luxe in its case with the lid open. He also pointed to two electrics in their closed cases standing upright on the floor. I mentioned specifically looking for manuals, so he left me to examine the Royal while he shuffled back to his chair.
The square Dreyfuss model Quiet De Luxe (named for its designer, Henry Dreyfuss) was similar to one I already had, but appeared to be a slightly older model. It was in good shape and worked well, but needed some basic cleaning. On the right of the machine was a four-digit number written in silver marker, so I thought that it could have perhaps belonged to a school at one time. I left it to go look at the two I first saw. One was a square model of Sears portable while the other was a rounded ‘60s or ‘70s Royal portable. Neither piqued my interest, so I meandered around the shop for other interesting items. I went back to the cash wrap and asked the man about Collier’s magazines, but he said that there were none in stock and that they rarely came into the shop. There were, however, piles of old National Geographic magazines, so I briefly flipped through a few of those. Staying mindful of the time, I gave the Quiet De Luxe one last look, but for $80, decided to leave it for someone else. I knew the rain must have been falling harder now and that the man would be closing shop soon, so I thanked him for his time and left to get myself home.
Though I came home without any of the items I intended to get, I realized that spontaneous trips away—even in relatively short distances—are worth taking when the mood strikes. The beauty of this world lies waiting, new friends await to be met, and the wealth of stories and new perspectives are plentiful to help broaden one’s understanding and appreciation of what’s out there. I’ve learned that as comfortable as I am at home, I find myself just as easily comfortable in new and unusual places either nearby or far away. Making plans as you go often turns into the good stuff worth living for.