Renton is a crumbling city, and people have built on the ruins with good intentions. The X-rated movie theater became a church, and the Venus Moon Witchcraft Supply Store became a tattoo parlor. The heart of the city is always being torn-up or torn-down like a perpetually broken heart. There are new apartment homes, but the people haven’t changed. It’s like a termite colony that went underground, and someone was foolish enough to build on top of it. The Renton Library spans the Cedar River like a bridge of knowledge—few people actually read the books. They get online and check their Facebook or sleep in the chairs, while the 50-year-old women check-out the latest novel by Danielle Steele.
But this story isn’t about Renton, or the people of Renton. This story is about the secret people of Maple Valley. Since I was in middle school, I have ridden my bicycle from Renton into Maple Valley, and on the bike trail there is this imaginary line that separates the two cities—not by tax codes but by something else, something magical—I’m talking about the people from Maple Valley. Something changes in the people. I immediately know who is from Maple Valley and who is from Renton. There is an anonymous humanity in Renton. People smile when they have to, but they don’t mean it. In Maple Valley, their smiles light-up the afternoon.
So, what does this story have to do with me? Well, I’m getting to that…
Often, we think, our world is our city. We know there’s a larger world out there, but until we leave our city, the world is only something we read about in books. As I road my bicycle deeper into Maple Valley, the people wanted to talk to me more and more. It started over the weather…
“Yes, it is,” I said.
“The weatherman forecasted seven days of this.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. I promised my wife I’d get out and play golf. She wants to have her tea party. Can’t say I blame her though. I was an old man when I was 30. Now— time has left me behind.”
“It has… you can dress like young people and try to make sense of their TV shows, but it’s like trying to learn a foreign language when you don’t live in the country.” His face was wrinkled-up like a topographical map.
“I got to go to the grocery store,” I said.
“Be sure that you have 8 cents.”
“They charge for paper bags now.”
When I got to Fred Meyer, and was checking out, the clerk greeted me like a zombie.
“Did you find everything you were looking for, sir?”
“Yes. Now what’s this business of charging 8 cents per bag?”
“It’s the new rule.”
“Well, it sucks!” I said.
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No, I’m from Renton.”
“That makes sense,” he smiled.
I was ready to move back to my termite pile. Still, there was something strange about the secret people of Maple Valley. I wanted to find-out what it was.
To be continued…