This morning, as I walked through the farmer’s market on Main Street in Downtown Spokane, I saw a booth that was selling “soft t-shirts” under the brand “Spokane Doesn’t Suck.” And as I was looking through the vintage-style shirts, I was thinking about it, and ya know what? Spokane DOESN’T suck!
At one point in time, Spokane was on the list of possible mystery trip* candidates. The city is best-known nationally for its basketball scene – including its annual “The Best Basketball Weekend” festival and everyone’s favorite mid-major NCAA basketball team: the Gonzaga Bulldogs. More recently, however, it’s become known for more infamous reasons: as one of the most popular stops for policing reality television shows like Cops and Real PD (which last year was the most-DVR’ed show on television). On our way from Salt Lake City to Portland, we listened to a new podcast (very good – worth adding to your list) called “Running from COPS”.
*Mystery Trips are when Braden plans a trip, kidnaps Janna, and she doesn’t find out where they’re going until they arrive at the airport.
In the series, the producers and host Dan Taberski explore a number of facets of the fabled television programs, including its impact on policing, the legality of coercing people into signing releases, and the impacts that the shows have on policing tactics themselves.
The most-relevant subject to this discussion, however, is one about how the series portrays the city to a national audience – as a city filled with crime and drugs and prostitution. They interview Spokanites about what they think about the show, and it turns out, almost everyone here has been on one of those shows, or knows someone who has.
To be clear: crime is a problem in Spokane. Drugs are a problem in Spokane (they seem to be everywhere). But – the impression of the city we got from reading about it online and watching policing shows led us to believe that Spokane sucked, and made us a little anxious about a night there, when, in fact, Spokane doesn’t suck.
The coolest thing about Spokane is its downtown riverfront park that, in my opinion, is the best park we’ve seen on this trip, and if it had an ice cream stand would probably be the best riverfront park in the country (shoutout Hood River). The Spokane river runs right through downtown of the city, with natural water falls and a massive dam in the heart of the action. As part of the World’s Fair Expo ’74 event in 1974, the waterfront was developed into a sprawling park with fun walkways, old buildings, hidden passages, and an overall homage to the city’s interplay between natural beauty and heavy industry. The dam was built at the top of Spokane’s lower falls there in 1890s (don’t worry – the fish already couldn’t make it through the falls – legend has it that an ancient coyote put the rocks there to punish a local chief who wouldn’t let him marry the chief’s daughter).
It’s an amazing scene, maintained on 100 acres, of the massive dam overflow combined with the native waterfalls. You can even take a skycar over the whole thing.
In addition to that, there is a great downtown mall called River Park Square, which is surrounded by excellent shopping, is home to some great restaurants, and on Friday night had a few hundred people barefoot on main street celebrating International Yoga Day. It was quite a scene.
We also grabbed a gnosh at an old 1930s-era soda & ice cream shop (complete with cases filled with century-old toys).
We read about all of these things on the internet, so they were not a grand surprise. What was, however, was the stunning architecture of the city. From the new-age U.S. Pavilion built as part of the World’s fair, to more classical red-brick buildings, a hundred-year-old Catholic Cathedral, and the Spokane Club (where we spent our night), every where you looked was an amazing skyline – without even qualifying that the city has a population of just 200,000. The Fox Theater downtown has picturesque internal architecture that would play in any global metropolis.
There are definitely corners of Spokane that are rougher and have more of a criminal element, but the downtown area, especially along the river, is a spectacle. I’m glad we didn’t detour to avoid it – we would have missed out on a gem of a city.
It’s become the through-running theme of this blog, but it turns out most of this country doesn’t suck. Spokane, for sure, doesn’t suck.