Story by Sue Piper • Photo by Mike Perry
I enjoy crossing the Rainier Bridge. Its design and river view is appealing, visually. But I also see it as a symbolic “connector” in my own life and between all our communities. Most people who’ve lived around here for any length of time have their own Rainier Bridge memories.
Growing up, I knew the bridge gave my Uncle Pete the chance to stock up on tax-free cigarettes whenever he, Aunt Gertie and my three cousins came from Raymond to visit us in Longview. Prior to 1965, it was a toll bridge. I recall 50¢ as pretty steep. For comparison purposes, back then
A & W’s small root beer float was 15¢, including the little plastic monkey or elephant perched on the frosted mug’s edge.
In high school, I took my date to the Village Inn in St. Helens for the requisite and awkward pre-tolo dinner. Passing the restaurant even today, a memory pops up of my burgundy velveteen, long, A-line sleeveless “gown,” and those over-the-elbow white gloves, so Jackie Kennedy-esque, or so I wished.
At age 21, during the rite of passage with all those White Russians, Singapore Slings and Harvey Wallbangers, a good friend from Seattle would visit regularly on weekends and we’d cross the bridge — and state lines, but not for immoral purposes — to bar hop, dance and meet and mingle with our cohorts. Great fun.
In those days, the Stop Inn (where I had my first cocktail, a Sloe Gin Fizz, on my 21st birthday) was a popular watering hole, along with the Riverside (now El Tapatio), Prescott Tavern, in Rainier, and Hump’s in Clatskanie. In my eyes, there was exciting nightlife across that bridge.
Because of the bridge and Highway 30, Rainier is the epicenter of not only a big chunk of the Lower Columbia population, but also of CRR’s territory and home of its post office box. Since I began publishing the Reader eight years ago and going over to “the other side” regularly, this little town has impressed me with its cuisine offerings.
Did you know in Rainier you can find fresh crab, Mexican and Chinese food, two pizza shops, drive-thru espresso drinks, and pretty good breakfasts, prime rib, hamburgers and bar grub? Back in 2005, Dr. Munchie recognized Evergreen Café in CRR’s Burger Hunt, which, by the way, we plan to repeat this year. To suggest a burger, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. And If you’re a member or the friend of one, the Rainier Eagles has a great viewing spot (would it be a stretch to call the deck an “aerie?”) overlooking the river, and the kitchen makes very good, deep-fried oysters.
The bridge’s history will fascinate you; be sure to read Mike Clark’s article on how it came about in the first place.
It is known by many names but I’ll bet by connecting their “dots” of memories and meanings, most people would agree: The Rainier Bridge is a jewel on the Columbia.
Sue Piper is Publisher/Editor of Columbia River Reader.