Looking for a Charmer

It had all the makings of a charming mountain town. There was its well-preserved historic district and its past as a rough and tumble pioneer mining area. There was its location in the Idaho mountains, with a bike trail through the forest and a nearby ski resort for winter sports. The town even showed its quirky sense of humor with a flying saucer in the parking lot of the burger place.

How can you not love a town that has a UFO to climb into and explore?

But on this brightly sunny September morning, when I’d expected weekend hikers and bicyclists, or locals bustling around doing their weekend errands before the high school’s afternoon football game, the town was oddly lifeless. I wandered the abandoned streets, searching for some activity.

At the sight of the open door of an espresso place, I thought I’d found the town’s Saturday morning hangout spot. But no one was sitting in the big arm chairs, sipping coffee and reading a Saturday paper or chatting with friends. It took some determination to get the attention of the lone person working there. And he seemed slightly startled by my request for a latte.

Wallace, Idaho? Center of the Universe? There may need to be some cosmic re-alignment.

No wonder. Although he obligingly made my latte, fumbling with the espresso machine and cash register, he explained that he owned the coffee house, but he’d lost his Saturday staff when they went back to college. Rather than hiring someone else or working the counter himself, apparently the coffee house was now closed on Saturdays.

Latte in hand, I did my own unguided walking tour of historic Wallace. Charming 1800s architecture … a nostalgic look at the motel where we used to stay as a family (it looked better in the 60s than it did today) … gazing through the store windows at old mining and stock certificates. I even stopped in the middle of the street (which was perfectly safe as there was not a car to be seen) to photograph their “center of the universe” plaque. (Does Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood know they have a rival to their claim as the center of the universe? Are they worried about competition from Wallace?)

The Wallace bordello was open for business until 1988. No wonder my parents hustled me out of this town at the crack of dawn on our family road trips!

Short tour complete, latte still warm, I got in my car to continue my road trip. My main regret in leaving Wallace was that I didn’t especially regret leaving Wallace. Still, there is always the bordello museum to come back for. Maybe next time I’ll bring a mountain bike.