By Zach Hagadone
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlemen to be born?”
— W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming,” published 1920
It’s impossible that I recollect my first “Long Bridge moment,” taking place as it did with me swaddled and fresh from a delivery room at Bonner General in late-September 1980 and heading south, away from Sandpoint and toward the place where I actually grew up, in Sagle.
My childhood geography consisted of a backyard full of the sounds of grosbeak, chickadee, blue jay and cedar waxwing. There were lots of pine needles on the ground and a gravel driveway leading to a washboarded dirt road up and down a hill to the the chip-seal. Higher up were the cedars and pines, tamaracks, birch and aspen. Even today, when I hear the wind go through the tops of those trees, I get an achy, sort of lonesome, sort of cozy, sort of anxious little-kid feeling.
Growing up, that geography expanded to the dirt roads connecting my friends’ houses, over which we’d ride our bikes to critical locations: the old flea market and “John’s Store,” named for the late-owner John Shockey, at the corner of Sagle Road and U.S. 95. My map then consisted of South Sagle to Dufort to Algoma Spur roads and back again.
For my first 12 or 13 years, Sandpoint meant “the city.” I remember my awe at the miniature trains whirring across their tiny landscapes inside the glass-topped tables at the Whistlestop Cafe; the draft horse-drawn trolley that you paid a wooden token to ride around downtown, leaving sick-sweet piles of green road apples along the way; the tall pillars that held up the Cedar Street Bridge; shopping for kids’ clothes at J.C. Penney on First Avenue; and anything and everything to be found at Sprouse-Reitz. I remember trains running parallel to Fifth Avenue under two towering — and functional — granary buildings.
Yet, until about 1992-’93, the closest I got in a week or more to Sandpoint was the kitchen table at my grandma’s house just south of the Long Bridge, from which vantage point the place existed as an abstraction somewhere beyond the crotch of the car and train bridges.
My grandma — who arrived in Sandpoint in 1925 from Montana as a 3-year-old girl and died here as an 89-year-old woman in 2012 — often glared across the water and grumbled that it was “over-organized, overpriced and over-proud.”
Sandpoint scared me — especially as a middle-schooler, thrown into that old brick building with all the “town kids,” who rode their bikes on asphalt, measured the distance between their friends’ houses in blocks rather than miles, smelled like fabric softener and had cable. They hung out at City Beach alongside the teenagers.
I didn’t really get to know Sandpoint until I got my driver’s license in 1996, a job at Safeway and a girlfriend who lived on North Florence Avenue. We made out in every secluded cranny of this place we could find, which marked my real introduction to the local landscape, so to speak.
In retrospect, it was only a short acquaintance (both with her and the town), because I left on the cusp of 19 in 1999, happily thinking I’d probably never return.
Of course I did return, in successive boomerangs, each time finding a New Sandpoint with new faces, new attitudes, new businesses and new buildings — sometimes even new streets. Some have been better than others, and not necessarily in temporal order.
Anyone with a long enough history here has their favorite Sandpoint. Barring the ’80s (which I can remember only about the latter half of), I can definitively place my favorite Sandpoint sometime between 2003 and 2007, followed by 1993-’99.
I didn’t care too much for the Sandpoint of 2010-’13, when the foundations of our current bush-league Tahoe were being laid. I left without remorse.
I met the current iteration in 2019. It is my least favorite by a country mile.
The safe money in 2023 is on a new New Sandpoint exploding over us within the next five years. What it might look like is starting to come into focus, and “over-organized, overpriced and over-proud” doesn’t even touch it.
But what do I know? I’m just a Sagle kid who’s still afraid of the teenagers at City Beach. All it seems we can do is slouch toward Sandpoint with whatever platitude sounds like hope. But I’ll add a corollary caution: “Hold onto your butts.”
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