Ira Gardner Jr.: Reasons I Love Spokane…

Old guys at table
Photography by Ira Gardner


We are not living in Silicon Valley but we have a Spokane Valley. We don’t live in a Silicon Rainforest, but we live near actual forests. Instead of email, sometimes snail mail works just fine.


There are a lot of transplanted Scandinavians that moved out here from Minnesota. How can you tell? Tickets sold out to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, there are Lutheran churches all over town serving lutefisk at their smorgasbord, and you can buy worms, gas, and a Rockstar energy drink to go with the Icehouse 6 pack for your winter fishing trip. I love this about Spokane. It’s a community that celebrates hockey and the Red Green show.


The Maxwell House is an institution in Spokane. It’s a landmark that I look for that tells me everything is still okay in the world. The fact of the matter is it’s the one place in Spokane that kicked me out! I was too young the first time I went there. I used to work at a printing business where there were a couple of old timers who had come from Canada to play professional hockey in Spokane and ended up settling down here. They had worked at the print shop for more than 30 years.


I will never forget the first week I started working there. I had previously worked at the city library and so I showed up in khaki pants and a shirt and tie. “Scottie” the press operator tried to get me to lean up against his work bench that he had smeared ink on because he wanted to get my work outfit dirty. It was a casual blue-collar environment and I was dressed like a CEO when in fact I was just the delivery boy.


Both of the old timers had grown up in the Midwest of Canada outside of Winnipeg. Scottie talked about growing up in the middle of nowhere Canada driving a “team of shitters” on the family farm and how he couldn’t wait to get away from there. Thanks to hockey, they both found their way into my life and into my heart. They all had a good laugh at my expense.


I got kicked out of the Maxwell House for being under 21 when I went there to celebrate the retirement of the other old-time hockey player, Jerry Fodey. He just went by the name Fodey and was the smartest guy I ever knew who didn’t have a college education but had a PhD in common sense and factoids about the world. He kept his mind sharp trying to solve the radio mystery challenge each morning on KAQQ AM 590 that would come on along with the morning farm reports by Wei Simpson. He would come to work clean in the morning and change clothes into a pair of the rattiest dirty jeans and work shoes. He would take home the work pants every Friday to wash them and start over on Monday but the shoes stayed and collected more layers of ink and glue. He absolutely loved his family and golf, and was enshrined in the local sports hall of fame for softball because of his years of service as an umpire.


It was a dirty, sticky, ash tray kind of environment and I absolutely loved it. The smell of inks and solvents and the constant hum of machinery with the occasional loud expletive when the old equipment would suddenly quit working was wonderful. There was a third guy named Gary who had worked with Scottie and Fodey for over 20 years who had the best work ethic I ever knew. I learned that no matter what the work got done and when there wasn’t a lot of work, we still filled our day with what was needed.


I learned a lot at this business and could go on and on about all the wonderful employees that I hold dear to my heart, not to mention my boss who was like another Father Knows Best with his pipe and sage advice. I remember asking him why he insisted on keeping all this old equipment (he even had a hand fed press that he had rigged an electric motor to automate it) and he simply told me that you don’t get rid of what still works and is paid for. Every job that ran through that old rickety wonderful machinery was pure profit when it came to the equipment costs. I learned about life at break time and grew up under the watchful eyes of my work family.

When Fodey retired we spray painted his work shoes in gold and nailed them to a plaque. He had emphysema bad by that time. The celebration was scheduled for the Maxwell House where he was a regular. I only got to stay long enough to wish him well and hold back a tear as I knew how much I would miss him. By the time I got married (the first time) he was on oxygen and couldn’t leave the house so I drove my bride over to see him. It was the last time I got to speak with him. I think of Fodey often. Because of his love of baseball and the New York Giants that followed their move to California and his story of going to Candlestick Park to see them in San Francisco, I, an avowed Dodger fan, have an SF Giants hat in my closet and have gone to several games myself.


Most recently, my son asked me if I had any ugly Christmas sweaters he could have to wear to school for a competition. I didn’t have any, but I did loan him a red knit sweater that Fodey had given me for Christmas one year. It’s not that it is ugly, it’s just that it is so 1988 in color and style that I practically need a mullet to wear it. It has a cherished spot in my closet and for years I would wear it on Christmas Eve until my stomach outgrew it. My son thought it was perfect for the occasion and happily took it from me along with my stern warning not to damage it in any way. The fact of the matter is that there is no way to damage the memory I have of Fodey. As the candles are lit on Christmas Eve service I imagine him looking down on me with a smile.


I’ve never gone back in to the Maxwell House. I won’t go in because the person I most want to have a beer with won’t be there. But I still love this place because every time I drive past it and see the old neon sign, Fodey comes to mind and he is still there in my heart.

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