When Liz and Ellis first came to this little town of Palouse over
twenty years ago, they did it almost by accident. They were just
passing through, headed for a larger town a few miles away, where they
thought they would look for work. Ellis had been watching the gas gauge
drop rapidly since leaving the last small town and knew that they
needed gas before traveling even the last fifteen miles into Pullman. A
brief look up and down the main street told Ellis that the only gas
station was closed for the night along with everything else except two
saloons. An old friend and his wife lived here, and Ellis thought he
would give them a call to see if they had a gallon or two of gas. He
didn't see a pay phone anywhere so he went in one of the bars and asked
to use the phone. The fellow smiled and pointed to a black round dialer
sitting on a small shelf behind the bar. There was no phone book, and
Ellis asked the bartender if he had one. He thought he had one
somewhere and began poking around under the bar. A guy on a stool the
other side of the bar asked whom he was looking for, and Ellis told
him, still watching the bartender. "He ain't home," he said "just saw
him goin into Velma's cross the street."
said, looking up at the large dusty fellow, who was pointing back
toward the door he had entered through.
The bartender looked up from his search and said he had seen Ellis'
friend as well.
Ellis said, "I guess I don't need a phone then." He thanked them and
left. He grabbed Liz and they went across the street in search of Jim.
The door to
Velma's was open, and a soft warm light flowed out onto the street,
carrying along with it the sounds of malted barley and smoke. As they
walked in, what seemed like sounds from the street, became an olfactory
reality. The place immersed them in smoke and beer, and the juke box
seemed to bounce gently in the corner as it kept time with a pool game.
Through the din they could see a row of windows along the left wall
that looked into a small room where a card game was taking place.
Further along the left side were several very old booths full of
people, followed by the juke box. On the right was a low candy case and
behind it was a large old humidifier case full of cigarettes and
tobacco. The bar also ran down the right side of the building, and
further back were two pool tables. Several people turned and looked at
them as they entered. It was kind of a benign stand off, Ellis and Liz
stood there staring into this new place, while the place itself, which
had been there much longer than them, scrutinized their intent.
Everything went out of focus momentarily for Ellis and when it
returned, he was looking right at his friend Jim seated backwards on a
chair in front of one of the booths about half way to the back. They
both must have seen him at the same time. They both said, "There he
...." as they bumped together in an automatic move toward a familiar
face. Without another word they were drawn deeper into the room by the
one familiar link in this strange place. Jim glanced at them, only
partially focused, and looked away again as they approached. He looked
back again quickly, but this time his eyes were sharp and well aimed.
First there was recognition, then disbelief, and then a reassurance,
and a slow smile. They had caught him by surprise. He sat motionless
for a moment, and then jumped up with hugs for them both. There were
several minutes of, where have you two been, what has brought you here,
how long are you going to be around, and of coarse how good it is to
see you. Ellis and Liz had plenty to say as well, along the same lines.
Jim said he had plenty of gas, but he wouldn't here of them leaving
until tomorrow. They had no place to be or go in any hurry so it was
agreed that they would relax for the evening. They met Jim's friends,
beer was ordered, and they settled in to become a part of the overall
ambiance of Velma's Place. Just how permanent, they still don't know.